I recently received an invitation to speak at
a conference at Ft. Bragg on psychological operations, or psyops. Regrettably,
a schedule conflict prevented me from accepting, but the invitation got me thinking:
what are psyops in Fourth
Generation war (4GW)?
It is clear what they are not: leaflets saying, "No on can hope to fight the
American military, surrender now," or "We are here to liberate you." After the
Iraq debacle, those messages will be met with open derision. The only way such
leaflets are likely to be useful is if they are printed on very soft paper.
Colonel John Boyd said that the greatest weakness a person or a nation can
have at the highest level of war, the moral level, is a contradiction between
what they say and what they do. From that I think follows the basic definition
of psyops in Fourth Generation war: psyops are not what you say, but what you
If we look at the war in Iraq through that lens, we quickly see a number of
psyops we could have undertaken, but did not. For example, what if instead locating
the CPA in Saddam’s old palace in Baghdad and putting Iraqi prisoners in his
notorious Abu Ghraib prison, we had located the CPA in Abu Ghraib and put the
prisoners in Saddam’s palace? That would have sent a powerful message.
What if, when we get in a firefight and Iraqis are killed, General Kimmitt
the Frog, our military spokesman in Baghdad, announced that with regret instead
of in triumph? We could use every engagement as a chance to reiterate the message,
"We did not come here to fight." That message would be all the more powerful
if we treated Iraqi wounded the same way as American wounded, offered American
military honors to their dead and sent any prisoners home, quickly, with a wad
of cash in their pockets.
Years ago, my father, David Lind, whose career was in advertising, said, "If
the day World War II ended, Stalin had sent all his German prisoners home, giving
them a big box of food for their families and a wallet full of Reichsmarks,
the Communists would have taken all of Western Europe." He may have been right.
In Fallujah, the Marines just showed a brilliant appreciation of psyops in
4GW. How? They let the Iraqis win. At the tactical level, the Marines probably
could have taken Fallujah, although the result would have been a strategic disaster.
Instead, by pulling back and letting the Iraqis claim victory, they gave Iraqi
forces of order inside the city the self-respect they needed to work with us.
Washington and the CPA seem to define "liberation" as beating the Iraqis to
a pulp, then handing them their "freedom" like a gift from a master to a slave.
In societies where honor, dignity and manliness are still important virtues,
that can never work. But "losing to win" sometimes can.
The CPA’s complete inability to appreciate psyops in 4GW was revealed in a
recent episode that suggested Laurel and Hardy are in command. It seems our
Boys in Baghdad decided the "new Iraq" needed a new flag. Never mind that the
new flag suggested Iraq is still a province of the Ottoman Empire and also conveniently
included the same shade of blue found on the Israeli flag. What giving any new
flag to Iraq’s Quisling government in Baghdad really did was give the Iraqi
resistance something it badly needed – its own flag, in the form of the old
Iraqi flag. Couldn’t anybody over there see that coming? Hello?
Perhaps our most disastrous failure (beyond Abu Ghraib) to realize that psyops
are what we do, not what we say, is our ongoing fight with the Mahdi Army of
Muqtada al-Sadr. At the beginning of April, Sadr had almost no support in the
Shi’ite community outside Baghdad’s Sadr City, while Ayatollah Sistani, who
has passively cooperated with the occupation, had overwhelming support. Now,
thanks to our attacks on Sadr and his militia, polls taken in Iraq show Sadr
with more than 30% support among Shi’ites while Sistani has slipped to just
over 50%. The U.S. Army has been Sadr’s best publicity agent. Maybe it should
send him a bill.
Some of our psyops people probably understand all of this. Unfortunately, the
people above them, in Iraq and in Washington, appear to grasp none of it. The
end result is that, regardless of who wins the firefights, our enemies win one
psychological victory after another. In a type of war where the moral and mental
levels far outweigh the physical level, it is not hard to see where that road