Thursday, November 8, 2007

Today's Quote: Counterinsurgency and the War of Ideas

Insurgency is ultimately a war of ideas. An insurgency grows based on its ability to convince fighters to risk their lives against a conventionally superior opponent and survives in the face of a stronger enemy only because it is able to convince or coerce the people to provide it with what it needs to fight: weapons, ammunition, food, money and most important concealment and cover among the civilian population. Recognizing this fact, successful counterinsurgents have devoted as much effort to defeating the enemy's propaganda as they have to defeating his fighters. Winning the war of ideas has often been the decisive line of operations in successful counterinsurgency campaigns.

The United States has not done an adequate job of explaining to the American people, to its allies overseas and, most important, to the people of Iraq and of the broader Islamic world what we are fighting for in Iraq and what we hope to achieve there. Nature abhors a vacuum, and insurgents love one; they have filled the airwaves and the Internet with their versions of the truth and have found willing listeners worldwide. In the words of the defense secretary, "Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but for the most part we, our country, our government, has not."
A country that can turn multimedia political advertisements within 24 hours in a presidential campaign should certainly be able to produce black-and-white posters within that same span of time showing the names and faces of Iraqi children slaughtered by terrorist bombers and begging for information to bring their murderers to justice.

During the Cold War, which was primarily an economic battle and only secondarily a military one, the United States Information Agency did yeoman's work winning hearts and minds behind the Iron Curtain. The global war that we are now fighting against radical Islamic extremists is primarily a war of ideas.

A dedicated corps of public affairs professionals funded and equipped to speak to Muslims in their own languages could over time help win the war of ideas by providing vital support to moderate Muslims. A more focused effort in Iraq can help convince the uncommitted but hopeful people of Iraq to provide the information we need to kill and capture those who are now murdering Iraq's future. Ideas are far cheaper than bullets and can be more effective.

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