Jeremy Scahill is not pleased:
The U.S. State Department has announced it is sponsoring a “New Media Technology” delegation to Iraq to “explore new opportunities to support Iraqi government and non-government stakeholders in Iraq’s emerging new media industry.” Of all of the areas in Iraq in desperate need of attention, its “emerging new media industry” is not the one that pops to mind. Things like clean water, electricity, right of safe return for refugees and an end to the occupation seem more pressing than increasing Nouri al Maliki’s Twitter followers. But unfortunately, that’s how U.S. priorities in Iraq seem to work.
Anyway, the super star tech delegation, according to the State Department press release, includes “a mix of CEOs, Vice-Presidents and senior representatives” from “AT&T, Google, Twitter, Howcast, Meetup, You Tube and Automattic/Wordpress.”
But the final company listed as participating in the delegation begs for some sort of special review: Blue State Digital, a firm which boasts its services were “Critically important to President Obama’s victory” in the November election. Indeed, federal campaign spending records indicate that the Obama campaign paid the firm at least $2,864,138 in 2007-2008, including more than $700,000 on election day.
But I wonder if Scahill’s anger is slightly misplaced. This project doesn’t seem to be occurring at the expense of, or instead of, other infrastructure projects, so to phrase it that way is a little misleading. I don’t think a prioritizing of projects is necessarily the central issue here.
According to the State Department’s press release:
During their visit to Iraq, they will provide conceptual input as well as ideas on how new technologies can be used to build local capacity, foster greater transparency and accountability, build upon anti-corruption efforts, promote critical thinking in the classroom, scale-up civil society, and further empower local entities and individuals by providing the tools for network building. As Iraqis think about how to integrate new technology as a tool for smart power, we view this as an opportunity to invite the American technology industry to be part of this creative genesis.
Is this old-fashioned economic colonization, only this time channeled through new media and information technology corporations, or is it a genuine attempt to put in place potentially-democratic tools and infrastructure conducive to coordination and transparency?