Friday, February 17, 2006

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

Donald Rumsfeld's new front in the war on terror

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations today about a new front in the war on terror. Blogs are involved:

We meet today in the sixth year in which our nation has been engaged in what promises to be a long struggle against an enemy that in many ways is unlike any our country has ever faced. And in this war, some of the most critical battles may not be in the mountains ofAfghanistanor the streets of Iraq, but in newsrooms -- in places like New York, London, Cairo, and elsewhere....

I want to talk today about something that at first might seem obvious -- but isn’t. Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today’s media age, but for the most part we -- our country -- has not -- whether our government, the media or our society generally.

Consider that the violent extremists have established “media relations committees” --and have proven to be highly successful at manipulating opinion elites. They plan and design their headline-grabbing attacks using every means of communications to intimidate and break the collective will of free people. They know that communications transcend borders -- and that a single news story, handled skillfully, can be as damaging to our cause and as helpful to theirs, as any other method of military attack. And they are able to act quickly with relatively few people, and with modest resources compared to the vast -- and expensive -- bureaucracies of western governments.

Our federal government is only beginning to adapt our operations for the 21st Century. In fundamental ways, we still function as a “five and dime” store in an E-Bay world.

Today we are fighting the first war in history -- unconventional and irregular as it is -- in an era of... blogs [among other IT-related innovations]....

What complicates the ability to respond quickly is that, unlike our enemies, which propagate lies with impunity -- with no penalty whatsoever, our government does not have the luxury of relying on other sources for information -- anonymous or otherwise. Our government has to be the source. And we tell the truth.

These new realities have placed unprecedented challenges on members of the press as well. Today’s correspondents are under constant pressure in a hyper competitive media environment to produce exclusives and breaking stories. Daily or weekly deadlines have turned into updates by the hour or even minute -- to feed a constant news crawl that now appears on most cable channels. And the fact is that the federal government -- at the speed at which it operates -- doesn’t always make their job easier....

Let there be no doubt -- the longer it takes to put a strategic communications framework into place, the more we can be certain that the vacuum will be filled by the enemy and by news informers that most assuredly will not paint an accurate picture of what is actually taking place.

Whether Donald Rumsfeld is the person best-suited for this kind of combat " in places like New York, London, Cairo" newsrooms, I'll leave to the readers.

posted by Dan on 02.17.06 at 04:54 PM


Well, blogs are mentioned, anyway.

I don't know that Sec. Rumsfeld meant to imply that a man well into his 70s who began his public career when high technology meant the IBM Selectric is a poor choice to run this kind of 21st Century war. But the thought is kind of out there, isn't it?

Rumsfeld might in denying this point to the fact that much of his speech deals with subjects traditionally well outside the purview of the Denfense Department. So, technically he wouldn't have to be running this part of the war. But traditions have changed in recent years.

The other thing I noticed is the odd note sounded by the closing quote from Eisenhower, the one about carring "...forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle -- with liberty the stake." This at the end of a speech laced with complaints about how hard it is to deal with the media, and not just "their" media, but ours.

No doubt media relations have been a difficult challenge for every administration since Washington's. But at least in this respect an outdated government information strategy may be the least of the problems faced by the administration Rumsfeld serves. A poor workman blames his tools.

posted by: Zathras on 02.17.06 at 04:54 PM [permalink]

Wonder where they got this idea from? From us! He has a good point about the network news though...

posted by: bg on 02.17.06 at 04:54 PM [permalink]

Very encouraging. Rumsfeld seems to know where it's at. So now the Secretary of Defense and the enemy both understand the role of journalists in this conflict. That leaves said journalists as the only people who still don't get it. 'Objectively aiding the enemy' as Lenin would have said.

posted by: Rummy on 02.17.06 at 04:54 PM [permalink]

If I recall correctly I think it was in Blink where Malcom Gladwell went into the armed force's new forms of warfare i.e. taking on the media front while fighting in the field.Abu Ardvark apparently did a study of middle eastern media disagrees with the point (, but as usual the rhetoric in this is disturbing, "What complicates the ability to respond quickly is that, unlike our enemies, which propagate lies with impunity -- with no penalty whatsoever, our government does not have the luxury of relying on other sources for information -- anonymous or otherwise. Our government has to be the source. And we tell the truth."

Centralizing reporting to only take one source i.e. the government seems more like a ploy to take down the freedom of the press, but if this means government press offices will respond to queries faster and reach out to bloggers while delivering more accurate information than all the better. The last line about we tell the truth could certianly be questioned, after all this is an administration that has consistently withheld information, refused independent inqueries, etc.


posted by: andrew on 02.17.06 at 04:54 PM [permalink]

If Rumsfeld were an habitual idiot rather than just being habitually wrong I'd say he hadn't put much thought into his argument because it makes no sense and assumes that even if we, the ostensible good guys, could get our message 'right' [what in a pluralistic society will be accepted with any consistency as right?] that there'd be an audience out there willing to mindlessly soak it up and act upon it. What the 'bad guys' have over us is that they feed monolithic and autocratic messages to people hungry for monolithic and autocratic messages. You could have endlessly beamed happy stories of the American dream into Nazi Germany
in the 30's and it wouldn't have changed a thing.

But Rumsfeld isn't an idiot so I assume that this was just another attack on the media and how they make freedom so unnecessarily messy - aka "we'd be winning if the damn press would stop reporting that we're losing".

posted by: saintsimon on 02.17.06 at 04:54 PM [permalink]

"And we tell the truth."

Starting... now?

posted by: Mike Stiber on 02.17.06 at 04:54 PM [permalink]

I didn't get from this excerpt that Rummy is going to redirect the flow of information entirely from his desk to get a better handle on "the truth." It occurs to me that many of the soldier blogs and civilian bloggers' access to high level military personnel that characterise the Iraqi/Afghan warzones are already a reflection of this philosophy (we won't call it a policy--it seems too inchoate for that). It is an end run around a fairly lazy and hostile establishment press, and for those who have the time and inclination to read such postings, a step in the right direction.

In other words, while the military cannot stop or even challenge the information already out there, they can add to it their own stream, shorn of the old trappings of an identifiable propaganda machine. Now, I am comfortable with this novel approach to the challenges of a new media landscape, but the question remains, is it old propaganda in new bottles or a complete different, necessary response to a changed global environment?

posted by: Kelli on 02.17.06 at 04:54 PM [permalink]

Read between the lines. What Rumsfeld is saying is that the traditional Fourth Estate (MSM) cannot be trusted to stay with the government-approved party line and that this is harmful in the "war." IOTM that totalitarians ALWAYS abhor a free press, whine about it incessantly and make it their business to do away with that state of affairs if they can. In addition to the typical whining of an old authoritarian born 300 years too late into a relatively free society—one that's conveniently made him very wealthy and powerful—Rumsfeld is also telling us it's high time for government to get into the news business. Guess Fox isn't good enough for him.

This is in line with the accelerating reinterpretation of the Constitution and the Enlightenment in the most authoritarian manner possible. It's the warrantless wiretap argument in another guise. Rumsfeld wants Orwell's Ministry of Truth. He wants Pravda and Izvestia. Old Russian joke: In truth (Pravda) there is no news; in news (Izvestia) there is no truth.

I wonder how the Founders would view his argument. Actually I don't. Jefferson told us: rather have newspapers without government than the opposite.

posted by: Nixon Did It on 02.17.06 at 04:54 PM [permalink]

Didn't I hear this same blame the media routine about 1968 and 1969?

Must be something about the SecDef job and unwinable wars that stirs this up.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 02.17.06 at 04:54 PM [permalink]

Rumsfeld straining at the bit to get the truth out, restrained by his fact-checkers. "Not yet, Don--we've got a more digging to do. We're the United States of America, we have to get it right." Meanwhile, the agile liars in their lair high up the slopes the Toba Kobars are busy concocting their next CD, unfettered by any facts, with total disregard for truth.
Now I understand why despite our best efforts in Iraq the Islamists have been been so successful in recruiting jihadists. It takes a man of deep insight and extraordinary wisdom to explain it to us. A man who would never stoop to deceive or mislead, nor would even be tempted to do so, his having done nothing he'd not gladly broadcast to the world. That's no doubt why he leaked this latest batch of pictures to the Australians.

posted by: thankfultothedon on 02.17.06 at 04:54 PM [permalink]

"What complicates the ability to respond quickly is that, unlike our enemies, which propagate lies with impunity -- with no penalty whatsoever, our government does not have the luxury of relying on other sources for information -- anonymous or otherwise. Our government has to be the source. And we tell the truth. "

Has Rumsfield ever told the truth in his life?

posted by: Barry on 02.17.06 at 04:54 PM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?