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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.

15 Responses to “”

  1. larry dunbar Says:

    “we lob grenades at the enemy and manage to blow off our own genitals on live global television. Repeatedly.”

    It looks like you were standing too close to the blast yourself. How can you remain silent while your leader wants to hand over the operational road map for the security of our seaports to an Arab government?

    If I am not mistaken, Arab means “family”. Until that family stops blowing off body parts and killing Americans, I will see them in Hell before I let them have access to documents showing how our security system works operationally to bring cargo to our docks. Once that cargo is on the docks, all security will be the responsibility to the government of UAE. While I have no power to help them on their way, I can at least write my congressmen. I hope you get well soon.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    You make some good points, Mark, but you leave out the policy aspect.

    The business of blowing off our own genitals on live television comes about because of the policy.

    Extraordinary rendition and secret prisons apparently continue, simply having moved from one place to another.

    “Trust me” continues as the Bush mantra, long after the Abu Ghraib revelations convinced Arabs not to.

    Bush’s “Nixon to China” moment could be a revelation of the (much too) secret stuff, while abolishing these policy abominations.

    But if they let all those illegally imprisoned and tortured people out of prison, what would they then do?


  3. mark Says:

    Hi Larry,

    You wrote:

    “It looks like you were standing too close to the blast yourself. How can you remain silent while your leader wants to hand over the operational road map for the security of our seaports to an Arab government?”

    Well, unless you are Canadian the president is your leader too. Secondly, you seem to be under the impression that we actually have an operational road map in terms of security at our ports beyond some ad hoc, rudimentary, paper DHS plan. Do we ?

    I have not commented yet on the issue partly for lack of time and partly because we have ports, rail lines, chemical plants, oil terminals and symbolic locations run by foreign corporations – at times from unfriendly states- all over the country for oh, decades.

    Hi CKR,

    We have been around this bend together with the illegal combatants before. Granting them POW status is an equally bad message to send terrorists and their sympathizers,.

    I am against torture or practices reasonably close to torture. Let us speedily try all of the detainees by military commission and send those convicted of violating the laws of war to the firing squad.

    We can grant clemency to those who elect to provide useful information.

    Are you with me here Cheryl on bringing our practices into line with international law ?

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Certainly I agree that we have to bring our practices into line with international law. I suspect that you and I might disagree about some of the details of that.

    One of the big presentational problems is when our president stands up and says, “Of course we never torture,” and then puts a signing statement on McCain’s anti-torture bill saying that of course we will continue to do as we please.

    It’s hard to argue, then, that the United States isn’t torturing prisoners.

    The excessive secrecy of this administration also breeds suspicion. Openness is another policy change that could make an enormous change in communications and perceptions. I hope to write a post about the effects of secrecy soon.


  5. phil Says:

    J. Michael Waller has an excellent paper on the American use of public diplomacy and propaganda during the Revolutionary War. It’s very interesting and is another area where we can learn from the founders. Waller teaches public diplomacy and political warfare at the Institute of World Politics.

    Here’s the link for the paper:


  6. mark Says:


    “I suspect that you and I might disagree about some of the details of that.”

    One would imagine. ;o)

    Excessive secrecy is another issue and frankly, needlessly classifying millions of documents each year leads to us not keeping our genuine secrets any better than the bureaucratic or political crap that gets marked with a nominal restriction.

    The Bush administration unwilligness to cater to the press is understandable – most of the press corps is demonstrably partisan. In their shoes, I’d have no illusions about them either. And at times, given the poor comunication record of the white House, I almost prefer they keep quiet.

    OTOH, the lack of effective communication is repeatedly damaging both to US interests and to the administration’s political self-interest. I don’t think that will change though, it seems to be hard-wired.

  7. mark Says:


    Thank you very much ! I’ll take a look later tonight.

  8. collounsbury Says:

    Regarding the Ports issue raised by Dunbar, this is a non-issue.

    DPW, the Dubai-based ports management firm (ironically with heavy UK and US management) is acquiring management contracts (leasehold assets) as part of its the takeover of UK firm, P&O.

    Management contracts for firm operations are hardly operational roadmaps and DPW, while state owned, is not the same as the scary sounding but inaccurate “Arab government.”

    US port security will remain unchanged, and indeed DPW already has collaborative relationship with US security forces overseas on a pre-clearing freight program. Already exposed to US security practices.

    As for Arab, no, it does not mean “family.” Amusing you made that up.

    However, it’s nice to see good old vulgar bigotry and xenophobia so purely expressed. None of the ‘facts’ in the final paragraph are in fact, facts.

  9. Eddie Says:

    I’ve never been more afraid of the stupidity and outright partisan agenda of the MSM than this week’s handling of the ports issue. For almost two days where I had no time to check blogs (and granted, a lot of them were jumping ship without checking the facts), I was dependent upon what I heard on CNN and what I read in Stars & Stripes. From their reporting of the “facts”, it made it out that the UAE was running everything and this was some major threat to the homeland.

    As Collounsbury pointed out, this is absolute bunk. But every American who watched and read the MSM and listened to their elected leaders in Congress (aside from McCain) got this load of BS served up as absolute facts. Indeed, the media was crowing, it MUST BE a dire threat to national security if HILARY CLINTON AND BILL FRIST are working together.

    How can we dare dream of coordinating a solid, government-wide effort in the information warfare area with elected leaders this pathetic and a media this willing to lie, mislead and inflame public opinion no matter the cost to advance their agenda?

    Speaking of detainees and rights; what did you think of the Alberto Mora (retired Navy general counsel) story from earlier this week?

  10. mark Says:

    Hi Eddie,

    I didn’t catch that story – do you have a link?

    In general, regarding illegal combatants my philosophy is that the U.S. should exercise its sovereign and belligerent rights under IL to levy harsh punishments against those who practice terrorism and violate Geneva’s rules on targeting noncombatants.

    We can and should make exceptions with individual prisoners where it provides us with benefits – political, intelligence or otherwise – but the expectation of an al Qaida member upon being caught should be a swift military trial for war crimes and the death penalty if convicted. We have however, missed the moment to a great degree on the moral point that this would have made.

    Our current policy of indefinite detention ironically, while far milder, is something we can’t legally justify under IL. And this gives all of our critics a legitimate wedge.

  11. Eddie Says:

    How many actual Al-Qaeda have we captured? I’d support swift and harsh punishments against them, but 4 years into the war and we have yet to even get close to this.

    It seems most of the people at Gitmo are also-rans and “wrong place, wrong time” types. As well as a few victims of family and tribal disputes which led them to be turned over to the Americans and their Afghan/Iraqi allies as “terrorists”.

    Here’s the link:

    Basically, NCIS came to him, said unacceptable acts were taking place at Gitmo, he investigated, agreed, and ended up (along with the other service lawyers) fighting a rearguard action to get clear ground rules for interrogations and detainees, one they lost to the Cheney sector (Yoo, Addington, etc) who use questionable legal arguments to get their way.

    Its packed with a lot of good information, and Mora is not a liberal whiner or leaker, just a lifelong conservative now working as Wal-Mart’s legal counsel who didn’t agree with what was going on and did his best to set it right.

    Is it just me (being in the military and having seen how they treat us when we’re suspected and/or guilty of breaking the law) or doesn’t it really set off alarm bells when NCIS (and their army and air force counterparts) was shocked and dismayed at what was happening in Gitmo (and subsequently in Afghanistan/Iraq)?

    Btw, good comments about this story this past week on Belgravia Dispatch and Dan Drezner.

  12. mark Says:

    “How many actual Al-Qaeda have we captured? I’d support swift and harsh punishments against them, but 4 years into the war and we have yet to even get close to this.”

    Actually the Pakis do most of the capturing for us. We have a fair number but most of them are in CIA or third country custody, not at Gitmo.

    Gitmo’s prisoners are currently mostly cannon fodder or as you put it, mistaken identity cases. We have paroled some ( we also mistakenly paroled some bad guys or gave up bad guys to Britain, Australia, France andother allied states who wanted their citizens back).

    The military is worried because they operate under the UCMJ, regardless of what might be ordered and for the prrecedent it sets for aptured U.S. personnel

  13. collounsbury Says:

    I should add btw that my criticism of Rumsfeld was more about the public commentary, some things he has to say of course. I’d just prefer more distance from Algeria, e.g.

  14. larry Says:

    I consider Bush my leader. You and to some extent Bush seem to be “following” Dr. Barnett’s vision.

    There does appear to be some kind of road map showing how things move through our ports. We only check between 1-5 % of the cargo, which moves through our ports. Our security experts are saying that this is ok because we check more than 80% of the cargo leaving overseas ports. Algorithms are used to figure out which ships to check as they move through our ports. The algorithms, or mathematical formula, are the road map I am talking about. Management would need this formula to manage the day-to-day flow of energy through our ports. This road map would have to start when the cargo arrives at the foreign port and end when the cargo is unloaded at the USA port. Once on the docks, the cargo is considered to be under the security of management, in this case it would be the UAE.


    I have no doubt you are correct in the assessment of my last paragraph. However, to say “Arab” doesn’t represent a family is not completely accurate either. If a person can be defined in the terms folk, kin and trade; it would seem to me that “Arab” would be considered folk if not kin, I call that family.

    What I was trying to say in my last paragraph is: we should not be giving management privileges to people who identify with, no matter how remotely, people we are killing. This thinking should be a part of our survival instincts, unless we are running some kind of scam on the UAE. I have no information to suggest that when it comes to corporations we are trying to control anything. I suppose our survival should be market controlled, but I have not quite drank the Kool-aid yet.

    At a latter date, when we are not directly killing Arabs, perhaps we could then turn over the management operations of our ports to the UAE or some other foreign government like China, which we probably already have.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    We need to have a unified information policy, and yet the President is too secretive?

    Isn’t there a little bit of a paradox in that?


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