Influence operations are by their nature clandestine. In other words, if they are done well, we do not even know they occurred. As such, in most cases it is difficult to obtain reliable information on how exactly they were planned or carried out. Fortunately, most cases are not all cases. In fact, we have troves of sources on one very important and still fairly recent case: Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The now-opened archives of the Iraqi Ba‘th Party have already provided stunning insights into how Saddam ruled his country. They also shed significant light on Ba'thist operations outside of Iraq.
Iraqi Ba‘thists were engaged in what they called “political” operations. Their goal was to influence the internal politics of other states to help Iraq achieve its strategic goals. They carried out espionage, planted stories in the foreign press, established overt and covert relations with various parties, and attempted to silence anyone who disrupted their preferred political narrative. In short, their activities match what others in the West have termed political warfare or influence operations. And they were quite good at it. As Angelo Codevilla, the statesman-turned-Boston University professor, has noted, “In our time, the past master in the techniques of political warfare may well have been Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. Between 1991 and 2003 politics was Saddam’s ‘weapon of mass destruction’.” Iraq’s internal documents not only demonstrate the details of its fairly successful influence operations in the 1990s, they also highlight the limitations of such operations. Most importantly, the Iraqi case suggests that such operations cannot be used in a vacuum. Like other aspects of national power, if they are not employed in accordance with broader geopolitical realities, they will likely fall flat.
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