WASHINGTON -- Listen up, future leaders of America. If you want to develop the necessary skills for promoting a war agenda in our country's news media, recent events are instructive.
Going to war is not simply a matter of ordering soldiers to fire missiles and drop bombs. There's a lot more involved. The public must be induced to accept and even cheer the bloodshed. That requires some careful preparation.
Consider the steps taken by our leaders before missiles began to explode in Yugoslavia on March 24. Prior groundwork was needed. Top U.S. officials deserve a lot of credit -- but they couldn't have gotten the job done without assists from reporters in Washington and their colleagues overseas.
Oh yes, there were exceptions -- some skeptical journalists raised pointed questions about the harm done by launching a military assault on Yugoslavia -- but they mostly served to underscore that dissent can be properly subsumed by a war agenda.
Anyone who wants to wield the national-security apparatus of this great nation must learn to steer the mass media in the right direction. It's a matter of sustained guidance rather than turning on a dime.
Let's face it: The world is filled with countries run by governments that abuse human rights. (Yugoslavia is one of many.) But the USA has to be very selective. After all, a lot of those governments are closely allied with Washington. And you can't exactly bomb a government while you're sending it millions of dollars every week!
An evenhanded approach to human rights would seriously damage the capacity of the United States to launch attacks across the globe. If you're going to demonize certain leaders -- and that's just about a prerequisite for building a war agenda -- then you've got to pick and choose.
To create the proper conditions for war, leave as little to chance as possible. Certain criteria must be met in order to exercise appropriate leadership for war:
* If you're going to bomb a country, it may as well be one that arrogantly refuses to allow U.S. troops to be stationed on its soil. (European countries are wonderfully hospitable in this regard, but Yugoslavia is a notable exception.)
* Steadily vilify the leader of the country you're interested in bombing. Repeatedly emphasize his evil deeds so that reporters, editorial writers and pundits will relay the message.
* Meanwhile, to avoid distractions, be careful to downplay or ignore the evil deeds of the governments of countries you're not interested in bombing. If a regime is allied with Washington, you'll want to ignore its human rights violations as much as possible.
* Don't even think about applying a single standard for human rights. The Pentagon would sure look silly firing cruise missiles at countries that receive massive amounts of U.S. aid, such as Egypt, Israel and Turkey. Get it straight: Some torture is deplorable, some is fundable.
* Most skills must be learned, so don't hesitate to sit at the feet of the masters of war. You can appreciate -- and emulate -- their achievements. The Clinton administration has put its dazzling media acumen behind the NATO forces dropping 2,000-pound bombs on a sovereign nation, in tandem with cooperative American news outlets.
About an hour before the first missiles struck Yugoslavia, viewers heard a Fox News Channel anchor make an understandable slip: "Let's bring in our Pentagon spokesman -- excuse me, our Pentagon correspondent." The fact that it's so often difficult to tell the difference is a triumph for effective perception management.
Soon, all the networks were filled with exciting footage of U.S. planes taking off from bases in Italy and England. And, across television screens, a parade of former military officers began. A retired Marine Corps general named Richard Neal-now a "CNN military analyst"-bedazzled a fawning anchor with euphemisms like "neutralize," "take out" and "collateral damage." Just what the spin doctors ordered.
State-of-the-art TV graphics continued to enhance the war-viewing experience for a large nationwide audience of Americans who could see their tax dollars at work -- dramatically underscoring President Clinton's longtime assertion that the government can do some things very well. More than one Pentagon spokesman -- er, Pentagon correspondent -- hailed the "combat debut" of the B-2 stealth bomber.
The war was off to a fine start. The Fourth Estate functioned smoothly as a fourth branch of government. Let that be a lesson to you.
Norman Solomon's book "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media" is being published in April.