Saturday, May 29, 2004

New Warfare I

The Belmont Club has a good post, “The Global Battlefield”. They discuss an article by Lt. Col. Robert R. Leonhard in Army Magazine last year, “Sun Tzu’s Bad Advice: Urban Warfare in the Information Age”.

The thrust of the Belmont Club post is that modern (American) war is as much a media conflict as a military conflict, and the two must be won at the same time.

The notion that American war is postmodern, that the perception of battlefield progress is as significant as actual military capability, explains perfectly the disconnect between American opinion of Vietnam after Tet and the actual situation in Vietnam.

However, accepting this postmodernist viewpoint as a guide for future operations would be disastrous. Walter Cronkite’s basic error in reacting to the Tet Offensive was that the existence of violence was described as a failure. The fact that the US emerged victorious from this wave of violence, the fact that the Viet Cong was forever more a spent firecracker, was ignored. Most of Cronkite’s successors not only accept his error as deep wisdom, they go further and adopt a pacifist, anti-military viewpoint. Walter Cronkite, at least, was willing to accept an American victory.

As a lifelong civilian, I’m not qualified to evaluate Lt. Col. Leonhard’s article as a tactical guide for Army operations. It seems the military is using many of these ideas in Iraq, although as with any initial development, the practice is not as effective as the theory. (I think his idea about using CS gas to clear combat zones might be an effective tool against militia encamped in mosques). But it misses the central difficulty in media relations in the current war.

The media is not only criticizing US casualties, but enemy casualties as well. Operations such as the storming of a mosque in Najaf on May 25th of this year, in which 32 militia died without a Coalition casualty, are met with hand-wringing about what the locals might think about it. The existence of violence is seen as the problem.
This is coupled with a rise of incompetence in the media and in politics. (Belmont Club has a running series of posts about the media’s inability to maintain quality control.) It’s not a shift in values or styles. It’s actual stupidity.

When Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi publicly declare that we can’t succeed in Iraq under this President, it’s not only undermining the wartime tradition of nonpartisanship that future Democratic Presidents would need, or demoralizing our troops. It’s stupid. What happens when the American people return President Bush to the White House? Will Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi resign rather than work with him?

When the Boston Globe runs faked photos of Iraqi abuse on their front page because they wanted a scoop, it’s not only bad judgment by editors. It’s stupid. The abuse of prisoners occurred six months before the Globe ran the story. And did the editors really think the public craves Abu Ghraib photos so much, they'll ignore papers than don't run them on the top fold?

Because of media bias and inability, the press is not another battleground, another prize to capture. It is a negative factor to be fought. A wartime White House must assume that the organized media will be largely hostile to an American victory, and must assign political operatives, not civil servants or military officers, to undermine their operations.

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