23 June 2008

Petraeus Guidance And Application in the Punditsphere

Multi-National Force Iraq has released COIN guidance from General Petraeus. The directives are nothing new to people who follow counter-insurgency doctrine or soldiers with boots on ground. But two bullets of interest are applicable to bloggers following events while in our underwear back stateside:

  • Be first with the truth. Get accurate information of significant activities to your chain of command, to Iraqi leaders, and to the press as soon as is possible. Beat the insurgents, extremists, and criminals to the headlines, and pre-empt rumors. Integrity is critical to this fight. Don’t put lipstick on pigs. Acknowledge setbacks and failures, and then state what we’ve learned and how we’ll respond. Hold the press (and ourselves) accountable for accuracy, characterization, and context. Avoid spin and let facts speak for themselves. Challenge enemy disinformation. Turn our enemies’ bankrupt messages, extremist ideologies, oppressive practices, and indiscriminate violence against them.
  • Fight the information war relentlessly. Realize that we are in a struggle for legitimacy that in the end will be won or lost in the perception of the Iraqi people. Every action taken by the enemy and United States has implications in the public arena. Develop and sustain a narrative that works and continually drive the themes home through all forms of media.
Petraeus is speaking of countering the enemy's information war which seeks to portray the U.S. as bloodthirsty savages (frequently seen in Iranian media) or uses simple, emotional messaging about complex issues to incite indiscriminate violence (as seen with Al-Qaeda messaging). These information apparatuses are fair game under current military doctrine, but domestic media and DC politics remain off-limits for the military. This policy is designed to prevent military subversion of democracy, and even the superb COIN-themed Small Wars Journal steers clear of politics like a teenage couple from a prom night dumpster baby. Most high-ranking officers may harbor their own opinions, but are terrified of having their politics being broadcast...even to the point of not sharing them with subordinates during dinner at the chow hall. With this lack of engagement through mediums such as the blogosphere, a certain willful ignorance of the nation's punditry class is fostered. This has had terrible consequences over the past five years due to our apathy:
  • Incompetent Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld fails to listen to Gen. Shinseki's recommendations of having a much larger invasion force for Iraq, which would have crushed the Fedayeen and hindered the immediate outbreak of chaos. "Speaking Out" from former military leaders may have prevented much of the carnage and suffering the Iraqis have had to bear due to the destruction of infrastructure and the beginning of the insurgency.
  • The American left continues a campaign of misinformation and propaganda to denigrate military achievements for the purpose of electing "anti-war" candidates. Today's example is Juan Cole saying the U.S. has killed 310,000 Iraqis since 2003, despite complete lack of evidence. He even suggests an equivalent in America would be the total firebombing of Chicago...creepy! This Kos-like rhetoric mirrors propaganda in our enemy's media designed to subvert public support in the West.
  • A saber-rattling campaign against Iran exercised by the American right, despite overlooking any sort of "soft" options to isolate or remove the Iranian theocracy and not acknowledging that the current structure of the U.S. military would have immense difficulty supporting this mission.
Ignoring the political forces stateside that result in our foreign policy has negatively affected our country's military and ability to carry out the mission (see Admiral Mullen on Afghanistan). Career-driven military officers may fear reprisal from their civilian masters for speaking their mind, but the blogosphere provides a unique outlet, which most importantly can be done in anonymity.

And the rest of the world was ignorant, Because they weren't told more