When nobody is shooting, you’re winning

From Michael Yon (h/t OP-FOR):  

Some of our own commanders believe that units who are not “in contact” or fighting here are perhaps not out beating the bushes enough. If there is a criticism of Marines on this, I heard Marines and American Army officers say on many occasions that some of the higher Marine command is stuck in the kinetic mindset, and this is very frustrating for Marines and Soldiers who realize that WHEN NOBODY IS SHOOTING IT MEANS YOU ARE WINNING.

Weapons that create and shape perceptions

Modern war is fought over strategic influence more than territory. Win the first and the second is gained easily. In this struggle, we are battling over perceptions and in the hyper-communications environment today, facts do not matter. We risk tactical and strategic success as we rely on a lawyerly conduct in war resting on finely tuned arguments of why and why not. Human nature in a crisis doesn’t care about the finer points that exist further up Maslow’s pyramid, human nature falls back on the quick response of emotions and are vulnerable to rumor and simple distortions, especially those reinforced over time.

Sharon Weinberger at Danger Room noted the government’s concern over the potential for the Active Denial System in the war of ideas.

Not only did Pentagon officials refuse to send the controversial weapon to Iraq, they blocked a request that came as late as December 2006. The big concern is clearly the public fallout from deploying a microwave weapon.

Senior officers in Iraq have continued to make the case. One December 2006 request noted that as U.S. forces are drawn down, the non-lethal weapon “will provide excellent means for economy of force.”

The main reason the tool has been missing in action is public perception. With memories of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal still fresh, the Pentagon is reluctant to give troops a space-age device that could be misconstrued as a torture machine.

“We want to just make sure that all the conditions are right, so when it is able to be deployed the system performs as predicted – that there isn’t any negative fallout,” said Col. Kirk Hymes, head of the Defense Department’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate.

As revolutionary as it is, the Active Denial System is not a sea-change in warfare. It’s simply a hi-tech water cannon. There is, however, a sea-change in warfare coming that is not being accompanied with an equivalent discussion over the impact on perception, even though potential impact and repercussions are several orders of magnitude greater than the ADS.

It’s interesting because my work on this sea-change does use much of the same branding principles found in a recent RAND report. No real details now because I don’t want take away from a report-in-progress I presented as a working draft at a workshop a few weeks ago…

Enlisting Madison Avenue by RAND

Read RAND’s report Enlisting Madison Avenue (by Todd C. Helmus, Christopher Paul, Russell W. Glenn) for two reasons. First, it does a good job of laying out the realities of how perceptions are created and provides recommendations on how to operationally manage those perceptions, both proactively and retroactively. Second, MountainRunner is cited on p132 (H/T to Adrian for pointing that out).

If you’re interested in IO, PSYOP, or Public Diplomacy (PD), you should consider this report. On describing the challenges and realities of info age warfare, I didn’t find anything particularly ground breaking — a lot of the report says what this blog has written about for a while, albeit in better war (probably because they spent more time editing than I do, and because they were paid 🙂 — but it is, unfortunately, new ground for many policy makers still confused about the struggle of hearts and minds.

Continue reading “Enlisting Madison Avenue by RAND

Shaping perceptions

Quickly, read Foreign Policy’s recent article on the latest Crusader Castle, the new US embassy in Baghdad. I’ll post more on this later.  

Saturday is reportedly the State Department’s self-imposed deadline for completion of construction on the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The facility has been plagued with controversy, including unproven allegations that the Kuwait-based contractor in charge of  construction imported Filipino workers against their will. But more profound questions about this new compound remain. Is it even correct to call something this large, this expensive, and this disconnected from the realities of Iraq an “embassy”? And what does it tell us about America’s thinking on Iraq?

In the September/October issue of FP, architectural historian Jane Loeffler–who knows more about U.S. embassy design than just about anybody–gives readers a taste (sub req’d) of just what kind of embassy $1 billion buys these days:

Located in Baghdad’s 4-square-mile Green Zone, the embassy will occupy 104 acres. It will be six times larger than the U.N. complex in New York and more than 10 times the size of the new U.S. Embassy being built in Beijing…. The Baghdad compound will be entirely self-sufficient, with no need to rely on the Iraqis for services of any kind. The embassy has its own electricity plant, fresh water and sewage treatment facilities, storage warehouses, and maintenance shops. The embassy is composed of more than 20 buildings, including six apartment complexes with 619 one-bedroom units. Two office blocks will accommodate about 1,000 employees…. Once inside the compound, Americans will have almost no reason to leave. It will have a shopping market, food court, movie theater, beauty salon, gymnasium, swimming pool, tennis courts, a school, and an American Club for social gatherings.”

But what, Loeffler asks, does an embassy this large and this costly say about the nation that built it?

If architecture reflects the society that creates it, the new U.S. embassy in Baghdad makes a devastating comment about America’s global outlook. Although the U.S. government regularly proclaims confidence in Iraq’s democratic future, the United States has designed an embassy that conveys no confidence in Iraqis and little hope for their future. Instead, the United States has built a fortress capable of sustaining a massive, long-term presence in the face of continued violence.”

Forty years ago, after the 1967 Six Day War, America was forced to flee a newly constructed embassy in Baghdad just five years after it opened. It’s unlikely we’d abandon this new compound–whatever the circumstances. Instead, this time around, the question is whether something so isolated can really be used to conduct diplomacy and spread democracy. To get Loeffler’s full argument, check out her essay: Fortress America.

Keep Rove off welfare, give him Hughes’ job

Thomas Friedman’s op-ed this past weekend is spot on with many a post here at MountainRunner, especially my comment last week about replacing Karen Hughes with Karl Rove. If Rove approached international public opinion, especially public opinion in contested physical and mental states (i.e. Middle East and disenfranchised Muslims in the EU), Osama, Sadr, and all the others would be either running scared or panhandling.

Today, the direct impact of bullets and bombs is often much less than the propaganda opportunities and perceptions they create. A famous dead Prussian once said war is a continuation of politics, but the reality today is that war is politics and nearly every act is an attempt to gain strategic influence over friends, foes, and neutrals. YouTube, blogs, and all forms of other media and connectivity everywhere means every GI Joe and Jihadi gets at least a bit part in the theater of information, for better or worse.

Now imagine Karl Rove takes this to heart and instead of the US telling foreign audiences what we want our own people to hear, we tell them the truth about their false idols?

Continue reading “Keep Rove off welfare, give him Hughes’ job

Support MountainRunner

As a reader of MountainRunner, you’ve no doubt noticed I don’t do ads or tip jars. Instead of overt links to other business that waste screen real estate or straight donations to my wallet, I rely on click-thru’s to Amazon.com to pay for this blog and ConflictWiki (to-be reincarnated soon with different and more user-friendly software that’s not Wiki-based… let that be a lesson in name choice).

Advantages of using Amazon to support MountainRunner:

  • You buy stuff you would be buying already but a percentage gets kicked-back to me, with no change in cost to you
  • They send me gift certificates to buy stuff at Amazon, which in turn feeds my habit of, er, killing trees. The cash offset pays for the website.

How to transparently support MountainRunner without any cost to you:

Neither the blog nor myself are affiliated or supported by any institution or organization, including my graduate degree program. Hopefully this will change when I complete my degree in December ’07…

Thank you in advance for your support.

Admin Note: A work in progress

So the upgrade to MovableType 4 wasn’t as easy as I hoped it would be. If you went to the site today you may have some of the neat “features” I temporarily implemented: redaction of major portions of the screen. I had forgotten how much I didn’t know about CSS. The site isn’t done yet as there are still some layout & format issues here and there, which I’ll get to later, in addition to some elements from the old version of the site that haven’t made their way over yet.

However, the new version is cool and it will be worth it when the system’s fully up and running. The coolest of the new bells that functioning now is the expanded list of authentication systems for commenters. No longer do you need a TypePad account, you can reg here on MountainRunner, use your AIM ID, LiveJournal, OpenID, or WordPress credentials.

If you see something wrong on the site, please let me know by posting a comment here or emailing me. Thanks in advance.

Tomorrow I’ll resume posting… tonight, I’m walking away from the computer.

Admin Note

A quick admin note on the blog. This blog was upgraded to Movable Type 4.0 last Friday. But the upgrade was incomplete and I was locked out until now. Posting will resume late tonight or early tomorrow (Tuesday).

Among the new feature available in the upgrade is more ways to authenticate commentors. More to come.

LTC John Nagl on the Daily Show

It’s worth watching, even if you know the manual. About 80% in, John avoids a question that, if he wasn’t on TV, he would have given a different answer. John’s a good guy and his personality and humor comes through in the interview.

Note the host of the video. Didn’t CC stop allowing vids on YouTube? Did DOD cut a deal? 

I’m sure more detailed analysis will come from others, but I have to cut and run…

Hotel Tango: SWJ.

Better tech isn’t always the answer

See Noah’s post earlier this month on NavSec Winter’s comments at the DARPATech:

…he just informed the 3,000 geeks gathered at the DARPATech conference in Anaheim that all their gee-whiz gadgetry may not help at all in the war on terror. 

There’s a tendency to view Islamists as backwards barbarians, Winter said.  This image is “misleading and very dangerous.”  The terrorist enemy is more likely to be a “engineer in a lab” than an “evildoer in a cave.”

Growth in commercial computing power has “eroded” America’s Cold War “technical edge,” Winter said.  The same – or even better – gear gets out to kids worldwide, before soldiers ever see it.  “The playing field has thus been leveled.”  Just look at how Iraqi insurgents have been able to the Internet to recruit, train, and spread propaganda. And check out the network-like “command and control” structures that these guys are using, compared to our old military hierarchies. 

There is more here than command and control, it goes to understanding the value and purpose of technologies. Without an R&D budget that exceeds the GNP’s of many countries as well as the entire defense budgets of many of our allies, we look for the magic bullet in technology, an American tradition.

Continue reading “Better tech isn’t always the answer

Time for a little catch-up

Tip: when you return from a trip in which you get at best 4hrs of sleep at night, don’t do a double-red blood cell donation. Maybe it’s me, but it knocked me on my ass for a day, throwing off my week.

The short of it is I’m here and online and the rhythm will return to the blog. I’ll be posting some of the results of the robot survey, which some have requested, and I’ll talk a little more about why I did it. I won’t reveal too much because I’m looking for a little funding to complete and polish the 6k word discussion the survey contributed to. My trip last week was to present a working copy of the document.

For those who read the blog only through RSS or email, there was activity on the one post made this week. Check it out.

Back to blogging…

Measuring Success

Austin Bay posted a list of “measurements of effectiveness” he thinks Petraeus will consider in the too-highly hyped September progress report. Even though Austin acknowledges the importance of perception, he focuses his list on Industrial Age (no, not “3GW”) qualifiers that are essentially the same that led to the “surprise” collapse of the Soviet Union.

Here’s Austin’s nod to perception management:

Recognize this problem: if you tell the enemy what you are measuring and it become very easy for him to frustrate it — at least frustrate it perceptually. The best example (or perhaps “worst example” is more appropriate) is the conclusion that Babil is secure. The leader of an Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia cadre sees that conclusion in a newspaper headline so he sends several suicide bombers to Babil. One gets through and kills twenty Iraqis. What’s the media tout? Petraeus was wrong?

Yes, the enemy sees an opportunity. He’s smart, even when he’s sitting in a cave he’s more adept at us at manipulating public opinion. And what do we do? Nothing. We create his opportunities, do nothing to defend proactively or retroactively. It isn’t a big challenge to be a propaganda officer for an insurgent group, but it should be.

Not only do we need to move away from numbers of officers and soldiers in defining success and toward more qualitative measurements, but we need to have active countermeasures that anticipate and respond to enemy IO.

There’s too much complaining that the media jumps on the bandwagon after a terrorist strike. Who else will they hear? There ain’t nobody else talking to counter the IED or suicide bomber pinpricks. Not only can we not counter enemy IO, we can’t anticipate it, and this inability to manage perceptions continually strikes at our credibility, legitimacy, and lowers confidence. (How’s the urban tourniquet going for those inside the walls? Last I heard, not so great. No mini-PRT to make the walled communities something to be demanded.)

Too many fret about the media jumping the bandwagon driven by insurgents and terrorists, but with such a passive and suicidal stance on IO must include getting the truth out and exposing the lies, deceptions, perversions, and self-serving criminal behavior in the name of Islam or tribe, it’s not surprising. You can go ahead and be upset when the media questions Petraeus, but what else are they supposed to think? What other news do they have to cover? How else are they to frame the messages?

Monday Mash-up for August 13, 2007

I am traveling this week, presenting at a workshop about a half-hour west of Harrisburg, PA. If you’re around, drop me an email. Between limited internet access and a busy schedule, posting is likely to be light this week.

  • The Army goes hybrid (finally).
  • SecNav: The terrorist enemy is more likely to be a “engineer in a lab” than an “evildoer in a cave.”
  • Buy your kids the toys the military wishes it had.
  • Jason posts on the PRT discussion from the Blogger Roundtable
  • Remember the walls? Well what’s going on inside isn’t getting the golden glove treatment is should.

Two surveys on robots and war

The first survey is mine, and to those who filled out my short — less than 60s — survey on robots in a COIN/SASO environment, thank you. This survey is intentionally brief and focused on a few points. It is not meant to be comprehensive, which have noted. The survey is still open, so please take it if you haven’t already. The results will be compiled this weekend for a presentation next week. I will post the results here in the next 10 days.

The second survey is what happens when you have a sponsor. Money makes for a bigger survey with more depth. As part of a research project under a grant from the Army Research Office, Dr. Ronald Arkin of the Georgia Tech Mobile Robot lab is conducted a comprehensive (15-25 minutes) survey on the Use of Robots Capable of Lethal Force in Warfare. Take his survey and pass along the survey link to others to help fill out his demographics. I’m very interested to see what he comes up with.

Mash-Up for Friday, August 10, 2007

I’m short on time for the blog so I am just going to dump a bunch of recommended reads here. I am at a conference next week, so posting next week is likely to be very light.

From the Pew Research Center: Internet News Audience Highly Critical of News Organizations

The American public continues to fault news organizations for a number of perceived failures, with solid majorities criticizing them for political bias, inaccuracy and failing to acknowledge mistakes. But some of the harshest indictments of the press now come from the growing segment that relies on the internet as its main source for national and international news.

The internet news audience – roughly a quarter of all Americans – tends to be younger and better educated than the public as a whole. People who rely on the internet as their main news source express relatively unfavorable opinions of mainstream news sources and are among the most critical of press performance. As many as 38% of those who rely mostly on the internet for news say they have an unfavorable opinion of cable news networks such as CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, compared with 25% of the public overall, and just 17% of television news viewers.

DARPA sees the future, and it’s not the world where we can rest on our technological asses. We must take into account a smart and adaptive enemy. The wizz-bang devices don’t play and weren’t designed for the information game. This informational asymmetry reduces the fungibility of our kinetic assets:

There’s a tendency to view Islamists as backwards barbarians, Winter said.  This image is “misleading and very dangerous.”  The terrorist enemy is more likely to be a “engineer in a lab” than an “evildoer in a cave.”

Growth in commercial computing power has “eroded” America’s Cold War “technical edge,” Winter said.  The same – or even better – gear gets out to kids worldwide, before soldiers ever see it.  “The playing field has thus been leveled.”  Just look at how Iraqi insurgents have been able to the Internet to recruit, train, and spread propaganda. And check out the network-like “command and control” structures that these guys are using, compared to our old military hierarchies. 

On PRTs, Richard Fernandez of The Belmont Club, adds some important points on PRTs not raised in my post, namely State’s out of touch regs and a mil-based Civil Response Corps already in operation (h/t SWJ Blog):

I was just on the blogger round table with Philip Reeker, US Embassy Baghdad, on the subject of PRTs. And it was clear that they were trying to building things from the bottom up in a society where the tradition of local government (as opposed to tribal government) was nonexistent. But it was also clear that the assets necessary to accomplish this are pretty thin. They’re still building the doctrine. And there’s no enabling bureaucratic structure. One of the things, for example, that Ambassador Crocker had to do was waive the State Department security regs to get people out. To provide any security at all, the PRTs either have to be embedded or escorted, except in places like Kurdistan where they can mostly operate unescorted.

Interestingly, the PRTs found the military’s reserve system very useful because it provided a pool of specialists for which State had no analogue. There was some reference to the need for the equivalent of a Goldwater-Nichols for the civilian arms of government to provide an institutional cure. But that’s still prospective. The sense you got was that State is trying to field people and is succeeding somewhat, but that many hurdles remain.

To summarize, from what I understand there’s a clear recognition now — and there may have been a former reluctance — to create the capacity to conduct political work at the grassroots. But there remain questions about whether a) it is still possible, given the time elapsed; b) US Government agencies can [mobilize] effectively to accomplish this task.

My own sense, without any pejorative reflection on State, is that they are struggling to match the political work with the security gains. And this is due, I think, almost wholly to the circumstance that we are now asking diplomats to do something they never in their wildest dreams thought they would be doing. As Mr. Reeker ran down the list of this or that person voluntarily leaving a post in such and such European capital for duty in some provincial Iraqi dustbowl you got the sense that the State guys were individually making one heck of an effort but that the institutional capacity still isn’t there.

Abu Muqawama gave this timely link on Jeep’s and Humvee’s that included this important realization:

Yet the Humvee’s biggest drawback may actually be the false sense of security it imparts. American troops, many military theorists now argue, are too removed in their vehicles, fighting for Iraqi hearts and minds with a drive-through mentality. The open-air jeep meant that soldiers could, and had to, interact with the people of occupied nations; the closed, air-conditioned Humvee has only isolated American forces from Iraqis. This is even more of a problem with the MRAP, which offers only small, armored windows to peek out of. Though the tactics of the current surge seek to get troops out of their vehicles more often, many politicians involved in the debate over Humvees assume—perhaps erroneously—that more armor means more safety and success.

Over one thousand contractors have now died in Iraq, but, no surprise, we don’t know the true number. David Ivanovich writes in the Houston Chronicle:

And as of June 30, 1,001 civilian contractors working for U.S. firms had died there since the war’s start more than four years ago, including 231 in the first six months of 2007, according to Labor Department statistics the Chronicle received Tuesday.

How many of those killed were Americans is unclear, since the Labor Department records do not provide the nationalities of the casualties.

Lastly, and for something completely different, cycling’s sponsors have finally had enough of being associated with doping. The latest news on this front is Team Discovery, formerly USPS, will end their sponsorship in February and director Johan Bruyneel will retire. While they team was in negotiations to replace the main sponsor, they decided to cut negotiations because “the situation in the sport is so bad that nobody wants to be involved with us.”

Hizballah lays cable to own local comm network

 From the Counterterrorism Blog:

[Lebanese] Defense, Interior, Telecommunications and Justice ministries would launch an “immediate” investigation into the creation of new telephone cables by Hizbullah.

The source, the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star, writes this is not an isolated closed loop network:

“We have discovered by accident that a new telephone network is being created along that of the state in Zawtar Sharqieh,” [Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh] told Voice of Lebanon radio.

“Technical reports also showed that cables have reached Yohmor and other Tyre regions,” he added.

Hamadeh also said there was information that similar works were being conducted in Beirut and Dahiyeh.

The government describes this as violating state sovereignty. I am not familiar with the telecommunications market of Lebanon, but if it weren’t a group seeking the overthrow of the government, would the ministries be this upset if it were a normal privatization of infrastructure? Would they simply be upset at not issuing (or denying) permits and collecting associated fees (or bribes, again I don’t know the intricacies of the Lebanese telecom market)?  In the American media system it’s like Google buying dark fiber, if Google was seeking to destabilize the government (see previous post on Google’s foreign policy). But Google isn’t outright trying to destabilize the US government.

One can already argue the Beirut government ceded some sovereignty to the private sector, in this case Hizballah, when they were slow to respond to the destruction of the recent war. Funny thing about governing people, but given the choice, they will choose and many are choosing Hizballah, which has been providing other infrastructure and social services in the absence of the government.

You have to ask yourself, what can be done to dissuade, or make unprofitable (in other than economic terms), Hizballah’s venture to own media distribution? The government must become a better provider across the board.

Read: Attacking the al-Qaeda Narrative

Read Jim Guirard’s post Attacking the al Qaeda “Narrative” and “semantic infiltration” at the Small Wars Journal blog.

In his June 2007 State Department E-Journal article, New Paradigms For 21st Century Conflicts, Dr. Dave Kilcullen of General David Petraeus’ senior staff in Baghdad called for, among other things, a “New Lexicon” for better defining and more effectively defeating enemies which subscribe to the faith-based mantra of “Death to America, the Great Satan”.

In other public statements and in several Small Wars Journal postings, Kilcullen entered very slowly, very prudently into the virtually verboten realm of attacking al Qaeda-style Terrorism in Islamic religious context, rather than in Western secular terms only — referring to the AQ terrorists as “munafiquun” (hypocrites to authentic, Qur’anic Islam) and pointing out that “they call themselves mujahideen” but are doing barbaric things which are anything but holy.

To which this word warrior says: Spot on! Two small steps for a good man, two giant steps for truth-in-language and truth-in-Islam in the War on al Qaeda-style Terrorism — a.k.a., Irhabi Murderdom and the AQ Apostasy, as this essay recommends as its most appropriate new names.

But even these two measured Kilcullen attacks on the terrorists’ religious legitimacy were in conflict with the State Department’s basic rule in such matters. As stated on page 25 of the US National Strategy For Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication, the official advisory is, in part, as follows: Use caution when dealing with faith issues. Government officials should be extremely cautious and, if possible, avoid using religious language, because it can mean different things and can be easily misunderstood…

…[Lieutenant General Jim Mattis, Commanding General of US Marines Forces Central Command and I Marine Expeditionary Force charged ] in a recent North County Times interview, the al Qaeda narrative in this respect is nothing but tyranny in false religious garb. Although he does not list the specific Islamic terms which constitute that pseudo-religious scam, the most likely ingredients of this patently false but highly seductive, self-sanctifying narrative would be bin Ladenism’s six-word mantra of so-called

(1) Jihad (holy war) by supposed
(2) mujahideen (holy warriors) and UBL-anointed
(3) shuhada (martyrs) destined for a promised 72-virgins
(4) Jennah (Paradise) as reward for killing us alleged
(5) kuffr (infidels) and, in time, the alleged
(6) Shaitan al-Kabir (the Great Satan, America), as well

Notice, please, that the widespread parroting of this AQ-supportive narrative is much akin to the “useful idiocy” of those in the Cold War who parroted (and who demonized those few who would not join them in parroting) the Soviets’ and Fascist Fidel Castro’s deceitful narrative of so-called

(1) Wars of National Liberation by alleged
(2) Progressive Movements and supposed
(3) Patriotic Fronts on their way to heaven-on-earth
(4) People’s Democracy as a reward for killing all of us
(5) Fascists and for defeating the evils of
(6) American Imperialism

You can beat a dead horse only so many times, so briefly… note where the argument for a “new lexicon” is published. In a State Department e-journal, that’s great. Note who wrote it. Someone from the defense community (Kilcullen was working with State before he was poached, but he is mil, period… and Mattis is mil). Note how his seemingly fundamental argument of not adopting the enemy’s vocabulary and grammar is in violation of State’s, and Karen Hughes’ (surprise), policy. Do you hear about such awareness coming from the civilian sector, say State or even our Chief Information Officer Karen Hughes?

Read Jim’s post, I’m working on something else and the horse is dead already.