IO in the US? Legitimate or not?

Chinesepropagandaposter "As the Iraqi people labor to build a country based on human rights and respect for all citizens, they are moving from the law of the gun to the rule of law. Violence will increase before life gets better. Those who know that freedom and democracy offer more hope than anarchy will not give up.

Regardless of what academics and pundits decide to label this conflict, hundreds of thousands of brave Iraqi soldiers, police officers and civil servants will continue to go to work building a free, prosperous and united Iraq. And every day more than 137,000 U.S. servicemen and servicewomen will lace up their boots, strap on their body armor and drive ahead with our mission to support these courageous Iraqis."  William Caldwell, Major General, US Army.  Spokesman for the US command in Iraq.  Published as an oped in the WAPO.


"Spokesman?"  A major general whose job is spokesman?  General Caldwell is apparently the principal figure in the Iraq command’s "Information Operations" campaign.  As I have mentioned before, propaganda and information content management have become major pre-occupations of the US armed forces in the post Vietnam era.  Why?  It is because all of us who experienced defeat in Vietnam have spent decades trying to understand why that happened and the conclusion reached (mistakenly I think) is that the left successfully propagandized the American people against us and our effort.  As a result the military now speaks of "kinetic operations," (fighting with material weapons) and "information operations," (propaganda and media manipulation.

This oped piece, written by the Iraq command’s chief information officer can only be seen as propaganda.  It was placed on the neocon compliant editorial page of one of the leading American newspapers.  The intended audience is obviously the American electorate.  This is domestic propaganda conducted by the armed forces on behalf of the policy of a particular political party and administration.  It is propaganda directed at the American people by a man in the uniform of the United States Army.  The American people revere their Army. 

Overseas propaganda in support of a military campaign or political goal is a legitimate activity.  Domestic propaganda conducted by the US Armed forces to keep the American people "on board" is not.  pl

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40 Responses to IO in the US? Legitimate or not?

  1. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    It might have more to do with the prevalent US business paradigm where “Marketing is the King” – at the expenses of the product itself.

  2. Charles says:

    Please, America is one big IO against its populace – about how its democratic, moral, free, representative, kind to widows and orphans and helps little old ladies across the street at every chance. That gas is Good, taxes Bad. That guns are good, no matter what. That “they” hate us, not what we do. That Israel is a just state facing existential threat that must be supported no matter what. That no designated evil or enemy should ever be talked to. That there would be a bigger bang for the buck by nuking Iran instead of Israel. That the buck is worth a buck, but not to worry, cause we can and do just always print more. That the economy is sound because the Dow says so. That debt-funded pathological consumerism is more virtuous and gratifying than saving and investment. That it is better off than smaller states with higher taxes and universal healthcare. It’s Executive blatantly lies to the people, commits myriad high crimes and misdemeanors,plus the odd good old fashioned slaughter. Its legislature lies supine until there’s a girl in a coma story to milk, or an order comes in from the Head Office as to where taxpayer’s loot shall now be directed. Its people regularly poll as believing that it gives %10 of its budget, as foreign aid.
    That the same old same old can suffice to keep the big Money Party eternally in power as the people revel in the economic miracle that is the minimum monthly payment – oh wait, that one’s true.
    A major-general as partisan domestic shill? Kinda pales before the unconstitutional criminality and disconnect from reality that passes for government – and democracy, these days.

  3. ked says:

    When I read Caldwell’s commentary, I almost posted my own comment in response on their site. Then I thought, “what’s the point?”. Perhaps we might inquire, “Gen, how might we distinguish your editorial from a Centcom InfoOps effort?”
    & when will people accept that wars are typically won & lost through the policies & decisions of those who wage them, more so than those who critique them?

  4. davidS says:

    I am the very model of the modern Major General.

  5. VietnamVet says:

    Corporate media is rightfully criticized for its beating the drums of war; not too uncommon in the past; in particular, for the Spanish American War. However, what is unprecedented is the DOD’s intentional propaganda supporting the Iraq War spread to the American citizens through the supine media.
    The Democratic Congress can thank the clear disconnect between reality and government propaganda for their victory in the 2006 election. The real question is will the next Administration clean out the Syncopates and True Believers in the Pentagon who enabled the Iraq disaster. “Up or Out” has to changed to have officer evaluations to reflect their comprehension of reality and their ability to defend of the rights and lives of American citizens.

  6. JM says:

    Have just been debating this issue with a colleague, who suggests that the military has always been involved in planting propaganda in the US: from WWII-era newsreels and films, to John Wayne movies about Green Berets, to press conferences both in DC and in Iraq.
    Where does one draw the line?

  7. anna missed says:

    Well said Colonel, the civilian leadership must be convinced that to change the course of the war, you must change the way people (back home) feel about it. If we thought the military was ill- equipped to be nation building, we have’nt seen nothing ’till we see them working the “feelings” business. After all, have’nt we been indoctrinated to reject it out of hand now for the last 60 years. Communist poster indeed.

  8. Michael Torpey says:

    I read that article in the WAPO and I thought it smelled fishy. Your article confirms my suspicion.

  9. PSD says:

    Pat–I agree with you about domestic propaganda by the US military not being legitimate, BUT I have a question for you.
    I had a friend in I/O in Baghdad about 2 years ago. He insisted (and I think his view was pretty much accepted by others in I/O altho’ I could be wrong) that the media was doing a miserable job of keeping the American people accurately “informed.” Of course, he was pretty conservative and bought into the whole turning-Iraq-into-a-democracy rationale for the war. I don’t think he got into the field that much , but he said he read all the action and intelligence reports, and I think he honestly believed that the good guys were “winning.” If indeed Gen. Caldwell feels as my friend did, do you think his op-ed was an attempt to get what he felt was the REAL story out there to Joe Citizen? I guess what I’m asking is, if Caldwell really believes what he said, is it propaganda in the true sense of the word?
    (I dare say that if I didn’t know better, I would have guessed my friend actually WROTE the piece for Caldwell because it sounds just like my friend! And, needless to say, he and I often didn’t see eye to eye–in fact he was one of the most infuriating people I ever debated with.)

  10. John in LA says:

    As with any market – financial, political, whatever, reality always pushes back and settle the issue at the end of the day.
    An ocean of propaganda and money has done nothing to change the fact that the US military has been stopped cold by armies kitted out with sneakers and armed with only rifles and RPGs. Look at Somalia, at Afghanistan, Viet Nam etc. etc.
    If the politics are wrong – distorted and built upon lies — no military skill can make up the difference.
    The humiliating debasement of flag rank military in this war is an insult to the working and dying men and women in the field.
    Look at that pathetic careerist Colin Powell. Unindicted for his role in Iran Contra…
    …and raised to improbable heights by the NeoCons, he couldn’t resist the call to be Secretary of State. His career ambitions were vast, and even he had to understand that Rummy and Co. would humiliate him week in and week out.
    I guess that cooperative generals must make pretty good money (Powell chief among them) in the post-season. After all, what’s the markup on a $1 trillion war?

  11. Grimgrin says:

    This administration has used the armed forces as set dressing for propaganda for years. It’s nice to see that not only don’t some of these soldiers, sailors and airmen mind, but are eager to take a more active role in the process. For me it’s a sign that the US is continuing to move from a ‘professional military’ to having a ‘political military’. That is to say the US now has armed forces whose purpose is basically to keep the money flowing in, by becoming essentially a massive lobby group.
    Which is a pity, because armies that get too involved in national politics, no matter what the nation, seem to loose their ability to fight rather quickly. An army that plays politics to increase it’s position and budget will find itself promoting leadership who are able politicians. Which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, except that it’s rather rare to find an effective military leader who is also an effective political leader.
    I think how far this process has gone is demonstrated by the fact that Rumsfeld was able to ‘bully’ the generals into accepting a plan that we now know, they knew was fatally flawed. I may have missed it, but noone that I can recall resigned over it, the entire general staff just went along. None of them valued the lives of the soldiers under them above their own careers. I’m not saying I’d have had more backbone in that situation, but I’m not a General.

  12. W. Patrick Lang says:

    IO directed against the US population is illegitimate whether the material is true or not. Reason? It stands the world on its head and makes the armed forces the originators of policy rather than its servants. If the american people are sovereign, how can the military believe that it is right for them to shape the opinion of the sovereign. are we sheep? pl

  13. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    A nation of sheep
    by William J Lederer

  14. BruceR says:

    Not arguing, but calling the fellow a CIO obscures more than it reveals. Chief Information Officer in civvy-land means something quite different from “Head of PR.”

  15. matt says:

    Reminds me of the movie: “Control Room” … Have you seen it col. ? Its the best representation of “information operations” in action I have seen … the sequence about the Baathist “playing cards” is priceless …It also raises the question of if an I/O operation is located abroad, yet still aimed at the American populace, is that legitimate ?

  16. PSD says:

    you don’t have to post this, but i just wanted to thank you–you’re right, of course. And I think I knew it when I wrote my first comment. I just needed you to wack me upside the head with your cogent explanation.
    Anyway–thanks for this website. It’s a great addition to my daily read.
    p.s. And, yes, “we” are sheep–at least, all the folks are who so happily bought into all the Bush fantasies over the years. Talk about lambs being led to the slaughter. God knows when this country will ever recover, much less Iraq, which is in absolute shambles.

  17. Michael says:

    A free, prosperous Iraq is that one were ALL citizens get to strap on their body armor before going off to enjoy their new democracy?
    What a crock.
    Who writes this stuff?

  18. Stan Henning says:

    I taught in the Us Army PSYOP School at Ft. Bragg, NC (1972-73), Served as a PSYOP Staff Officer in Korea (1981-83), and as the one-and-only (at the time) PSYOP officer on the USPACOM (CINCPAC at the time) staff. Since that time, I have watched PSYOP be subsumed under the broad (and fuzzy) term, “Information Operations”, which now appears to combine technical issues with the primarily human issues the PSYOP focused on. I’m admittedly well removed from the current situation, except for my frustration at what I see. My main point is that PSYOP should be 100% involved with the other guy’s (both friends and foes) human factors and, to be effective, absolutely MUST be backed up by substantive factors (not empty words – but a combination of actual things done to back up words, and that are actually perceived by the target audiences as genuine) . I would like to think that MG Caldwell’s statements were really directed at the Iraqi’s and others, not us, but I’m not sure what is being done to back up his words, or how well they are being perceived by Iraqi’s and others. Sadly, I see his words as no more than the words of a dedicated, can-do US Army officer — this does not bother me except for the fact that, at least from my angle of observation, this is empty PSYOP.

  19. Adam Stilson says:

    Col Lang,
    First let me say that I have read your site for 2 years or so and appreciate your work. I have learned quite a bit. Thank you.
    This might be slightly off topic, but since the discussion is about IO, I wanted to ask about the accuracy of an interesting article I read. It is written by a recently return SF soldier and his difficulties training Iraqi security. To my untrained eye it seems very thoughtful and captures their mission well. Since you have seen such things up close, what are your thoughts? Is it accurate?

  20. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I read it. He is a Special Forces soldier, a Green Beret, nothing more need be said about his understanding of foreign culture and sensitivity to that culture.
    The Old Breed lives. I am glad to know it. pl

  21. Wassim says:

    I frankly don’t care what line the American people are fed. Your soldiers have no business being in Iraq or in any other area of the Arab world. Most Arab’s do not want Americanism and are not interested in your ideologies. Guests to the Arab world are welcomed and honoured, invaders are unceremoniously given the boot sooner or later. My advice, cut the propoganda, save your young mens lives and go home..

  22. W. Patrick Lang says:

    That’s fair. Frankly, I don’t care what kind of fatuous crap you tell each other either. pl

  23. MarcLord says:

    The WAPOO has needed a Spokesgeneral for some time. Caldwell seems to fit the bill admirably.
    Perhaps, though, it is time to start thinking about opening a new military academy, you know, to train specialists for this separate, more politically sensitive branch of the service. This way it could have its own command structure and esprit de corps, achieving greater productive communications efficiencies (PCEs) while relieving the traditional branches of the challenges inherent to grooming their own spokesgenerals.
    Maybe something along the lines of the old NKVD…

  24. 4 billion says:

    LOL, the Arabs have us by the balls, if only we had electric cars then we could leave them to their own business.
    Its just bloody oil. Plastics can be made with cellulose etc, Coal and Uranium come from other parts, ie Australia.
    Why do we have to put up with this crap, so some pricks get rich?, or is that the American dream?

  25. taters says:

    Thank you for posting this Col. Lang. Maybe Larry DaRita’s got a new job in the private sector..

  26. tons15 says:

    I did not read the book babak cites, but I heard the saying (who coined it, I do not know) ‘a person can learn from his/hers mistakes, but a nation never does’ –

  27. Chris Bray says:

    I just left the Army and came home from a very dull year in Kuwait, where the only interesting thing about my deployment was that I had a secret clearance and worked next to the guys from our S2 section. And I remember, over and over and over again, being shocked that the things I was reading in the secret-level intel summaries coming out of Iraq were so incredibly much uglier and grimmer than what I was reading in the newspapers. So this “the news media is putting a negative spin on things” horseshit sure looks to me like a calculated political play.
    I also saw very frank classified reporting on the number of dead in Baghdad that confirmed in every detail the Washington Post’s reporting on morgue figures there, precisely as right-wing (~not~ “conservative”) blogs were attacking the Post’s Ellen Knickmeyer for that reporting.

  28. ali says:

    I love that term “kinetic”. We have a US Army over there that has spent much of its time dashing about the landscape in conveys of armored Humvees while undefended Shi’a were slaughtered.
    Having a senior officer tell big fat lies to the public may also be a waste of military resources but is at least cheaper.

  29. confusedponderer says:

    IMO it’s an abuse of executive power, just like the use of state secrets privilege to cover up violations of the law or screw-ups by gvt entities. This is what comes to my mind:
    In the end it’s about deception by the elected leaders. For democracy, even in a republic, to work, for checks and ballances to work, an informed populance is essential and indispensable.
    But that doesn’t fit well with a secretive imperial president or his ‘unitary executive brach’. ‘The lessons of Vietnam’ are for Cheney a convenient excuse to expand executive powers domestically.
    So, in the essence, the libertarian adagae ’empire overseas breeds empire at home’ has a good point.

  30. still working it out says:

    “Overseas propaganda in support of a military campaign or political goal is a legitimate activity. Domestic propaganda conducted by the US Armed forces to keep the American people “on board” is not. pl”
    The line between overseas and domestic propaganda seems a thin one today. CNN goes to pretty much every country in the world. Do you present CNN with two different views of Iraq ? an accurate one for CNN America and a rosy one for CNN International ? How do you do that when they’re both done by the same reporter? Do you give a The Daily Star a line saying there are no plans for permanent bases in Iraq and say the opposite the Wash Post? And how do you respond when the Daily Star decides to source the obviously more accurate story straight from the WashPo anyway? Is the AP domestic or international or both? And do give truth or propaganda at a press conference in Iraq when reporters from both Al-Jazeera and Fox News are in attendance?
    I can see why it is inappropriate for the military to conduct domestic propaganda, I just can’t see a practical way to do it. The media today is completely interlinked. It would be impossible to give two sets of views on what is happening without each fatally undermining the other’s credibility.
    The only solution I can see is to accept that you have to lie to both and perhaps hand over responsibility for it to the State Dept. Or run military IO operations that are very strict about truth and accuracy to create maximum credibility. Then work on the assumption that the facts and truth are so pro-America that they work as propaganda by themself. This was certainly the case in the Cold War, but perhaps those days have passed.

  31. Andrew Fisher says:

    Interesting that on the British side of the`Atlantic the Army is increasingly speaking up *against* government policy as here
    and (more shockingly, since he is a serving officer) here
    But this is surely part of a larger process by which the unwritten conventions which make democracy work in practice are breaking down in both Britain and the US, it isn’t just (or even primarily) an Army matter.

  32. jonst says:

    You wrote: >>>The intended audience is obviously the American electorate<<< I disagree. Slightly. The "intended audience" is the second tier 'opinion makers'. Their job is to take this spoonfed nonsense (which, by the way, the nation is paying for of course)and spread it far and wide across the nation. All sentences and speeches of theirs must begin with "Why just the other day I was reading what a US General, a man on the front lines, a tough man, in the know said.....' Fill in the blanks. No, for the most part the families that gather around for Xmas celebrations this year will not have read the WAPO editorial. Come many do? But they will have the 'wisdom' from the article distilled down to them. Sort of like sipping from a punch bowl. You might say I am splitting hairs. But I think it is a relatively important difference.

  33. JF Meyer says:

    Since this misguided venture’s get-go, the Pentagon has sanctioned in-theater press briefs by senior officers to plug its carefully manicured message to the pencil-ready press corps. Intermingled with nuggets of genuine news are subtle strings of Pentagon policy salesmanship. The eager press, despite three years plus in this morass, remain confounded in separating the fly specks from the black pepper.
    As noted, this military brief format has a long and checked history. The famous MACV HQ ‘five o’clock follies’ in Saigon were and probably remain the gold standard for the USG effort in trying to float the message. But by mid-68 the press was having little of it. Their own widespread witness on the ground coupled with legions of returning troops eager to counter the official line because of their own experience assisted quickly in shifting the public’s opinion toward withdrawal. Remember, there was little real organized domestic protest in our streets until the summer of 1968—some almost four years after the introduction of US conventional forces in RVN. What today seems to be missing is the hard criticism from returning troops and a skeptical press able and willing to see through the two star daily peeing on their leg but still reporting it’s raining.

  34. Mo says:

    We are not Americans so no we don’t want Americanism but simply stating that you are not interested in anyone elses ideologies is whats wrong with the Arab world today.
    Whats wrong with freedom of speech, human rights and freedom from persecution?
    You may argue that these “ideologies” are not practiced 100% but at least they are goals not even aspired too in the Arab world. Just beacause your enemy is your enemy it does not make everything about them bad or wrong. Richard the Lionheart once said that in Europe we talk about chivalry. The Saracens practice it. The people killing 3000 civilians in Iraq every month are no Saracens and their ideology is not mine.
    Furthermore, there is a difference between ideology and policy. The greatest irony of US foreign policy is that its enemies are not necessarily the ones that oppose their ideologies. In Lebanon they support a prime minister whome the majority of the public do not, who was barred from entering the US for financing a group linked to Al Qaida and whose biggest supporters in the Sunni community are openly Al Qaida supporters. The reason he gets his support? His opposition is Hizbollah.
    Lastly, my friend you should very much care what the American people are told. If you are an Arab, living in the Arab world, what they are told aand how they react to it will mostly affect your life more than it does theirs.

  35. Military Propaganda for Domestic Consumption

    Retired Colonel Pat Lang is incensed by a widely-cited op-ed in yesterdays WaPo by MG William Caldwell IV explaining Why We Persevere in Iraq.
    This oped piece, written by the Iraq commands chief information officer can only …

  36. Babak Makkinejad says:

    A lot of this secrecy started with Reagan. Reminds me of a story in the “Rose Garden” where the Sassanid Emperor observes to his servants: “At the beginning of the world, the foundation of Injustice was tiny. Each person added to it a little bit till it reached its current size.” And that was 2000 years ago.
    I recall reading about US circa 1900 – you could walk up the stairs of the State Department, wait in the vestibule of the Secretary of State’s office, and take your turn to see him.
    Once ushered in, the Secretary of State would welcome you by saying: “Good morning! I am John Hay. What can I do for you?”
    By the way, John Hay was Lincoln’s secretary.
    It was a different world – in many ways far more genteel & civilized and far less angry than the world today.

  37. Got A Watch says:

    An Intelligience Operation is urgently needed in Washington – to inject some small measure of intelligience straight into the empty heads of the Republican/Bushie “Axis of Stupidity”. If any of them have an IQ bigger than their shoe size, it has not been evident in any perceptible way.
    Now, with total failure in Iraq staring them in the face, and no supine media able to cover this grave situation with postive spin, the truth has become so large and ugly no can ignore it anymore. Deomocracy grinds slowly, like the wheels of justice, but eventually the fear of total electoral defeat for a generation will penetrate even the most dim intellect, forcing them to abandon the “Ostrich Strategy”, otherwise known as “Stay the Course” or more accurately “Ignore the Truth Until It Goes Away”.
    Robert Fisk puts it well: “The Roman Empire is falling. That, in a phrase, is what the Baker report says. The legions cannot impose their rule on Mesopotamia.
    Just as Crassus lost his legions’ banners in the deserts of Syria-Iraq, so has George W Bush. There is no Mark Antony to retrieve the honour of the empire. The policy “is not working”. “Collapse” and “catastrophe” – words heard in the Roman senate many a time – were embedded in the text of the Baker report. Et tu, James?”
    The fact that Bush is already moving to distance himself from any meaningful movement in Iraq is only greater folly piled on the Everest of mistakes already made.

  38. Loki says:

    Defeat in Vietnam? Was the US defeated in Vietnam?

  39. J.T. Davis says:

    “Defeat in Vietnam? Was the US defeated in Vietnam?”
    It all depends on the metric one uses. I quote from page on The Colonel at Wiki:
    “His blog Sic Semper Tyrannis has drawn interest during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict due to his insights. He identified the Hizbollah defense not as classic guerilla tactics but as isolated fortified defensive positions. He had previously explored that concept in a paper written during the Cold War. Lang has also applied an analytical criterion to determine who won the conflict:
    “A basic lesson of history is that one must win on the battlefield to dictate the peace. A proof of winning on the battlefield has always been possession of that battlefield when the shooting stops. Those who remain on the field are just about always believed to have been victorious. Those who leave the field are believed to be the defeated.”
    And we left rather hurriedly in deed.

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