Rutherford, Paul, Weapons of Mass Persuasion, Marketing the War Against Iraq, Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 2004
Weapons of Mass Persuasion, Marketing the War Against Iraq by Professor Paul Rutherford of the University of Toronto is a very uneven and unsatisfactory read. The author attempts to explain how the 2003 invasion of Iraq was sold by the Bush administration. He argues that the state has been able to adopt modern methods of marketing to sell its policies and shape public opinion which is a threat to democracy but then says the government can only promote things that the public already believes in.
Professor Rutherford focuses upon the Pentagon and the media and how they largely worked together to promote the Iraqi war. He starts off with how marketing has grown over the decades and been adopted by politicians in their campaigns. That was used by the Bush administration which had coordinated themes it pushed each day about Iraq which were repeated by the press. It talked about the need for a war on terror and Iraq being the next step in that campaign. It also said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that it might give to terrorists who would use them against the United States. After 9/11 the public was ripe for action and was therefore easily convinced that going to war with Iraq would provide security. This part of the book is pretty straight forward and the best part of Weapons of Mass Persuasion.
The problems with the book are that the author tends to go off on tangents, uses some questionable research and contradicts himself at the end. For instance, there’s a section on how the Bush administration launched an unsuccessful campaign to win over Arab public opinion. This isn’t related to the Iraq war however. Another time he spends an entire chapter on interviews he did with people in Toronto about their opinions of the war and the media. It was an unscientific sample which he admits to as all of them were college educated professionals. While they were a mix of people for and against the war they weren’t really representative. Most importantly, the major thesis of the book is the power of the state in the modern era to shape public opinion especially when it comes to war. Then his postscript talked about how the media and the public were starting to turn on the occupation of Iraq almost immediately after the invasion ended. He concludes that maybe the population can only be convinced of things they already believe in like security. Occupying the country, spending billions on rebuilding and spreading democracy to the Middle East weren’t part of that and therefore weren’t half as convincing even though the Bush White House was still launching a massive public relations campaign about them. It makes much of what he just wrote hollow because maybe the government doesn’t have as much power as he thought.
In the end, Weapons of Mass Persuasion is far too inconsistent to be a good read. Some of the topics Professor Rutherford covers seem esoteric or not related. He spent most of the book talking about the ability of the government to sway the public and then admits at the end maybe it doesn’t have that much influence. His argument that the media largely goes along with and repeats what the White House says is convincing, but that’s lost in all the negatives.
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