The Adventures of Chester: Colonial Operations and Strategic Communication
[This is yet another post in response to Belmont Club's discussion of the adequacy of the US force structure.]
Perhaps the first issue in any plan to reform the strategic communications efforts of the US should begin with the correct definition of what it is that US forces are being tasked to do in the 21st century. One of Wretchard's readers is right that the word "colonial" is so freighted with historical baggage as to render useless any policy using it. Major Mike says:
Additionally, I cringe a bit with talk of re-organization to “colonial” style forces, or a variation thereof. The post World War I explosion of nationalistic movements throughout the world can be attributed directly to the occupation of nations by colonial forces. Fighting an insurgent nationalistic force would be logarithmically more costly than fighting a disgruntled band of malcontents and outsiders . . .
In the interests of heading off the globalization protesters at the pass, a better definition must be identified and put into use. This is not spin. Far from it. Colonialism smacks of zero-sum trade, the "white man's burden" and even slavery. These are vastly different goals than those of the US today. Robert Kaplan says:
"The American military now has the most thankless task of any military in the history of warfare: to provide the security armature for an emerging global civilization that, the more it matures--with its own mass media and governing structures--the less credit and sympathy it will grant to the very troops who have risked and, indeed, given their lives for it."
In a similar vein, Thomas Barnett, the oft-quoted author of "The Pentagon's New Map," who defines the world into the Functioning Core and the Non-integrating Gap, uses the terminology of systems administration to describe the tasks set before the US military:
U.S. national-security strategy would seem to be: 1) Increase the Core’s immune system capabilities for responding to September 11-like system perturbations; 2) Work the seam states to firewall the Core from the Gap’s worst exports, such as terror, drugs, and pandemics; and, most important, 3) Shrink the Gap.
Barnett gives a roundabout reference to the possible force structure of the US military, given this daunting task:
Making this effort means reshaping our military establishment to mirror-image the challenge that we face. Think about it. Global war is not in the offing, primarily because our huge nuclear stockpile renders such war unthinkable—for anyone. Meanwhile, classic state-on-state wars are becoming fairly rare. So if the United States is in the process of “transforming” its military to meet the threats of tomorrow, what should it end up looking like? In my mind, we fight fire with fire. If we live in a world increasingly populated by Super-Empowered Individuals, we field a military of Super-Empowered-Individuals.
Whether you prefer Kaplan's "security armature for an emerging global civilization," or Barnett's theories of the Core and the Gap, both point to US-provided collective security as an international public good – a far cry from the conquests and coffer-enriching schemes of colonialism.
Returning to the strategic communications problems of a US military confronted with such a wide-ranging mission . . .
Wretchard points to a recent study by the Defense Science Board which states:
Strategic communication -- which encompasses public affairs, public diplomacy, international broadcasting, information operations, and special activities -- is vital to America’s national security and foreign policy. Over the past few decades, the strategic communication environment and requirements have changed considerably as a result of many influences. Some of the most important of these influences are a rise in anti-American attitudes around the world; the use of terrorism as a framework for national security issues; and the volatility of Islamic internal and external struggles over values, identity, and change. ... America needs a revolution in strategic communication rooted in strong leadership from the top and supported by an orchestrated blend of public and private sector components.
Joseph Nye, Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, has gone a long way to define the strategic communication problem as one of "soft power:"
Soft power is the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals. It differs from hard power, the ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will. Both hard and soft power are important in the war on terrorism, but attraction is much cheaper than coercion, and an asset that needs to be nourished.
Yet Nye's prescriptions for implementing such a soft-power campaign are vague at best and whimsical at worst:
The U.S. government should not try to control exports of popular culture, but State Department cultural and exchange programs help to remind people of the noncommercial aspects of American values and culture. Similarly, government broadcasting to other countries that is evenhanded, open and informative helps to enhance American credibility and soft power in a way that propaganda never can. Yet the billion dollars spent on public diplomacy is only one- quarter of 1 percent of what is spent on defense. Congress should support measures like Representative Henry Hyde's proposal to bolster the State Department's public diplomacy and international broadcasting efforts.
The other way the government can make a difference is in the substance and style of foreign policy. With a military budget larger than those of the next dozen countries combined, the United States looms so large that it engenders negative as well as positive reactions. The biggest kid on the block always provokes a mixture of admiration and resentment.
To the extent that America defines its national interests in ways congruent with others, and consults with them in formulating policies, it will improve the ratio of admiration to resentment. President George W. Bush
No need to read further. You know where he's going.
[Quick aside: Here we witness the Harvard Dean version of hand-wringing over "why they hate us." Nye doesn't seem to understand that the ultimate soft power is when your soft speaking is backed by a big stick. Or perhaps he's forgotten. Hard to tell on the left these days. Has the Rhodes scholarship program ever produced a conservative?]
The goal of strategic communication as discussed here is something akin a sense of feel-goodism: that other peoples in the world agree to our actions because they understand our intentions.
Even James Fallows is jumping on the bandwagon, raising "strategic communication" in one of the cover stories of the January/February Atlantic, "Success Without Victory," and showing the supposed importance of "intention perception" to our target audience:
An amazing lack of interest in how life looks to those we are trying to persuade, deter, or capture accounts for many of America's difficulties in the past three years. People in the anti-terrorism business talk about our need to wage a decades-long struggle for the future of Islam, in which the United States has a vital stake. But consider the mini war of ideas we have already fought. America's approach to the Muslim world since 9/11 has made sense—to the Americans who designed it. First we would rout the Taliban from Afghanistan and deny al-Qaeda the sanctuaries and training camps that were important to its growth through the 1990s. Then we would take the war to Iraq, solving the immediate problem of Saddam Hussein and whatever weapons he had, and fostering a long-run example of a prosperous, democratic Arab-Islamic state . . .
That was the intention. Somehow the results looked different to the people this strategy was supposed to influence . . .
Fallows, a journalist, seems not to think his own profession was complicit in that failure. More:
Instead one can turn to the Pentagon's own Defense Science Board, which submitted a 102-page internal report in November about how America was doing in the global war of ideas.Fallows mentions studies by RAND, in addition to the Defense Science Board piece itself as having similar themes:
Through these studies runs the idea that the United States could make an authentic and appealing case to the Muslim world—if it took the time to understand which parts of its argument are most likely to register with the person in the street. For instance, in much of today's Muslim world "justice" is a more compelling ideal than individual "liberty." "This really is a war of narratives in a battlefield of interpretation," Marc Sageman says. "We need to promote a positive vision to substitute for the vision of violence. And that vision has to be justice. It is no accident that these groups are always calling themselves 'The Party of Justice' and so on. In the time of the Suez Canal the United States stood for 'justice' against the Brits and French, and we were the toast of the Middle East. We need to be pushing a vision of a fair and just world, with us in harmony with the rest of the world, as opposed to at war with the rest of the world."
This is in a sense, a Hail-Mary all-channel marketing campaign to re-brand the foreign policy of the United States. Does it really help our effort that much to rename the Marine Corps, "The Justice Corps?" Muslims are smarter than that. Moreover, Fallows makes the mistake expected of a mainstream journalist: he thinks in terms of the masses, wants a branding campaign that smacks of mass media, and relies on semantics rather than fundamental considerations of substance to spin his message. The blogosphere teaches that Fallows' top-down method of image control is increasingly impossible. Moreover, what metric can be used to judge positive perception change toward the US; or positive reception to the ideas that the US advocates? And perhaps "individual liberty" doesn't appeal to Muslims in general because they have had such a small taste of it. Perhaps the goal is not to repackage our efforts to appeal to existing ideas in their culture, but instead to introduce radical new ones.
The most-cited lesson of the blogosphere is of the segmenting of traditional mass-markets into micromarkets – indeed, the same Atlantic has another story entitled, "The Massless Media." But less mentioned is the idea that whereas traditional media is faceless, monolithic and short on interaction, the blogosphere influences the world through millions of tiny interactions daily in which readers exchange views and create perceptions of each other. While we all sit at our desks reading this alone [and our wives and husbands give us that certain annoyed get-off-the-computer-now look], we are engaged in a dynamic process of figuring out whom we trust and whom we don't. Hugh Hewitt mentions this in his new book, "Blog." These interactions can be controlled from above only with great difficulty and expense. This lesson does not just apply in the world of high-speed broadband. Hundreds of newspapers have sprouted in Iraq, and the post-totalitarian residents of Iraq will be highly skeptical of attempts to influence their opinion from institutional platforms.
Such is the nature of the thousands and millions of interactions by US troops with Iraqis, and other folks all over the world daily, as well. These interactions speak for themselves and are difficult to manipulate. In the case of Iraqis, they are on an individual basis largely positive. In a sense, mass media acted as a go-between, handing out legitimacy between strangers via institutional trust. But the institutional go-between is no longer technologically necessary, and people interact like free radicals. Thus, since the military can control its troops' interactions with mission-type orders, centuries-old traditions, and esprit de corps -- in fact, precisely because of the tradition-bound nature of the military and the fact that it instills or brings out similar traits in vastly different people -- these interactions are one of the only mass-influence campaigns left in the world. Consider the 1st Marine Division's use of the slogan of "No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy," through the course of its two deployments to Iraq. It takes a military unit to broadcast such a message, and General Mattis, the former commanding general of the division, did so from the get-go, starting with his invasion kick-off message on March 20th, 2003. It is simple to remember and more importantly, easy to translate. Thucydides said it this way:
We have compelled every land and every sea to open a path for our valor; and we have everywhere planted eternal memorials of our friendship and our enmity."
Aside from the millions of interactions though, the Pentagon has no idea how to control the media image its troops give off during deployments. Consider this New York Times story of last month, perhaps spawned by the DSB report [link is the abstract: the story is only available for a fee, and who's going to pay for a story with a half-life of 12 hours?]:
THE REACH OF WAR: HEARTS AND MINDS; PENTAGON WEIGHS USE OF DECEPTION IN A BROAD ARENA ABSTRACT - Pentagon said to be engaged in bitter, high-level debates over how far it can and should go in managing or manipulating information to influence opinion abroad; missions, if approved, could take deceptive techniques endorsed for use on battlefield to confuse adversary and adopt them for covert propaganda campaigns aimed at neutral and even allied nations; critics say such program would shatter Pentagon's credibility; question is whether Pentagon and military should undertake official program that uses disinformation to shape perceptions abroad; efforts under consideration risk blurring traditional lines between public affairs programs in Pentagon--whose charter calls for giving truthful information to media and public--and world of combat information campaigns or psychological operations; critics see proposal as Pentagon's effort to resurrect its Office of Strategic Influence, short-lived operation to provide news items, including false ones, to foreign journalists in effort to influence overseas opinion; office was closed by Defense Sec Donald H Rumsfeld under intense criticism.
Perhaps abstracts are the way to go when reading the Times . . .
Before the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force deployed to Iraq for the second time, a retired colonel, and veteran of the Combined Action Program , was invited to speak to a gathering of MEF officers. He asked anyone in a public affairs specialty to stand. He then asked for those in the psychological operations specialty to stand. He then asked them, "You've both been warned in all of your professional training not to have anything to do with each other, haven't you?" Their heads nodded. The Colonel explained that in small wars, integrating the images given off by US forces is a necessity to success. It is this dilemma – how to do so without creating spin, propaganda, or conspiracy theories – that is being debated in the Pentagon.
While these debates are ongoing, solutions will sprout organically. The decentralization of media raises the potential that the goal of the big-budget public diplomacy programs can be accomplished on a shoestring: those in other countries can interact with, meet, and debate with Americans at will, and make up their minds for themselves if we are truly free, and if our way of life is better.
While this works itself out, the very least the Bush Administration can do is better publicize the atrocities of Saddam, troops decorated for heroism, and the thousands of little victories via interaction that occur every day.
Parting thoughts on force structure and the occupation
1. Sources inside the Marine Corps tell The Adventures of Chester that one of the MEUs slated to deploy soon will employ an artillery unit as the battalion landing team, instead of an infantry battalion. Sounds alarming, but when extra infantry units are needed, artillery Marines are often the first to be tapped. And the MEU training will be the same for them before they deploy. Moreover, the Marine Corps is about to push up against the 2-year time-limit for activating reservists.
2. Here is a past post comparing the occupations of Japan and Iraq. It does not address troop numbers, just the overall picture and mood of each.
3. Here's the reaction of The Adventures of Chester to James Fallow's last Atlantic article, about Iran.
4. See the US State Department's newly-created Office of Policy, Planning and Resources for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Fallows doesn't seem to know about this . . .
Posted by Chester on January 14, 2005 1:20 PM to The Adventures of Chester