Friday, July 20, 2007

The Strategic Citizen and Learning from our Adversaries

Yesterday, I meant to post this quote and link to an excellent Belmont Club post, but I ended up driving down to the DC suburbs from my perch here in central southern Pennsylvania and was gone all day. I have been arguing and will continue to argue that the solution to our information operation troubles will not come from government, but from private citizens and the organizations they create to wage the media war/information war. We continue to look at the jihadi's "decentralized, collaborative production model" as they run rings around us, and respond with "we need to get government to do better info ops." That's the wrong answer. Too many people in the West are trapped in an outdated, 20th century paradigm, while our adversaries recognize and successfully exploit the vast opportunities the 21st century offers. We will win this information war when westerners decide that they are going to take the initiative and run their own media campaigns independent of government.

The terrorists narrative masters have already made the shift to the new media, at a time when the networks still pay millions for a news anchor to read headlines to an audience at specified times on TV.

The impressive array of products Sunni-Iraqi insurgents and their supporters create suggests the existence of a veritable multimedia empire. But this impression is misleading. The insurgent-media network has no identifiable brick-and-mortar presence, no headquarters, and no bureaucracy. It relies instead on a decentralized, collaborative production model that utilizes the skills of a community of likeminded individuals.

In its adoption of this production model, the insurgent-media enterprise resembles the global jihadist media endeavor that was already in existence when a U.S.-led military operation toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Global jihadist media provided a blueprint for the creation of insurgent media, and the foreign jihadists who flocked to Iraq to fight in the wake of the invasion spearheaded the drive to create a media presence for the insurgency. While a jihadist agenda is by no means common to all or even most Iraqi insurgent groups, insurgent media overlap with jihadist media at numerous junctures, and, as we shall see, reinforce their message.

And against this 21st century narrative engine the West has offered pitifully little resistance, unless one counts such desultory activities as "public diplomacy" and the odd press conference at which the "newsmen" ask questions related to their agenda and not about the subject of the briefing. In the information warfare battlefield the US is preposterously outgunned. Even the traditional media is drafted into the service of spreading the Jihadi narrative.
In general...the two least explored areas of counterterrorism are the art of counternarrative and counterorganizing. The US military in Iraq has belatedly discovered counterorganizing in the Anbar and Diyala Salvation councils, but there is still much to be done in the area of the counternarrative. My own guess is that the private new media sector in the West will wage the most effective counternarrative operations, either directly or by empowering the debate within Islam -- and even within the Jihad by providing grants to dissident Muslim intellectuals, and by supporting bloggers doing straight news gathering within Muslim countries.

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