Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Perception Is Perception, but Facts Are Reality, Part I

Ralph Peters has written yet another in what is a series of pieces arguing for more unrestrained brutality on the part of our armed forces. To Peters:

We restrict ourselves to supposedly humane theories of counterinsurgency warfare that have failed us for 60 years; our enemies simply do whatever works.

As usual, Peters allocates a lion's share of the blame for the media, both as a tool of our enemies, and as the nettlesome exposer of war crimes. The press is seen as a truth-speaking presence that restricts our leaders from employing the full panoply of military tactics. Would that our press simply march in lockstep like some state-run media, then we could let our martial imaginations soar, pondering all manner of tactics that result in mass civilian casualties, tactics that have been rendered off-limits by our cumbersome moral values. Sigh.

Peters describes our current disadvantages vis-a-vis our modern day adversaries in Iraq and beyond.

* At the tactical level, [our opponents in Iraq] concentrate on killing and wounding our soldiers and on restricting our movements. Their weapons, such as roadside bombs, contribute to both objectives, while suicide bombings against civilians make the streets we can't drive ungovernable.

* At the operational level - the hinge between tactics and strategy - they exploit the media's appetite for sensational images and anti-Americanism to get out a message that amplifies their power. Their tactics directly support this operational effort.

* At the strategic level, they leap over our forces to influence our population and, through them, our government. The operational-level focus on the media directly supports the strategy. [emphasis added]

Here's the catch though: Peters puts undue focus on the second and third prong of his analysis without giving the first proper credit. Put another way, the most effective "strategy" that the insurgents, foreign fighters, Shiite powers, etc, in Iraq have adopted is making that occupation untenable. They have tilted the cost-benefit analysis in their favor in terms of the strain on our military (both personnel and equipment), the skyrocketing economic costs incurred and the all-consuming demands on our focus, attention and valuable assets of various kinds (intelligence, diplomatic, counterterrorism, etc.). All these expenditures on our part are exchanged for little or no gain, and with little prospect for an improvement going forward. In other words, to state a tautology, the smartest thing our opponents did

Think about it. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the media is currently as Peters describes it - with all its biases and such. Then, let's ponder a hypothetical whereby we had a uniformly compliant media that was openly pro-invasion across the board and would stay supportive throughout the occupation no matter the facts on the ground. An entire press corps of Pravdas. Consequently, with the "biased" media so neutered, the American people would be overwhelmingly supportive of the occupation - with our adversaries losing their ability to influence our resolve (let's assume again ex arguendo a causal relationship as Peters describes it).

With those favorable conditions secured, would we be succeeding in Iraq? How, in what areas and under what definition? How would the aforementioned costs be lessened?

Would our military suddenly become unburdened because all media outlets assumed the Fox News line? Would our dead soldiers rise from the grave, and wounded troops spontaneously heal? The wrecked and worn-out equipment restore itself? The IEDs defuse themselves? Would the trillion dollar costs entailed in funding this war magically vanish? On a fundamental level, would we be any closer to securing Iraq, to ending the civil wars, to compelling the various factions to adopt a program of national reconciliation or to convincing Sunni groups to stop fighting the occupation?

The answers should be obvious. Whether or not Americans support the war in large numbers, and whether or not the media reports on the state of Iraq accurately or not (with or without an eye to sensationalism and anti-Americanism), it is what it is.

In Iraq, we have lost the ability to affect the outcomes, have been relegated to whack-a-mole type security operations that yield no lasting gains and the civil wars continue to assume a life and purpose of their own that exists regardless of our presence. Chaos and instability reign, and the various parties are becoming increasingly hostile to our presence. The loss of domestic support is a manifestation of the failure of the mission - not the other way around. Peters has the causal relationship inverted.

In Ralph Peters' defense, he likely realizes this. Thus, he is not merely pining for an acquiescent media and a uniformly supportive domestic audience as antidotes to our mission's ailments. He knows that we would need something else to really shift the momentum on the battlefield, and that an uncritical media and supportive public under the current rules of engagement would not be enough to really git-r-done. The root of his frustration reaches a little deeper - to those rules of engagement that he has been railing about for months:

Those who follow military matters have heard plenty of mumbo-jumbo about a "revolution in military affairs" in the last few decades. Most of the rhetoric was a scam to enrich defense contractors, but there was a true revolution in military affairs in the last century. It involved mechanization and wireless communications and even the atomic bomb, but its apotheosis was air power. The advent of military aircraft changed warfare, expanding the battlefield into a third dimension while dramatically deepening the area that could be attacked. Air power alone was rarely decisive (despite the claims of its advocates), but control of the skies became vital.

What's the postmodern equivalent of air power, the new revolutionary development? It's the proliferation of the 24/7 media in all its formats. And the terrorists realize it. They learned to trump air power and all the detritus of the last revolution by refusing to mass together and by submerging themselves in urban seas. Then they went one better by grasping the power of irresistible weapons that came free of charge: the media.

Yes, the media were able to influence a war's outcome back in the Vietnam days. But the Cronkite-era media were the equivalent of World War I biplanes. Today's media are a sky full of B-52s, cruise missiles and stealth fighters - with unlimited ordnance.

The terrorists know they can't beat our forces on the battlefield. Their purpose in engaging our troops is to generate a body count, graphic images and alarmist headlines. They've created a new paradigm of warfare that's cheap, effective and defiantly hard to defeat.

Meanwhile, our own military isn't even allowed to slip stories to the bribe-driven Arab press. And the global media credit every perfunctory claim by the terrorists that the target we just hit was another wedding party.

It may prove impossible to win by today's rules. We, too, need a new warfare paradigm. The bad news is that there isn't any sign of one.

Right. We need a new way of looking at warfare that restores the tactical advantage that air power gave us at its inception - an advantage that our adversaries have unfairly neutralized by their retreat to civilian areas. What we need is some good old fashioned fire bombing of civilian areas - without compunction. Only then can we defeat evil regimes such as Saddam Hussein's and bring a better life to the Iraqi people (those that avoid incineration of course).

We need to stop worrying, and learn to love the bombs. The Iraqis will thank us for it. And any press report stating otherwise would just be a product of anti-Americanism.

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