A Path Toward Democracy and Information Warfighting

Here’s some good news on the information warfare front…from MountainRunner (a blog you ought to be reading if you’re not):

One of the most famous aphorisms of Edward R. Murrow is his statement on the “last three feet”: The really crucial link in the international communication chain is the last three feet, which is bridged by personal contact, one person talking to another. The importance of face-to-face, personal contact in counterinsurgency cannot be emphasized enough. Engaging in this last three feet requires more than figuring out the right words and establishing a grammar to communicate with locals. It means understanding we have a “say-do” gap (the propaganda of deeds versus the propaganda of words) that requires emphasizing actions over words and public and private pronouncements.

Marine Corps General Doug Stone, commander of Task Force 134, Detainee Operations, in Iraq has just signed off on a smart strategic communications plan that should be used as a model for other units. It clearly communicates intent and provides guidance and has the buy-in of General Petraeus.

It makes perfect sense to focus on detainee operations. As Stone notes, “detainee operations is certainly a battlefield; it is the battlefield of the mind, and it is one of the most important fights in counterinsurgency.” Besides the fact he has a captive audience, by definition, his charges have decided to take significant action against the Coalition. For more on the operations of TF134, read this post.

The primary audience and the primary target of the plan is the Task Force itself, which, as one reviewer noted, is a statement that the military culture still requires tweaking. The challenge will be, according to another reviewer, translating the high-level guidance into action.

Here’s a quote from the Overview:

For our purposes as the counterinsurgent force, we will consider it an absolute imperative that our actions are fully congruent with the ideals that we promote. There can be no “gap” between what we say and what we do.

Leaders must understand the importance of this last statement; it is the keystone of our communication efforts. As the above passage from Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice makes clear, we have the responsibility as the counterinsurgent to “walk the walk” as well as we “talk the talk.” Our priorities and values must be displayed in every deed, and reflected in the actions of every man and woman serving in internment facilities throughout the Iraqi Theater of Operations.

What you will find here is far more than a collection of talking points or a series of taskings for the Public Affairs Office and Information Operations Cell. The doctrinal information functions of PA and IO certainly serve to support select aspects of our strategic communication initiatives, but they are not the main effort. Rather, this plan places the emphasis on the conduct of the individual service member to demonstrate who we are, what we do, and what we stand for. This point is critical to the ultimate success of the plan.

This is wholly coherent with John Boyd’s work, best expressed in “Patterns of Conflict” and which I wrote about before in “Boyd on Moral Warfighting and Guerilla Warfare“.

The issue with information warfare – is simply the ‘propaganda of the deed’ which we have not done a great job of – in the sense that we have done many good deeds, and out enemy many bad ones that we have not seized upon or worked to publicize.

But at root, there has to be a commitment – from the very top – to occupy the high moral ground.

Here’s Boyd:


Undermine guerilla cause and destroy their cohesion by demonstrating integrity and competence of government to represent and serve needs of the people – rather than exploit and impoverish them for the benefit of a greedy elite.*

Take political initiative to root out and visibly punish corruption. Select new leaders with recognized competence as well as popular appeal. Ensure that they deliver justice, eliminate grievances and connect government with grass roots.*

Infiltrate guerilla movement as well as employ population for intelligence about guerilla plans, operations, and organization.

Seal-off guerilla regions from outside world by diplomatic, psychological, and various other activities that strip-away potential allies as well as by disrupting or straddling communications that connect these regions with the outside world.

Deploy administrative talent, police, and counter-guerilla teams into affected localities and regions to inhibit guerilla communication, coordination, and movement; minimize guerilla contact with local inhabitants; isolate their ruling cadres; and destroy their infrastructure.

Exploit presence of above teams to build-up local government as well as recruit militia for local and regional security in order to protect people from the persuasion and coercion efforts of guerilla cadres and their fighting units.

Use special teams in a complementary effort to penetrate guerilla controlled regions. Employ (guerillas’ own) tactics of reconnaissance, infiltration, surprise hit-and-run, and sudden ambush to: keep roving bands off-balance, make base areas untenable, and disrupt communication with the outside world.

Expand these complementary security/penetration efforts into affected region after affected region in order to undermine, collapse, and replace guerilla influence with government influence and control.

Visible link these efforts with local political/economic/social reform in order to connect central government with hopes and needs of people, thereby gain their support and confirm government legitimacy.


Break guerillas’ moral-mental-physical hold over the population, destroy their cohesion, and bring about their collapse via political initiative that demonstrates moral legitimacy and vitality of government and by relentless military operations that emphasize stealth/fast-temp/fluidity-of-action and cohesion of overall effort.

*If you cannot realize such a political program, you might consider changing sides.

(emphasis and footnote his)

And so the beginnings of an answer to the problem of how a democracy conducts information warfare start to emerge: we make a commitment to seize and hold the moral high ground and to fiercely sanction people who do things that challenge that commitment. And we facilitate letting the people who do the things get their stories out.

More thoughts in a bit…but if you want to know why a widely publicized policy of ‘aggressive interrogation’ is a bad idea, here’s a darn good place to start.

15 thoughts on “A Path Toward Democracy and Information Warfighting”

  1. Great, you agree that torture is bad for a number of reasons including being immoral.

    And I am hopeful that this post indicates your belief that the rightful target of “information warfare” should be a foreign, not domestic, audience.

    But I’m wondering whether there are some fundamental misperceptions with regards to the notion of demonstrating a “moral superiority”.

    Not everyones morals are the same, you know. What we think is moral is not necessarily what the “target population” thinks, especially in the Muslim world.

    So we cannot succeed at this if we apply our own moral code alone, and there will always be a complicating “tribe-mentality” opposition that has nothing to do with morality.

    The ability of an occupier to convince an indigenous population of its moral righteousness has been demonstrated over and over throughout history as being very limited or impossible.

    And the entire premise also rests upon the idea that the “detainees” are there for good reason, that their freedoms have been taken away for what they believe is a just cause. Certainly those who are innocent (and we suspect a lot of detainees are) will always be bitter about this (if they survive it), but oddly enough I’m guessing that even those “detained” for good reason may never accept their imprisonment at the hands of a foreign occupier.

    No matter how much you try to brainwash them.

    And their future influences can never be controlled.

    So overall I’d have to say that this all sounds downright impossible…the fantasies of policy-wonks and people who really truly believe that if they just try hard enough and produce enough strategic papers then we can succeed at anything. Any damn thing at all.

    I see absolutely no success in this strategy.

  2. Sepp, if you’d been paying attention, you’d know that I’ve said that torture or even ‘aggressive interrogation’ is bad and wrong for quite some time.

    You construct a neat logical box we can’t get out of; so we just come home and hope the rest of the world leaves us alone?


  3. Sepp, to echo what A.L. said, if you’re paying attention, you’ll realize “Detainee Operations” is different than what you’re thinking of. Also, the plan is directed at the men and women in charge of the detainees more than others to get them to realize what they do matters. Major General Doug Stone, chief of Task Force 134, has had substantial success with his programs to the degree that parents are asking him to continue to hold their kids because they are actually learning skills inside the wire. Further, part of his strategy is to teach the illiterate detainees, which are frequently the more extreme of the bunch, Arab (with Iraqi teachers) and teach them to read the Koran (with Iraqi Imams). These programs, as well as civics (Iraqi civics) lessons are discussed elsewhere on my blog, which you can get to through a link on the post above. The detained insurgent may not side with the U.S. but they’ll realize the religious proselytizing they fell for was false, among other benefits.

    A.L., thanks for the link and the recommendation.


  4. _Great, you agree that torture is bad for a number of reasons including being immoral._

    . . .

    _Not everyones morals are the same, you know. What we think is moral is not necessarily what the “target population” thinks, especially in the Muslim world._

    Sepp, an apologist for torture.

  5. Sepp, I think that one of the points that you are missing, and it is a critical point, is that we are trying very very hard to turn this over to the Iraqis themselves. By doing so, we let them take responsibility for their own security, their own troublemakers, their own future. More importantly for us, we get to come home. Despite what you seem to think, even the “pro-war” side does not want to fight wars; it’s just that we realize that war is sometimes better than the alternative. So the faster we can turn over the reins to a successful, representative Iraqi government, the better. Which would obviously negate the who “occupier” thing. In fact, I think that the fact that the Iraqis conducted the Basra operation on their own, without us planning it or being in the decision-making loop, is evidence that we’ve been very successful at exactly that.

    And I am also curious, Sepp, as to your thoughts on targeting information at your own population. Assuming that the information is true, why is this bad? Should we, for example, insist that the government stop compelling warnings on cigarette packs, or shut down anti-drunk driving campaigns, because that is giving information to the US public, which the government shouldn’t do? What is the line between the government telling us its views on domestic matters and telling us its views on foreign affairs, that makes the latter unacceptable in any way? And will you apply that same standard to the next Democratic administration?

  6. Sepp:

    The ability of an occupier to convince an indigenous population of its moral righteousness has been demonstrated over and over throughout history as being very limited or impossible.

    Frankly, Sepp, your “history” isn’t worth the comic book it’s written on.

    Historically, invading armies have spread culture like wildfire. Were it not so, Islam would be a minor tribal religion confined to the Arabian peninsula. Incidentally, the people of Iraq are 80% Arab, and are no more “indigenous” to Iraq than the Irish are indigenous to Massachusetts.

    On the other hand, all the tanks and guns of the Warsaw Pact could not sustain the sick culture of Marxism. Culture, like language, is naturally democratic, and in the long run people have a choice. Don’t assume that they all choose to live in a twisted Chomsky nightmare, for the gratification of America-hating leftists.

  7. I completely agree with this, and think this is the GWOT has to be approached.

    The romans had a long history of empire, longer than just about any other nation. They did it by giving enough back to their communities that the locals would have been crazy to kick them out. That lead to the monty python line “Other than the roads, sewers, aqueducts, security…. what have the romans ever done for us?”.

    Sure, you can’t please everyone. But assuming that Iraqis should just “be grateful” is just expanding the communication problem. Demonstrating that being an American ally means a better life for you and your children is a much stronger message.

    On that note: Did anyone see the 60 minutes bit on corruption in the Iraqi government? Apparently the anti-corruption corps where being threatened upon just entering government buildings (let alone investigating them). This is a serious problem, and although not our fault, reflects badly on the Iraqi view of “American Democracy”.

  8. The problem, Jeff, is not that the government is running a disinformation campaign against us. Who were the targets of the staged Saddam statue pull-down? Not Baghdadis, who could find out full-well how many, that is, how few people were participating in the event. You and I were the targets. Unfortunately for our policy, too many pro-war people believed the propaganda to insist upon a course correction back when it would have made more difference. (I think I speak for many people who were against the war from the beginning that although we expected it to turn out badly, Team Bush has made it turn out even worse than we had imagined.) Indeed, I think you will find that the propaganda of the Bush Administration has, first and foremost, been about making George Bush look virile and omniscient (as a quick running hit, how else could he be so sure to have locked up the “worst of the worst” in Gitmo without recourse to tribunals of any sort?), and only very secondarily about improving the situation on the ground in Iraq or anything else about national security.

    You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time. George Bush’s fall from the most popular to the most unpopular president in polling history is the latter leaving his claque to the former.

    As an aside, why do you think we have never renounced the idea of large permanent bases in Iraq? Hint: the answer is not compatible with turning everything over to Iraqis themselves.

  9. I have to agree with Sepp here. Sure, Mountain Runner points to some obvious benefits of helping to educate the population that you have adopted by your invasion, but that seems a very long way from winning the so-called “information war” whose goal, I am assuming, is to help diffuse threats against Americans at a source.

    Problem is that we’ve already done far more harm to that cause then good in Iraq, and a few newly literate detainees isn’t going to change that sad fact.

    I take it many here are war supporters. Guess what. You’re judgment sucks. I don’t want to hear anymore about how you think we can “win” in Iraq (or even in the ME, from a PR point of view) after all we have done. We have no moral credibility there any longer thanks to the actions of those who you supported until pretty recently, and a few good men on the ground and a mountain of well-meaning memos won’t amount to a hill of beans in the end.

    We’re well and truly f–cked there. No point in dredging up the past, that’s for sure. And I sure don’t have any easy solutions. However, the way forward begins with recognizing the mistakes of the past, and one of those is letting all the wrong people make important decision for all the wrong reasons.

    So, first order of business, clear the decks of the ones who steered us onto the shoals to begin with.

  10. I bungled the first sentence above: the problem is not that the US Government is running an information campaign, but that it is running a disinformation campaign.

  11. Well, Simoni, if you don’t want to hear from us, the door is in the little url bar at the top of your browser. Catch you on the go-round.

    But – we actually could “win” this conflict; eyewitnesses (like Michael Yon, who is no shill for the Pentagon) talk about the – positive – attitude the Iraqi-in-the-street has toward us (and note that facts bear that out; if a sizeable portion of the Iraqi public rose up in rebellion against us, things would look measurably and obviously different indeed.

    That said, we’ve lost strategically in Iraq and now the question what’s Plan B? Devising that seems like the best way for all of us to spend out time to me.


  12. Andrew, if this set of outcomes in Iraq, is “worse than you could have imagined, you need to imagine harder. It’s far better than any worst case I ever discussed with anyone.

    (Note that this doesn’t change the fundamental strategic failure or the tar-baby problem we are facing, which we need to get off our butts and solve)


  13. This assumes that there is no active campaign against us, by the
    other side, financed by by the Saudis, Iranians, & other elements.
    The Kuwaiti/Quatari public relations campaign against Gitmo,
    military tribunal, basically anything that would work against
    ‘unlawful enemy combatants’. The recent campaign against ‘Cully’
    Stimson, who had the temerity to point that corporations were being represented by those, who would likely destroy them was a case in point. Under the rules being promulgated and recommended, Atta, Hanjour, & probably Jarrah, would have been totally untouchable by
    any legal authority; just like they were on September 11th.

    The academic campaign waged by Esposito, of GeorgeTown, Gerges,
    of Sarah Lawrence, Bulliet,of Columbia; who was more concerned
    with the perception that Arabs were behind the first WTC bombing than the actual bombing. Keen observers of Wahhabist elements in Saudi & other societies like Scott
    Doran, can’t get tenure atPrinceton
    ; so he ends up at the NSC; which is a less likely area to promote scholarly ideas; although more influential in the short run.

    On the think tank front, the likes of Charles Freeman, one of those Wahhabi ‘sympathizers’ pointed out by Baer, Kaplan, et al; get the last word. He most recently surfaced in Nir Rosen’s Rolling Stone piece savaging the surge against AQ and other elements; saying that Iraq was more unstable now, because it was more representative?? unlike the impervious Saud clan and their Ilkwan retainers; who stole the country from its people back in the 20s. Freeman, one should recall was the envoy back in the day when Bin Laden’s assistance request was turned down by the Al Sauds. We know how well that turned out. Freeman, Fowler, West, et al. “six of one, half a dozen of the other”. Along with that former envoy to Iraq; that Reverend Wright took inspiration from; who’s not surprisingly a prominent 9/11 denialist. Joe Wilson was also a member of that same entourage; now he performs similar services for companies dealing with Bashir’s Janjaweed regime. The exception, of course, is the late Hume Horan, who challenged such rationalizations wherever he found them; he died
    in Baghdad, the central front of the Wahhabist front.

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