Via Instapundit comes this link to an Opinion Column in the New York Post by Ralph Peters. Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of “Beyond Baghdad”.
Mr. Peters uses the recent example of bad, or perhaps simply misleading press reports on the US attack in the desert on a "wedding" that resulted in approximately 40 dead Iraqis, some children, to show how we are up against a new kind of attack, one that is off the battlefield. An attack by the media. He states:
The media weren't reporting. They were taking sides. With our enemies. And our enemies won. Because, under media assault, we lost our will to fight on.He goes on to say that this is how all future wars will be fought.
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.He then talks about what in the military is called the enemy’s “decision cycle”. It is understood in the military that for a successful operation, you need to react quicker than the enemy can react, to actually know what the enemy can do, and is likely to do, before he does. This came from fighter pilot tactics, where a pilot, often dogfighting at unbelievable closing or chasing speeds, needed to “know” what the enemy’s next step, or decision, was going to be, and to react to it before the enemy actually does. If you cando this consistently and accurately, the chance of victory in aerial combat is greatly enhanced. In ground combat, if you can understand what choices an enemy has, and react to them faster than the enemy can actually make his decision on what to do, you also have a much-improved chance of victory. And so it is with the media, according to Peters.
The implication for tactical combat — war at the bayonet level — is clear: We must direct our doctrine, training, equipment, organization and plans toward winning low-level fights much faster. Before the global media can do what enemy forces cannot do and stop us short. We can still win the big campaigns. But we're apt to lose thereafter, in the dirty end-game fights. We have to speed the kill. (emphasis mine)
To do so, we 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.Unfortunately he is not only wrong, but dangerously so.
Before I get into why this is, I need to confirm some of what Peters says. I believe that the media as it is now operating in the WOT is not neutral, but actually working against the US and against western democracies. Why this is so, I will leave up to greater minds, since it is clear that if fascist islam conquers all, the free press will be one of the first western institutions to be killed off, literally. Currently, reporters, when faced with some discrepancies in the first-person accounts, always discount the western description of what happened, and always pass along without critique, the anti-western description. In addition, any news that supports the western stand on what is happening in the WOT is discounted or not reported at all, and any news that undermines the western position in the WOT is reported ad nauseum. So in this, Mr. Peters and I agree wholeheartedly.
But where we differ is in the response to what is actually happening in news reporting worldwide. The media, no matter what they send out to the rest of the world, is not the military’s “enemy”. We have strict requirements for deciding who the enemy is, because once that is decided, it’s okay to kill them with whatever means you have (limited by the Law of Land Warfare). It is not okay to kill the media under any circumstances (unless they are actual armed combatants), even if they are reporting stuff that is likely to look bad, or even end up getting any number of soldier’s killed, or allowing the American public to lose the will to continue the fight. Peters doesn’t say it’s okay to consider them the enemy, but he looks to find a military solution to the problems we are having with the media. There will be some commanders in the field, who, if asked to come up with a solution to fix the “media problem”, will come up with one. That is not in anyone’s interest.
The media slant towards the enemy is a problem that does not require a military solution. Speeding up the kill, as Peters suggests, will only lead to greater and greater inaccuracies in who we kill, leading to more reporting on this type of “collateral damage” that is so damaging to our warfighting efforts. Speed is a combat multiplier, yes, and we go for speed whenever we can. But the speed of the operation must be driven by METT-T (mission, equipment, troops, terrain and time), not by whose camera crew is closest. If we kill faster, but sloppier, we will have worse press, not better.
There will always be wavering partners in the WOT. They will come and go depending upon their own country’s view of what they have to gain, and what they have to lose, in the overall effort. The recent actions by the Spanish government are a great example. They chose to leave the WOT not because of something the US Army did, but because of something al Queda did. Would the Spanish have left the Coalition earlier if the Abu Ghraib story was out? Maybe, but in the end, those partners who are of limited belief are also of limited use. We can use them if they want to be part of our effort, but they will never be the deciding factor in whether victory is ours.
I believe the efforts needed to counter a completely hostile media such as we have today have to come from other than the military. The State Department would be a good place to start, with efforts along the lines of the old VOA. There is room for outright bribes as well, to foreign editors or leaders who can influence public relations. Maybe not in the form of money, but certainly military equipment transfers, when given to friendly governments, is nothing short of a bribe. We do that all the time. In addition, we can more effectively use embedded reporters. That was a brilliant stroke for the war, and it could be one again. Our own forces know well in advance when certain operations will happen, and even those last-minute missions can be well covered by the media if we try to get them to the battlefield. The overall reporting from the embedded reporters was more sympathetic to the military simply because the reporters lost some of that us-vs-them attitude after weeks and months of living and dying with the soldiers. Perhaps that is why the editors don’t want to be so cozy anymore; I’m sure more than one editor felt his reporter had lost his sense of (very left-leaning) balance.
But these are the fronts on which this battle against the media will be won. Not by soldiers quickening the pace of battle, or of decisions, or of killing. That way lies ruin.
We do need a better effort to get out the good news. And war, almost by definition, will always contain bad news. Killing people can always be viewed as bad news. But we need for institutions other than the military to take the lead in this effort. There is no military solution to bad or slanted reporting, save killing the reporter. We have enough other missions to handle in the WOT, and we have enough often divergent tasks without asking the chain of command to decide whether the next report out of our battlespace will be complimentary or detractive, never mind accurate or inaccurate. Leave these battles to other warriors and other battlefields better suited for this effort.