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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part II

Transition to a New Campaign

Chapter 7
Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq


Public Affairs and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM

As noted earlier, US military doctrine separated IO and PA, defining them by different functions and limitations. Yet, these two activities often had to be synchronized, and commanders and staff officers alike struggled to combine them into a comprehensive whole without violating the boundaries between manipulating target audiences in Iraq and providing truthful information to the American people. During OIF the Army believed it had a positive story to tell, and providing the media easy access to operations would assist in telling that story.

While difficult to define with great precision, the mission of Army PA is to “fulfill the Army’s obligation to keep the American people and the Army informed, and to help establish the conditions that lead to confidence in America’s Army and its readiness to conduct operations in peace, conflict, and war.”63 Army doctrine in FM 3-61.1, Public Affairs Tactics, Techniques and Procedures, requires Army leaders to integrate PA into the planning process and synchronize PA operations with other facets of their operations. This allows commanders to better communicate their perspective and “achieve a balanced, accurate, credible information presentation.”64 US Army leaders at every level in OIF realized the vital importance of PA to their operations in Iraq, as well as to American and international public opinion. While commanders in Iraq may have differed on specific goals and methods, they and the US Army as an institution valued the PA missions and had long abandoned previously held antagonisms toward the press and accepted media coverage of its operations.

As mentioned earlier, according to joint and Army doctrine, PA operations are related to but not doctrinally a part of IO. According to joint doctrine published in 2005, PA had the additional mission of contributing to IO by “providing truthful, accurate and timely information, using approved DOD public affairs guidance to keep the public informed about the military’s missions and operations, countering adversary propaganda, deterring adversary actions, and maintain trust and confidence of the US population, and our friends and allies.”65 DOD policy and Army doctrine require PA offices to provide truthful and accurate information in support of their commands. This guidance states, “Propaganda or publicity designed to sway or direct public opinion will not be included in Department of Defense PA programs.”66 IO was focused on affecting the enemy’s decisionmaking capacity while protecting one’s own; as such, it included the manipulation of enemy morale and public opinion. PA operations, on the other hand, focused on providing truthful information to the American people about their Army and its operations.

As the US Army became involved in Iraq, commanders were faced with the challenge of maintaining this philosophical and doctrinal divide between PA and IO while synchronizing them to win the battle of ideas. This created a natural friction between the two functions that required some nuanced understanding and delicate balancing of activities. Because of the conceptual tension between IO and PA, commanders struggled to create the proper mix of assets when employing their IO staff to simultaneously attack insurgents and terrorists, influence Iraqi public opinion, and provide a truthful and complete picture of US operations to the American public. On a practical level, commanders encountered significant difficulties in 2003 and 2004 to organize these staffs so that their operations were synchronized yet did not violate the separation between the missions.

Another key element complicating both PA and IO in OIF was the so-called “CNN effect.”67 Soldiers at all levels in Iraq operated in a “24/7” news market broadcasted on a global scale, and they fully understood that their actions and words could have an immediate impact on this broad stage. The powerful result of 24/7 media coverage was first coined “the CNN effect” when President George H.W. Bush decided to send troops to Somalia after seeing media coverage of starving refugees in that country. Similarly, President William (Bill) Clinton ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Somalia after the abortive raid to capture a rebel leader led to pictures of dead American bodies being shown on television.68

This real-time news coverage generated immediate public awareness and analysis of strategic decisions and military operations as they developed on the ground. One senior military officer, US Marine Corps Commandant General Charles C. Krulak, argued that every service member’s actions could impact the strategic policy of the United States, because of the immense power of public media to spread and magnify his or her actions.69 Krulak introduced the term “strategic corporal” to capture this concept. That term described a young Soldier or Marine whose actions or words at the lowest tactical level could be captured on tape and quickly broadcast around the world, thus potentially having a strategic effect on the outcome of a campaign. According to Krulak, the impact of the strategic corporal is enormous:

>World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, the young Marine could be the world’s greatest hero, but he really had no strategic impact. In future wars, the tremendous capability and lethality will be in the hands of the young corporal. Combine that with the immediate ‘CNN effect,’ and it turns some of those actions into strategic actions. That young NCO needs to be highly trained because what he does or fails to do may literally impact on national policy.70

This was proven repeatedly in OIF, in both positive and negative ways. The photos taken at the Abu Ghraib Prison are only the most infamous example. “A wrong decision in the glare of the media,” warned Colonel Paul Maillet, a former Canadian Director of Defense Ethics, “can have far-reaching consequences that can affect peace-keeping mandates and strategic and national policies and aims.”71 During 2003 and 2004 the US Army directed a large number of resources to deal with IO and the CNN effect.

Chapter 7. Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq

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