Klaus von Clausewitz, the famed Prussian military historian and theorist, defined war as being “an extension of politics, using violence to constrain the enemy to accomplish our will.”
While that may have been a perfectly sound concept in Clausewitz’s time, the early 19th century, the destructive power of modern weaponry tells us that things are no longer that simple or clear cut. Something new has been added. Never in his wildest dreams could Clausewitz ever have imagined global real-time television and the influence that it has in world affairs.
In an era when our most deadly enemies are no longer nation states with well-defined borders, but global insurgencies fighting from behind women and children and schools, the mightiest weapons on Earth are of little value. In a war in which our enemy attempts to instill terror by indiscriminately attacking non-combatants in public places, it is clear that the rules of engagement must change to fit the circumstance.
In unconventional warfare such as the Global War on Terror… or “Overseas Contingency Operation” as it is referred to in Obama circles… global real-time television is the medium for what is potentially the most powerful of modern day weapons: information warfare.
Chuck de Caro is a leading expert on information warfare and an author and co-author of numerous books and studies on Cyberwar and Information Warfare. He reminds us that, “In Clausewitz’s time there was a sharp line between diplomacy and belligerent conflict because constraint of another society’s will was possible only through massive application of gunpowder and cold steel. But that sharp line no longer exists because of developments such as global television, motion pictures electronically distributed by satellite and terrestrial broadcast, new media, and the Internet. Because television transmits information by perception of images and sound, it becomes a tremendously powerful medium for influencing the will of entire societies.
It is in this large gray area between war and diplomacy where tools such as Information Warfare… or “SOFTWAR,” as de Caro prefers to call it… must prevail. As de Caro defines it, SOFTWAR is “the hostile use of global television to shape another nation’s will by changing its vision of reality.”
But where does the United States… the most technologically advanced nation on Earth and the world’s only remaining superpower… rank in the knowledge and strategic use of this powerful non-violent medium? The answer is we rank somewhere well behind al Qaeda in our ability to use global real-time television as a geopolitical force multiplier. Despite years of warnings by de Caro and others, the United States still has no comprehensive plan for the strategic use of worldwide television in the war against Islamic terror.
In early 2002, with little fanfare, the Bush Administration created the Pentagon Office of Strategic Influence (OSI), the purpose of which was to study how the Defense Department could design an “effective strategic influence” campaign to combat global terror. However, in typical Pentagon fashion, the OSI was placed under the command of an Air Force Brigadier General (trained in astrophysics), and staffed with aging cold warriors, none of whom had the slightest inkling of global real-time television or its strategic capabilities.
However, when then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, Torie Clark, perceived a potential threat to her turf, word was leaked to the press that the OSI was considering plans to provide false or misleading information to unwitting foreign journalists “as a means of influencing policymakers and public sentiment abroad.” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was forced to disband the office.
During the summer of 2002, de Caro had his closest brush with success when the Republican-controlled House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence authorized the implementation of a comprehensive SOFTWAR program to remove Saddam Hussein from power without the necessity of putting “boots on the ground.”
Unfortunately, while Senate Democrats were openly supportive of efforts to remove Saddam, militarily, they were apparently more interested in having a political issue to use against the Bush Administration. When the SOFTWAR authorization arrived in the Democrat-controlled Senate it was allowed to die a slow death in the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV).
But now, in an unlikely turn of events, SOFTWAR has unexpectedly become part of a battle of wits between a naïve and inexperienced American leader, Barack Obama,… winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize… and the erratic and delusional Iranian dictator, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It is not the United States, but Iran, that has the wisdom and foresight to initiate an information warfare program designed to influence, not only the Iranian people, but the entire world against U.S. “aggression” in the Middle East.
In a front page, above-the-fold story in its November 24 edition, titled, “Iran Expanding Effort to Stifle the Opposition,” the New York Times provides proof that Iran’s new “soft war” program not only co-opts the name of de Caro’s information warfare theories, but also the underlying principles he has delineated. According to the Times, “the Iranian ‘soft war’ effort underscores just how badly Iran’s clerical and military elite were shaken by the protests which set off the worst internal dissent since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.”
The Times reports that, “Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been using the phrase ‘soft war’ regularly since September, when he warned a group of artists and teachers that they were living in an ‘atmosphere of sedition’ in which all cultural phenomena must be seen in the context of a vast battle between Iran and the West.”
According to the Times, the Ahmadinejad regime is “implanting 6,000 Basij militia centers in public schools across Iran to promote the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.” The Times quotes Mohammad-Saleh Jokar, the head of the student and cultural section of the Basij, as saying that the Basij centers were being established because “students of (elementary school) age are more open to influence than older students.”
However, Ali Daraei, an official at IRIB, the Iranian state broadcasting system, has indicated that he sees the new “soft war” plan to propagandize the Iranian people as a double-edged sword. In announcing that 40 percent of Iranians… twice as many as a year ago… now have access to satellite television in their homes, Daraei said, “The enemy no longer invests in the military to advance their goals. Their primary investment is in the media war through satellite channels.”
Once again, our foreign enemies give us entirely too much credit. If our civilian and military leaders were half as smart as they are given credit for being, the United States would rank near the top in our ability to shape events by changing our enemy’s vision of reality.
In the years before and after the collapse of the Pentagon’s ill-fated Office of Strategic Influence, de Caro has doggedly continued to teach the finer points of SOFTWAR at the National Defense University, the National Defense Intelligence College, the Naval Post Graduate School, the Air War College, the Army Command and General Staff School, and many other Department of Defense institutions. And while he has won thousands of converts from all branches of the uniformed services in two decades of intense effort, the Pentagon bureaucracy continues to resist change or enlightenment.
Meanwhile, in a period of just six months, our Iranian adversaries, faced with a perfect media storm, have adopted and enacted de Caro’s SOFTWAR principles for use on their own people, thus promising a restive Iranian population far more difficult to reach in any future U.S. Information Warfare effort.
Meanwhile, de Caro soldiers on relentlessly, determined to give our reluctant military a strategic advantage over the tactics that our Iranian adversaries have already adopted.