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Friday, May 21, 2004 - 07:25 AM Permanent link for Belmont Club - the Fog of War
Belmont Club - the Fog of War

Wretchard over at Belmont Club has been on quite a tear the past few weeks.   Y'all should most definitely check out his stuff.  for example this post describes beautifully the reporting problems from the Iraq War.

One of the challenges facing intellectuals at a time when the political and cultural dimensions of war have grown in relation to the purely military is how to make sense of information acquired through the public intelligence system: the news media. Because modern American warfare now involves only a very small percentage of the population it has become a kind of spectator sport where the plays are actually called from the stands. One would hope on good information. Yet a news industry whose techniques were adequate to cover traffic accidents, murders or cumbrous wars in which armies moved a few hundred yards a day must now must cover events whose complexion can alter in hours.

I won't excerpt anymore other than to say that if you read only the paragraph above, you're missing out on some excellent, thought-provoking reading.  Go read it and I'll be here when you come back.  Wretchard provides several excellent examples of the reportage problem but glosses over what I consider a potentially more significant problem - in every error within the string of reports about the fictitious "wedding bombing" earlier this week in Iraq, the reporters consistently err in favor the Iraqi resistance and against American forces.   Errors in the fog of war are expected but what does the non-uniform distribution of errors reveal?

In insurgency warfare, the opposition's goal is not to defeat the incumbent power per se but rather to secure the support of the host population.   Without at least some level of passive support from the host, it's impossible to maintain bomb factories, gun runs, ammo dumps, and so on.   Consequently, the classic goal of counterinsurgency tactics is to separate the insurgents from their host population (hence the much maligned "winning the hearts & minds" phrase).   Steven den Beste and Belmont Club have written about this at length with excellent details on the tactical twists & turns of insurgent war.  One outcome - the slow, quiet, measured approach is generally militarily on the incumbent's side while the "daisycutter" approach benefits the insurgent.   However, when it comes to reportage - the opposite is true - "daisycutters" generate headlines, slow / quiet / measured is ignored and at worst is misinterpretted as a quagmire.

In this new, strange post-industrial warfare, the media battle is a critical front.   Their strategy isn't predicated on battlefield results but rather tactical political gains from stirring up the host population to rally to their cause and turn the incumbent's host population against it (which in turn will later create military & strategic political gains).  It's critically important for the insurgent to show that the host is evil (Abu Ghraib is unequivocally a travesty) and that they themselves are the real deal in languages understood by both populations.   Conversly, the incumbent must constantly demonstrate that the insurgency is NOT supported by the host population - particularly within momentum sensitive populations like the Arab Middle East  (as Mark Steyn eloquently put it - "The Iraqi people don't want to be on the American side, only on the winning side."

And that's why stories like this are interesting & important:

NAJAF, Iraq -- About 1,000 people, including a few women in black veils, marched through the streets of Najaf on Tuesday to urge radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers to leave the city.

Tensions rose as the marchers passed by al-Sadr's office. Fighters from his al-Mahdi Army took up position and fired weapons into the air, but there was no clash and the march continued without incident.

Now, I really don't know how common this is BUT there's rather systematic underreporting of this type of stuff by the press powers-that-be.  Just pause and think about what a significant event that 1,000 folks marched against perhaps the single biggest symbol of defying the Great Satan?   I'm not saying that these guys love the US, but I am saying that there are some rather strong counter currents in the situation that we have little information about out here in San Francisco.  There's something these 1,000 folks cared more about than some thug thumbing his nose at the US and whatever that motive is, it works in our favor (for now).

And because of that, I'm not so quick to condemn the tactical situation in places like Fallujah.  Something must be going right if stuff like this is happening and, in particular given my interaction with folks like Col HR McMaster and reading other military blogs like, I do credit at least SOME in the military with understanding the nuances of counter insurgency and believe that they are actively doing things to advance our cause correctly.  For ex., this note from Army Specialist Joe Roche outlines the 4 point strategy for dealing with Sadr and demonstrates a thorough understanding of counter-insurgency tactics -

It would have seemed impossible to have achieved our four main goals against Sadr even just a few months ago. Now today, despite the message of the pessimists who are misleading you into despair, we are have scored all the victories needed to bring this battle to a close. First goal was to isolate Sadr. Second was to exile him from his power-base in Baghdad. Third was to contain his uprising from spreading beyond his militias. And the last goal was to get both his hard-line supporters to abandon him, and to do encourage moderates to break from him. This has been done brilliantly, and now we are on the march in a way that just months ago seemed impossible to do. Sadr is losing everything.

This assessment is possibly a bit too rosey for my tastes but it does correlate well with Belmont Club's observations as well as StrategyPage's.   AND, Spc Joe Roche is on the ground while the reportage from CNN, MSNBC, and even FoxNews, etc. is nil and, arguably, far from complete.  I can pretty much guarantee that Al Jazeera doesn't reflect any of this.  The bugger is that to get Al Jazeera to report this bit of counter-insurgency news, it's first got to be a level 10 event in our media before it's treated like a level 1 event in there.   And there's no sign that our reporters are about to do this.

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