THE MEDIA AND INFOWAR STRATEGIES
The Small Wars Council, a gem of a discussion board if there ever was one, has not disappointed with this posting on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s take on the media and the war on terror. An excerpt from the posted quotation:
“Our nation is engaged in what promises to be a long struggle in the global war on terror. In this war, some of the most critical battles may not be in the mountains of Afghanistan or the streets of Iraq but in newsrooms in New York, London, Cairo and elsewhere.
Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today’s media age, but for the most part we — our government, the media or our society in general — have not.
Consider that violent extremists have established “media relations committees” and have proved to be highly successful at manipulating opinion elites. They plan and design their headline-grabbing attacks using every means of communication to break the collective will of free people.
Our government is only beginning to adapt its operations for the 21st century. For the most part, it still functions as a five-and-dime store in an EBay world.
have just returned from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. In Tunis, the largest newspaper has a circulation of roughly 50,000 — in a country of about 10 million people. But even in the poorest neighborhoods you can see satellite dishes on nearly every balcony or rooftop.
Regrettably, many of the TV news channels being watched using these dishes are extremely hostile to the West. The growing number of media outlets in many parts of the world still have relatively immature standards and practices that too often serve to inflame and distort rather than to explain and inform. Al Qaeda and other extremist movements have utilized these forums for many years, successfully adding more poison to the Muslim public’s view of the West, but we have barely even begun to compete in reaching their audiences.
The standard U.S. government public affairs operation was designed primarily to respond to individual requests for information. It tends to be reactive, rather than proactive, and it operates for the most part on an eighthour, five-days-a-week basis, while world events — and our enemies — are operating 24/7 across every time zone. That is an unacceptably dangerous deficiency…”
Rumsfeld’s perception of the nature of Arab media and various regimes was much criticized at ‘Aqoul by Collounsbury but the SecDef is more than correct regarding the amateurish, uncoordinated, reactionary, culturally tone deaf and non-strategic nature of American information policy.
As I see it, we have two unrelated problems here:
1. The MSM is intellectually homogenized with a distinctive ” herd mentality” of people of a certain parochial outlook and big journalism school background that produces largely superficial reporting that jams all events into the 100 year old Pulitzerian news frame. For more on this, see Paul H. Weaver’s _News and the Culture of Lying_.
2. That being said, the USG has no Strategic Influence policy worthy of the name. To call our efforts in the war of ideas incompetent would be to cast a slur on incompetent people everywhere. The merely incompetent simply shoot themselves in the foot – of late, we lobb grenades at the enemy and manage to blow off our own genitals on live global television. Repeatedly.
A short list of concerns that come to mind just off of the top of my head:
No setting of strategic information objectives by the POTUS through the NSC.
No coordination of military and civilian agencies in terms of message discipline. Or within either the military OR the civilian agencies. In short, no information policy ” jointness”. Four plus years into a war, no less.
No process by which to methodically identify the multiple audiences that each message is going to reach or analytically gaming how they will perceive it.
Little effort to differentiate intellectually between public diplomacy, covert influence and pure disinformation operations. For that matter, no consideration of how our own disinformation is blowing back at us via the MSM !
An inability to craft messages with an a priori comprehension of the target audience worldview so that our message is culturally relevant and persuasive.
Insufficient linguistic capacity to interpret the OODA loop for information warfare.
Investment in media that is not perceived by the target audience as credible or independent (i.e. al-Hurra comes across as a transparent shill unlike the VOA and Radio Free Europe during the Cold War).
I could go on.
Our opponents are guys who glory in ghoulishly beheading people. The fact that we are having trouble pulling even with them is an indictment of our efforts. Yes, the liberal MSM is unhelpful in terms of furthering national security or foreign policy objectives but we do not have our act together.