Update: see followup above…
So here’s my problem. If we’re engaged in counterinsurgency, public diplomacy and information warfare – which the insurgent side are very good at, spends a lot of time doing, and where the mainstream media only recently grudgingly backed away from the most egregious, falsified examples of their work – is a critical component, according to pretty much everyone who has written on the subject.But – our government can’t play. Not only are there legal restrictions, but the simple fact that information was given to commentators, bloggers, or reporters by the government – in the hopes that it can shape the information battlespace – is illegitimate, and is itself a major meta-story.
I don’t think it’s wrong to be concerned about the government shaping the news. I think it’s necessary to shape perception as a part of any successful counterinsurgency.
But those two principles seem to be in a midair collision, and as a consequence it’s going to keep raining aluminum.
Here’s a quote from Betz on the importance of information war:
Third, by contrast, we do not focus enough effort on winning and maintaining the hearts and minds of the most critical and accessible population: our own. Clearly, armed forces do not want to be concerned with the management of domestic perceptions of conflict; nor should that be their responsibility – although soldiers of all ranks must be ever aware of the impact on the virtual battlefield of everything they do on the real one. Indeed, in the United States there is a specific legal impediment to doing so in the form of the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act (establishing the USIA) which required that propaganda intended for foreign audiences â€˜shall not be disseminated within the United States, its territories, or possessions.â€™5 Yet T.X. Hammes argues that the war we now face is one in which our opponent,
… uses all available networks – political, economic, social and military – to convince the enemyâ€™s political decision-makers that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit. It is rooted in the fundamental precept that superior political will, when properly employed, can defeat greater economic and military power.6
And if that is the case then we are ignoring the defence of a critical vulnerability. It is as though we had entered some gladiatorial combat with helmet visor closed, sword dull and bent, and shield lying in the dirt. The United States, in particular, it is argued, possesses a â€˜quagmire mentalityâ€™ which gifts its enemies with a playbook for its defeat.7
…and one on the problem I cite above:
Thinking of Freedmanâ€™s second point, we can see that there are other disadvantages we face when it comes to creating compelling strategic narratives. In the West narratives which are deliberately constructed by Government are almost immediately rejected for that reason whatever their inherent accuracy or falsity. The public is highly sensitized to â€˜spinâ€™, the media excels at revealing (and counter-spinning) it, and no narrative can long survive the perception that it is based, even in part, on a lie. Narratives which reinforce already existing ideas, on the other hand, are easily portrayed as â€˜populistâ€™ demagoguery. Arguments which appeal to the reason are deemed more trustworthy than those which appeal to emotion and historical analogy, but, at the same time, generally people lack the patience for long argument. Basically, if you need to target your base and find that it is fractured and lacks purpose, lacks the attention span for in-depth appeal to argument but is exquisitely sensitive to manipulation and possesses an innate mastery of semiotics then you have a problem. And if, moreover, your opponentâ€™s base is unified, has a sense of purpose, a rich oral tradition which lends itself well to story-listening (and telling) and is fairly credulous when it comes to conspiracy theories then you have got a very serious problem.
I’ll try and extend this and talk more about this conundrum. But for now, let’s set the problem out there and talk about it.