A Ponderable…

For a few moments, please consider the following somewhat disturbing
scenario. Let’s assume there’s a killer on the loose in your area. The
killer is known to the police, but they haven’t been able to locate
him. Let’s further imagine that the killer murders your child. Horrible,
I know, but bear with me.

How do you feel? Undoubtedly many ways. Among them, fearful. Worried
that other family members may be at risk. You buy a security system. You
make strict rules that your children are not to be out without an
adult. They increasingly become prisoners in their own home.

I imagine that rage and a desire for vengeance are among your states of
mind as well. Weeks and months pass. The killer remains at
large. Overwhelmed by your frustration, impatience, and need for closure
you decide to launch your own investigation. You go increasingly into debt
to fund what has now become an obsession. You alienate your friends who
want to help but can’t support your self-destructive behavior. They watch,
helpless, as you destroy your own family, both emotionally and
financially. And all the while you defend your behavior as necessary. You
are doing this for the safety of the whole community. Not just safety from
this killer, but from others who would follow him. Justice must be
served. The killer mustn’t win.

But wouldn’t Dr. Phil tell you that the killer already has won? He may
have only killed one person, but he’s destroyed the lives of your entire
family. Or rather, you have enabled him to do so. You are in need of an
intervention, and a fair bit of therapy. You need to learn to move on –
albeit with more caution – but onward nonetheless.

And now the pondering part: why is the behavior above so obviously
dysfunctional at the individual level, but acceptable (hell it’s desirable)
behavior for us as a nation?

My take? Because we aren’t thinking as individuals. And many of us just
aren’t thinking. The mob is rioting, and the adrenaline rush from
unleashing the “whoop-ass” is intoxicating. Some of our leaders have
figured out that in the cold sober light of morning, many of us will regret
the results of our collective bender. Therefore, the whoop-ass must flow.

Gotta hold this buzz man…

The Enemy Is Us

In war, you deny information, spread lies and use psychological

warfare. An expert on military information operations explains how

Bush has mastered this technique — and used it against the American


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By Sam Gardiner

Sept. 22, 2004 | On Thursday, Iraq’s interim prime minister, Iyad

Allawi, will speak before a joint meeting of Congress, and from what

he said in London on his way to the United States, it looks like

Americans are going to be getting more of the strategic information

operations that have been crucial to Bush’s policy on Iraq from the


On Monday, Allawi said at a press conference: “Terrorists are coming

and pouring into Iraq to try to undermine the situation in Iraq …

And God forbid, if Iraq is broken or the will of Iraq is broken, then

London will be a target, Washington will be a target.” In those

sentences, Allawi employed the basic doctrine of strategic

information operations: Influence emotions, motive and objective

reasoning. Use repetition to create a collective memory in the target

audience. And the recurrent message of both Allawi and the Bush

administration is: Iraq = terrorists = 9/11.

The Army Field Manual describes information operations as the use of

strategies such as information denial, deception and psychological

warfare to influence decision making. The notion is as old as war

itself. With information operations, one seeks to gain and maintain

information superiority — control information and you control the

battlefield. And in the information age, it has become even more

imperative to influence adversaries.

But with the Iraq war, information operations have gone seriously off

track, moving beyond influencing adversaries on the battlefield to

influencing the decision making of friendly nations and, even more

important, American public opinion. In information denial, one

attempts to deceive one’s adversary. Since the declared end of combat

operations, the Bush administration has orchestrated a number of

deceptions about Iraq. But who is its adversary?

In August 2003, the administration’s message was that everything in

Iraq was improving. The White House led the information effort and

even published a paper on the successes of the first 100 days of the

occupation. By October the message had shifted: Things were going

well in Iraq, but the media was telling the wrong story.

Then, toward the end of 2003, the message was that the whole problem

in Iraq was “dead-enders” and “foreign fighters.” If it weren’t for

them, the situation would be fine. Then, after Saddam Hussein was

captured in December, the message shifted again: The coalition had

discovered along with the former dictator documents revealing the

insurgent network, which now would be broken. Once again, everything

would be fine.

At the approach of the hand-over to Iraq’s interim government in late

June, the administration said the event represented the worst fears

of the insurgents, who did not want any movement toward democracy.

The White House warned that there would be increased violence as the

insurgents tried to prevent the interim government from assuming its

proper role in running the country. In fact, violence did increase

before the transfer, but there was even more violence afterward. But

the administration’s information about the situation in Iraq sharply


Denying information to adversaries is one way of maintaining

information dominance. (According to the Army Field Manual, this

dimension involves “withholding information that adversaries need for

effective decision-making.”) In the case of Iraq, this has meant

eliminating press releases and press briefings. Since the hand-over

of power, the U.S. Embassy in Iraq has issued only six releases,

including one on the new Iraqi environment minister’s visit to a

landfill project. The most recent press release, on Aug. 12, was

about a boxer on Iraq’s Olympics team. The last press briefing by the

Multi-National Force in Iraq was June 25. The interim Iraqi

government does not hold press conferences.

The White House Web site also reflects the strategy of withholding

information. It used to actively provide content on Operation Iraqi

Freedom (or as the Web site now says, “Renewal in Iraq”), but the

last new entry is dated Aug. 5.

The effect of the White House’s control of information has been

dramatic. The chart above shows how English-language press coverage

of Iraq has fallen off since July. Early in July, it was typical to

find almost 250,000 articles each day mentioning Iraq. That number

has dropped to 150,000. The goal of denying the adversary access to

information is being realized. But, again, who is the adversary?

Before, during and immediately after the war, the White House

orchestrated an intensive program of press briefings and releases to

saturate media time and space, stay on message, keep ahead of the

news cycle and manage expectations. The White House conference call

set the daily message. The press briefings from the Central Command

headquarters in Doha, Qatar, were designed to dominate the morning

and afternoon press coverage, while the afternoon press briefing by

the Pentagon was intended for the evening news.

The White House is also using psychological warfare — conveying

selected information to organizations and individuals to influence

their emotions, motives, objective reasoning and ultimately behavior –

– to spread its version of the war. And the administration’s message

is obviously central to the process. From the very beginning, that

message, delivered both directly and subtly, has been constant and

consistent: Iraq = terrorists = 9/11.

The president tells us that we are fighting terrorists in Iraq so we

don’t have to fight them here in the United States. But I know of no

one with a respectable knowledge of the events in Iraq who shares

that view. My contacts in the intelligence community say the opposite

— that U.S. policies in fact are creating more terrorism.

Still, the administration has made its case for the 9/11 terrorism

and Iraq connection with some sophistication. For example, on March

25, 2003, the United States renamed the Iraqi fighters in civilian

clothes known as the Fedayeen Saddam. Either the Office of the

Secretary of Defense or the White House (I have been told it was

both) directed that they now be called “terrorist death squads” —

promoting the overarching message: Iraq = terrorists = 9/11.

Recently, the purported terrorist connection was reinforced by

another change in terminology. When coalition forces bomb a house in

Fallujah, the Multi-National Force press releases now announce that

they bombed a “safe house.” But Marines don’t come to that phrase

naturally. Marines hit enemy positions. They strike targets. The

implication is fairly obvious. Since terrorists use “safe houses,”

the insurgents in Fallujah must be terrorists. And some of us thus

come to believe that we are in Iraq to fight the “global war on


Appealing to the emotions aroused by 9/11 is classic psychological

warfare. And repetition of the terrorist argument is utterly

consistent with the theory that one can develop collective memory in

a population through repetition.

Images are also essential in psychological warfare, so negative

images must be defeated as quickly as possible. That’s why the images

of the contractors killed in Fallujah were so worrisome to the

administration. Government intelligence sources told me there was

fear they would have an impact like the images of dead U.S. Army

Rangers being dragged through the streets in Somalia did in 1993,

causing rapid erosion in support for that war.

Although we don’t know all the facts yet, it’s almost certain that

the White House or the Pentagon ordered the Marine attack on Fallujah

to fight those negative images. Five U.S. soldiers were killed on the

same day as the private contractors when their Bradley fighting

vehicle was destroyed. But there was almost no official reaction to

their deaths, no pictures; their deaths did not pose an image


Now, the New York Times reports that military operations to open up

the no-go areas in Iraq will not occur until November or December.

The official line is that the administration wants to wait until

Iraqi security forces are better trained.

My military mind only hurts when I hear this argument. The United

States has been trying to train the Iraqis to take over for almost

two years now. The effort began with the training camp in Hungary

before the war, but that program failed. The robust training program

that began in the early stages of the occupation was declared a

failure with the onset of the insurgents’ offensive in April. The

administration has not been able to staff the headquarters tasked to

direct the training. Nor is it even certain who among those being

trained are on our side. The Marines around Fallujah joke that after

they take a member of the Iraqi National Guard to the firing range

for practice, the sniper who shoots at them that night shows a

remarkable improvement in his aim.

It’s clear the Americans will bear the major brunt of the attack on

Fallujah. What could possibly be behind the administration’s decision

to wait until November or December to launch it? There’s certainly no

commander in the field saying, “Let’s give the bad guys another 60

days to operate freely inside their sanctuaries before we attack.”

Such a decision would be particularly bizarre when attacks against

coalition forces are more frequent than ever, attacks on oil

pipelines are on the rise, and the United States is suffering

increased casualties.

Any military officer would say that you have to take the fight to the

enemy. So what can we conclude about this decision? There is only one

conceivable answer — the White House is delaying military operations

until after the Nov. 2 election for political reasons. In the

meantime, information-denial operations must be ratcheted up to

control the story. But that is becoming more difficult.

During the early part of the war, there was more deception than truth

in the comments and press briefings of the secretary of defense and

the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Among the fabricated

stories was the early surrender of the commander and the entire 51st

Iraqi mechanized division. We were told of an uprising in Basra — it

did not happen. We were told Iraqis had stolen U.S. uniforms to

commit atrocities — this was not true. We were told on White House

and State Department Web sites that the Iraqi military had formed

units of children to attack the coalition — untrue. We were told of

a whole range of agreements between the French and Iraq before the

war over weapons — false. We were told Saddam had marked a red line

around Baghdad and that when we crossed it Iraq would use chemical

weapons — completely fabricated.

We were told of an elaborate scheme by Saddam’s forces to ambush U.S.

Marines on March 23 as they fought toward Baghdad. The president

mentioned this incident many times. It turns out what really happened

that day is that the Marines were repeatedly attacked by a U.S. Air

Force A-10. It was a friendly-fire incident, not an Iraqi ruse. But

building on the theme of Iraqi evil was more important than the


Military intelligence officials’ prewar assertion when no WMD were

found that Iraq had moved its weapons to Syria is another example of

information denial. But although the Iraq Survey Group report to be

released at the end of this month will announce once and for all that

Iraq did not have WMD, the WMD argument already served its purpose in

garnering support for the invasion. The important message now

remains: Iraq = terrorists = 9/11.

The fog of war has not yet lifted. But when the strategy is to hide

the war from the American people, rather than to get them to approve

its instigation, fabrication is more difficult to sustain.

Karl von Clausewitz, the Prussian theorist of war, wrote, “War is an

extension of politics by other means.” When I taught Clausewitz to

students at various military war colleges, I told them that he meant

international politics. But I may have been wrong — I fear war has

become an extension of domestic politics, moving beyond influencing

adversaries on the battlefield to influencing the decision making of

friendly nations and, even more important, American public opinion.

Why have the American people become the adversary?

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About the writer

Sam Gardiner is a retired Air Force colonel who has taught strategy

and military operations at the National War College, Air War College

and Naval War College.