Read This…

Kings of War posts a brilliant paper (pdf) by Professor David Betz on ‘The Virtual Dimension of Contemporary Insurgency and Counterinsurgency’. I’ll have a lot more to say about the paper next week (my initial reactions are that it obviously ties to Western self-abnegation, and that the issue of the relative attitudes toward violence – they video violence and see it as self-affirming, we video violence and see it as an immoral admission of failure), but you should for sure read it.

I brought a copy over here to download because I didn’t want to burn KoW’s bandwidth; if they (or anyone else) thinks that’s inappropriate, please speak up in comments.

One thought on “Read This…”

  1. Good paper within its own scope.

    But what I don’t buy about this, or any of the similar arguments made along it’s line is that I just don’t see propaganda, or message , or narrative control, or whatever the heck you want to call it making or indeed having ever made a difference.

    I’d argue that compared to the economic forces at play, propaganda is simply insignificant.

    The Soviet Union was vastly superior to the West at propaganda, yet fell so spectacularly all the same. Was it really the propaganda of North Vietnam and it’s Western fellow travelers who pushed the US out of South Vietnam? Or was it simply the fact that millions of draft age Americans felt no compelling reason to risk life and limb in defense of South Vietnam?

    Take the current Iraq war and the anti-war movement, or rather lack thereof. For a war so unpopular in the polls, where are the street demonstrations? Mass marches? Bumper sticker campaigns? Confined primarily to a demographically tiny fringe group of nuts.

    Indeed the central tenets of the anti-war arguments are the cost and perceived utility of the Iraq war. The argument against the war is an economic one, not either ideological or moral. The current debate around the war can be framed best as a, hilariously ironic, inversion in which the left castigates the right for having created what is, they claim, simply an open ended entitlement program.

    How else to explain the lack of heat against the current war? It is judged as unpopular by a majority of Americans, yet the current candidate supporting the war has, at them moment, far better poll ratings than either of his opponents who do not support the war. This is a far better indicator that the war is seen as a wasteful spending program by most Americans, rather than as any form of ideological or moral blunder.

    Bush won his reelection in 2004, but the Republican Congress ‘lost’ in 2006. The left claims this is a repudiation of the Iraq war, but the timeline is poor. What was worse in 2006 than in 2004? Instead I’d argue they are right but not in the way they thought they were. Foreign policy is traditionally the domain of the President, economic policy traditionally the domain of Congress. The foreign policy around the war was not rejected, but the economic policy was.

    This also explains the current election cycle perfectly as, when viewed as simply an economic program, the fact that the war is not popular is not decisive because it becomes simply one among many economic programs to be weighted along with it. This is why McCain remains competitive.

    Propaganda has very little effect on economics save only in the perception of future utility. And it can be swept away in an instant by a demonstration of current utility. The propaganda campaign against US forces in Iraq has all but completely failed amongst Iraqi civilians. Promises of glorious Jihad against the infidels and holy warriors pushing out the invaders collapsed in an instant when matched with the ugly reality of hundreds of slaughtered Iraqi civilians, brutal kidnappings and murders of Iraqis, and a lack of, well, actual repelling of said invaders.

    Current utility trumped propaganda. This was the success of the surge.

    As a thought experiment, imagine the application on the reverse side. If we were helping ourselves to Iraqi oil at cost and thus selling gas on the street now for a dollar a gallon, would the war still be unpopular? Would the world be objecting to the US in Iraq, or simply angling for a piece of the benefits?

    Support for violent jihad in Iraq has plummeted, was that the result of our propaganda or our economics? Did we talk down the insurgency or simply demonstrate a better path? AQ has gone from destroying buildings in the continental United States, to killing random civilians on their own turf, to, increasingly, simply issuing long winded diatribes. Propaganda or economics?

    As far as I can see, the ‘idea war’ is simply an only marginally influencing side line. Can anyone throw me a good argument as to how it actually makes a long term, substantial difference?

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