Insurgent Videos Winning Iraq Propaganda Wars

NEWSWEEK: Baghdad Embassy Draft Report: 'Inadequate Message Control in Iraq Is Feeding The Escalating Cycle of Violence'

Many Attacks on U.S. Forces Filmed, Edited Into Slick Propaganda Films and Ready to Download Within Hours; Some Attacks May Be Staged Mainly to Generate New Footage

NEW YORK, Jan. 7 /PRNewswire/ -- A draft report recently produced by the Baghdad embasy's director of strategic communications Ginger Cruz suggests that despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars, the United States has lost the battle for Iraqi public opinion, reports Baghdad Bureau Chief Scott Johnson in Newsweek's January 15 issue (on newsstands Monday, January 8). "Insurgents, sectarian elements and others are taking control of the message at the public level," the draft states. 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 document warns, "is feeding the escalating cycle of violence." (A U.S. Embassy spokesperson claims the draft reflects Cruz's personal views, not official policy.)

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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. Advancements in technology have also made these videos 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, reports Johnson. 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 last 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."

The consequences of losing the propaganda battle are real, reports Johnson. "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.

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Source: Newsweek

Studying Karl Rove

Though Brand Destruction Research is technically on hiatus, I think I will continue to drop links to articles that relate to this project's core concerns.

I'm not always sure how to respond to Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power, but his take on the Democrat's need to more closely examine Karl Rove's tactics is quite similar to mine:

The question to Democrats . . . It is clear what is coming on the horizon--the stakes, the strategies, etc. How do you defend against this? What are the plans of the Democrats? Are they prepared for a nasty fight in which fairness and rationality will be thrown out the window? Will they end up losing the election and complaining about Republican tactics and strategies, or will they have a defense and offense in place? All indications are that they are as chaotic and unprepared as usual. In normal times, this is their election to lose. What would your answer be, how would you counter this strategic beast named Rove, wresting control from him and putting him on the defensive? It is you versus Rove, mano a mano.

For more on Karl Rove, Greene links to a useful article that ran a couple of years back in The Atlantic Monthly:

A former Rove staffer told me . . . that some within the [Harold] See camp initiated a whisper campaign that [Mark] Kennedy was a pedophile. "It was our standard practice to use the University of Alabama Law School to disseminate whisper-campaign information," the staffer went on. "That was a major device we used for the transmission of this stuff. The students at the law school are from all over the state, and that's one of the ways that Karl got the information out—he knew the law students would take it back to their home towns and it would get out." This would create the impression that the lie was in fact common knowledge across the state. [p. 3]

If this year [2004] stays true to past form, the campaign will get nastier in the closing weeks, and without anyone's quite registering it, Rove will be right back in his element. He seems to understand—indeed, to count on—the media's unwillingness or inability, whether from squeamishness, laziness, or professional caution, ever to give a full estimate of him or his work. It is ultimately not just Rove's skill but his character that allows him to perform on an entirely different plane. Along with remarkable strategic skills, he has both an understanding of the media's unstated self-limitations and a willingness to fight in territory where conscience forbids most others. [p. 3]

Brand Destruction Research and My Irish Ancestors

[Who Were Probably Enslaved By My English Ancestors But Nobody's Talking]

I'm trying not to reprint every bit of Mike Wagner's How Bloggers Can Save Civilization, but it's so good I'm really having a difficult time holding back:

Bloggers remind me of the Irish. Traditional mass media types remind me of the Romans.

When the Romans first encountered the Irish they had no idea what to do with them. The Irish stripped before battle, rushed their enemy naked wearing only sandals and a torc – a twisted golden neck ornament.

Urged on by the annoying sound of their pipers, the Irish fanatics looked less than human. They even had a name for this transformation – it was called the “warp-spasm”. Howling like demons they charged the Roman Legions.

Bloggers are not much different. They confront radio, TV and print journalists along with broadcast advertisers. They can be stripped down to their pajamas (or maybe less – you never know), seated before their computers, muttering unrecognizable utterances. Urged on by the prolific postings of their champions: Robert, Seth, Steve, Doc, Guy, et al, they charge into the blogosphere shaping opinion, building brands, and transforming business...

As it turned out, the Romans were the one’s about to disappear. Their poets were deliberately unoriginal, their thinkers were cynical, their leaders were corrupt, and their institutions top heavy with bureaucracy. The brutal fact was they had lost touch with the people.

Mike closes with a series of questions, including one that speaks directly to the inspiration for Brand Destruction Research:
Will the blogosphere keep creativity alive while defending idealism against “bottom line only” thinking?

Though folks may not see it yet, that's exactly what I'm trying to do in my own counterintuitive manner.

My apologies to Mike for jacking so much of his excellent post.  I won't make it a habit.  Please do click through to his post for the live links as well as the complete discussion and related comments.

Mike Wagner blogs at own your brand