Thursday, March 30, 2006

An Army of Baghdad Bobs

We have a major problem when waging information warfare:

Q Sir, yesterday when you spoke at the War College you gave the U.S. a pretty bad grade in its performance --

SEC. RUMSFELD: A passing grade. (Laughter.)

Q Well, not in my family, a "D". (Laughter.)

SEC. RUMSFELD: O-o-o-oh! O-o-o-oh! (Laughs.)

Q -- for the U.S. performance in the war of ideas. And I think this latest is maybe an example of how the other side is triumphing, by turning this into an issue about a mosque. What is -- you've been very clear in what you think our responsibility is in the failure in the war of ideas, but what is going on here? How do you describe the problem, and how do you fix it?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I think it's a tough -- sure. It's a very tough thing to do. When something happens, the people we're up against are vicious, and they lie. And they are -- obviously, they have media committees, they plan what they're going to do, they plan how they're going to manipulate the press, and they get out there fast and do it. And there's no penalty for that. Indeed, there's only rewards, because the misinformation race is around the world while, as they say, truth is still putting its boots on. Our task is to figure out what actually happened. And that means that they've got to go in there and talk to people, and it takes time, and it takes 24 hours, 48 hours, whatever it takes. And they end up -- some cases, it takes weeks to figure out what actually took place.

And it's just very difficult. And here we are, in the 21st century, with all these means of communication and information racing around the globe, and it just makes it a very tough thing to do.

And clearly the United states government has not gotten to the point where we are as deft and clever and facile and quick as the enemy that is perfectly capable of lying, having it printed all over the world, and there's no penalty for having lied. Indeed, there was a reward, because great many people read the lie and believed it. And it takes weeks and weeks afterwards to figure what actually took place.

This is a major problem for us.

The enemy lies and the press immediately broadcasts the charges. If we say something, the press investigates to double check.

When the enemy lies, their credibility is never squandered. When we pay for truthful articles overseas, we are suspected of manipulating the press.

If we commit a small violation, the press goes 24/7 on the story. The enemy's crimes are mere background noise at best and reason to try to "understand" them at worst. N0-scratch that. At worst it is sympathic coverage of the enemy's motives.

Yes, we earn a "D" in our information operations. But only because our press mistakenly believes that it has no dog in this fight. They think they are neutral in the war between the West led by America and the jihadis. And they remain secure in their role since they count on us to win that war. That way they get the best of both worlds--a Western society that defends their right to free speech and freedom of the press plus awards all around for investigating the minor crimes of Americans in this Long War.

For our press it is, as the saying goes, nice work if you can get it. And if our military can defend it for them to enjoy.

I have no idea how to change this situation. Other than to abolish all journalism schools and replace them with typing classes.

Mark Steyn, when discussing Michael Ware, put it well:

I felt gradually exhausted since September 11th, 2001, that it's very dispiriting trying to keep going in this phase of what is a very long conflict. And the reason I do it is because I want us to win. I don't particularly like journalism. I don't particularly like writing newspaper columns. I'm sick of having to make what I think should be an obvious case again and again and again. And I'd much rather pack it in and sit on my porch in New Hampshire and enjoy the view of the mountains. But I do it because I want us to win. And the idea that he has, this diseased sense that somehow just the story, the story is somehow how you demonstrate your journalistic integrity and purity, and might get you nominated for some prize that nobody cares about somewhere down the line, that's not what it's about. I mean, why does he want to be a journalist, if it's not to be on the right side of history. This is ridiculous.

Seriously, if more of our journalists internalized their American citizenship enough to say "we" when talking about "Americans" instead of saying "the Americans" as if we Americans were some alien race to them, we'd solve about 80% of our public relations problem (and yes, I know Ware is Australian. But he is a Westerner). At least here in America, that is. More generally, Western reporters would need to believe Western society is superior to those attacking it.

It doesn't mean that the press should ignore any of our mistakes or even crimes, but it does mean that they should cut America some slack when reporting on them because they should believe our society deserves to win the war we are in.

But that isn't going to happen. Is it?