Daniel Pipes says the West must learn to win the media war.
Soldiers, sailors, and airmen once determined the outcome of warfare, but no longer. Today, television producers, columnists, preachers, and politicians have the pivotal role in deciding how well the West fights. This shift has deep implications..
With loyalties now in play, wars are decided more on the Op-Ed pages and less on the battlefield. Good arguments, eloquent rhetoric, subtle spin doctoring, and strong poll numbers count more than taking a hill or crossing a river. Solidarity, morale, loyalty, and understanding are the new steel, rubber, oil, and ammunition. Opinion leaders are the new flag and general officers. Therefore, as I wrote in August, Western governments “need to see public relations as part of their strategy.”
Even in a case like the Iranian regime’s acquisition of atomic weaponry, Western public opinion is the key, not its arsenal. If united, Europeans and Americans are likely to dissuade Iranians from going ahead with nuclear weapons. If disunited, Iranians will be emboldened to plunge ahead.
What Carl von Clausewitz called war’s “center of gravity” has shifted to the hearts and minds of citizens from force of arms. Do Iranians accept the consequences of nuclear weapons? Do Iraqis welcome coalition troops as liberators? Do Palestinian Arabs willingly sacrifice their lives in suicide bombings? Do Europeans and Canadians want a credible military force? Do Americans see Islamism as presenting a lethal danger?
Non-Western strategists recognize the primacy of politics and focus on it. A string of triumphs — Algeria in 1962, Vietnam in 1975, and Afghanistan in 1989 — all relied on eroding political will. Al Qaeda’s number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, codified this idea in a letter in July 2005, observing that more than half of the Islamists’ battle “is taking place in the battlefield of the media.”
Personally, I think that a WWI or WWII style crackdown would put an instant stop to fashionable journalistic treason. Throw one Seymour Hersh in the can, and watch the rest of the cowardly community of scribblers run for cover. But Pipes is obviously correct, an effective Ministry of Information is worth more than an armored corps in today’s world.