Jun 11, 2007

Always That New & Improved - A Call For Better Pitched Wars

If the mind-boggling fiasco of Iraq has taught us anything then it's that the Administration and its myriad of co-dependents are hardcore Hegelians - never a catastrophe they create that can't be resolved & rescued with a new round of insightful tweaks. These sentimental dialectists would never chuck a baby.

Here's a rather naive albeit interesting (and heavily redacted) insight into the mind of a weight lifting Hegelian, Fernando Martinez Luján, trying to work out a new round of tweaks to salvage a fundamentally flawed mission.

[A] way to illustrate the impact of these collective organizational shortcomings is to imagine the Iraq War as a series of closing windows of opportunity: In the days after toppling Saddam’s regime, coalition forces had a rapidly closing window of opportunity to re-establish basic services and security before losing the confidence of Iraqi citizens. Instead of capitalizing on existing Iraqi power structures and working through local institutions, interim US administrators drafted short-sighted policies such as de-Baathification and the demobilization of the Iraqi military which only helped sow the seeds of a powerful insurgency. Instead of leveraging interagency expertise and planning in advance for the complex political and cultural geography, planning initiatives such as the Free Iraq Project were brushed aside in favor of traditional military war plans (as detailed by former senior State Department Advisor David Phillips in his book, Losing Iraq: Inside the Postwar Reconstruction Fiasco). By failing to meet the initial window of opportunity in Iraq and leaving local citizens vulnerable to mass looting, food shortages, unemployment, and politically motivated violence, the coalition set into motion events which would begin the long, slow decline into chaos.

This summer, the US-led coalition faces a final closing window of opportunity: They must hand off security responsibilities to reasonably competent Iraqi forces and begin drawing down troop levels before logistical, political, or operational concerns force a precipitous withdrawal. If a handoff cannot be done on coalition terms, the consequences will go far beyond military defeat.

Lieutenant General David Petraeus and his small cadre of counterinsurgency experts have assumed command in Iraq and set to work reversing the long-standing culture of conventional-minded operations. The surge beyond its obvious call for more troops, also calls for a renewed focus on securing civilian populations and working to win hearts and minds. Coupled with the other economic, political, and structural reforms unveiled earlier this year, the overall Iraq strategy has clearly improved on many fronts. But given the rapidly changing political situation at home and the state of our overstretched military, the simple reality is that time is going to run out for the surge.

An alternate plan [Plan B] is needed, built upon the assumption that the current troop presence will be forcibly drawn down in the near future by political pressures.

[Plan B]

The first critical step attacks the fundamental cause of failure and makes immediate, sweeping changes to the organization of forces on the ground. Senior governmental leaders must preempt a politically-forced, complete withdrawal from Iraq by presenting an alternate plan that incorporates major organizational changes and significant—but not total—troop reductions.

The next critical step addresses both staggering shortages in civilian interagency support and counterproductive manning strategies in the military. Plan B must be accompanied by a massive recruitment of talent from across American society to fill thousands of civil advisory positions.The war is labor intensive, not materiel intensive. No amount of congressionally allocated reconstruction dollars will ever change the dire situation without the balanced application of skilled individuals to engage with Iraqi institutions-- talented civil servants, academics, technical experts, and administrators from all walks of life are needed to help build the capacity for development.

The final critical step deals with the role of the media.

Even if the forces in Iraq can be effectively reorganized and American talent can be brought to the fight, any successes will be instantly nullified if portrayed negatively in the news. A major shortcoming in all Iraq strategy to date is the failure to recognize the supreme importance of information. The two “centers of gravity” for this war should not be identified as the senior Al Qa’ida leadership or Anbar Province, but instead as Iraqi and American public opinion. Victory is utterly impossible without fully engaging both. It is therefore surprising that we collectively have done so little to influence the media coverage at home and abroad. The military has much to learn from the public relations teams used by corporate America, where “brand” or reputation has a direct effect on earnings. The Department of Defense needs to adopt a strategy of more proactive, direct engagement with the US media, even direct-hiring the best of the private sector to train and lead these expanded media relations teams.

Plan B would include a far reaching and well developed media component. The goal would be an open dialogue: Instead of refusing comment or using carefully crafted scripts, Lieutenant General Petraeus should take the opportunity provided by his fresh command and the new strategy to start a running conversation with the American people. In the same way the General Schwarzkopf held press briefings during Desert Storm, General Petraeus should be a common sight on national television, offering frank assessments of our troops’ progress and setbacks.

The existing rhetoric for Iraq is dangerously simple: Our troops are “hunting down Islamo-fascist terrorists,” who have been driven insane by some “perversion of their religion” that compels them to strap bombs to themselves. The American people need to hear from the Commanding General in Iraq that the reality is not so simple: The insurgent fighters are highly rational, committed to defined objectives, and understand the importance of the media better than we do.

The American viewer sitting at home is more of a target for roadside bombs than the soldier in the convoy. The insurgent bombings, beheadings, and shootings are not only designed to kill their immediate victims, but also (and more importantly) to break the will of the American people through their psychological impact. This dynamic cannot be disrupted until Americans begin to understand the complexity of this war and its many different facets, instead of only being subjected to daily reports of anonymous violence.

At the same time, Plan B would engage Iraqi public opinion in a much more aggressive manner. The US must step up efforts to shape the stories produced by Arab television stations in the region using two distinct approaches.

First, the US should invest significant time and money in creating a separate, overt, news medium that encompasses Internet, radio, and television coverage. The connection between this news channel, run by Iraqis, and the West does not have to be hidden. While an association with Western media may de-legitimize the channel to a degree, it will not prevent all Iraqis from watching. This Iraqi “alternate lens” (an “Arab Fox News”, as my colleague Stephen Hopkins has coined it) would present an alternative viewpoint to the heavily biased Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya networks, which consistently support insurgents by airing exclusive footages of their attacks. Truthful stories with a pro-Western spin would be the goal. Failures would be discussed frankly, but would be balanced with stories regarding the positive actions taken by coalition forces and the atrocities committed by insurgent fighters. The current effort to improve foreign perceptions of America, led by Undersecretary and former senior Bush adviser Karen Hughes, have not been given sufficient priority. To be effective, the propaganda efforts must be undertaken on a grand scale, on a similar footing to the Cold War campaign to counter Russian propaganda. Moderate Muslim society must be engaged on all fronts to build an alternate dialogue through academic circles, religious leaders, community gatherings, literary publications, popular culture, and other forums. Furthermore, the representatives selected to manage this effort and serve as ambassadors for American culture must be as close to Muslim society as possible—fluent in Arabic, well traveled, born abroad, and as far removed from American stereotypes as possible. Sympathetic American immigrants from the greater Middle East should be aggressively scouted, trained, and employed in this effort.

A second, indirect media channel would also be expanded. Covert action would be broadly authorized to place positive stories through neutral or opposing Iraqi news outlets, all while hiding the “American fingerprint.” These actions would obviously be conducted more sparingly, but potentially to greater effect. The more neutral or anti-American the news outlet may be, the more legitimate the covertly-aired story.

In both approaches, the channels between coalition forces and these news outlets would be drastically streamlined so that pro-Western, pro-Iraqi government stories air sooner than those of their pro-insurgent counterparts. Direct communications must be established to allow the embedded military and civilian advisory effort to pass images, facts, vignettes, and other valuable data onto well trained-information managers for rapid dissemination in the media.


Effwit said...
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Effwit said...
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Effwit said...

Interesting piece, we don't hear too much (except on this blog) about the essentially psy-war nature of the Iraq endeavor.

A couple of points.

The two "centers of gravity" for this war should not be identified as the senior Al Qa'ida leadership or Anbar Province, but instead as Iraqi and American public opinion.

Nowhere has the U.S. military identified the center of gravity in Iraq as either Al Qaeda or "Anbar Province." According to official U.S. military doctrine -- as expressed in numerous papers -- the center of gravity in the Iraq war is the Iraqi Population.

Small disputation indeed. But the next bit is more relevant.

The author Luján says that the USG should actively propagandize the American public about the war.

I have to wonder if he has ever heard of the Smith-Mundt Act.

Not that our planted propaganda doesn't seep back to us from foreign media outlets, but it is currently illegal to expressly propagandize the American people.

The Smith-Mundt Act is referenced in some of the PSYOP papers that are required reading for U.S. military info warriors.

M1 said...

Few if any are to be more succinct than that bastard Effwit.

I hope I made clear that I was but putting on display a token de mindset, not flagging this essay as being even remotely insightful en soi, or flattering for that matter. But insightful it is to partake of the romantic notions of folks about to dole out some new&improved educatin' over at West Point.

Effwit said...


No endorsements from you were implied.

In fact, you made it clear that the piece was to be taken as a deceptively optimistic -- considering the forlorn predicament -- attempt to suggest ways for the U.S. to more professionally manage our Sisyphean task in Iraq.

M1 said...