How The U.S. Is Losing The PR War In Iraq

January 8th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: How The U.S. Is Losing The PR War In Iraq

This sooooo true... we just can't do what the bad guys are doing. Some say it is not fair, in fact we had a long discussion over several beers last friday after work on this subject.

January 15, 2007
Insurgents using simple cell-phone cameras, laptop editing programs and the Web are beating the United States in the fierce battle for Iraqi public opinion.
By Scott Johnson
For nearly four years, U.S. military officials have briefed the Baghdad press corps from behind an imposing wooden podium. No longer. Last week U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell relaxed with reporters around a "media roundtable." He replaced the cumbersome headset once used for Arabic translations with a discreet earpiece. He cut short his opening statement, allowing for more back-and-forth banter. Yet even as Iraq emerged from the deadliest month in 2006 for American soldiers, Caldwell maintained the relentlessly upbeat patter that has come to characterize the briefings. "The key difference you're going to see in 2007," he said proudly, "is this is truly the year of transition and adaptation."
Another year, another message. In the United States this week, President George W. Bush's speech laying out his new strategy for Iraq will be scrutinized for its specifics—the numbers of an anticipated troop surge, the money for reconstruction and jobs programs. But at least as critical to success may be whether Bush is convincing. A draft report recently produced by the Baghdad embassy's director of strategic communications Ginger Cruz and obtained by NEWSWEEK makes the stakes clear: "Without popular support from US population, there is the risk that troops will be pulled back ... Thus there is a vital need to save popular support via message." 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 MESSAGES—the very next section—are 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." (A U.S. Embassy spokesperson claims the document reflects Cruz's personal views, not official policy.)
Sunni insurgents in particular have become expert at using technology to underscore—some would say exaggerate—their 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. The footage is slickly edited into dramatic narratives: quick-cut images of Humvees exploding or U.S. soldiers being felled by snipers are set to inspiring religious soundtracks or chanting, which lends them a triumphal feel. In some cases, U.S. officials believe, insurgents attack American forces primarily to generate fresh footage.
Guerrillas have always sought alternative technologies to undermine their better-equipped enemies. What's different now is the power and accessibility of such tools. Production work that once required a studio can now be done on a laptop. Compilation videos of attacks on U.S. forces sell in Baghdad markets for as little as 50 cents on video CDs. Advancements in cell-phone technology have made such devices particularly useful. Their small video files—the filming of Saddam Hussein's hanging took up just over one megabyte—are especially easy to download and disseminate. "Literally, it's only hours after an attack and [the videos] are available," says Andrew Garfield, a British counterinsurgency expert who has advised U.S. forces in Baghdad. "You can really say it's only a cell-phone call away."
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. TV—leaving the impression, say U.S. military officials, that America is on the run. At the extreme is the Zawra channel, run by former Sunni parliamentarian Mishan Jibouri, who fled to Syria last year after being accused of corruption. (Jibouri says he's being persecuted for political reasons, and can return to Iraq whenever he wants.) Since November the channel has been spewing out an unending series of videos showing American soldiers being killed in sniper and IED attacks. The clips are accompanied by commentary, often in English, admonishing Iraqis to "focus your utmost rage against the occupation." Among Sunnis and even some Shiites, Zawra has become one of the most popular stations in Iraq. "I get e-mails from girls in their 20s from Arab countries; some of them are very wealthy," Jibouri boasts. "Some offer to work for free, some offer money."
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."
An even bigger problem, say other U.S. officials, may be the message itself. The videos on Zawra are powerful precisely because they confirm the preconceptions many Iraqis have about the occupation. Col. William Darley, editor of the influential Military Review at the Combined Arms Center in Fort Leavenworth, Kans., argues that merely changing podiums in the briefing room misses the point. "You can cook up a kind of shrewd, New York City-style advertising campaign for a candy bar, and if the candy bar tastes lousy, you can't sell it," says Darley. "If Iraq has no electricity, spotty medical care, no security, then [we] cannot succeed."
The consequences of losing the propaganda battle are real. "One of these videos is worth a division of tanks to those people," says Robert Steele, a former U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer. Not only do the insurgent videos draw recruits and donations, they don't give ordinary Iraqis much incentive to cooperate with the Americans. Videos put out by sectarian death squads, like the one shown to NEWSWEEK by the watchdog SITE institute in which a Sunni militiaman saws the head off a Shiite prisoner with a five-inch knife, enrage the targeted community. The release of the ghoulish video of Saddam's hanging prompted thousands of Sunnis to protest in Anbar province. Residents of Fallujah—the target of a multimillion-dollar hearts-and-minds campaign—renamed the city's main thoroughfare the Street of the Martyr Saddam Hussein.
The damage goes beyond Iraq. Al Qaeda's media arm, As-Sahab ("The Cloud") has similarly improved the quality and frequency of its videos; the group, says former State Department adviser Philip Zelikow, uses "the Internet to provide a sense of virtual identity" now that its Afghan training camps have largely been destroyed. The question is how to fight back, when today's most powerful technologies—the Web, cell phones—are better suited to small, nimble organizations. Back in the 1930s national leaders could almost wholly control the framing of their messages, says Donald Shaw, a professor of media theory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has written about reforms for military public-affairs officers. But now, "the podium has lost its influence." For those who once stood behind it, that message at least is very clear.
With Michael Hastings in Baghdad and Benjamin Sutherland in Treviso
January 8th, 2007  
I see soldiers that come back from Iraq almost every day and the first thing I say to them is "how was it?". Nine out of ten will respond with "Its not nearly as bad as the media potrays it....".
January 8th, 2007  
Team Infidel
This is a very true statement. It isn't as bad as the media portrays it to be.
January 8th, 2007  
No truth in the news and no news in the truth.
January 8th, 2007  
I am sorry but I have heard very different.

I a buddy over there, and he says its pretty bad. I cannot say if its as bad as they show on TV, because I have personally never been there. (Although I did get a job offer in 2003 from the British Army to do computer work over there).

Anyway, one of my college buddies is a Blackhawk pilot who has been on 2 tours, and he has told me its no picnic.
January 8th, 2007  
Team Infidel
If it bleads it leads.
January 9th, 2007  
Those tapes are atrocious.
They're taking advantage of the Americans' censorship regulations, and it's probably one of their more successful projects.
January 13th, 2007  
As much as I dislike why we were dragooned into going there, I have to say I don't believe either the media, nor the arabic sources nor the Government over what is going on there.

IMHO, the only way the US would win in Iraq is so politically incorrect and morally reprehensable that we as American's could not tolerate it.

We need to conquer and occupy Iraq, Iran, and Syria. PERIOD. Get 500k boots on the ground there and do it right. If some Joe Blow Local even looks cross-eyed at our troops should be sent on his way to Allah. (Begging the pardon of any Moslem members here. I intend NO disrespect to your religious beliefs or tenets.) THe militant militias should be forcably disarmed and if they cry, shoot them.

This is brutal, yes, but if the insurgeants are killing more Iraqis than our guys they need to be rooted out and extirpated. Then send in civil government units, and engineers to repair and build up the infrastructure. I figure about 7 to 10 years that whole area would be stable enough for full self government.

My two cents.
January 13th, 2007  
Hmm, so you're proposing doing another "iraq" on syria and iran and shooting anyone who looks at the troops involved in a strange way.

Hmm, where you ever related to some mad dictator like Hitler or Stalin? You propose invading soverign nations and conducting genocide. I don't really think that would work out for everybody.

Begging your pardon but I don't think you thought your post through at all mate.
January 13th, 2007  
major liability
I don't know who expected the Iraqis to jump with joy in the face of a foreign army invading. Sure, Saddam was bad, but that doesn't mean they don't have national pride, as we now know.

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