IEDs as “Weapons of Strategic Influence”

Armchair Generalist and Plontius discussed IED’s as Weapons of Strategic Influence last month. Some thoughts as Plontius apparently didn’t understand the real, and intended, ability of IEDs to influence public perceptions, and thus opinions, through both direct and indirect actions.

First, Plotinius looked at the mission of the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO). JIEDDO sees IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) for what they are: tools of influence. IED’s cannot kill enough personnel or destroy enough material to reduce or eliminate American operational capabilities. But through persistence, they can, and have, cause a change in tactics, and posture, to achieve or supplement other informational victories.

IEDs, by forcing a change in tactics and openness alter the effectiveness of American military and civilian personnel. IEDs influence public perception of security not only in Iraq, but around the world, most notably in the United States. As a personal example, the mere suggestion that I might go to Iraq, Wife of MountainRunner immediately responded with a scenario of MountainRunner being killed by an IED. The inability of US forces to protect their own is amplified by insurgent media as well as domestic media, especially as casualties mount.

The success of JIEDDO is wholly dependent on the struggle for the minds of the locals, reversing gains of insurgents to instill fear (including a hasty withdrawal of US forces and thus a loss of protection in the too near future) and increasing the realization that insurgents, in whatever nationalist or religious or tribal or criminal form they take, are part of the problem and not the solution they themselves purport to be.

IEDs may also generate inappropriate emotional responses by our forces that run counter to the mission. In this, as Jason alludes to, the strategic corporal has a significant ability to influence the war of information. In corporate America, one bad customer experience is worse than one good. Bad experiences get relayed while good ones do not. In the information theater, bad experiences get highlighted by enemy propaganda while, naturally, the good experiences do not. Fifty dead civilians, as the COIN manual notes, may not be worth the five dead insurgents.

Many lament this ignorance of the good, especially certain people who think it’s some vast left wing conspiracy. They may be right, there may be a domestic conspiracy, and they are certainly right there’s a foreign conspiracy, but the critics who blame left wing media, anti-war media, and insurgent media are missing in their malformed and uninformed commentaries is the endemic inability of the US to muster a counter-offensive, let alone effective defense of enemy, foreign or domestic, of information.

American strategic influence has too often relied on the passive argument of “who we are” and ignores the real “diplomacy of deeds”. In business, when you buy a company you also buy their goodwill, the perceived value and trust customers have of the brand name. In the case of the US, we’ve exhausted our goodwill and no longer receive the benefit of the doubt, which itself is bolstered by strategic influence.

Reaching back over a year, in his keynote address to the 2006 Unrestricted Warfare symposium, General Anthony Zinni noted two very important points about this information war. First was President Bush’s March 2006 speech on Iraq and his focus on countering IEDs.

Think about that — the President of the United States, trying to reassure America after three years of involvement in this conflict, is reduced to a technical aspect, as if the key to victory is defeating the ability of the enemy to put IEDs in place…

General Zinni’s comments highlighted the clumsy attempt by President Bush to counter the IED as a weapon of strategic influence. Instead of fighting in the informational realm, the President played into the insurgents’ hand and acted as a force multiplier for them, highlighting their effectiveness while focusing America on its traditional response: a fallback on technology over informational and sociological solutions. 

The struggle over local minds and the will to resist implicit and explicit support of insurgents is hindered by events that, as General Zinni noted, ceded the moral high ground, previously our advantage, with incidents like Abu Ghraib. Abu Ghraib are an, as a New York Times senior correspondent noted, “arrow in the back of every soldier and Marine…operating on the ground” in Iraq. The insurgent gains an asymmetrical advantage with the information fueling perceptions the enemy can “show the world that you are not what you say you are.”

As “one-punch fighters”, America tends to focus on using the military for coercive compliance and we do not do so well with nonviolent means of power influence — diplomatic, informational, military , economic, social, cultural.

Information or diplomacy in this present war has been horrible… We lose the information battle. Right from the beginning, these groups we hired — the Lincoln Group, the Rendon Group — and the ways we tried to propagandize have been amateurish, have not worked well, and have backfired on us. We send Karen Hughes to the Middle East on a listening tour to improve our image. Give me a break.

JIEDDO is just a small player in the struggle for minds and wills, neutralizing enemy propaganda, and reducing the informational efficacy of IEDs. Unfortunately, like most weapons in America’s information arsenal, there is little support from the suppose masters (and former owners) of strategic influence.

This weekend Joel Brinkley wrote how chief diplomacy Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the San Francisco Chronicle has completed her descent into the margins of SI: 

A few months ago, she decided to write an opinion piece about Lebanon. She enlisted John Chambers, chief executive officer of Cisco Systems as a co-author, and they wrote about public/private partnerships and how they might be of use in rebuilding Lebanon after last summer’s war. No one would publish it.

Think about that. Every one of the major newspapers approached refused to publish an essay by the secretary of state. Price Floyd, who was the State Department’s director of media affairs until recently, recalls that it was sent to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and perhaps other papers before the department finally tried a foreign publication, the Financial Times of London, which also turned it down.

Yes, think about that. Her article, reading “like a campaign document,” is not worth publishing, despite its authorship. Strategic influence is an increasingly rare commodity in American diplomacy with publics that requires careful attention and stewardship. The top leadership of American diplomacy, including both SecState and Karen Hughes, continue to operate outside of modern requirements.

Finally, we are witnessing a systemic change in America where institutional ownership over shaping America’s image abroad moves out of civilian hands and into the military. Soldiers feel the impact of failed diplomacy, both traditional and with the people themselves, while Administration officials and many of its political appointees do not, except for those few on the frontlines who yell back to Washington for support.

IEDs are certainly an effective weapon of strategic influence. Their strategic and tactical effectiveness result from the rules of information war and at the same time demonstrative of the failure of the US to understand the importance and value, at the strategic and operational levels, of information and to, most importantly, form effective counters to anticipate and neutralize enemy information campaigns.

One thought on “IEDs as “Weapons of Strategic Influence”

  1. Strategically, insurgent campaigns have shifted from military campaigns supported by information operations to strategic communications campaigns supported by guerrilla and terrorist operations. — T.X. HammesIt is not the IED that forced any change in tactics or openness. It was the perception management of the enemy that created the widespread belief amongst the domestic target audience that if an American warrior dies in battle it must be somebody other than the enemy’s fault, resulting in force protection-oriented mutant ninja turtle motorized infantry.
    Command detonated mines are nothing new. What is new is the exploitation of each incident.

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