Missing in Action: PsyWar Against the Irhabi
By Col. Michael Haas, USAF, ret.
Special Analysis for the National Security Forum
It’s been a few years since communist psychological warfare pasted many of us with the unpleasant sounding ‘Running Dog Lackeys of the Imperial War Machine.’ But as crude and even amusing as it sometimes struck the Western mind, give the devil his due: The communists were masters at psychological warfare (PsyWar). The undeniable fact remains that for several decades they successfully propelled onto the world stage an empty, vicious ideology that cost untold millions their lives. Sound familiar to anything you’ve read or seen on television lately?
In reading the current multitude of public policy recommendations for the West’s war against Islamic extremism (correction: Recommendations as to how the West might begin responding effectively to Islamic terrorism’s long-declared war against the West), one notes the overwhelming consensus for improved Intelligence-gathering in a number of functional areas (e.g. HUMINT).
While the need for such is glaring, conspicuously missing from the public dialogue is serious discussion pertaining to the psychological warfare that underlies the entire premise of terrorism. It’s hardly ‘just’ ISIS’ these days. Noted American counter-terrorism expert Brian Jenkins (Senior Advisor to the RAND president) for example, underscores this point succinctly in stating, “Terrorism is theater. The true target is the audience watching.”
Indeed, terrorism is psychological warfare; the pursuit of political violence in which it’s not the body-count that counts, but rather the media disseminated psychological impact on the target audience. What better proof of this assertion than the apathetic public reaction to recent claims the West’s ‘broad alliance’ against ISIS has killed thousands of Islamic State fighters in the last few months (zzzzzzzzz) vs. . . . the Islamic State’s effective PsyWar dissemination of its horrifying, video-taped atrocities?
And, of all people, the Americans–the very capitalists who created the potent, multi-billion dollars per year ‘Madison Avenue’ advertising machine—are failing so badly in publicly disseminating the Western response to Islamic terrorism. It began at the beginning, with the most fundamental PsyWar blunder imaginable: Our government leaders and media outlets responding to terror attacks by letting the terrorists themselves set the PsyWar agenda with their self-chosen use of the term ‘jihadist‘ to justify their barbarity.
It is as if in 1942 Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to call war against Japan a campaign against the Japanese propaganda labeled ‘Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.’ Tokyo would have loved that!
Does it not reinforce the terrorists’ own propaganda every single time our government and media outlets align themselves with the Al Qaeda-ISIS media agenda e.g., using ‘jihadi’ as the term-of-choice? In fact, Irhab and Irhabi are amongst the correct Arabic language terms for terrorism and terrorists. So what does one suppose the 1 billion-plus Muslim audience in the global theater is thinking when US and European leaders continue supporting the terrorists’ own propaganda?
Easy enough to complain, but what might be done here?
One good first step was offered to us from recently retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. The former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency only stated the obvious when briefing congress: “You cannot defeat an enemy you do not admit exists” (referring to President Barrack Obama’s unsettling refusal to publicly use the term ‘Islamic terrorism’). A punch to the mouth normally focuses one’s attention on the attacker’s identity, but for some inexplicable reason it simply didn’t happen with the Obama Administration.
Another suggestion: Start tomorrow by naming our foes for who and what they are—Irhabis—whose barbarism warrants their ruthless eradication at every and all opportunity. And yet do so while recognizing at the same time this is primarily a psychological war for the minds of the audience, not one whose outcome will be determined by fighting with bombs and bullets. It is this step in particular, arguably the most important step of all, where America continues to fail.
Even before this summer’s sharp escalation in the air campaign against ISIS, America was spending some $11 million dollars per-day to bomb the terrorists. Who can forget the DOD-provided, TV news imagery of ISIS Toyota pickup trucks destroyed by . . . million dollar missiles fired from multi-million-dollar aircraft?
Not so well known is the paltry 2016 Budget Request–$2 million dollars-per-day—submitted by the US Broadcasting Board of Governors (Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, etc.). These are the media organs responsible for broadcasting American values to the rest of the world, and that two million dollars is thus to be spread across the entire planet, not just the Middle East. One might suppose the pen would prove mightier than the sword in psychological warfare, but years into this war the U.S. still puts its bucks on the bombs.
Finally, this author suggests we reinstitute the term ‘psychological warfare’ at the national level, as ‘PsyWar’ itself symbolizes our clear recognition of the existential threat posed by the war lapping at our doorsteps. In the U.S. this term long ago morphed into ‘Psychological Operations’ and of late the even more politically correct, ‘Information Operations.’ Let’s get this back on the right track, right now.
The supreme art of war is to subdue your enemy without fighting—Sun Tzu
During his Army-Air Force career, Col. Haas served in a number of Special Operations, Psychological Operations, and Intelligence units and agencies. He has published extensively in these fields. His military and commercial background includes travel to the Middle East, Persian Gulf, and Southwest Asia regions.