The media have discovered that our military has mastered the key 4GW skill of running information operations. Thoroughly researched and well-written, the following is probably one of the most important news stories of the year. I strongly recommend reading it.
“Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand“, New York Times, 20 April 2008 — “A Pentagon Campaign: Retired officers have been used to shape terrorism coverage from inside the TV and radio networks. “
This should not be news. In November 2007 I described good news: our military had learned how to run successful information operations. Unfortunately, they were running them against us. Mine was not the first such article.
One of the best to date examined the propaganda of the pre-war and early war phases. Boehlert’s account of Bush’s Imperial press conference on 6 March 2003 is worth the price of his book, recounting the moment in which “please stand for the President of the United States” in effect gave way to to “bow before the President of the United States.”
“Lapdogs“, Eric Boehlert, Salon (4 May 2006) — “Cowardly and clueless, the U.S. media abandoned its post as Bush led the country into a disastrous war. A look inside one of the great journalistic collapses of our time. This is an excerpt from former Salon senior writer Eric Boehlert’s new book Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush.”
Many do not see any problem with this, like this post at Winds of Change. Almost nobody discusses the real problem with government propaganda: it undermines people’s trust of and identification with the State. That is bad even for tyrannies like the USSR; it is a potentially terminal problem for a republic.
Whatever the short-term benefits of info ops — in this case, building public support for a long war — it undermines the foundation of our political regime. That should be an unacceptable price in the Decline of the State era, in which strengthening people’s relationship with the government must be a paramount strategic goal.
Update: A comment about this story by W. Patrick Lang (Colonel, US Army, retired), posted at Sic Semper Tyrannis (19 April 2008):
I was invited to one briefing at the Pentagon. At the meeting, many of those mentioned in this article were present. The purpose of the meeting was to give Rumsfeld the chance to explain the Abu Ghraib mess. I asked some awkward questions and was not invited again.
Update: A comment by Matt Armstrong at MountainRunner (23 April 2008) that concurs with my conclusion (mentioned above). The full post is worth reading! Excerpt:
In the end, I don’t see this as an issue of legality, but one of credibility and trust. The Rumsfeldian Defense Department clearly failed to understand the importance of these two elements in Information Age conflict and counterinsurgency, which has been ably documented elsewhere.
( click for more about how our military has mastered this key 21st century military skill)