Winds of Change.NET: Liberty. Discovery. Humanity. Victory.

Formal Affiliations
  • Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto
  • Euston Democratic Progressive Manifesto
  • Real Democracy for Iran!
  • Support Denamrk
  • Million Voices for Darfur
  • milblogs
Syndication
 Subscribe in a reader

Was It The Writing Or The Reading?

| 37 Comments

I've got to admit I'm a little puzzled at the reaction to my piece on information warfare below.

Look, I'm hardly shocked to catch a few elbows from the progblogs (hi, Matthew!). But the misreading of the intent of the post is consistent enough to make me wonder if I flatly wrote it wrong.

When someone uses words like "conundrum," (as I did) I'd assume that they are talking about a problem with no ready solution.

In this case, the collision of values between defending political discourse in a democratic republic from overt manipulation by the government on one side, and wanting to win a conflict using the tools of counterinsurgency - which include the manipulation of opinion - on the other. That seems like a very real conundrum to me (although I see one possible path out of it, suggested by Boyd).

My intent in writing the piece was to make two points: First that it's amusing that the usual suspects are shocked, shocked! that this is happening - given that it is a part of the counterinsurgency playbook, and I assume the folks in the Pentagon read that and more, plus given the historical record here in America and pretty much everywhere else - much as if they were shocked - shocked! that in combat our troops fire real bullets.

Less amusing to me is the deeper question which is how, exactly, we can do information warfare in the context of keeping it from irremediably damaging our own polity. That's a damn serious question, and the one I intended to trigger some discussion of in my earlier post, and to discuss in the next few days.

37 Comments

Since when is High Clearing a progressive blog?

A.L.,

A few of the problems you haven't addressed, which renders the previous post, and this one, worthless.

a. Whether what the "informational warfare", using generals and such, advocates about is GOOD, ultimately, for the country. You don't touch that, you just assume it.
b. In a comment, you point to Palestinians as being "good" at this type of information warfare. To compare Palestinian media strategies, and U.S. media strategies, and find that the U.S. government sucks in comparison, is simply very very wrong, and not grounded in reality.
c. Lastly, you seem annoyingly post-modern, in your sense of "shaping perception", as if there wasn't a reality on the ground, that is more important that perception. After all, if it was just about perception, we could just hire Baghdad Bob. But you don't address that either. If a "media strategy", endorses false information - in the majority of the cases, this is damaging to the United States, in the GIGO sense, and that bad decisions for the nation are the consequence.

Of course, the "wanting to win the conflict", ignores 5 years of the failure in the conflict, from the false selling of the invasion, to the horrible follow-up, to from the beginning to now, the vaguely defined goal of "what's a win?", that allows us to LEAVE and stop sinking billions into the sands of Iraq.

hypo -

I'm not really sure how to respond to your a) because it seems that's the question I'm also asking - so I don't get the conflict. I'd love to see your argument on b) - everything I see suggests that the Palestinians and hezbollah are damn good at this. c) we do shape perception - even around common facts. Was there a massacre in Jenin? Did Bush lie or was he wrong? Is A-Rod a whiny baby or just misunderstood?

Love to see you take on b), though.

A.L.

Less amusing to me is the deeper question which is how, exactly, we can do information warfare in the context of keeping it from irremediably damaging our own polity

Our polity has been irremediably damaged by "information warfare" already. We have this pretty war as proof. Whether it was done in sincerity or not (and all signs point to "not"), the massive amount of disinformation that came out in the run up to this war of choice has CRIPPLED America. Bush got his war. We will be paying the price for it for generations.

As far as the game of "information warfare" you kids so desperately want to play, what is it good for? The Surge is Working, a meme of the past six months, hasn't budged public perception of the war. Why? People don't believe the happytalk. The media has dutifully reported it, Congress has parroted it, Petreaus, has, on different days, claimed it -- and yet, the American people don't buy it.

There's literally NO information that would pass through the hardwon skepticism we've rightfully developed. And yet you STILL, even now, 5+ years into this obvious morass, think that if the word just got out (or, as you imply, it was properly manufactured), if people just somehow understood how dear this war really is to you and others, then it would be all better.

I know that's not what you think you're saying. I can hear the huff starting from here. But, in reality, that's what you ARE saying.

AL, I checked out those "elbows" you linked. Mmm, that's some fine commentary there.

Jay B: Nice to see someone talking about the American People as a bloc; it makes a nice bookend to the same sort of guff I hear from your opponents. Carry on.

First off, give up on "information warfare." It's a bullshit phrase which is used to justify further bullshit. Adding warfare onto any damn word excuses all kinds of crap.

Second, if you want people to support you, you have to tell the truth. After an initial tight-fisted hold on the press in the early stages of WWII, Roosevelt's War Department lifted restrictions on photos of American casualties in 1943, arguing that Americans needed to understand the truth of the war--its costs as well as its glories. (Read Prof. Susan Moeller's Shooting War: Photography and the American Experience of Combat) The move galvanized public opinion. Sub rosa discussions given to audiences of network-hired talking heads kept friendly by threat of exclusion only serve to damage the credibility of all involved.

Third, the real lesson here is that you can't use b.s. to start a war and then worry about public opinion, especially one such as Iraq, which was guaranteed from the get-go to involve an insurgency. As a noted military thinker once wrote (PDF link, see page 305), "committing U.S. units to counterinsurgencies appears to be a very problematic proposition, difficult to conclude before domestic support erodes and costly enough to threaten the well-being of all America's military forces (and hence the country's national security), not just those involved in the actual counterinsurgency."

In other words, we're screwed and all the "information warfare" does is give a few people the ability to justify stringing this war out for a few more months or years at the cost of hundreds more American lives.

What nitpicker said. You can't lie your way into something and then say "trust me now."

The article makes some serious charges that need to be seriously investigated. If (and I'll grant that it's still an unproven 'if' at this point) the DoD is using puppets to flat-out lie to the US about the war, we have the makings of a Constitutional catastrophe here. It's one thing for the gov't to try to sell its policies to get the citizenry's support, but if this is the case then we not only have the end of our representational government - how can citizens make informed decisions when those in power distort the information? - but we also have an arm of the US military being actively used against the US populace & to subvert the Constitution. Does that thought not bother people anymore?

Question: "[H]ow, exactly, [can we] do information warfare in the context of keeping it from irremediably damaging our own polity[?]"

Answer: We can't.

The American way to win hearts and minds is the same as it's always been - by being America: the land of laws, opportunity, freedom, promise.

The GOP (your) philosophy seems to be that our way of life (laws, rules, anti-torture policy, among other things) is a hindrance to our cultural dominance of the world. In essence, the less we are like America and the more we are like, say, China, the better off we'll be in our "fight against terror." Well I say BS to that. If you don't think that being America is the most effective way of doing just about everything, then I guess you don't believe in America too much. Kinda makes you anti-American, eh?

In real, actual wars, guess what makes the opposing army agree that they are defeated? Not your "imformation" battalions, but your real, actual army battalions. Not your press corps. The Marine Corps. Not "imformation" grenades. Real, actual, blow-up-and-kill-you grenades.

But, if you find yourself trying to think of ways to spin the enemy into submitting, guess what? The war is over!!! It's not a war anymore. The enemy has agreed to stop actively opposing you, but that doesn't mean that they won't start trying something else, like blowing up convoys and stuff. And when does that particular situation usually arise? After short colonialist wars that we had no business fighting in the first place. History is chock full of examples. Go look it up.

Listen, if the rationale for a war needs to be spun, then guess what? We probably shouldn't be fighting it! No one needed a pre-packaged, Madison Ave. approved rationale to go enlist to fight the Nazi war machine. They just did it! No one needs anyone to give them a specific "imformation battlefield tested" reason to protect their actual houses from enemy invasion. They'll just do it!

But why won't people enlist to fight in Iraq? And why won't the Iraqis just stop blowing shit up? Because everyone knows that the whole thing is BULLSHIT! Because everyone knows that we should just go home. And no amount of "information warfare" is going to change that.

So let's all stop dreaming about all the propaganda we can catapult, and start getting back to what makes America great.

The important question that AL is asking is, how can the government use information to help win the war. For those who believe that we are not at war, or that we should lose, or at least that Bush should be humiliated no matter what the cost to the rest of the US, or that it is not possible for Republicans to tell you the color of the sky without lying, the answer is that no discussion is possible.

I think it would make sense to set out a definition of "information warfare," and a list of things that would not be acceptable (such as deliberately lying to the American public to shape the outcome of an election) for any administration of either party to do. If we could agree on a list of what information warfare encompasses, and what of that is always OK, never OK and either conditionally OK or debatable, it would make answering the question easier. Otherwise, it's going to be an infinite repetition of "Bush lied"/"you're an idiot"/"chickenhawk"/"traitor", and I think we've all seen enough of that crap.

Well, the enemy's propaganda seems to be working, at any rate.

Jay B.
There's literally NO information that would pass through the hardwon skepticism we've rightfully developed.

Oh, I believe you.

It's 1968 all over again, and all the malcontents are building their information-proof strategic hamlets. The Netroots are reprising the role of SDS. The Ron Paulians are retreating into Atlas Shrugged fantasies, and the "true conservatives" are putting the sorry old John Birch Society back together. The media, as always, are being the media. The internet is the new improved LSD - as well as the new replacement for normal human hygiene and sexuality.

Hillary Clinton is playing Hubert Humphrey, and Barack Obama will soon be playing George McGovern. His church is doing an amusing rendition of the Black Panthers.

I guess that leaves my tribe as the new McNamaras and Dean Rusks, or something like that. Which is pretty sad too, but at least we get to win this time.

I read the article and found myself thinking a couple different things:

1. why was anyone surprised at this? Did anyone really think that all these ex-military officers were anything more than mouthpieces for some constituency within the government or the military?

2. did these guys really not think they were getting spun? That was the hardest part to believe. When you go on a corporate (government) junket, somebody is selling something and if you don't know what or whom, you're in trouble.

3. Why were producers at network television and editors at newspapers willing to give this type of visibility to military cheerleaders? If CNN wanted to do reports about dangers in the meatpacking industry, it is unlikely that the primary "expert" talking head would be one former senior exec from the beef industry and another from the chicken industry.

I have no problem with the government spinning and selling. Politics is the art of persuasion and of course government is going to try to sell its programs (and its wars). The bigger problem is what this says about our news organizations. It is just the latest piece of glaring evidence that the news media have ceased to be trustworthy fact gatherers, but have become narrative creators. (Aside, wasn't this the real problem with the ABC debate--not that these questions were being asked, but they were all asked in a way that furthered the narratives favored by the candidates opponents.) The news media has become just part of the noise. It's no wonder it's dying.

Glen,

Well, Bush did lie. I'm not sure why I'm no one's allowed to say that.

You ask the following: "The important question that AL is asking is, how can the government use information to help win the war."

There are two assumptions packaged in the question.
1. That we are at war.
2. That winning is definable and observable.

As to #1, I would argue that occupying a country is different from being "at war." The difference being this: If the Germans abandoned their line in WWI, the French and British would have stormed into Germany, taking land, resource and anything else they wanted. Since the alternative to just packing up and going home was they would have no homes to go to, they obviously held their ground. To do otherwise would have been catastrophe. In contrast, if the US army just climbs onto a bunch of convoy ships and goes home, what happens to us is...NOTHING!!! Nothing will happen to us! We will be fine. No one will invade our country. No one will attack our homes.

As to #2, "winning" the "war on terror" in the way I assume that you imagine it is about as likely as the Chicago police "winning" the "war" on breaking and entering. What do you think is going to happen? That the country is just going to eventually accept our presence? This has never happened in 250 years of colonialism! Not once! Our function in Iraq is basically a police presence. Excuse me if I don't care to bankrupt our country in order to police a nation I couldn't give a shit about.

"Politics is the art of persuasion and of course government is going to try to sell its programs (and its wars)."

I hear what you're saying, Stephen, but the idea that war is just another "government program" is really disgusting to me.

Sorry, I'm messing up everyone's name. 1st post should be addressed to Jeff, the 2nd should be addressed to Steven.

You say: Nice to see someone talking about the American People as a bloc; it makes a nice bookend to the same sort of guff I hear from your opponents. Carry on.

Yeah, that's what I meant. Not that 60+% of the American people think the war wasn't worth fighting. It's hilarious, you'll swallow anything that the media and administration pukes out if fits into your worldview, judging by the "intellectual" heft of this site, but I make a statement that accurately reflects the gist of the political viewpoint of people, and you feel the need to dissect the grammar. Here's the shorthand brighteyes: People, the American people, overall (not 100%, if you so need that reassurance), are through with this war. The sooner it is over, the better. Moreover, a vast majority of people -- the same people -- think that Bush is a joke. He's loathed at Nixon-during-Watergate levels. An utter failure and the architect of two failed states and a severely diminished third.

More insights that pass for "smarts" on the war side:

It's 1968 all over again, and all the malcontents are building their information-proof strategic hamlets.

Exactly! It's not like after 5+ years of war and occupation we can't claim progress in keeping the Green Zone safe. A couple more years and they might even finish the White Elephant Embassy. Anything can happen if you believe! Do you even know how many refugees your "success" has caused? This is a serious question -- any idea? Does it matter to you? And you have the temerity to think I'm living in an "information proof world"? But yeah, giving a shit about the death and destruction my country has caused millions of people who didn't deserve it makes me a malcontent.

The Netroots are reprising the role of SDS.

So your thought is that we could have won Vietnam if they only listened to folks like you? Or that there's some victory in sight in Iraq that the world doesn't see -- only the same people who have been wrong every step of the way know the real score. That, or are you just making up shitty analogies? My money's on that last part.

The Ron Paulians are retreating into Atlas Shrugged fantasies, and the "true conservatives" are putting the sorry old John Birch Society back together.

And the people who bring about genocide and think in magical terms about will and destiny are trying to delude everyone else that war and more war is the answer to the problem of war. Rugged minded types like yourself. Not like those other ninnies on the right.

The media, as always, are being the media. The internet is the new improved LSD - as well as the new replacement for normal human hygiene and sexuality.

Thank God for acid casualties. If not for the combination of self-regard and idiotic arguuments the mysteries of the cosmos might still be out of reach.

"This has never happened in 250 years of colonialism!"

Isn't that revealing.

Jay (might I call you "brighteyes"?):

I'm not pro-war, but I am anti-puke-publishing here, since I serve as one of the folks who have to wipe it up... and since you used the word first, I feel no compunction in remarking that if fits your bilious tone rather well.

I recommend a change of tone. We value substantive comments here, even though some of our regulars fall short. Your evident need to hype rhetoric up at the rate you are doing, combined with (AFAIK) your short time here, makes it likely that further posts with a similar snark ratio will be cause for banning.

You mention self-regard, a subject at which you appear to be expert. Try to consider the possibility that my request for civility here is in an effort to reduce the puke all around, including that spewed at you. Or don't, and see what happens.

Your evident need to hype rhetoric up at the rate you are doing, combined with (AFAIK) your short time here, makes it likely that further posts with a similar snark ratio will be cause for banning.

Ban away then. But before you do, note that you want to discuss war like it's a game of Strageo, with a PG-13 vocabulary. So you worry about tone and language while ignoring the overwhelming horror at the core of the subject you hold sacrosanct.

"I'd love to see your argument on b) - everything I see suggests that the Palestinians and hezbollah are damn good at this. "

Are you saying, that given ALL of the various military analysts, that both analyze on TV, and feed at the trough of the defense industry, that on network news on any given night, we see as many pro-Hezbollah analysts, as pro-Iraq occupation analysts?

That IS what you are saying, unless you come up with a more adequate metric, when mentioning the NY Times article and defense analysts on TV (the point of the article) and Hezbollah supporters in the media, AS IF THEY ARE EQUIVALENT.

And yes, that is PATENTLY delusional.

#19 (Jay) :

You continue to misidentify me. I'm just a bartender here. I don't hold very much sacrosanct -- least of all your spleen. I'm just asking for a bit more civility in discourse, precisely because this is a heated subject.

Your playing of the "overwhelming horror" card notwithstanding, there are people with opposing views here who somehow manage discourse better than you have so far. If I were taking a cue from you, I might try to work in a half dozen or so slights about you. But I won't, because that's not how this place functions best, and because I honestly don't have any reason to spew at you. If you have a different take on me, that's fine -- have a nice day somewhere else.

Or focus on substance, which there were traces of in your prior posts. Your choice.

Or focus on substance, which there were traces of in your prior posts. Your choice.

Then you might have addressed it instead of coming across as a school marm. Instead, you condescend -- which is entirely fine -- while NOT discussing my small traces of substance. Your choice, of course, but don't pat yourself on the back for it.

As for your plea for comity when discussing war, I find the attitude pretty obscene. We're not dissecting a piece of history to glean lessons. We're talking about the here and now. The decisions being made right now that have real world ramifications for Americans and Iraqis.

And so you're not pro-war. You don't seem much of anything, I guess. Content instead to merely assign people into 'camps', remaining aloof above all that we might debate -- or hell, yell about -- with a little more gusto than you find comfortable.

Funny then, that the blog goes alternately world-weary of liberals "shock" at the US Government machinations while maintaining the earnestly insane stance that the Islamofascist hordes will kill us all if we don't kill them there. And somewhere in there, with all that's professed to be at stake, we must maintain calm and dispassion to our cause.

Feh.

Jay B -
And the people who bring about genocide and think in magical terms about will and destiny are trying to delude everyone else that war and more war is the answer to the problem of war. Rugged minded types like yourself.

Heavens to Elizabeth. Not only have you immunized yourself against information contamination, you've eradicated humor and self-irony as well. I guess you're playing the part of the Chinese Red Guard.

Jay (#22):

It's a big ol' Intarweb. I just donate time here to see what people are thinking, mostly. If it's too confusing or tiresome for you to sort this place out, and figure out what I (as opposed to any other participant) actually believe, then don't bother yourself.

I won't be dragged into "my overwhelming horror trumps your overwhelming horror" or anything of the sort. You walked in and started spitting insults, and now cloak yourself in justifications I find lacking. That behavior pattern is not something that is fostered here. Your displeasure at that policy is not worth much more of my attention.

So: On topic or hit the road. Any response about how you should have the right to spew, or about how irrational the stated policy is -- meta discussion, in other words -- by you here will be deleted out of hand. You haven't earned the right to spew here yet.

To the subject, or zap. Capisce?

He may not have been as gracious as I sometimes am, but Jay at 16 brings up important points.

Kevin Drum had a recent post on how the Vietnam War is the touchstone of American history for conservatives, even those to young to have lived through it. Glen's post on the Netroots as SDS, Obama as McGovern, etc. is a commentary on the current situation as seen through a very foggy lens. Most of the pro-war crowd has been promising us victory just around the corner since the Mission was first Accomplished. The results on the ground are pretty much as Jay stated:
Exactly! It's not like after 5+ years of war and occupation we can't claim progress in keeping the Green Zone safe. A couple more years and they might even finish the White Elephant Embassy. Anything can happen if you believe!
Today war cheerleader Bill Kristol warns that Obama and the anti-war faction are about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. What does Kristol bring to the table? How about this quote
“The good news,” he wrote on July 28, 2003 [!! –AJL], “is that we may turning the corner in the debate on post-war Iraq. . . .More important, and despite the continued killings of American soldiers, the situation on the ground in Iraq may well be turning. Aggressive military tactics may be breaking the back of the several thousand Baath die-hards, and we're probably closing in on Saddam.
You can click through to find Kristol, and his allies the Brothers Kagan, saying over and over again how we have turned the corner, after each setback. No one outside the Beltway and the right-blogosphere will ever listen to these clowns again, with good reason. The average astrologer has a better track record. An information campaign like this is dead meat in the days of Google. It's hard to imagine it succeeding in any remotely democratic and literate state, even before.

The Administration outsourced keeping up home-front morale to the same people to whom it outsourced the rebuilding of Iraq: the Republican Party. Can we talk about the idiocy of tax cuts during war some time? Kept morale up, at the cost of a very deep recession coming, huge deficits, and even a contribution to the mortgage scandal when the Fed turned homes into ATMs to keep up liquidity.

Karl Rove's ability to create reality was not up to this information battle, although his methods did work for a while.

AJL, your post has all the gusto needed. Thanks for your contribution. Jay: The term is "Marshal", hereabouts, though "schoolmarm" will do, as long as you heed the ruler. :)

Well, it's the contention of some posters that there's no point in the US attempting to shape public opinion as a matter of policy - no sense polishing a turd, the media is already responsibly reporting both right and wrong actions, et cetera. Okay, I'm willing to admit some of this - there are absolutely negatives when it comes to making it some governmental official's job to lie, and spinning comes close enough that I can admit a link.

What's the obvious response? Change the focus. When you're engaged in a war, you're not measuring your performance against some kind of platonic ideal of martial prowess - you're actually fighting an enemy. If we're in an information war, there's still an enemy. We're not just trying to make ourselves out to be saints, but better/morally superior to that enemy.

This would be problematic if we were waging war on, say, MADD or the Rotary Club. Fortunately for us, our enemies have traditionally obliged us by providing all sorts of unpleasantness. People talk about Bush as if he's ushering in some sort of fascist police state, but North Korea is one, and we don't spend nearly as much time contrasting the two as we might, by way of example.

Against Islamic terrorism, we have a rich field of foul, dastardly, and abhorrent actions to point to... and we don't have to lie, make things up, or even distort the truth. If we really want to push the public sphere of opinion, why is it damned near taboo to show jet planes flying into the side of the World Trade Center? Why don't we see pictures of exactly what was done to the corpses of murdered servicemen? Why, when Iran sentences a rape victim to death, don't we have big pictures of her with the facts of the case? When some Al Qaida bomber takes out 100 innocent Iraqis in a marketplace, instead of a sanitized one-sentence report, shouldn't we be showing video of medics putting people back together and carting off the dead bodies of innocents?

Our media doesn't run with that sort of thing because, well, they're not stupid - they know exactly what sort of effect it would have on public opinion, and in which direction, and collectively that's something they don't want. But if you're talking about increasing public opinion in favor of, and support for, action against Islam militants, that's what would do it.

Don't get me wrong - this is exactly what is being done to us by the enemy. They're happy to pounce on the mistakes, and indeed, the evil that we do. Why, then, are we so hesitant to return the favor?

[Avatar, setting off text with hyphens here at WoC does strikeouts, not emphasis. Fixed for you. --NM]

Andrew:
Glen's post on the Netroots as SDS, Obama as McGovern, etc. is a commentary on the current situation as seen through a very foggy lens. Most of the pro-war crowd has been promising us victory just around the corner since the Mission was first Accomplished.

Insofar as you take my "sh-tty analogy" seriously, you're missing half the point, and need to turn the foggy lens on yourselves as well.

For several years now, the anti-war left has been riding a wave of triumphalism, convinced that negative opinion about the war will make all their domestic political dreams come true. Their confidence is such that they've decided that they no longer need all the lukewarm Democrats, and they've turned on them like mad dogs. That's definitely 1968 all over again. The winner of 1968 was Richard Nixon; the casualties were Johnson, Humphrey, and the entire (politically very successful) paradigm they represented in the Democratic Party.

You're now wrecking the Democratic paradigm as Clinton re-built it in the 90s. That will be an easier job, given the decline in workmanship - even Hillary is in there swinging the axe, smashing all those free trade plaster lawn gnomes that she never liked.

As for Vietnam and Iraq, it doesn't matter now what could have happened in Vietnam. Suffice to say that the war out-lived the anti-war movement by several years and ended in enough tragedy to satisfy the worst pessimist, and yet the left had zero net profit to show for it.

Heavens to Elizabeth. Not only have you immunized yourself against information contamination, you've eradicated humor and self-irony as well. I guess you're playing the part of the Chinese Red Guard.

Thanks Glen! I mean, Comrade!

Now, about the rest of it: Iraqis have engaged in and been victimized by ethnic cleansing since the US invaded.

Ironically, it has helped reduce the violence as formerly mixed neighborhoods have become homogeneous, but as a rather large negative, it's killed tens if not hundreds of thousands and drive millions of Iraqis from the country (some estimates go as high as 4 million -- but since you are the cosmos, maybe you can tell me how I'm being informationally-cloistered or something and you have the true figure as submitted by The Pentagon).

[Metacomment elided by Marshal, as promised. --NM]

[P]lease enlighten me (a lowly neo-SDS netizen) how this is a positive. Tell me how you think that 5+ years of living behind a giant wall in the Green Zone is a net plus for the American forces or America overall. Maybe you can point out the success of the Iraqi forces and show how they're standing up, so we can stand down. Or maybe you can tell me, with big letters and small words so I'll understand, what exactly it is we're supposed to be "winning" (and "The Peace" is a meaningless phrase in this context).

After that, if there's still a pixel left on the Internets, you might want to teach me, hell, teach all of us, how this is the fault of bad press and the inability of the Pentagon to properly manipulate the message (as if embedding, censoring and having paid spokesmen isn't enough) is somehow as important as actually simply telling the truth to the American people for once.

For several years now, the anti-war left has been riding a wave of triumphalism, convinced that negative opinion about the war will make all their domestic political dreams come true.

Wow, Glen, your insights on the anti-war left are just as brilliant as your insights on war being the solution to the problems of the Middle East. Impressive.

I do love how opposing the war, worrying about the negative impact of it, predicting it would go poorly, being proven largely correct about how badly it would go and why was really just a smokescreen for our desire for universal healthcare.

Do you really believe that?

And "triumphalism" is a nice touch. How dare people who were against the war be so mad at people who got it wrong! How uncouth.

"Ethnic cleansing" interesting phrase, I think the Arabic phrase is 'itijihad'; concidentally that was the name of the Young Turk campaign against the Armenian. It's
also what went on in Iraq from 1968-2003; and on a different scale from 2003-2006. When every Shiite mosque, school, hospital was open season. You think it's a coincidence that Saddam (now Sadr City; is possibly the most run down section of Baghdad. That Dora Farms, among the Sunni section was
among the most well maintained. That the Sunni tribe (Duleimi, Jabbour, Abu Nasir,Ubeidi)profited from oil wealth from the Kurdish North and the Shia South. The Sadr' families Da'wa movement and the Hakim's SCIRI/Badr cadres, only arose after severalgenerations
of deliberate persecution and exclusion of Shia from government, education. et al. The Badr movement arose from dissafected Iraqi Shia troops, after Saddam's invasion to secure the Shatt al Arab.It was only after those circumstances, punctuated by the US betrayal of the '91 uprising; that many put their trust in Iran.
And the Quds Force went to work, as they had done in Lebanon, culling Hezbollah from thesplinters
of the more moderate Amal movement

#11 from Glen Wishard at 9:33 pm on Apr 21, 2008

It's 1968 all over again, and all the malcontents are building their information-proof strategic hamlets.

*This is not 1968, by a long shot. The comparison is ridiculous. But the following describes perfectly the type of ideas one winds up defending when one builds an "information-proof strategic hamlet"

The Netroots are reprising the role of SDS.

The Ron Paulians are retreating into Atlas Shrugged fantasies, and the "true conservatives" are putting the sorry old John Birch Society back together.

The media, as always, are being the media. The internet is the new improved LSD - as well as the new replacement for normal human hygiene and sexuality.

Hillary Clinton is playing Hubert Humphrey, and Barack Obama will soon be playing George McGovern. His church is doing an amusing rendition of the Black Panthers.

I guess that leaves my tribe as the new McNamaras and Dean Rusks, or something like that. Which is pretty sad too, but at least we get to win this time.

As an aside, Kristol is an intellectually bankrupt fool.

Most of the pro-war crowd has been promising us victory just around the corner since the Mission was first Accomplished.
The funny thing about war is that there are at least two sides fighting. (If only one side is fighting, it's a slaughter or "ethnic cleansing" or genocide, rather than war.) And when the enemy is fighting, too, they can adapt and change. The obvious result of this is that war does not usually have a single arc, as is usually assumed (from WWII, probably) of: side A attacks and is winning, side B turns the tide, side B then goes on to win without further strategic reversals. With that in mind, it's useful to look at the war through a lens informed by the history of warfare, and it is that lens that I wish the Administration would provide. Here's my take on the war so far.

In 2003, the US invaded Iraq and, in a matter of weeks and at a remarkably low cost, defeated and dispersed the Iraqi army, deposed the Iraqi government, and initiated an occupation of Iraq. Over the remainder of 2003 and into early 2004, we were mopping up remaining organized resistance from the Saddam Fedayeen and Ba'athist groups that weren't destroyed in the initial fighting. This went quite well, and actually took less time than I expected. (In Germany after WWII, for example, it was years before this phase was completed and local governments constituted.) IIRC, it was in this context that Cheney's "victory just around the corner" remarks were made. At the time, I think the comments were appropriate to that enemy, but revealed a lack of understanding that the enemy would adapt and change.

At some point early in 2004, the jihadis began displacing the Ba'athists (probably brought in initially by the fedayeen, who were after all Islamist guerillas, so there was some common cause there). This happened while the fight against the Ba'athists was still predominant, so there wasn't a break in fighting; rather, the complexion of the enemy changed dynamically. This was also, IIRC, when Sadr made his first bid for control, so there were really three enemies we were fighting at this time (the remnant of the Ba'athists and fedayeen, the early stages of the jihadi buildup, and Sadr's JAM, though the latter only briefly). By the end of 2004, the fight had shifted essentially entirely from the original war and mop-up against the Ba'ath to fighting the jihadis. This was actually a harder fight for us, and while still not very costly in casualties in historic terms, was pretty difficult at first. Nonetheless, by early 2006, we were definitively winning that fight as well, and it was looking like the war would be essentially over by the end of 2007.

But again, the enemy gets a vote, and the enemy's attack on the Samarra mosque was politically ingenious. That attack caused the nascent Shia militias, JAM predominant among them, to lust for the blood of every Sunni in Iraq. Indeed, we had known months earlier (from a captured enemy communique) that the jihadis' plan was to incite a sectarian civil war, and with this attack they essentially succeeded. So by the middle of 2006, we were fighting the jihadis on the one hand, while fighting the Shia militias with the other, and at the time, the nascent Iraqi security forces could barely handle their small part in the fight against the jihadis. Moreover, our tactics, ROE, and deployments at that point were aimed entirely at the jihadis, and were not flexible enough to cope with the Shia militias simultaneously.

By the middle of 2006, it was clear that our dispositions and balance had to change, and we began that process in late 2006, with the start of the "surge," which involved adding and repositioning troops, changing the ROE and changing our tactics. The surge, it should be noted, was needed to handle the addition of an active enemy, the Shia militias, while still fighting the existing fight against the jihadis. Also in the middle of 2006, the efforts of generals and colonels in Anbar, combined with the jihadis customary savagery against those they lived among, had begun to have real effect, and what became known as the "Awakening" had begun. Finally, the other major development by the end of 2006 was that the Iraqi army had finally began to tip over from isolated and ineffective small units to more and larger organizations, increasingly learning their art.

As a result, by the middle of 2007, the jihadis were essentially on the run, and the current operations against the jihadis are largely mopping up. As I understand it, the only consistently available base of operations left to the jihadis is in Mosul (where they fled after being driven from the Baghdad environs), and we are reducing that base pretty steadily. I expect that by the end of 2008, the jihadis will be as beaten as the Ba'ath.

So the current fight is against the Shia militias, and it is very complex. In part, that is because some of the Shia militias have been incorporated into the government of Iraq, and it's unclear whether they are actually loyal to that government or are just biding their time and using the government's resources to take out the other Shia militia groups. In any case, this is largely the Iraqi government's fight, which is why the additional troops we sent in during the surge can be withdrawn, and why the Iraqi government moved against Basra. The preponderance of force is with the Iraqi government, and the JAM and other militias that haven't been co-opted have so far shown themselves to be fairly ineffective militarily. As a result, it's likely that the Iraqi government will be able to win the fight against Shia militias over the next one to two years. So long as we stay on, to prevent the government from overdoing it and slaughtering, rather than disarming and absorbing, those militias, there is a very good chance that the Iraqis will be able to create a viable secular democracy.

But there are two large threats on the horizon: one that could prolong the fighting and one that could invite a slaughter that would delegitimize the Iraqi government. The latter is what I mentioned a moment ago: if we leave, the Iraqi government would have to fight hard instead of subtle. Without our ISR, air support, artillery, and SOF, the Iraqi government would have to resort to much less delicate operations than they have undertaken so far, and that is really a euphemism for going into Sadr city and other JAM strongholds and killing military-aged men in large numbers and with little discrimination. Well, at least it's an Arab tradition, but it would undermine the state entirely, because then what would be the difference between "democratic" Iraq and Iraq under Saddam's dictatorship? And rest assured, that's exactly how both enemy and Western progressive propaganda would play the story.

There is actually a further problem that would almost certainly result from our withdrawal, which is that it makes certain the second large threat, currently only a possibility, which if it materializes would prolong the fighting and risk a wider war. That is, Iran could intervene more forcefully. Already, Iran has been sending irregular troops (Qods Force) and weapons in large numbers into the fight in Iraq, aiding the JAM. If Iran were to make the calculation that they could gain their objectives (destabilization of Iraq, de facto control of Iraq's southern oil fields' output, expansion of Shia influence, extension of Islamic theocratic rule) by sending larger forces into Iraq, they would do so. If we leave, they are certain to make that calculation.

I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader how that could spiral out of control. The main point is, we have really fought several enemies in succession (with periods of overlap) in Iraq: the Iraqi army, the Ba'athist holdouts, the jihadis, the Shia militias; we may have to fight at least one more enemy, Iran. We have eliminated the Iraqi army and the Ba'athist holdouts, we have beaten but not yet eliminated the jihadis, and we are beating the Shia militias. The media narrative seems to think that the fight has been one undifferentiated stream of never changing and never ending violence without context, but this simply shows the media's ignorance of war, history and current events. And sadly, because the government has essentially left the telling of this story to that media, I don't expect that we will find that narrative corrected until 20 years down the road, when historians who were not emotionally involved in the war begin to research and write about the war.

The media narrative seems to think that the fight has been one undifferentiated stream of never changing and never ending violence without context, but this simply shows the media's ignorance of war, history and current events.
This narrative does not belong only to the media. Why, just last week John McCain was saying that our enemy in Iraq is “Al Qaeda”, and liberal hawk Ken Pollack was backing him up, that it was a convenient shorthand for our enemies as a whole. I would go so far as to say that ignorance is also easy to find in the pro-war crowd. Let's roll some tape.
  • Bill Kristol: "There's been a certain amount of pop sociology in America ... that the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq's always been very secular."
  • Budgeting for the long haul: At the outset of the Iraq war, the Bush administration predicted that it would cost $50 billion to $60 billion to oust Saddam Hussein, restore order and install a new government.
  • Misunderstanding the security situation: After Baghdad fell, Rumsfeld dismissed reports of widespread looting and chaos as "untidy" signs of newfound freedom that were exaggerated by the media. Rumsfeld and Bush resisted calls for more troops, saying that what was going on in Iraq was not a war but simply the desperate actions of Baathist loyalists.
  • Misunderstanding the long struggle ahead [published October, 2003]: U.S. military commanders have developed a plan to steadily cut back troop levels in Iraq next year, several senior Army officers said in recent interviews. There are now 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The plan...would begin to draw down forces next spring, cutting the number of troops to fewer than 100,000 by next summer and then to 50,000 by mid-2005, officers involved in the planning said.
Let me be a little more blunt: the anti-war forces have understood very well that as we ally with Shi‘ites, we provoke Sunni militias, as we awaken Sunni militias we aggravate Shi‘ite militias, and as we try to pull a democratic, secular country out of a hat, we are wasting our time, money, and lives. It's the bulk of the pro-war movement which is into war as a symbol of will and virility. For those "purposes", an accurate understanding of the issues on the ground is pretty much irrelevant.

[Tag corrected. --NM]

There is a good question upthread, viz.,
Why, when Iran sentences a rape victim to death, don't we have big pictures of her with the facts of the case?
and I think the answer is, It would upset Bandar Bush, whose homeland (Saudi Arabia) does the same thing.

Thanks for the timeline and such, Jeff (#33). I knew a lot of what had been happening, but the way you lay it out brings some clarity for me.

Useful overview by Jeff (#33). AJL, your reminders of the blindfolding-by-ideology, incompetence, Bad Ideas, and Wrong Ideas by the planners of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath (e.g. #34) are also appreciated.

Most of us who supported the war in 2002 and 2003 did not do so out of a sense of whimsy or cruel fecklessness--contra Jay B., upthread. That view came reluctantly and as in an attempt to advocate the least-bad of a set of unpleasant alternatives.

All wars are full of bungling and unforced errors, by most or all sides, at many different levels. Overall, the excellent US performance on the battlefield has been matched to terrible strategic and political decisions by the Bush Administration. Perhaps per Jeff, there have been improvements in Washington's inputs from 2003/4 to the present. Enough to compensate for the war's financial and human costs, to Iraq and the US? No.

But that doesn't make it simple to know what the best path forward is. For starters, the word "best" means very different things in this context to different people.

The media is for the most part too polarized, too visually oriented, and too ignorant to provide useful assessments of what's going on in Iraq, at least in a military sense. The Long War Journal is useful in that regard.

Anyway, AJL, I want to be reminded of where I went wrong and what the different players' track records are in the Prediction business. Fool Me Twice and all that.

Leave a comment

Here are some quick tips for adding simple Textile formatting to your comments, though you can also use proper HTML tags:

*This* puts text in bold.

_This_ puts text in italics.

bq. This "bq." at the beginning of a paragraph, flush with the left hand side and with a space after it, is the code to indent one paragraph of text as a block quote.

To add a live URL, "Text to display":http://windsofchange.net/ (no spaces between) will show up as Text to display. Always use this for links - otherwise you will screw up the columns on our main blog page.




Recent Comments
  • TM Lutas: Jobs' formula was simple enough. Passionately care about your users, read more
  • sabinesgreenp.myopenid.com: Just seeing the green community in action makes me confident read more
  • Glen Wishard: Jobs was on the losing end of competition many times, read more
  • Chris M: Thanks for the great post, Joe ... linked it on read more
  • Joe Katzman: Collect them all! Though the French would be upset about read more
  • Glen Wishard: Now all the Saudis need is a division's worth of read more
  • mark buehner: Its one thing to accept the Iranians as an ally read more
  • J Aguilar: Saudis were around here (Spain) a year ago trying the read more
  • Fred: Good point, brutality didn't work terribly well for the Russians read more
  • mark buehner: Certainly plausible but there are plenty of examples of that read more
  • Fred: They have no need to project power but have the read more
  • mark buehner: Good stuff here. The only caveat is that a nuclear read more
  • Ian C.: OK... Here's the problem. Perceived relevance. When it was 'Weapons read more
  • Marcus Vitruvius: Chris, If there were some way to do all these read more
  • Chris M: Marcus Vitruvius, I'm surprised by your comments. You're quite right, read more
The Winds Crew
Town Founder: Left-Hand Man: Other Winds Marshals
  • 'AMac', aka. Marshal Festus (AMac@...)
  • Robin "Straight Shooter" Burk
  • 'Cicero', aka. The Quiet Man (cicero@...)
  • David Blue (david.blue@...)
  • 'Lewy14', aka. Marshal Leroy (lewy14@...)
  • 'Nortius Maximus', aka. Big Tuna (nortius.maximus@...)
Other Regulars Semi-Active: Posting Affiliates Emeritus:
Winds Blogroll
Author Archives
Categories
Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en