View Full Version : Propaganda wars or drinking our own Kool Aid

10-03-2006, 12:32 AM
PROPAGANDA WARS By John Robb At Global Guerrillas
Traditionally, guerrilla wars are fought in the moral sphere. This means that the side that can hold together its moral cohesion the longest, while simultaneously fragmenting its opponents, will come out the winner (I think this is shifting, but we can save that thought for later).

From this grain of truth, the US government/military reached (primarily due to hindsight bias re:Vietnam) the conclusion that moral conflicts are won through propaganda. In other words, the side with the better propaganda machine wins the war. These organizations are implementing this conclusion in this conflict. Everything from embedded journalists to continuously rosy statements (such as "the tide of history is on our side," "the insurgency's back is broken," "just a few more months and the turning point will be reached," etc.) to pro-war bloggers that regurgitate talking points are part of a propaganda effort deemed necessary to win our current conflict. However, this decision to build a propaganda machine isn't showing signs of working. The reason is that a propaganda campaign within the current complex, global and media/information saturated environment is not only foolish, it is downright dangerous. Why? Here are the reasons:

* It generates dissent faster than it solidifies support. People have access to so many alternative sources of information, that any concerted attempt to spin facts is quickly seen for what it is: deception. The result is that non-cooperative centers of gravity are generated (first globally and then domestically) so quickly, that the very moral cohesion sought is the first victim of the effort.
* Propaganda efforts destroy effective decision making. The US military's approach to this propaganda war has been to trot out generals at every opportunity to provide upbeat and positive assessments (the most negative statement is blandly neutral). Anything less would be seen as a negative in the moral conflict and thereby disloyal. This has the unintended consequence of clouding internal decision loops. In the business world this is called "drinking your own kool-aid" (in a cold reference to the Jamestown religious cult where the members committed suicide by drinking poisoned kool-aid). Facts are misinterpreted/misrepresented for marketing externally, these tainted facts are consumed by internal audiences, and bad internal decision making is the result ("we don't need more troops," "we should stick it out since it will get better soon," "more of the same will work," etc.). This is pure poison given the complexity of modern counter-insurgency.
* Natural allies are quickly turned into enemies. Since propaganda is central to the US war effort, any criticism (from any quarter) is seen as something that aids and abets the enemy ("if you are not with us, you are against us"). A good rule of thumb (and this applies to all organizations and not just the US military/government), is that the best people don't work for you. However, it also follows that they aren't necessarily working against you either, and they could provide you substantial benefit to you if properly enticed (this is something that has become a central aspect of most organizations in our heavily cross connected world). Propaganda alienates this group since they aren't seen as being on the "team." . . . Countinued