Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Winning for Losing

Iraqi Veteran and independent journalist J.D. Johannes presents a very thoughtful (and must read) analysis of Al Qaeda’s stunningly successful media offensive over at TCS Daily.

Johannes, a former Marine, television news producer, and media consultant, uses the concept of Gross Ratings Points (GRP) to generate an admittedly rough estimate of the public relations and perception impact from the media saturation that mainstream media (MSM) outlets are providing to Al Qaeda, gratis. Johannes’ analysis underscores the overwhelming, unrelenting pessimism of the media in stark contrast to the military realities on the ground in Iraq. As Johannes’ post headlines, the analysis captures “How Al Qaeda is Winning Even as it is Losing.”

Here’s how Johannes describes Al Qaeda’s media (and war) strategy:

Since mid-2005, al Qaeda has aimed not to defeat the Coalition militarily, but to drain American public support politically. The strategy was forced on the insurgents by a string of failures in 2004 and 2005. The Baathist groups and their al Qaeda allies planned first to establish a geographic base of control within Iraq; second, to block Iraqi elections; and third, to prevent the establishment of the Iraqi Security Forces. They failed to achieve any of these goals.

The ensuing strategy was dictated by weakness. Mass killings of Shi'ite civilians - a tactic designed by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi over the initial protests of the al Qaeda leadership - replaced military confrontation as the insurgency's operational focus. Civilian atrocity is, by definition, easy to implement, as it targets what is undefended. The strategy does nothing to "win hearts and minds." Support for al Qaeda has dwindled to under 2% among the Sunnis of Iraq; among other groups, it doesn't register at all. Nor can atrocities advance a political agenda, or control real estate.

But the mass killings were a boon to recruitment. The slaughter of Shi'ite civilians provoked retaliatory attacks by Shi'ite militias - attacks that were often as random as the carnage that initiated them. This enabled the insurgency to recruit, albeit from a diminishing population base. In effect, Sunni radicals kept the insurgency alive by sucking the blood out of their own community.

But al Qaeda's largest harvest from "random slaughter" strategy was realized in America. Through acts of indiscriminate violence transmitted by the media, insurgents brought their war to America's living rooms. The atrocity-of-the-day is the principal informational input most Americans receive. This forms their knowledge base. The public does not live in the villages and mahalas of Iraq. Patterns of recovery, of normalcy, are not evident.

This is the essence of 4th Generation Warfare. And al Qaeda is clearly winning it.

Aided, in so small measure, by gullible and cooperative media, and opportunistic political partisans: such as those who stand on the Senate Floor and call for pull out from Iraq, because “I don’t want to recruit for Al Qaeda.” (Senator Barbara Boxer, who despite her claim, seems determined to do just that.)

If only as a primer on media and opinion statistical analysis, you’ll want to read the whole thing.

Make no mistake, GEN Petraeus and the surge operations he and his commanders now execute are soundly defeating the Al Qaeda enemies we face in Iraq, along with whatever remnants of sectarian operatives who cling to terrorist attacks as a means of generating continued negative press coverage for our efforts.

In the much more important battlespace of America’s living rooms, Al Qaeda has retained lasting advantage, however tenuous. Yet, Johannes presents a convincing argument that a large portion of American public opinion and sentiment towards the war can still be easily swayed towards support for the successful completion of our efforts.

Here’s how Johannes concludes his analysis:

The political impact of al Qaeda's media war is all-too-obvious. Not only has the administration lost control of Congress - it has increasingly lost control of its own party.

A congressionally-imposed defeat in Iraq may be averted by a swing in the polls, or more precisely, a swing in the GRPs that move the polls. Given the military's long standing Public Affairs policy of media neutrality, the administration and the Generals will have to earn the GRPs in a hostile media environment. This is difficult, but not impossible, given the substantial American center - Citizens who would prefer victory if given reason to hope.

Alternately, Congress could defy the polls. Al Qaeda is running its war on smoke and mirrors - or, more accurately, on bytes of sound and sight. Congress could act on General Petraeus' reports from the ground, rather than broadcasts generated by insurgents. This requires a simple commitment - one foreign to many in the elective branch: Leadership.

Earlier, I posted a Call to Action from Veterans for Freedom. If you missed it, time to get busy.

(Via Instapundit)

UPDATE: More commentary from Dan Riehl and Murdoc Online

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