Pentagon's Iraq Message: T.B.D.


Newsweek has a must-read story on something we've hammered on again and again here at Defense Tech HQ: the American military's inability to get its message out in any sort of sensible way. Especially through new media.pao_crest.gifWhile the Pentagon clamps down on milbloggers and squeezes embedded reporters, the insurgents are, as Ms. Jardin noted the other day, starting TV stations, training over the Web, and selling t-shirts online. Here's the latest example of the media-savvy inequality:

A draft report recently produced by the Baghdad embassy's director of strategic communications Ginger Cruz... makes the stakes clear: "Without popular support from US population, there is the risk that troops will be pulled back ... " Under the heading DOMESTIC MESSAGES, Cruz goes on to recommend 16 themes to reinforce with the American public, several of which Bush is likely to hit: "vitally important we succeed"; "actively working on new approaches"; "there are no quick or easy answers."What's even more telling is that the IRAQI MESSAGESthe very next sectionare still "TBD," to be determined. Indeed, the document so much as admits that despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars, the United States has lost the battle for Iraqi public opinion: "Insurgents, sectarian elements, and others are taking control of the message at the public level." Videos of U.S. soldiers being shot and blown up, and of the bloody work of sectarian death squads, are now pervasive. The images inspire new recruits and intimidate those who might stand against them. "Inadequate message control in Iraq," the draft warns, "is feeding the escalating cycle of violence..."Sunni insurgents in particular have become expert at using technology to underscoresome would say exaggeratetheir effectiveness. "The sophistication of the way the enemy is using the news media is huge," Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, told NEWSWEEK just before he returned to the United States. Most large-scale attacks on U.S. forces are now filmed, often from multiple camera angles, and with high-resolution cameras... In some cases, U.S. officials believe, insurgents attack American forces primarily to generate fresh footage...What the insurgents understand better than the Americans is how Iraqis consume information. Tapes of beheadings are stored on cell phones along with baby pictures and wedding videos. Popular Arab satellite channels like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya air far more graphic images than are typically seen on U.S. TVleaving the impression, say U.S. military officials, that America is on the run...The U.S. military's response, on the other hand, usually sticks to traditional channels like press releases. These can take hours to prepare and are often outdated by the time they're issued. Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, director of the military's press operations in Baghdad until this past September, complains that all military-related information has to be processed upward through a laborious and bureaucratic chain of command. "The military wants to control the environment around it, but as we try to [do so], it only slows us down further," he says. "All too often, the easiest decision we made was just not to talk about [the story] at all, and then you absolutely lose your ability to frame what's going on."
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