Lessons on Iraq From a Founding Father

Briefly, a good reminder of the importance of certain enduring truths by Brian O’Malley in a Washington Post op-ed:

What would George Washington do about Iraq? In a December Outlook essay, historian Joseph J. Ellis argued that it’s not possible to theorize exact answers because the "gap between the founders’ time and ours is non-negotiable, and any direct linkage between them and now is intellectually problematic." But Ellis also conceded that this position is "unacceptable to many of us, because it suggests that the past is an eternally lost world that has nothing to teach us."

History does hold lessons about today’s issues, and this is clear when considering Iraq and U.S. conduct in the war against terrorism. Consider the 1775-76 invasion of Canada, America’s first preemptive war, which ended just days before Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence.

Continue reading “Lessons on Iraq From a Founding Father

Understanding Information Effects

From the ink-still-wet FM 3-0, the new manual everyone’s talking about that raises the importance of stabilization (and here) and information.  The introductory quote from Chapter 7, Information Superiority (culturally I understand the selection, but it conveys internally and externally the wrong thing):

Be first with the truth. Since Soldier actions speak louder than what [public affairs officers] say, we must be mindful of the impact our daily interactions with Iraqis have on global audiences via the news media. Commanders should communicate key messages down to the individual level, but, in general, leaders and Soldiers should be able to tell their stories unconstrained by overly prescriptive themes. When communicating, speed is critical—minutes and hours matter—and we should remember to communicate to local (Arabic/Iraqi) audiences first—U.S./global audience can follow. Tell the truth, stay in your lane, and get the message out fast. Be forthright and never allow enemy lies to stand unchallenged. Demand accuracy, adequate context, and proper characterization from the media.
Multinational Corps–Iraq
Counterinsurgency Guidance 2007

The manual makes great strides in shaping the future of information effects in American foreign policy, namely security policy.  Putting information on target will increasingly be more important than putting steel on target, especially when dealing with the asymmetric adversary that cannot – and does not need to – need match the military or economic power of the United States and her allies. 

Speaking with LTG Caldwell yesterday, I asked him about the cultural rifts between public affairs and other information teams.  This was his response:

…we had a discussion with[Army Public Affairs] in there about PA, its relationship to IO, how it all fits together, the importance of the fact that information engagement is what has to synchronize both public affairs and information operations. It is absolutely imperative that the two are working and aware of what the other one is doing. And they have been synchronized. And so it’s in the engagement area that we, in fact, are doing that. There is a clear difference and distinction: whereas public affairs is there to inform, information operations is there to influence foreign audiences. So there is a clear delineation between the two, but at the same time, it’s imperative that they are complementary with each other.

The manual does help in this regard.  But this is the Army’s doctrine and while it’s felt elsewhere, even in part written with collaboration of other services (excepting the Air Force?), it does not change the institutional divides. 

This manual makes strides in elevating both the importance of stabilization operations and the importance of perceptions.  The effectiveness of information campaigns today will more often dictate a victory than how well steel is put on a target. Putting information on target is more important when dealing with the asymmetric adversary that cannot – and does not need to – need match the military or economic power of the United States and her allies.

However, more must be done across the board. 

More later.

Three Upcoming Conferences (Updated)

There are two three upcoming conferences this week that might interest you.  All should be interesting.  Hopefully at least one of them will be useful. 

The first conference is Stability Operations and State Building: Continuities and Contingencies in Tennessee February 13-15, 2008.  This part of the conference description threw me:

…we will look at theoretical, intellectual, and moral foundations of state-building as derived from the Age of Enlightenment, ethical norms, and religious values from various societies… we will examine contemporary practices as related to us by serving military officers.

This sounds like a colonial mindset even when throwing in "various societies."   Will they truly look at the socio-political-economic structures of target territories and will local systems take primacy over our "superior" systems? 

That said, a friend is presenting at paper at the conference.  Read it and read a discussion about it at Small Wars Journal. 

Tom Barnett and John Robb will be bookending the Valentine’s Day session with Tom in the morning, 8-9:30a, and John in the evening, 8-8:40p.

The second conference is The Challenges of Integrating Islam: Comparative Experiences of Europe and the Middle East at GWU’s Elliott School in DC.  Friend of MountainRunner Marc Lynch announced this event on his blog today:

The morning panel looks at the headscarf issue in Turkey, while the lunch address is being given by Jakob Skovgaard-Peterson, director of the Danish-Egypt Dialogue Institute (which must be one of the most thankless jobs in the world, but one which must offer some interesting perspectives on inter-faith relations).  Two outstanding anthropologists are slated to speak as well:  Jon Anderson (American University) and John Bowen (Washington University – St. Louis).   I’ll be rushing over from a morning workshop across town to speak at the 1:45 panel.  I was slated to talk about "The social and the political: Islamist views of reform", but now I’m planning to work up some remarks on the fascinating controversy which has erupted in the UK over remarks by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, over the application of sharia law in Great Britain. Stay tuned.  

The third conference is Public Diplomacy: Reinvigorating America’s Strategic Communications Policy at the Heritage Foundation tomorrow, February 13, noon – 1:30p.

Strategic communication has long been essential to furthering American foreign policy goals, especially during times of war. Recently, the government has taken numerous steps to improve its wartime strategic communication capacity. However, it is evident that the current system is not working as well as during the Cold War, and the United States still lacks an integrated public diplomacy strategy capable of bolstering America’s image overseas. This panel will address the efficacy of the current administration’s strategy and give recommendations for the next administration, whether it is Democrat or Republican.

I won’t be at any of these.  If you go, I’d appreciate sharing your thoughts on the events.

Pentagon Wants Sim Iraq to Test Propaganda

Screenshot_5_bigLast year at a workshop at a military institution I was promoting and exploring this idea.  My question was whether you could take Second Life, or even some other virtual world, to bring together role players around the world to test information effects, or propaganda.  If we do role playing in real life to prepare soldiers for COIN situations, then why not through an online collaborative environment? 

Noah posts that OSD is now doing the same but instead of role playing they’re looking at AI:

The Office of the Secretary of Defense is trying to figure out how to beat jihadists in the propaganda war.  One tool they figure could help: a computer model of "Human, Social, and Cultural Behavior" in Middle Eastern locales.  OSD isn’t the first arm of the Pentagon looking to build its version of Sim Iraq.  But this is the first one I’ve heard of that focuses in on the touchy subject of strategic communications.

The OSD’s new "Human, Social, and Cultural Behavior Modeling" program is looking for ways to combine  "game-based, agent-based, [or] systems dynamics" sims (and maybe even "cellular automata") into a virtual country close enough to real that it can "validate and verify interactions against real world scenarios."

By running these Sim Iraqis around, OSD hopes to get a better understand of:

how people communicate; what avenues of communication are traditionally trusted; who in that culture holds power and influence; how do tribal and trade associations interact; and where/how can societal behaviors contribute to options for stability and reduction in conflict potential.

These models are also supposed to "provide greater insight into how strategic, operational, and tactical operations may be impacted by individual and group socio-cultural dynamics."  Specifically, OSD would like the pixelated place to help with:

identify[ing] how media and information propagation affect beliefs and behavior within individuals, groups, societies, states, and regions. Additionally, proposals shall address the development of dynamic and semantic media and rumor propagation models/social network models.

And that’s just for starters.  When the program is over, OSD hopes, it will have "generate[d] a universal
meta-language that is meaningful to the user communities and is relevant to the socio-cultural ‘space’ supported by the underlying models."

I also pitched the idea of using the same environment for armed robots to test their rules of engagement.  However this idea veered into SIM land away from role playing (and toward World of Warcraft and away from Second Life).  (…and, yes, I did insert Cylons into a presentation…)

See also USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies

Think Tank 1.8 in progress at ZenPundit

Mark the Zen Pundit is "moderating" (leading?) an online symposium on the Boyd book by Frans Osinga, Science, Strategy and War:The Strategic Theory of John Boyd.  It’s going on at Chicago Boyz. The first post, a critical review by Wilf Owen, is up.  Osinga will be giving an author’s rebuttal at the conclusion.

  • The introduction to the symposium is here.
  • The first round, started by Wilf Owen, is here.

The participant list from Mark:

William F. “Wilf” Owen – A military writer and Editor of The Asian Military Review.  A military theorist with a special interest in tactical doctrine.  Wilf Owen served for twelve years in the British Army and is a member of the Small Wars Council.

Shane Deichman – Former Science Adviser to JFCOM. Particle physicist. Managing Director of Operations for IATGR.  Managing Director of EnterraSolutions, LLC. ORCAS (Oak Ridge). Blogger, Wizards of Oz, Dreaming 5GW.

Adam Elkus – free-lance writer for Defense & The National Interest, The Huffington Post, Athena Intelligence, Foreign Policy in Focus. Blogger, Rethinking Security, Dreaming 5GW.

Lexington Green of Chicago Boyz

Dan of tdaxp” – Dan of tdaxp is currently working on his third advanced degree, a doctorate in psychology.  Computer programmer/web designer.  Lecturer.  Blogger at tdaxp, Dreaming 5GW.

Historyguy99" – Historian.  Veteran of the Vietnam War. Blogger, HG’s World.

Mark Safranski – Teacher, Educational consultant. Adviser, Conversationbase, LLC. Contributor, HNN. Member, Small Wars Council. Blogger, Zenpundit, Chicago Boyz.

And an author’s rebuttal/response at the conclusion of the reviews, from Dr. Frans Osinga – Colonel, Royal Netherlands Air Force. Fighter Pilot. Associate Professor of War Studies at the Netherlands Defense Academy. Formerly, of Nato’s Supreme Allied Command Transformation. Research Fellow, Clingendael Institute of International Relations. Author of Science, Strategy and War:The Strategic Theory of John Boyd

Countering Ideological Support for Terrorism

Briefly, countering ideological support for terrorism (CIST) is a catch-phrase that predates Dr. Michael Doran’s appointment as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Support to Public Diplomacy, as he admits, but he has readily adopted it and is, as far as I can tell, the only person still promoting it "publicly". I put that in quotes because you rarely see his name in print, even if you’re paying attention. However, it’s worthwhile to read what he says, not just because he’s helping to set policy but because he’s got the right ideas.

GovExec.com ran an interview last week with Mike. It’s short and worthwhile read.

The GovExec interview was an overview, but this foreign press briefing with Mike a month ago give the details. Time limits any depth, so here is an excerpt:

…I want to put the focus, actually, on al-Qaida itself. Because I think when you look at it closely, you see that the major reason for the successes against al-Qaida are to be found in the nature of al-Qaida’s ideology itself. The ideology contains the seeds of its own destruction and I think that’s true for four major reasons.

The first is that al-Qaida’s global ideology makes it very unresponsive to the local needs of the population in Iraq and anywhere else where we find people adhering to the ideology. The second reason is that it advocates the killing of fellow Sunni Muslims. And the third reason is that it advocates the killing of innocent civilians of all kinds. And the fourth reason is that the teachings of al-Qaida that justify the indiscriminate killing of innocents flies in the face of about a thousand years of traditional Islamic teaching.

Now this was a foreign press briefing. I’ll highlight some of the questions and then I want you to think whether you could imagine an American journalist asking the same question.

Mounzer Sleiman with Lebanon’s Al-Mustaqbal Al-Arabi. The success that you’re mentioning in Iraq, you associated it with the surge, while there was more — it is about local solution than being associated with military operations. That would lead to the narrative that has been used by the administration about waging this ideological warfare, the long war. And I think it needs to be examined if the solution to this is not military. But it’s based on the local intervention, even with the absence of governments. But this danger, if even when government exists, it’s better to be left to the government to deal with it, to the local to deal with it. How about — do you think it’s serving the purpose of throwing words like Islamo-facism and other terms associating with Islam when dealing with ideological warfare against al-Qaida and other extremists?


Hi, my name is Arshad Mahmud and I represent the daily Prothom Alo of Bangladesh. Your title says that you are the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Support to Public Diplomacy and I expected you to focus more on how public diplomacy can help the problems related to al-Qaida and other extremist groups. And I agree with this gentleman that you attached more importance to the success of the surge in undercutting al-Qaida.

Do you personally feel — and I also see that you are from the academia, you were a professor at Princeton. Do you sincerely believe that the military might can actually defeat these problems? Because worldwide, the American foreign policy is perceived to be lopsided: It helps the people like Israel, the Government of Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinians; and also, it supports the repressive regimes in the Middle East. And that’s how all these al-Qaida and other groups have come up. And if you even — I take for argument’s sake that if you defeat them, there will be another group that will be launched from somewhere else because they are fed up with these kind of policies. And how you do deal with this as a person from public diplomacy? Thank you.

This last question is very good and one that should have been addressed by Karen Hughes and will hopefully be better answered and synchronized with actions under James Glassman.

For Mike’s answers and other questions, read the transcript (PDF).

There’s more to it than security

The Los Angeles Times today has a story, new to some old to others, on getting Iraqis to participate in government, as well as giving them something positive to do. The U.S. has created Concerned Local Citizen groups, or CLC, around the country. Going by different names here and there, CLC’s give locals the opportunity to fill gaps in security but more importantly, to become part of the solution. In some areas, they have been instrumental in pushing out al-Qaeda, not because AQ was killing Americans, but because AQ and the Iraqis didn’t get along (which, if you check your program, has been part of our messaging for a while).

The important ‘twist’ to Peter Spiegel’s report is the transition from security to reconstruction.

…U.S. officials have begun a pilot program to develop a civil service corps to employ the men.

"We’ll teach them skills, like repairing pipes, electricity, sewage," [day-to-day commander in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T.] Odierno said. Still, officials aren’t certain such programs can absorb the huge numbers of the concerned local citizens.

The last sentence is important for two reasons. Note the focus on SWET: sewage, water, electricity and trash, the basic services necessary for civil life. The military hard proof that focusing on SWET reduces insurgent attacksGeneral Stone has talked (raw transcript here) about the need and pressure for a New Deal-style employment option, which would extend this across the board.

As I wrote before, we must focus on the reconstruction efforts if we are to win the struggle. Those who think surgical kinetic strikes are all that is necessary are smoking something.

Predicting Counterinsurgency

I’m reviewing (again) British Brigadier General Frank Kitson’s (who’s still apparently alive, by the way) Low Intensity Operations (1971) and found this:

[Peter de la Billier’s ‘Changing Pattern of Guerilla Warfare’, R.U.S.I. Journal, Dec. 1969] comes to the conclusion that low-level urban insurgency combined with propaganda and economic pressure, is likely to be the most popular form of operation in the future, but it is too early to know whether this prediction will be fulfilled.

Just sharing… talk amongst yourselves about this.

Understanding the village

Kent’s Imperative describes some multi-use software that is interesting to me and probably of interest to some of you:  

The following piece from Marginal Revolution catches our attention as yet another example of the growing utility of interdisciplinary approaches to those aspects of the intelligence that have not been traditionally served by the national and technical collection apparatus.

The tool is strikingly simple – a piece of software designed to ease data collection and processing burdens for studying epidemics in developing nations. The package will run on common mobile phone platforms, typically ubiquitous in such environments – or otherwise exceptionally cheap to obtain and circulate. Strategic communication branding, anyone?

The potential applications however go far beyond epidemiology – or even other aspects of medical intelligence. We can immediately see a use for such a tool in a number of information operations, civil affairs, and cultural intelligence settings – not to mention any of the political intelligence activities that require survey information. Less obvious mechanisms for overt human derived reporting also suggest themselves, given a degree of preparation and planning.

There are distinct limitations to what might be accomplished using this approach, but with those limitations in mind it is quite possible to develop new and innovative collection programs leveraging this capability against the kinds of questions it may suitably answer. This is precisely the kind of experimentation – and extensible designs – that ought to be coming out of the intelligence studies academia, in support of forward deployed intelligence professionals.


Give peace a chance, contribute a book to the COIN Academy

Abu Muqawama and the Small Wars Journal are spearheading a book drive for the new U.S. Army Counterinsurgency (COIN) Academy in Afghanistan.

SWJ and AM have decided to aid in building the library with a little help from our friends. We e-mailed the COIN Academy requesting their reading list. They responded with titles of books and movies that once in hand would go a long way in establishing a world-class COIN library.

To streamline our effort we have set up the Afghanistan COIN Library page on Amazon.

The books and movies you purchase there and send on to Afghanistan will seed the COIN Academy’s library with a few titles that will allow the staff to better appreciate history, culture, and insurgency in Afghanistan. Eventually the titles will make their way to the library of the Afghan Defense University of which the COIN Academy will become a part. The shipping address (while hidden at Amazon) is direct to the Academy and we will track to ensure your book or movie makes it way to Afghanistan.

Hmm, I wonder if one of these would be helpful?

Of the few foreign fighters in Iraq, most come from two allies

Interesting story in 22 Nov 07 New York Times: Foreign Fighters in Iraq Are Tied to Allies of U.S.

Saudi Arabia and Libya, both considered allies by the United States in its fight against terrorism, were the source of about 60 percent of the foreign fighters who came to Iraq in the past year to serve as suicide bombers or to facilitate other attacks, according to senior American military officials.

The data come largely from a trove of documents and computers discovered in September, when American forces raided a tent camp in the desert near Sinjar, close to the Syrian border. …

The most significant discovery was a collection of biographical sketches that listed hometowns and other details for more than 700 fighters brought into Iraq since August 2006.

…The documents indicate that each foreigner brought about $1,000 with him, used mostly to finance operations of the smuggling cell. Saudis brought more money per person than fighters from other nations, the American officials said.

…According to the rosters found in the raid, the third-largest source of foreign fighters was Yemen, with 68. There were 64 from Algeria, 50 from Morocco, 38 from Tunisia, 14 from Jordan, 6 from Turkey and 2 from Egypt.

Two quick (and not the most important) thoughts. First, this suggests you can’t pull our people out of allied lands to go elsewhere just because they’re allies ("transformation"=bad). Although in at least one source country, you can question the depth of the support for the U.S. vice internal control.

Second, five terabytes of data? Wait, I didn’t share that part yet:

In addition to $18,000 in cash and assorted weapons, troops found five terabytes of data that included detailed questionnaires filled out by incoming fighters. Background information on more than 900 fighters was found, or about 750 after eliminating duplicates and questionnaires that were mostly incomplete.

Typo or these guys were running a small data center. Were the drives striped with a hot spare? More importantly, did they have an offsite backup? Engineering degrees at work…

U.S. Enlists Arab Bloggers for Info War (Updated)

Read Noah’s pre-emptive post on today’s hearings on strategic communications before the House Armed Services Committee’s panel on terrorism.

My thoughts on State’s blogger outreach team: not impressed. (Thanks Noah for the link.)

DoD’s Mike Doran, testifying to the Committee, has the right ideas. 

When al-Qaida launched its attacks on 9/11 its primary goal was not to cripple the United States, but to create a perception of American weakness and vulnerability among key audiences. Similarly, when terrorists launch IED attacks in Iraq today, we see them expending great effort to capture the event so that it can be posted on the Internet, often within hours. The spectacle of the attack is as important to them — sometimes more important — than the destructive effect itself….

The Iraqi example underscores the idea that CIST [Countering Ideological Support to Terrorism] is not primarily about creating “Brand America.” It should not be reduced solely to public diplomacy campaigns with the objective of burnishing the image of America. Those are laudable and important efforts, carried out principally by the US Department of State, and we fully support and encourage them. They are a critical element of the CIST mission, but they are not its essence.

The key to the CIST mission is influencing a primarily intra-Muslim conversation, with the goal of undermining the intellectual and perceptual underpinnings of terrorism. Much of the appeal of terrorist groups rests on a collective sense of victimization, a sense of an impending existential threat. Terrorist leaders actively foster the perception that the global Islamic community is under threat of extinction. To counter the terrorists, we must inject critical doubt among key populations about the terrorists’ singular vision of hate and fear. It is important for us to realize that this sense of threat often derives from internal Muslim political processes as much as it does from perceptions of American intent.

Shouldn’t some of these thoughts be visible not only in DoS policy and programs but in the language DoS uses in its public diplomacy?

Will we see a change when Karen Hughes leaves office? Is this IIP’s fault? Should we gift Duncan MacInnes an account with a blog aggregator so he can see what’s going on out there?

How is it possible for the type of inane activity of State’s bloggers get condoned? Is it true that none of the people behind the policy actually read blogs or participate in the blogosphere? We’re talking a certain kind of culture here, and God help us when State ventures into Second Life, hopefully they’ll have the help of the Center for Public Diplomacy’s after their half-mil grant. State’s demonstrated at the highest levels, not at the hamstrung and overworked tactical levels, an inability to comprehend anything other than mirrored imaging U.S. politics.

State used to be able to understand foreign audiences, but that was in the first decades of the Cold War. Now, not so much. Back then, State was on a war footing. Now, not so much.

It is no wonder State’s budget is so low. Not only do they not hammer on Congress for more money, but Congress doesn’t see a real payback for what they are receiving now. Where’s the leadership at State to bring them into the 21st Century, into Information Age conflict?

Should State just abdicate to DoD’s Support for Public Diplomacy, as Thom Shanker closed in his NYT article today? I don’t know, but this will be default if State doesn’t get a capable leader soon.

Update: Rep. Adam Smith comments on the Danger Room post:

We gaveled our hearing about an hour ago. My sense after the hearing remains that we are not adequately resourcing our online activities, both in terms of funding and in terms of giving the people on the front lines authority to act outside of a lengthy bureaucratic review process. We’re also not doing enough to reach out to online communities and bloggers based here in the U.S. to get the benefit of their expertise.

Your point about having two bloggers posting with a moderate number of page views illustrates my concern, and I agree with Matt Armstrong’s comment about our post hoc strategy…if we are serious about fighting the battle of ideas, waiting until after the messages hit the Internet to get active on them is not the best way to go.

A lot of that has to do with the way government bureaucracies work; the person posting for us has to get approval in advance for whatever they are going to send to or post in an online community, and that means we’re constantly behind. One of our subcommittee members suggested to State and DoD that they empower their people to act quickly outside that process in order to be more effective, and I think that is an excellent suggestion.

Swimming in the sea of the people

Noah’s interview with JIEDDO chief General Montgomery Meigs is enlightening. America’s technological responses to the IED threat cannot be sourced for the reduction in IED incidents.

“I can’t get the data,” Meigs says about the drop in bombs.  “I would love to be able to say to the American taxpayer, ’40 percent of the reduction in IED incidents and 80 of the reduction in IED effect is due to the things we’ve put in the field.’  I can’t get the data that would let me make any kind of an assessment of that.”

What Meigs and others were able to point to, however, was stats on the participation of the local population in countering the IED threat.

About 8,500 tips came in September of 2006; by May, the number had peaked at more than 24,000.  In August, the figure was approximately 19,200.  Similarly, the number caches found – about five per day in September, 2006 – jumped to more than 20 per day in May.  After a dip over the early summer, that figure has been steady in recent months, at about 15.

Concerned Local Citizen groups, or CLCs, also found 40 of the last 72 weapons caches.

This interaction with the local population, a foreign concept to many, is the key to understanding the current trend.

A centerpiece of the new American counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq has been to put move combat troops out of local bases – and have ‘em hang out with the locals, instead.  This increased interaction – and the increased attention to understanding local culture, and the ramped-up recruitment of local watchmen – fairly naturally leads to more tips.

While at the same time, we have the MRAP debate that further isolates our personnel from the local population (see Abu Muqawama’s post on Humvee v Jeep and this CSBA report on the MRAP as the uber un-COIN vehicle).

In a struggle for support, and denying support, you must interact with the people, get them to understand and appreciate the severity of the mission. By distancing yourself from the fight, they won’t see you as committed. Non-committal means eventual abandonment and siding with the perceived victor. In this case, the various flavors of insurgents.

Getting in with the people and enlist them in the fight, convincing them this is the path to peace, and success is yours. Perhaps we’re finally on that path. At least in some areas.

Update: how do you a robot would fare in this situation?

The Persian Influence

The 11/6/07 Blogger’s Roundtable with Colonel Wayne Grigsby is interesting in hindsight, something helped by the transcript.

In repeating Persian influence six times, COL Grigsby tried to get a point across that wasn’t caught. Nobody picked up on the point Iraqis aren’t just fighting AQ, but Iranian intrusions.

Our battlespace is filled by a mix of Shi’a extremists — excuse me —
a mix of Shi’a, Sunni and also some Persian influence, and is primarily
agrarian, farmland. Some of the major population centers in our AO are Salman Pak, Jisr Diyala, Nahrawan and Wahida. …

And the insurgents we’re going after, gentlemen, is the Sunni
extremists, the Shi’a extremists and what we like to call the Persian influence within our area of operation. …

We have attacked the problems in the Madain qadha along all five lines of operation. We have applied pressure against the Sunni extremists, the Shi’a extremists and the Persian influence along each line of operation, to include security, governance, economics, transition and information. …

Large segments of the population have rejected al Qaeda and their
violent and oppressive ideologies. That goes back to, I’m tired of this; I want to have a good life; I’m tired of the Sunni-Shi’a extremists, the Persian influence; we want to get better. …

Yeah, I talked to one sheikh that said he went over. It was Sunni. He went over to visit his cousin in Al Anbar, saw what he was doing there. And then he brought that back here and he approached us, on the concerned citizens groups, that they were interested in building the same type of model that we’ve had here to eliminate the bad people, the bad people being Sunni extremists, Shi’a extremists and Persian influence within our battlespace. …

But no kidding, once we put the — once we had — we were living in the patrol bases in the community, we were taking bad guys off the street — both Sunni, Shi’a and Persian influence. …

Update: See Abu Muqawama on parsing Persian and the oft-repeated American error of adopting other peoples vocabulary and grammar without paying attention to local meanings and perceptions it generates.

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?

Bringing the real world home and knowing their real world

Abu Muqawama linked to the Roger Cohen Op-Ed’s today, Bring the Real World Home. AM quoted the following in his post:

Counterinsurgency has been called armed social science. To win, you must understand the world you’re in.

Money quote. Yes, it is social science (sorry anthros). You’re "swimming in the sea of the people" as you struggle for the minds and wills, blah blah. Ultimately, you must know the definition and terms of "victory" with the societies you’re engaged with, which informs how you engage, how your actions and words are interpreted, etc. Victory hasn’t become different than it was, it has always been different in non-European countries that didn’t contribute to Jus in Bello. Look at the colonial experiences.