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Sunday, July 18, 2004

Caroline Glick has a column dealing with the media aspect of Western forces battling their terrorist enemies in the Middle East. Here's the money-shotted version:
The fact that Hamas and Hizbullah cohabit a building used by media organizations and hide their operations behind journalistic cover is nothing new. It is standard fare for terrorists, both in the Palestinian population centers and in Iraq, to disguise themselves as journalists and to use journalistic cover to travel freely.
. . .
In Iraq there have been several instances of reporters arriving at the scene of terror attacks against coalition forces before the attacks take place. They have admitted that they were tipped off by the terrorists in order to enable them to take real time footage of dying Americans.
. . .
A Washington Post article about the US Army's fight against the Sadr army in southern Iraq this past spring includes a revealing line. In a fight in Najaf, US forces fought terrorists in a pitched battle that lasted six hours in order to prevent the enemy from taking hold of a burning Humvee. As one of the officers put it, "We weren't going to let them dance on it for the news. Even with all the guys they lost that day, that still would have given them a victory."
All the above vignettes point to the fact that the ability to harness the media and to control the images of the war is one of the chief components of the terrorist war doctrine. The enemy hides behind press credentials in order to gain operational cover. It stage-manages terrorist theater by giving "scoops" of attacks to fellow travelers with cameras, tape recorders and notepads. It reenacts battlefield defeats as victories before the cameras. It uses its video footage of its own atrocities to both frighten its foes and encourage its sympathizers.
. . .
From all of this it is clear that one of the greatest challenges to democracies in fighting and winning the war is finding adequate answers to the question of how to conduct an informational warfare campaign that is integrally linked to the battlefield and diplomatic aspects of the war.
. . .
To solve this problem, a policy must be adopted of never providing the terrorists with the moral high ground. On a strategic level, this requires never accepting blame for anything until all the facts have been unearthed.
. . .
On a tactical level, it means that democratic armies must integrate the informational warfare component into all their operational plans. This may involve becoming more flexible about exposing intelligence information. This may involve bringing army photographers with troops in every operation in order to take control of the visual image emanating from battle scenes.
. . .
Getting the story out is now of equal if not greater importance than defeating enemy forces in any particular engagement. Because without the story, the battlefield victory will eventually become a strategic defeat.
Glick is quite right in these respects, though I have to add that some of her recommendations in dealing with the press higher up the command chain are less convincing and would certainly be problematic in terms of liberty. Leaving that aside the whole thing stinks of course from a soldier's point of view. It no longer good enough to defeat your enemy, you also have to be a competent public relations expert. To add to this you have some of your countrymen making an extra quid or two by linking up with terrorist so they can provide live footage of you being killed and maimed. Trying to end this on a positive note, this shows how skilful Western militaries have become that the only chance our enemies have is to provide the right pictures. Not much of a consolation though.


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