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?

9 thoughts on “Measuring Success

  1. Also interesting is that Gen. Petraeus is going to present his report on Sept 11, 2007. I’m sure that’s coincidental to the 9/11 event…

  2. Has anyone noticed the buried paragraphs in the preceding weeks news that state the White House is going to write Petraeus’ report for him? Why is that?

  3. MR, you’ve railed (rightly, I think) against the massive imbalance regarding the IO aspect of this war many a time. What initiative should be engaged to combat it? Propaganda films? A radical shift in education? How can the US reach out through the haze of Paris Hilton and American Idol, tap a citizen on the shoulder, crook a finger and lead him into the cause in the same fashion that bin Laden and has been doing for some 23 years now?

  4. C- Good catch. Probably because it’s bad news and requires hefty spin, which is already in play.J- agreed.
    S- good question. To begin, you have to answer my question of why we are where we are. I think it’s clear that it’s US domestic politics. How messages play here matter more than how they play overseas in the target “markets” where they really matter.
    If you agree with that, then you probably agree part of the present image/perception problem stems from the fact we’ve wrapped reality with so many blankets of lies for self-serving US political reasons, that to unravel the lies and expose the realities creates all sorts of quandries for the politicians.
    The solution? Probably a mea culpa of some sort. Not gonna happen, although we’ve seen tiny glimmers of it here and there.
    Propaganda films? In a way. To start, drop the rhetoric and stop using the enemy’s nouns and verbs. But more importantly, the US needs to return to being a trusted and legitimate source for news and information. The US message (propaganda) machine has degraded so much that we are no longer get the benefit of the doubt.
    Part of the solution certainly requires engaging the enemy propaganda directly. To do this, we need to be realistic about how the world communicates, who the audience is, and how support for insurgents and terrorists is drawn from a global audience. To be a player we must, among other things, drop the prohibition against talking about religion. Hughes and others have stated religion is off-limits because it might offend someone. Are we trying to placate Des Moines or Baghdad? Do we counter misinformation and distortions with fact or “official gov’t policy”? The latter being lawyer-like text that usually tries to split hairs. Wars aren’t fought with lawyers but with perceptions.
    Think about the cowboy responses to the insurgent back when, the response to Iran, and virtually any other major decision point. What was the purpose of the chosen message? Too often, the goal was to bolster the US image at home and not to undermine the other side w/ reality.
    What is the US public to believe? How much do they really understand the war they’ve been engaged in for the last six years? It’s a superficial reality to a large majority of the US population.
    The reason some dude in cave (or insurgent in an internet cafe or safe house) out PR’s the US is because he’s talking to the audience and understands what they want to hear. We talk at the audience, telling them what we want our people to hear.

  5. I agree that we are where we are due to the softening of political resolve here in the US. Are debates really debates or simple minded events for the collective smooth characters to assail us hollow assurance?But what of the cultural disconnect? Takes two to Tango, after all. I think the populace is as much responsible as the sad examples of statesmen that march across our tv screens. We willfully indulged Bush’s WMD’s fallacy, willfully embrace the global warming “fact,” and dutifully follow the line of thought that an “offended” minority holds sway over the majority.
    The politicians speak at us because we allow them to speak at us. Critical thinking and awareness of ones environment; both seem to be on the wane.
    I could go on but won’t. Instead a post draws nigh. Thanks for the enlightening discourse.

  6. Ok, how about this:The US can and must expose the outright lies, criminality, and self-serving contortions of religion propagated by insurgents and terrorists effectively used to build them up as larger, more powerful, and more representative than they really are. Their success is measured in more money, supplies, safe houses, and recruits at the expense of trust, legitimacy, and influence of the US. The American strategy, however, is to tell foreign audiences the things we want our own people to hear.
    The US has become so marginalized (by its own actions and by inaction) in places that insurgents and terrorists now prioritize targeting each other over us. America’s failure to participate in the information war is self-destructive as the enemy shapes itself into a more awesome and fearsome enemy than it is, gaining more and more support from around the globe at the expense of American national security. To be sure, this does not mean America’s foreign policies are not to blame, far from it, but it does not mean we should be silent to enemy propaganda and ignore how some actions may be at cross-purposes with strategic aims.
    We must look at the success of insurgent media and intercept and co-opt those messages for own purposes. They are successful because they play on the fears of the people. What if American public diplomacy stopped telling foreign audiences what we want our own public to hear and Karl Rove was our Chief Public Diplomat instead of Karen Hughes. Think the insurgent media would stand a chance?

  7. our worst affront against public opinion, in my mind, is how we treat our soldiers. can’t trust them to weblog. can’t trust them with MySpace or YouTube.not to mention too many tours and the bait and switch the NG and reserves got.
    of course, that problem goes to the poor planning of this operation…

  8. In reading this [1] I thought of this discussion. Read the comic strip and tell me it’s offensive. Of course our own media is petrified of pissing Muslims (radical or not) off. Not only is the enemy winning the info war but they’re even defining the conflict!I think the idea of Rove becoming Chief Public Diplomat is a good one. He’s got the cohones for it and would likely have publicly excoriated the Washington Post for their self censorship.

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