Robert R. Reilly: Information Operations – Successes and Failures


I’ll start with a couple of essentials. I,
by the way, was engaged in the world ideas during the Cold War back at the U.S.
Information Agency at the White House at an embassy abroad and then in this new
war of ideas both at the Voice of America, for some years in the Defense
Department. I developed a couple of elementary rules
regarding war of ideas don’t go into a war of ideas unless you understand the
idea as you are in war with don’t go into a war of ideas unless you have an
idea Ward’s of ideas are fought by people who think people who don’t think
are influenced by people who do that should invite you to consider which
audience you want to name your public diplomacy at should it be a large youth
audience with pop music or should it be to the people in the society you’re
trying to reach cool because they are thinkers in Linnton intellectuals form
the tenor the intellectual tenor of that society successful information
operations understand the audience have the right message in the right format
and have the means to deliver the message through the media used by the
audience to receive its information miss any of these links and you have a failed
information operation you can have the medium and not the message or you can
have the message and not the medium or you could be without those now we know
from every national strategy for combating terrorism that the objective
in the long run is winning the war on means winning the battle of ideas I often refer to this statement by Parkman
chairman of the Islamic Studies department at American University to
talk six months tour throughout the Islamic world and during it he reflected
quote I felt like a warrior in the midst of the fray knew the odds were against
him but never quite realized that his side meeting our side had already lost
the war how could this be well what I’m going to do today is reflect briefly on what we’ve done that’s worked and what
hasn’t worked in the overall view on what we have failed to do all together I
have no interest in being autobiographical but I have been asked
to speak on information operations successes and failures and I interpret
that term very broadly to me public diplomacy war of ideas and I’m
invariably drawn to some operations in which I’ve been personally involved
there were several huge failures and some tiny successes I’ve not spoken of
some of these experiences before because they are almost personally too painful
to relate I recount them now only in the hope that the lessons from them can be
learned and related to the current conflicts in which were involved
sometimes the mission was right but the execution was wrong sometimes the
mission itself was misconceived at other times there was not even a mission to
execute just ahoy now I went well it linked on my experiences at the voice of
America where I worked for 10 years my last repair as its director but I had
thought this in 2001-2002 this will be the VOA s finest hour as prior it had
been in 1942 when that organization first went on the air in Germany and
broadening broadcasting to Germany so I thought our 12 hour a day Arabic serve
we have a key role to play in this new war of ideas certainly that service
needed revamping and improved programming and it needed to get off
long-wave and onto medium wave because people in the Middle East for the most
part no longer listen to their be long wave radios now then to my surprise with
the broadcasting Board of Governors designed to eliminate that service of
The Voice of America which broadcast interviews reviews editorials of
official US policy discussion programs and so forth and replace it with a youth
pop station called radio al Sawa that broadcasts 24/7 in at the beginning all
music but four to five minute news breaks with Eminem Britney Spears and
JLo along with their bigger pop music the lyrics had to be changed for
broadcast because they were so offensive to Muslims prepared this is a time when
when we were at war there was a rather startling transformation now the
interesting that I had the occasion after this transformation to meet with
one of the most important Saudi princes and I said without prejudice to him I
asked the question what do you think of radio Sawa he said it’s not good it’s
not bad it’s just what it is he said now my father he finds the love The Voice of
America he always listened to it he had memorized the broadcast times so when he
went into the desert which golfing did he would take the shortwave radio with
him because he doesn’t want to didn’t want to miss a program he said I do of
course used to listen to The Voice of America of course I don’t listen to
radio Stour well who cares of the King lizards like that not be an influential
audience trying to race with it or on casting
and explanations of your policy regardless judge Camuto feet are in
Yemen said that quote if you study terrorism in the world you will see that
it has an intellectual theory behind it and any kind of intellectual idea can be
defeated by the intellect unquote however the language of the electus
ideas not pop music the world ideas cannot be fought with the Battle of the
Bands the objective is to reach people who think on the other hand Voice of
America did get something right respect to Afghanistan the first minister of
information of Afghanistan approached me when I was VOA director and said we have
no means of reaching our own people and Afghanistan is being bifurcated by
broadcasting coming in from Pakistan on the one side and possible and from Iran
on the other side we have no national voice to reach the people of Afghanistan
could you give us some giant transmitters that would allow us to do
that and in turn we will give you the space and the license to build your own
giant transmitters this being important because the people of Afghanistan
received their news and information primarily through radio but they still
do today I’m happy to say that that thanks to the generosity of the Defense
Department from where we got the more than 10 million dollars to build these
was accomplished at the same time the broadcasting Board of Governors said
let’s do a 24/7 news channel in Pashto and dari and so we combined the Voice of
America f.n service with that of our ferl and
created that 24 by 7 service this as it should be these were moves in the right
direction however 10 years later one worries what
is the substance of the broadcast 10 years later there was a very upsetting
revelation from the International Council on security and development
locate kondeh har Afghanistan that conducted a
survey that I survey in Helmand and Kandahar provinces of a thousand nails
and these were Afghan on Afghan interviews very thoroughly and well done
how many what percentage of the interviewees do you suppose had never
heard of 911 and you want to take a stab at that 93 percent 10 years into a war
and our public diplomacy and communication that failed to convey to
the Afghan people the purpose for which we were there does it be like fighting
World War two and not telling anyone about Pearl Harbor this same group did a
survey of Afghan males in to Morgan provinces Parwan and Kahn sure showed
them pictures of 9/11 and asked them now that you understand what happened there
do you think the presence of foreign horses in your country ice F in the
United States is justified by what you’ve seen 59% subsequently said it
justified the international presence in Afghanistan even ten years later it
wasn’t too late to explain what we were doing there now we’re departing with
many of the people of Afghanistan puzzled as to why we came in the first
place another egregious error that has been mentioned in the first talk by
Patrick sucio and others the failure of to engage the religious level in
Afghanistan the people in Afghanistan identified themselves first and foremost
as Muslims so whoever controls the Islamic understanding of the flow of
daily events is the person who’s going to dominate of the war of ideas there
the Taliban have been very effective in monopolizing the network of madrasahs
and mosques and mullahs in order to do that and that is how they affect their
unofficial rule in portions of the country where they don’t have direct
role they quote they’ve co-opted the religious narrative of the last several
years at Rear Admiral Craig Smith in 2010 he owes chief of communications
they’ve used that neurone narrative locally very effectively unquote if you
are involved in a conflict that is in large part religious failing to address
it in religious terms concedes to the enemy in the words of my former
colleague Robert Andrews a theological safe haven a Theological safe haven
which is far more important than any physical safe haven that they may enjoy there are ways to undertake these
challenges judge’ll Qatar in Yemen did it through Quranic duels with Al Qaeda’s
challenging them with an interpretation of the Quran which D legitimate their
religious basis for going on violent jihad actually the old days stationed in
Pashto radio D WA undertook this kind of event in reaching those people in that
no-man’s land between Afghanistan and Pakistan and through the kind of calling
questions they received found it was very effective in dealing it amaizing of
the Taliban ideology the other thing about al Qaeda and the Taliban is their
own understanding of their vulnerabilities as a captured al-qaeda
document said if we lose the Justice of our cause were finished that’s the
source of our legitimacy mullah omar said in an early Islamic Emirate
magazine quote we know that taking the Muslims life is a cause of defeat
unquote well on those grounds alone they should be defeated the Taliban killed
three to four times more civilians that are hip in collateral damage
I said forces why why hasn’t that work well for one reason
NATO refused to publicize Taliban atrocities because they thought it would
be demoralizing and it would be ended the Taliban a victory well general the
trainer Scott Barry he said you must be nuts he of course has been effective in
in Iraq making sure the all kind of videos of their tortures and what
happened in their torture houses were widely spread because not only to those
videos terrified they repulse and this helped animate the Sunnis and now on
guard promise and elsewhere to turn against al-qaeda so when he got to
Afghanistan he said don’t you’ve got to do the same thing here to D legitimize
the Taliban well this brings us to Operation Iraqi Freedom I’m going to
speak a little bit about what went wrong there and because I’m intimately
familiar with what went wrong I left the voice of American went to the Defense
Department and miri South Asian affairs and in our office arrived retired
lieutenant general Jake garner filling out his paperwork to become the director
on or how the organization for reconstruction and humanitarian
assistance in Iraq I approached general garner at that time with a two-page
paper that my colleagues and I had written when I arrived at the Defense
Department I began thinking if we’re going to invade Iraq this is a country
which has a totalitarian regime and a totally controlled state media in Iraq
it was a capital offense to own a satellite phone it was a crime to have a
satellite dish all they had had was state control media since they’d a party
had come into power take down Saddam’s regime he goes off
here what comes on the air the next day so I thought I’m going to start
exploring around the United States government seeing who’s providing the
answer to this question well they’re doing it over there I go over there no
more actually it’s over there at the state no it’s someone in the NSC no well
actually no one was doing the analogy we used is in North Korea people went to
bed one night after another broadcast day of singing the praises of the great
leader and they woke up next morning and all of that was gone and was replaced
with South Korean media think of the enormous impact that that would have on
the North Korean population it would be revolutionary providing that example to
general garner eyes are weak we need to get as close to something like this as
we possibly can up he completely embraced this idea immediately went to
the NSC and OMB and tried to price the money lose for it unfortunately we could
only get about 2.6 billion dollars together now having worked at the voice
of America 80 minutes as its director I had some rough idea of what it would
cost to start a national television station a national radio station and a
national newspaper if the infrastructure is still there you would still need a
hundred million dollars to do it so now we’re in January I leave for London to
try to recruit Iraqi expatriate journalists to come with us to Baghdad
most of the really good ones sy already had jobs in reputable media
enterprises and we could only offer them six three-month contracts on renewable
wanna come available for this
so that was one difficulty the other difficulty was there was no analogy
within the Arab media world to South Korean media all of the media
enterprises in the Middle East or state video so where were we going to find the
programming that we wanted to put on the air on the day after in Baghdad but we
would have to produce it do you have any idea how much work that requires and how
much you what the expense it takes in the studios that camera crews the
editing but it’s everybody needed enormous
so we began trying to do this proving the talent and lo and behold we didn’t
know how much time we had to prepare we weren’t deployed remember we’re
beginning in January were deployed in March to Kuwait to wait for the boom at
that point I did this would be a failure how could we possibly have succeeded in
so little time with the services I thought well you’ve got to try anyway
and so try we did unfortunately on the last day of bombing our precision guided
munitions took out the Ministry of Information when I saw that building a
skyscraper being split in two my heart broke because there went the
broadcasting infrastructure but we got to back there there was not one
operational televisions to go that one cam of the court two radio studios that
were semi functional and not one rotary printing place in the city that weren’t
to mass-produce newspapers and of course very little electricity what was there
to 24 by 7 or in channels in arabic and of course the
satellite dishes began appearing on the roofs of the baghdad house it was cheap
Chinese things were being sold on the corner and so it was very easy to see
who got to dominate the information flow in the beginning the one thing we did of
the three radio newspaper and television that I thought was a success was Al
samara the newspaper started by hassan illallah wa brilliantly done and printed
in kuwait because they had rotary presses long enough of course it was
difficult to get it distributed but the content of it was exactly what one would
have hoped for this indeed was a journal to attract the intelligentsia of Iraq it
would have been the vehicle for publishing the equivalent of the Iraqi
Federalist Papers and it was the one thing the coalition decided to shut down
because the shabby little competitor had begun with local Iraqi talent and I was
told when I made my plea for God we don’t beat the equivalent of the Wall
Street Journal in the Iraq right now we just need some rare announced weapons
turn in check one oh there goes the intelligence here when I got back from
the idea that I then tried to start a Federalist Papers project for Iraq with
the private foundation break two entrepreneur from California called Jim
hey the spirit of America we found out it would cost a little over a million
dollars we recruited one of the most respected intellectuals in Iraq who
ended up being the executive system to the Iraqi president wind up the
intellectuals to make these contributions where we could get them
printed how we could get them distributed in the mosques put them in
the most important newspapers get the authors on to the media etc
do it for about 1.2 billion dollars couldn’t find the money in the
government couldn’t find the money in private foundations so there were no we
rockin Federalist Papers in an interagency meeting I was seated next to
the senior a ID person who was responsible for all their programs in
Iraq I said may I ask you why didn’t you fund an Iraqi Federalist Papers project
you know what the answer was oh we weren’t tasked with it don’t an
authority to require something like this I’m running out of time toward a number
of I actually have a successful operations for lately erotomania other
the iraqi memory foundation oh just to tell you for the cost of 1.2 million a
year they produced a show called white or overcoming the legacy of evil they
became the second most popular television show on alia rakija and the
defense department with some help from state funded death 1.2 million all made
by iraqis Baghdad very big influence so much so that during Ramadan which is the
hide viewership time in the Muslim Arab world on television that Prime Minister
Maliki ordered I’ll have a Kea to play the program every day I can tell you
since I was involved in this work that the PSAs that the coalition broadcast
you know five-minute spots were amazed and London they had to go through an
advertising agency to have it made they had to buy the broadcast time on Iraqi
TV there were eight billion dollars could have kept the Iraq memory
foundation going for eight years why did this happen for the same reason Stephan
office said the of the Muslim performers influence is so tenuous because there
was no institution there was no institutional support there
was no place from which to fight this battle all of these were individual
initiatives of people of goodwill trying to something despite the fact that there
was no institution dedicated to it ladies and gentlemen there still isn’t
an institution dedicated to doing it was the elimination of the US Information
Agency no one has the job of winning our side of the bar of ideas and that’s why
we’re not even fighting it thank you

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