Information Warfare – The battle for hearts and minds
By John D. Turner
10 Aug 2005

Information warfare is the offensive and defensive use of information and information systems to deny, exploit, corrupt, or destroy, an adversary's information, information-based processes, information systems, and computer-based networks while protecting one's own. Such actions are designed to achieve advantages over military or business adversaries -- Dr. Ivan Goldberg

One facet of information warfare, “psychological operations” or psyops, is all around you. It is in the commercial advertisements you see when you drive your car, or watch TV. It’s on the network news you watch, and in the newspapers and magazines you read. When you see a political ad, put out to convince you to vote for someone (or against them), that is information warfare. When we want to put a good face on it, we call it “public relations”. When we wish to demonize, we call it propaganda. It is the battle for the hearts and minds, in a positive or negative sense, of the target audience.

A big part of what we are trying to accomplish in Iraq is based on psychological operations; an attempt to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people and bring a stable democracy of some sort to that region. Why a democracy? Because, as has been noted by many, democracies do not fight democracies. A democratic form of government is more likely to bring peace and stability to a region than is a dictatorship. We may not always like what they do (e.g., French, Russians, and Germans when we went into Iraq in the first place), but we don’t go to war with each other.

A big part of what al’Qaida and other terrorist organizations are trying to do fall into the category of psychological operations as well. They are not simply trying to win hearts and minds, but to intimidate them as well. In Iraq, they want to intimidate us into leaving, and convince the Iraqi public to throw us out. In the first case, they believe that if they cause us enough pain, and perpetrate horrific enough violence, that our population will force our government to leave (a la Mogodishu, Lebanon, et al). In the other case, they want to show Iraqis that aiding us is a death sentence, and that the United States offers no protection.

Pictures like those from the Abu Ghraib prison bolster their case, and weaken ours.

Our media plays into their hands, by airing such photos over and over. To hear them talk, you would think that this was the biggest atrocity since Dachau. I guess this is just a further example of how “sex sells”. Where are the “fair and balanced” stories of the good things our troops and civilian contractors are doing every day? Where are the photos of the atrocities perpetrated on Iraqis by the Saddam regime, or the al-Qaida terrorists themselves? Why do we no longer see footage of the destruction of the World Trade Center? Are we just supposed to forget about that?

Indeed we are. The battle for hearts and minds is not just fought in Iraq. It is fought here in this country as well. What the public thinks here in America is to a large extent shaped by the news we receive and how it is presented by our major news outlets. From most of the reporting I have seen, we may as well be getting a direct feed from Al Jazeera. As with Vietnam, we may be winning the war on the battlefield, but losing it here on the home front.

The problem here seems to be two-fold. First is the common “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality of our media. It is much more likely that a news article concerning a couple of our service personnel being killed by a roadside bomb will be aired than an article about how an army company helped the local community by providing school supplies for the kids at the local elementary school. Events like this occur on a daily basis (our squadron here in San Antonio is having a school supply drive right now, the supplies to be funneled through one of our squadron members who is deployed to Iraq) but go pretty much unreported, except perhaps in the print media, on page 27 of section G in small print at the bottom of the page under the heading “Iraqi Schools Ill-Equipped”.

Which brings up the second point. There is a broad undercurrent in our mainstream media to paint anything coming out of Iraq in a bad light. And above all, never credit the President with anything positive. If it is a positive news story, and these are few and far between, somewhere in the article will be a dig of some sort at George Bush. “Yes, this good thing has happened, but remember that this is an unjust, ill-advised adventure on the part of an illegitimate president who stole two elections from the rightful Democrat candidate, and lied about weapons of mass destruction in order to invade peace-loving Iraq for oil and Haliburton”. The media, in general does not like George Bush, did not vote for George Bush, and will not willingly give him any positive press. News items are slanted accordingly.

It seems that it is more important for many (in the Congress as well as in the media) to pursue their personal political agendas than it is to be concerned for the welfare of their own country and the safety of its citizens. Losing this war a la Vietnam would not be a good thing for the United States as a whole, even if it might be perceived as a victory for the Democrat party. Anarchy in the Middle East, and the triumph of militant Islam is not a good thing for America, and ultimately will not be a good thing for the Democrat party either, regardless of how sweet getting rid of George Bush and unseating the Republicans might seem in the short run.

It is interesting that shortly after the attacks on September 11th, the media stopped showing video of the bodies falling from the World Trade Center buildings. Such images were deemed “too traumatic” for American audiences to view. And what we did see was edited, and much less graphic than what audiences overseas saw. However, our media seems to have no problems at all with showing us footage of American and Iraqi victims of suicide bombers or other terrorists (usually labeled as “insurgents”), typically complete with a body count dating back to the start of the war and some sort of negative statement towards the administration.

We get constant reminders of the cost of the war, with no attention paid at all as to why we have been pursuing this course of action in the first place. Instead we get idiotic statements from our own congresscritters, such as Senator Durbin (D-Ill), equating our interrogators in Guantanamo with the Nazi Gestapo, Stalin’s Gulags and the minions of Pot Pol. Sure, he apologized. Later, when the firestorm of criticism got too hot. But the damage was already done. The apology doesn’t take his words off the public record. Or off the air on Al Jazeera.

As might be expected, from such a concentrated media blitz, sustained as it has been for the past several years, it is working. Recent polling data shows that 57 percent of Americans believe that the war in Iraq has made us less safe. This despite the fact that there hasn’t been an attack on our soil in nearly four years. 61 percent believe that President Bush is handling the war badly, while 50 percent think that the US is losing ground in its efforts to establish democracy in Iraq. 56 percent accuse President Bush of being “arrogant”.

Winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi public is an important goal. Keeping the hearts and minds of our public is equally important. It’s hard to do that when we are fed a daily diet of negative propaganda by our press and certain scoundrels in Congress.