Ethnographic intelligence and human terrain mapping as scientific and precise variants of public diplomacy
Two suggested reads on Afghanistan. First, read John Mackinlay’s The Taliban’s Propaganda of the Deed Strategy. In this post King’s College’s Insurgency Research Group blog, Mackinlay recognizes that the Taliban has learned the value of media (citing a to-be-published paper by Steve Tatham) and, his dominant theme, admonishes the media for accepting the propaganda.
The [National Day attack] demonstrates a classic propaganda of the deed partnership in which the insurgents with growing skill select a media-significant target and with witless incomprehension international reporters beam the most sensationally damning images of the event around the world so as to deliver the worst possible interpretation. There is no need for a Taliban subtext or even a photo caption, the images speak powerfully for themselves sending messages of a stricken regime put to flight in their gilded uniforms by the daring fighters of the Taliban.
Mackinlay concludes with questions:
Why not explain the propaganda context of their images or better still embargo the use of all images when reporting a sensational terrorist incident, including the endless resuscitation of images of previous attacks? But short-termism and golden–goose-egg syndrome ensure that no ambitious editor will forgo immediate profit to prevent the emergence of a regime in which their own function would be banned.
Noah Schachtman at Danger Room has a brief post on the transformation of a unit from traditional warfighting to being effective at counterinsurgency. I’ll be brief as well, but not as brief as Noah, who gives the heads on an Army Times article ‘Our unit is the transformation’: Unexpected mission leads battalion to be a constant presence on the streets of Tikrit.
The second caller of the day sounded drunk. He demanded to know why the Americans had not built new schools or hospitals.
Turns out, he also was blind.
he began losing his sight five years earlier and couldn’t find a doctor.
“Now I can’t see a camel,” he told Lt. Col. Rick Rhyne, who was sitting in a cramped radio studio along with an interpreter and the show’s host, a gregarious fellow known only as Mr. Lebanon.
The blind caller blamed his failed eyesight on the U.S. presence. Rhyne, commander of the 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, told the caller about the new construction and other activities coalition forces had provided that were aimed at improving lives of the locals.
The article gives some good examples of the value of personal contact and the product of building trust at the tactical level.
There is payback on the morale of our forces as well:
Pfc. Ellis Branch, also a member of the engineer unit, actually wants to be in the city.
“I like it a lot better. I can’t stand sitting in one truck for more than 10 hours up and down [Main Supply Route] Tampa,” he said. “Being boots on ground feels like you’re accomplishing something.”
One last comment: a dollar says LTC Rhyne won’t, even if scheduled, appear at the DoD Blogger’s Roundtable.
Subtitle for this post: America’s public diplomacy wears combat boots…
Briefly, a few links worth reading as you start your Monday…
- Regulating Complex Terrain in Counterinsurgency by Mike Innes
- Political Maneuver in Counterinsurgency by David Kilcullen over at SWJ, a part of the definitive archive of Dave Kilcullen
- What Terrorists Really Want: Terrorist Motives and Counterterrorism Strategy by Max Abrahms
- … commentary on Max’s article is by The Faceless Bureaucrat AQ as Oddfellows (see my comments on an earlier IS article by Max here).
- Tim Stevens at Ubiwar.com comments on The Al-Qaeda Media Machine by USC journalism and public diplomacy professor Phil Seib. Update: Arab Media Shack comments on Phil’s paper as well.
Whether you did or did not attend this year’s URW Symposium at Johns Hopkins University (10-11 March 2008), the proceedings are available online (hard copy typically arrives much later, but I didn’t couldn’t make it this year, so I won’t be getting a book). A few presentations stand out, even if 80% of the content was surely in the accompanying narrative.
The first is COL Karen Lloyd’s Experiences from the Field: Using Information Operations to Defeat AQAM (al-Qaeda and Associated Movements). COL Lloyd is from J3, Joint IO Warfare Center. The slides don’t give away anything new, except for one not about AQAM:
Effects-Based Public Affairs. More on this later.
See also Mark Stout’s (Institute for Defense Analysis) Listening to the Adversary About the “War of Ideas” as well as the rest here.
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 communication 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.
The plan isn’t long, so if you’re at all interested, I suggest you read it. To encourage that, excerpts from the Overview and Purpose are below the fold.
Ernest J. Wilson, III, the Dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at USC, has an article in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences (sub req’d) titled “Hard power, Soft Power, Smart Power.”
In this paper Ernie argues the zero-sum relationship between hard and soft power must be replaced by a dynamic application of power, hard and soft, across a continuum appropriate for time and place known as Smart Power.
Update: At the request of the author, MAJ James Yin, the paper is removed pending publication in the Journal of Information Warfare, co-authored with Phil Taylor. I’ll post a link when it’s available.
Another paper on Information Operations by a Major, this time it’s MAJ James Yin of the Singapore Armed Forces. It was presented at the Information Operations & Influence Activity Symposium at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. MAJ Yin’s abstract:
This paper is a comparative study of the practice of influence in its various forms i.e. propaganda, public diplomacy, psychological operations, public affairs, cyberwarfare, EW etc. in Asia. It will highlight the state of development, differences in concepts, organization and application of influence in Asian countries as compared to the Western models dominating discussions on information operations and influence today. By doing so, it attempts to provide alternative angles of approaching information operations and influence that could contribute to the generation of solutions to address challenges faced by policy-makers and practitioners today. Finally, such a study will serve to broaden the body of knowledge in influence to include both Eastern and Western viewpoints.
Yin examines China, Japan, and Taiwan “based on their ability to influence the balance of power in Asia-Pacific and their propensity to use cyber warfare” and Thailand because of its COIN operations against Muslim insurgents.
Yin is currently at the University of Leeds (no doubt working with Phil Taylor) and wisely incorporated Smith-Mundt into his analysis (although he cited colleague Mike Waller’s Public Diplomacy Reader and not this blog…).
If IO is in anyway interesting to you, this is required reading. Hat tip goes to Under the Influence by David Bailey.
See also: Planning to Influence by USMC MAJ Matt Morgan
Some quick links to other posts you should read. No time to comment.
- Life after Jerusalem captured SECDEF’s comments on the U.S. foreign policy budget imbalance. Read it with her smart highlights. (See this post for a previous iteration of his stump speech also this for more background)
- Related to the subject of New Media and the Warfighter, see Steve Corman’s post on AQ fundraising videos.
- Also related, see Noah Shachtman’s post on Taliban threats to blow cell towers.
- See David Betz’s post at King’s of War on NATO’s use of YouTube in Afghanistan (ok, so it’s not new news — his post is 3 months old — but it fits the theme)
- And then Chris Albon finds an interesting analogy.
- also, I’ve add some thoughts to the comments of my Not Afraid to Talk response to Marc Lynch.
Also, in case you missed it, from Inside the Pentagon (sub req’d):
The Pentagon’s Strategic Communication Integration Group (SCIG) ceased to exist this month, opening a new chapter in the department’s efforts to communicate with the world. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England decided not to renew the group’s charter, so it expired March 1, officials familiar with the decision told Inside the Pentagon. The termination of the group was not announced publicly. …
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen complained that officials are too fixated on the word “strategic” when in reality the lines between strategic, operational and tactical issues are blurred almost beyond distinction, particularly in the realm of communications (ITP, Jan. 10, p1). In a memo to England, Mullen argued that U.S. deeds — not Pentagon Web sites or communications plans – are the best way to impart the country’s intentions on the world stage. The Pentagon should focus less on promoting its own story globally and more on listening to Muslims worldwide and understanding the subtleties of that community, the admiral wrote. …
And then lastly, since this has been the week of putting forth operational and strategic arguments on the use of information and persuasion, and as one colleague has noted my, um, disagreement with Smith-Mundt (although he makes one statement that’s untrue, I’ll let you figure figure out which of the three it is), a piece of domestic propaganda that today we think is illegal across the board (which reminds me of this distantly related post):