Info Wars

by lizard

I read a really fascinating article today, first published 15 years ago in the US Army War College Quarterly (their online archive can be searched here).

The title of the piece is “Constant Conflict” written by Ralph Peters. Here is how Peters sets the tone:

We have entered an age of constant conflict. Information is at once our core commodity and the most destabilizing factor of our time. Until now, history has been a quest to acquire information; today, the challenge lies in managing information. Those of us who can sort, digest, synthesize, and apply relevant knowledge soar–professionally, financially, politically, militarily, and socially. We, the winners, are a minority.

For the world masses, devastated by information they cannot manage or effectively interpret, life is “nasty, brutish . . . and short-circuited.” The general pace of change is overwhelming, and information is both the motor and signifier of change. Those humans, in every country and region, who cannot understand the new world, or who cannot profit from its uncertainties, or who cannot reconcile themselves to its dynamics, will become the violent enemies of their inadequate governments, of their more fortunate neighbors, and ultimately of the United States. We are entering a new American century, in which we will become still wealthier, culturally more lethal, and increasingly powerful. We will excite hatreds without precedent.

Remember, this is 1997. Obviously, in the 15 years since, none of this has come true. Information technology has democratized information, and we now live in a utopia of honest, vigorous engagement by a well-informed public…right?

Peters continues later in the piece with this cheery assessment:

As more and more human beings are overwhelmed by information, or dispossessed by the effects of information-based technologies, there will be more violence. Information victims will often see no other resort. As work becomes more cerebral, those who fail to find a place will respond by rejecting reason. We will see countries and continents divide between rich and poor in a reversal of 20th-century economic trends. Developing countries will not be able to depend on physical production industries, because there will always be another country willing to work cheaper. The have-nots will hate and strive to attack the haves. And we in the United States will continue to be perceived as the ultimate haves. States will struggle for advantage or revenge as their societies boil. Beyond traditional crime, terrorism will be the most common form of violence, but transnational criminality, civil strife, secessions, border conflicts, and conventional wars will continue to plague the world, albeit with the “lesser” conflicts statistically dominant. In defense of its interests, its citizens, its allies, or its clients, the United States will be required to intervene in some of these contests. We will win militarily whenever we have the guts for it.

There will be no peace. At any given moment for the rest of our lifetimes, there will be multiple conflicts in mutating forms around the globe. Violent conflict will dominate the headlines, but cultural and economic struggles will be steadier and ultimately more decisive. The de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing.

And here’s another snip I found, well…just read it:

There is no “big threat” out there. There’s none on the horizon, either. Instead of preparing for the Battle of Midway, we need to focus on the constant conflicts of richly varying description that will challenge us–and kill us–at home and abroad. There are plenty of threats, but the beloved dinosaurs are dead.

We will outcreate, outproduce and, when need be, outfight the rest of the world. We can out-think them, too. But our military must not embark upon the 21st century clinging to 20th-century models. Our national appetite for information and our sophistication in handling it will enable us to outlast and outperform all hierarchical cultures, information-controlling societies, and rejectionist states. The skills necessary to this newest information age can be acquired only beginning in childhood and in complete immersion. Societies that fear or otherwise cannot manage the free flow of information simply will not be competitive. They might master the technological wherewithal to watch the videos, but we will be writing the scripts, producing them, and collecting the royalties. Our creativity is devastating.

There are certainly some misses in the article, but it’s a fascinating look into how the military, 15 years ago, tried to anticipate how the radically shifting currents of information flow would effect the world we live in.

*

I came across Ralph’s “Constant Conflict” via a much more current article (March 9th), by Alastair Crooke, titled “Syria: Straining Credulity?

In the article, Alastair cites Peters’ piece, and goes on to analyze how aspects of the information war are playing out in the Syrian theatre. Part of his assessment is that even the US military can become a victim of its own information warfare. I’m including a large portion of the article below the fold.

*

Referring to Peters, Crooke says about the information warfare:

This information warfare will not be couched in the rationale of geopolitics, the author suggests, but will be “spawned” – like any Hollywood drama – out of raw emotions. “Hatred, jealousy, and greed – emotions, rather than strategy – will set the terms of [information warfare] struggles”.

Not only the US army, but it seems mainstream Western media insist that the struggle in Syria must be scripted in emotional image and moralistic statements that always – as the War College article rightly asserts – trump rational analysis.

The UN Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry condemns the Syrian government of crimes against humanity, but only on the basis of what the opposition says, and without having investigated evidence of opposition “crimes”: and then proceeds to “charge” the Syrian government with this process based simply on “reasonable suspicion”: Do they really believe what they have written, or is it just a part of “writing the script”? [2]

Having quite forgotten what US Marines did to Falluja in 2004 (6,000 dead and 60% of the city destroyed) when armed insurgents there also sought to establish a Salafist “Emirate” – the Western media focus on Homs gives vent to the indignant cry that “something must be done” to save the people of Homs from “massacre”. The question of what effect exactly that something – whether external military intervention or providing heavier weapons for the insurgents – might be, and what its wider consequences might entail, meanwhile recedes entirely from view. Those with the temerity to get in the way of “this narrative” by arguing that external intervention would be disastrous, are roundly condemned as complicit in President Assad’s crimes against humanity.

This school of journalism – the Guardian and Channel Four are good examples of this “I-was-there” reporting – that emphasizes the reporter as participant, and indeed victim, a co-sufferer amid the charged, heart-tugging emotional sufferings of war, uses emotive images precisely to underline that “something must be done”. By focussing on mutilated bodies and weeping bereaved women they assert and determine that the conflict must be viewed as being of utmost moral simplicity – one of victims and aggressors.

“In Baba Amr. Sickening. Cannot understand how the world can stand by. Watched a baby die today. Shrapnel: doctors could do nothing. His little tummy just heaved and heaved until he stopped. Feeling helpless”. [3]

Those who try to argue that Western intervention can only exacerbate the crisis, are confronted by this unanswerable riposte of dead babies – literally. As the War College article so rightly states: how can you counter attack this manner of “information warfare” unleashed against the Syrian government who are on the receiving end of those “writing the scripts, producing them, and collecting the royalties”?

I too, saw such terrible sights in Afghanistan in the 1980s: It does of course create an emotional abyss into which the helpless spectator slips; but do these reporters really believe that innocents and children are not always the victims of conflict? Do they believe their personal distress to be somehow so primary that it must set aside all complexities, and all potential possibilities? Is more conflict the answer to the awful death of an infant?

This reductionist, emotional ardor is but a form of concealed political advocacy – little different to that of an information “warrior” such as AVAAZ, who help write and produce those info-war videos. [4] And while nobody openly endorses such “journalism of participation”, this approach seems to have triumphed in certain journalistic quarters. And indeed it is creeping further: increasingly we see even certain Western diplomats acting as though they are “activists” and participants in the internal struggles of the states to which they are posted. What sort of reporting must their governments be getting?

Are we now to understand that the armed opposition, who originally brought Western journalists to Homs – and then insisted to exfiltrate them perilously, and at the cost of many lives, via Lebanon, rather than through the good offices of the Red Crescent to the nearest airport, were not motivated by a desire to advocate, and impel the argument for externally-imposed humanitarian corridors to be opened to Homs? In other words, were not witness to the construction of une piece de theatre in favor of a type of external intervention? Will a Kosovo-type solution will make things better in Syria?

What has become so striking is that, whilst this “information warfare” may have been almost irreversibly effective in demonizing President Assad in the West, it has also had the effect of “unanchoring” European and American foreign policy. It has become cast adrift from any real geo-strategic mooring. This has led to a situation in which European policy has become wholly suggestible to such “advocacy reporting”, and the need to respond to it, moment-by- moment, in emotive, moralistic blasts of sound-bites accusing President Assad of having “blood on its hands”.

In one sense the West inevitably has fallen hostage to its own information warfare: it has locked itself into a single understanding, stuck to a “singleness” of meaning: a simplistic victims-and-aggressor meme, which demands only the toppling of the aggressor. Europe, in this manner, effectively is cutting itself off from other options – precisely because the humanitarian theme, which policy-makers may have thought would suffice to see Assad easily deposed, now impedes any shift towards other options – such as a peaceful negotiated outcome.

But does anyone really believe American and European objectives in Syria were ever purely humanitarian? Is it not the case – given that the turnout of events in the Middle East are taking such an ominous and dangerous turn – that it has now becoming somewhat awkward openly to admit that their info-war was never primarily about reforming Syria, but about “regime change”, and that it was that even from before the first protest erupted in Dera’a?

In his recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, [5] given in advance of President Obama’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee speech, the president, inter alia, was questioned about Syria. His response was very clear:

GOLDBERG: Can you just talk about Syria as a strategic issue? Talk about it as a humanitarian issue, as well; but it would seem to me that one way to weaken and further isolate Iran is to remove or help remove Iran’s only Arab ally.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely.

Do these Western interventionist proselytizers really believe that the onslaught on Syria is only about democracy and reform? Obama said it plainly. It was always about Iran. And, as Europe and America increasingly become bystanders to a Qatari and Saudi frenzy to overthrow a fellow Arab leader by any means it takes, do these “apostles” truly think that these absolute Arab monarchies simply share the Guardian’s or Channel Four’s nice humanitarian aspirations for Syria’s future? Do these reporters really believe that the armed insurgents that Gulf states are financing and arming are nothing more than well-intentioned reformists, who have simply been driven to violence through Assad’s incalcitrance? Some perhaps do, but others perhaps are simply “saying these things” to prepare the battlefield?

Info Wars: it ain’t just for conspiracy theorists. It involves all of us, and the theatre is global.

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  1. lizard19

    I forgot to add, Crooke’s piece from Asia Times cites this Moon of Alabama post.

  2. lizard19

    try to ignore the unnecessarily dramatic music.

  3. Turner

    Lucy lips has an interesting take on your man Crooke at Harry’s Place (fixed the link —lizard)

    Lucy’s point seems to be that Crooke’s ideological bias is persistently pro-Islamist. He’s hardly different from the advocacy journalists he criticizes — he’s just on the other side. And he’s not shy about telling whoppers.

    I can’t quite make out the War College guy’s angle. Is he urging or even exulting in the neo-con view of inevitable American conquest of the more benighted parts of the world? Or is it a sort of satire on fascism?

    • lizard19

      thanks for the link, that’s an interesting take. everyone’s got their angles, and their biases.

      any thoughts on—if it’s true—why staged propaganda clips and dubious actors are getting treated like news?

      as for the war college guy, I haven’t a clue. it’s a strange piece, that’s for sure.

    • lizard19

      here’s some criticism of Harry’s Place. and here is some more

      looks like a fine zionist project there, Turner.

  4. Turner

    It appears that there are clusters of Zionist and Pro-Islamist websites, each with their stable of propagandists pointing fingers at each other. I wonder where an “objective” voice can be found.

    I have to confess that most, if not all, of what I know about the Middle East comes from mainstream media, who are too lazy and preoccupied with trivia to be trusted on much.

  5. Vae Victis

    If you had any kind of historical perspective on the Middle East, you would not even be concerned with this subject. All that is happening now has happened before. The theater names have changed, as have the actors’ names, but the play remains the same.

    Start with the Trojan War, then Alexander’s conquest, move on to Pompey the Great and Crassus, the rise of Christianity, Vespasian and Titus, etc., etc. Same old story.

    You could fast-forward to AD 570 and the birth of Muhammad and start there. Same old story.

    If you are really pressed for time, you can skip all that and just start with the fall of Constantinople. Same old story.

    For the extremely lazy, start with the Crimean War (1853) or maybe the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after WW I. Same old story.

    But, please, do not waste your time trying to analyze a problem that has existed for millennia and has no solution.

    PS: “Information” has nothing to do with anything in the Middle East.

  6. Ingemar Johansson

    Trying to remember where I heard this.

    Book of Mormon perhaps?

    “Wars and rumors of wars.”

  7. Chuck

    I’m curious what the candidates can do to stop the greenwashing Green Investment Group from raping the Smurfit Mill as frantically as they can?They are now running two shifts of scrappers and scavengers…loading carload after carload in the cover of darkness of critical infrastructure on trains headed for China . The Governor said he wouldn’t allow the original buyer to rape the mill., yet it seems that he is letting these “greenie” bullshitters do just that.

  8. lizard19

    High-Tech Trickery in Homs?

    What was surely meant to be a clever display of media-friendly visuals to illustrate Syrian regime violence in Homs, has instead raised more questions than answers.

    US State Department satellite images of the embattled city were posted on Facebook last Friday by US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who complains: “A terrible and tragic development in Syria is the use of heavy weaponry by the Assad regime against residential neighborhoods.”

    The “satellite photos,” says Ford, “have captured both the carnage and those causing it – the artillery is clearly there, it is clearly bombing entire neighborhoods…We are intent on exposing the regime’s brutal tactics for the world to see.”

    But within 24 hours, the blog Moon of Alabama had taken a hammer to the ambassador’s claims. A detailed examination of satellite imagery by the bloggers revealed numerous discrepancies in Washington’s allegations. Mainly, their investigations point to the fact that Ford’s satellite images were “of guns training within military barracks or well known training areas and not in active deployment.”

    read the whole article, it certainly does raise some big questions. and again I’d like to point out the little blog Moon of Alabama is continuing to make some pretty big splashes.

  9. lizard19

    interesting article worth reading about insider trading and 9/11




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