The Military and the Media
Ralph Peters has an excellent piece today explaining why the media is such a huge factor in waging modern war.
During the combat operations, al-Jazeera constantly aired trumped-up footage and insisted that U.S. Marines were destroying Fallujah and purposely targeting women and children, causing hundreds of innocent casualties as part of an American crusade against Arabs.
It was entirely untrue. But the truth didn’t matter. Al-Jazeera told a receptive audience what it wanted to believe. Oh, and the “Arab CNN” immediately followed the Fallujah clips with video of Israeli “atrocities.” Connecting the dots was easy for those nurtured on hatred.
The Marines in Fallujah weren’t beaten by the terrorists and insurgents, who were being eliminated effectively and accurately. They were beaten by al-Jazeera. By lies.
Get used to it.
This is the new reality of combat. Not only in Iraq. But in every broken country, plague pit and terrorist refuge to which our troops will have to go in the future. And we can’t change it. So we had better roll up our camouflage sleeves and deal with it.
His proposed solution is counter-intuitive but may well be right:
[W]e must develop the capabilities to fight within the “media cycle,” before journalists sympathetic to terrorists and murderers can twist the facts and portray us as the villains. Before the combat encounter is politicized globally. Before allied leaders panic. And before such reporting exacerbates bureaucratic rivalries within our own system.
Time is the new enemy.
Fighting faster at the dirty-boots level is going to be tough. As we develop new techniques, we’ll initially see higher casualties in the short term, perhaps on both sides.
But as we should have learned long ago, if we are not willing to face up to casualties sooner, the cumulative tally will be much, much higher later. We’re bleeding in Iraq now because a year ago we were unwilling even to shed the blood of our enemies.
The Global War on Terror is going to be a decades-long struggle. The military will not always be the appropriate tool to apply. But when a situation demands a military response, our forces must bring to bear such focused, hyper-fast power that our enemies are overwhelmed and destroyed before hostile cameras can defeat us.
If we do not learn to kill very, very swiftly, we will continue to lose slowly.
This isn’t a solution anyone is going to like but it may be the best available option. We can no longer count on a friendly media to consider the strategic impact of its coverage; indeed, there are likely to be more al Jazeeras as time goes on, as satellite dishes become the norm even in relatively impoverished countries.
Clausewitz’ holy trinity of war — the military, the government, and the people — must be in synch to win a long term campaign. The modern media environment may be such that maintaining cooperation within that trinity for an extended period is simply impossible. There’s a hostile foreign press and a cyncial domestic press. We also have a domestic political environment that no longer stops at the water’s edge. Opposition politicians no longer feel the slightest hesitation about undermining the war effort if it’ll make political points (and that’s a bipartisan phenomenon, as we saw in the 1990s). It may be that we simply don’t have very long to win anymore.