Doing Strategic Communications in Iraq, or not

Just finished a Blogger’s Roundtable call with Colonel Donald Bacon, Chief of Strategy and Plans, Strategic Communications at Multinational Force Iraq (MNF-I). Since COL Bacon is a strategic communications guy, I figured I’d ask an SC question. The Colonel’s opening statement went on about the numbers of weapons of caches found, the fact that what appeared to be Iranian-provided weapons caches pre-dated the Iranian pledge to Iraq to stop providing explosives, and then briefly the Colonel mentioned the Concerned Local Citizen (CLC) program.

CLC is the over-arching name of the country-wide program of empowering local citizens to defend and engage al-Qaeda and others fighting against the state (i.e. insurgents). They are a local militia, in the spirit of pre-US Civil War militias, often paid by MNF-I.

200711131200_Col_Bacon_Oct_2007_Rollup200711131200_Col_Bacon_Oct_2007_Rollup2 With most of the Colonel’s remarks on operational successes — weapons caches discovered, AQ leaders captured or killed — and very little, save the mention of CLC’s discovering 40 of the 72 most recent weapons cache finds, on motivation, a prime target of strategic communication, I asked what he was doing.

  • How was MNF-I engaging in the struggle of minds of wills of the people?
  • How was MNF-I communicating the functional successes to the local population?
  • Are they developing organic information pathways to get the information out?
  • Are they developing and enhancing USG information pathways?

His answer? To paraphrase (transcript will be available later):

We’re still not doing a very good job of this.

Really? Yes. The informational value that CLCs, in their various names in various locations around the country, are rejecting AQ because of the severe punishment for smoking and forced marriages to create bonds is not exploited. All "the terrible deeds done by AQ" are not exploited. You’re not winning if no one knows it. If AQ is really getting beaten back, killed & capture stats don’t tell that story and are the wrong thing to focus on.

I followed up with a question asking whether there’s a strategic communications plan for Iraq like the one recently released for Afghanistan. Apparently there is one and I missed it. Does anybody have it or can point me to it?

The Colonel was honest. Which is good. But what we have is a problem when a competent person is put into a role in which he’s not trained for.

"We can do better" is the refrain I hear too often in terms of Iraq public diplomacy, information operations, and strategic communications (all the same thing or different pieces of the pie, depending on who you talk to). Isn’t it about time we actually start to do better?

4 Replies to “Doing Strategic Communications in Iraq, or not”

  1. Been eagerly tracking the release of any such document without any luck.A shabby temp for a Strategic Communication Plan d’Iraq would perhaps be the CLC program as part of the strategic PSYOP “Kumbaya” (my nomenclature)configured to communicate that AQI is our only significant enemy in Iraq per way (actually per one of many ways) of AQI being the enemy of what we really perceive to be our friends, friends that have hitherto, and mistakenly so, perceived us, instead of AQI, as being their enemy. A big big misunderstanding!!! Kumbaya and its CLCs to the rescue.
    Strategic PSYOP Kumbaya seeks to convince Iraqi resisters and truants that we are indeed their forgiving friends and that we are ready and willing to rally to their aid and smoke fingered AQI, if only they will recognize and embrace our benevolence and stop IEDing the political/domestic will out of our efforts de COIN.
    A strategic communication plan will have to address/encompass more than the competent dissemination of benefits of lethally eradicating AQI as AQI represents but a marginal component of the annoyances felt by those Iraqis inclined to dissipate grievances through the deployment of arms against our presence and the components of Iraqi society that we would like to see take shape and retain a modicum of fidelity towards our strategic aims in the region.
    (I personally would exercise a tad of caution when semantically, or otherwise, conflating AQI with Iraqi irregulars in the form of insurgents (empowering local citizens to defend and engage al-Qaeda and others fighting against the state (i.e. insurgents)) since such conflation of nomenclature, if reflective of our comprehension of regional dynamics de guerre, might muddy the acuity with which we design and deploy a truly effective Strategic Communication Plan for Iraq that stands a chance of playing any role in securing what needs be secured in the region.)
    I hate the ubiquitously deployed deflector, “We could and should do better”. What’s the excuse for not having done so already? Solar flaring? Chemtrails?

  2. I worked Strategic Communications in Iraq last year and I would be shocked if they had a plan…if they did, it would be less than a few months old as they didn’t have it this summer.Why has it taken so long to get one?
    We are doing bad…we were doing bad last year and despite a ton of good ideas, STRATCOMM at MNF-I doesn’t move forward and improve…why? Because we don’t know what strategic communications is and we have a lot of non-STRATCOMM people there doing it who have no idea what it is.
    Times have changed and we need to begin evolving…

  3. Apparently they do have a plan, and it’s classified. Not sure why, but the whole thing (39 pages) is. No doubt parts should be, but the whole thing?

  4. Before we grant kudos to Afghanistan for “having a plan,” I’d assess that this “plan” was greeted with interest (‘hm…interesting’) and then largely ignored.In my view, the strategic communicators (we can argue whether they’re “strategic” or whether the distinction is even relevant anymore) in both theatres suffer from the same problem. Institutionally (we) military folks have “kinetic” solutions drilled into us from the start. The SC problem is “solved” by creating an SC organization, separate from “traditional” operations. The operators continue doing what (we) do best – killing bad guys – and when something goes wrong, or the response is not as enthusiastic as hoped, the SC guys are told to clean up the problem.
    However, the fundamental thinking behind the operations is flawed from the get-go, because it doesn’t consider the overall message we are trying to send. The narrative isn’t – or shouldn’t be – based on “we’re killing bad guys every day.” To integrate SC into the overall effort, OPERATIONS should be framed around sending the overall message we ARE trying to send.
    As these parallel operations/SC efforts continue, the leadership (who get where they are because they are really good at OPERATIONS, not SC) get increasingly frustrated because “STRATCOMM is failing.” As tulanealum rightly points out, everyone thinks they can “do” STRATCOMM so they look to “fix” STRATCOMM without looking at operations. I would never presume to maneuver a tank battalion, yet anyone thinks they can handle what I do…
    If this comes off as finger-pointing, it’s unintentional. It’s not about “blaming operations” or “blaming SC” – it’s about integrating the message into our operations, up front, in the planning process. What we DO sends a much stronger message than what we SAY. And if the two are not in agreement, DO will always trump SAY.

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