Grand Strategy: Winning Hearts and Minds

In Columns, Opinion

Ten years after a band of sadistic bastards leveled part of the New York City skyline, bin Laden is sleeping with the fishes and al-Qaida has been scattered – two victories buried in the disproportionate response to a single terrorist attack.Because the United States lacked a cohesive response strategy, our country has expended enormous amounts of blood, money and political capital on militarily fighting the War on Terror, and has incurred deadly costs to our global position as a direct result. One effective alternative to military responses to terrorism is the use of psychological operations (PSYOP).

A recent study by Brown University found that more than 8,300 American soldiers and military contractors have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, with 150,000 being wounded.
The financial cost is estimated to be between $3.2 trillion and $4 trillion, and continues to increase daily. Obviously, the military should be deployed judiciously and with much strategic forethought.

If you don’t think these figures will directly affect you, think again. It is our generation that will be required to foot the bill for every destroyed Humvee and dead soldier lost to the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Of course, there were far better alternatives than fumbling and costly methods which we employed.

After being confronted by the gruesome images of helpless people jumping out of the burning towers, Americans naturally came together to confront the terrorist threat. Most of us can remember precisely where we were at the time of the attacks ten years ago, and certainly can recall the climate of fear which al-Qaida was intending to produce. We were glued to our televisions as members of Congress and President Bush shook their fists and directed their rhetoric toward the Taliban and Iraq, which were not linked to the 9/11 attacks. Celebrating the deceptively positive results, we cheered at the images of the American military marching victoriously into Baghdad amidst falling statues of a violent dictator. Our nation was witness to the tactical prowess and formidable power of the U.S. military, to be sure, but here was the strategy behind extending the conflicts in the Middle East beyond the annihilation of al-Qaida and its affiliates?

Nation building, infrastructure modernization and social activism are neither proper nor effective reasons to deploy our armed forces. Clearly, if there was a strategy from the start of the conflict, it was obscured and badly distorted by political interests. Military interventions that are unfocused in such a way are costly and largely ineffective. A more effective mode of warfare should have been used as a primary method of deterrence against al-Qaida and the extended terrorist networks of Islamic radicals: psychological warfare.

When analyzing the 9/11 attacks, we must keep in mind that the attacks were carried out by civilians, through a civilian infrastructure, against civilian targets. Otherwise normal men were snatched from the harsh realities of life in their home countries and radicalized to participate in al-Qaida’s mission of jihad.

Forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman found in his study of 400 al-Qaida members that they had “normal psychology” and “normal group dynamics.” He added that “the right normal people, given the right circumstances or right set of friends, can become suicide bombers,” and that “these are the best and brightest of their society in many ways.” Sadly, terrorists are simply men caught in ideological prisms and social structures which make their horrific behavior quite predictable. As psychologist Philip Zimbardo wrote in his book The Lucifer Effect, “any deed that any human being has ever committed, however horrible, is possible for any of us – under the right or wrong situational circumstances.” In Zimbardo’s famed prison experiment, he showed that perfectly normal people could become monstrous and abusive simply based on their environment and social support structure.

Understanding this, it is clear that the best way to stop terrorism is to stop terrorists from being made; terrorists are made, not born.The use of PSYOP tactics against crazed clerics and their ilk would help to deter the spread of radical Islam. Without a violent belief system and a social structure that supports it, many of the men who would otherwise become terrorists should be able to peacefully say prayers toward Mecca without the obligatory “death to the infidels!”

Maj. Ed Rouse of the U.S. Army (retired) is a former PSYOP specialist and runs a website detailing the intricacies of psychological operations. He writes, “Utilization of PSYOP can prevent needless bloodshed, destruction and misery. That is why we say, with conviction, that psychological operations, or PSYOP, is truly a humane weapon.”

Psychological operations may not be as effective as Jedi mind tricks, but the best way to dampen religious fanaticism is with a healthy dose of science and a bit of insight into the human brain.

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4 commentsOn Grand Strategy: Winning Hearts and Minds

  • Brilliant pieced scathed with a few blunders from your copy editors, shows how enflamed you were writing this. You seem to have two proposed conclusions: we responded rash or we responded with a false agenda. Very different article to the others in 9/11. It seems portrayed unpatriotic when anyone mentions 1 million Iraqis have been killed over seasons from this one isolated attack. If our pain is so deep, Imagine them. And as the Prison study you referenced, now that we understand any person can be manipulated depending on the situation, shouldn’t the tactics we use be forced on reversing this? Again great piece, enjoy reading passionate realism for a change

  • Brilliant piece Peter.

  • Great article again, Peter, but as usual, I have a few items of my own to offer in contrast.

    The assumption in paragraph one is the obvious one that America was in fact attacked by terrorists. We have been told we were but is that really true? The military precision of the impacts of the planes on the towers and circumstantial evidence during and after the mysterious and total disintegration of those buildings and everything in them and the absolutely inexplicable “collapse” of building 7 which wasn’t hit by anything at all lead me to believe something else was afoot here. There is no way that a bunch of desert and cave-bound nomads normally availing themselves of camels and donkeys for transportation suddenly acquire the necessary funds, skills and military prowess not only to fly 4 modern American planes to their and their occupant’s doom, but also to take down two plane-proof buildings reducing each building with a circumference of one acre to a neat little pile of debris right into that very footprint. Evaporated steel, no concrete anywhere, no trace of computers, hard drives, toilets, desks, filing cabinets, NOTHING at all outside of the steel trusses from the outer shell of the buildings, even the core steel beams had largely vanished! That just made no sense at all. The official 9/11 report is riddled with incorrect information and untested theories and has become a laughing stock not because of what it contains but for what was omitted!

    To me, and many, many people in the US and abroad, 9/11 was a false flag operation that permitted some very wealthy individuals, bankers, war machine industrialists and certainly some key government officials in the Bush administration to wage a war that would not have been possible without it. I shall spare you the details but anyone who claims to have a brain and says they use it must question the official version of events on that ill-fated day, and ultra-black page in America’s history.

    America has outsourced almost all of its production capabilities in every imaginable field since NAFTA (1994), especially engineering, steel production, electronics, machine tools, construction tools, etc. Even the most basic of our needs are now supplied by our Communist buddies from China. But not arms and military equipment. In that field the US is the supreme manufacturer, supplier and marketer of top grade “products”. And we supply bodies to boot, live ones that is… Also known derogatorily, especially in skeptical circles, as cannon fodder.

    If Psychological Operations (PSYOPs) were all that is necessary to prevent an all out hot war with the huge price tag of trillions of dollars and filled body bags and caskets that get offloaded from planes in the dead of the night so no one notices, why indeed the need for all the hardware and the brave young soldiers who are/were “fighting for our freedom”? Somebody has been making a sickening profit out of this war and still is. Many of us even know who, but none of us dare openly point a finger to the culprit for fear of our lives. Such is the nature of politics today that much of the real shenanigans behind locked doors and in backroom deals can no longer be talked about privately or publicly. Jefferson was right when he said that when people are afraid of their government there is tyranny and when a government is afraid of the people there is liberty! Would you say that today’s governments are afraid of the people?

    True, much more effective means than all-out war, expending x-amount of soldiers and hardware could have been utilized to effect the needed changes but that was NEVER their goal nor intention. One doesn’t make money that way. In the same manner oil companies are no longer satisfied with modest profits and now require huge profits. Such insatiable thirst for profit can only be quenched by raising the prices of crude oil pushing gasoline prices into the stratosphere and keep them there even when the bottom falls out of crude oil prices later. Similarly those big war profits can only be generated if they can make the sheeple pay for it. And they do as you so eloquently posited in your essay, every April 15.

    Relating the indoctrination of Jihadists with the Zimbardo Prison experiment (some students may recall the second episode of the third and final season of Veronica Mars in 2006 re-enacting it) is pretty appropriate considering how young and impressionable Muslims are treated in various Madrassas and Mosques in Europe. With the relentless expansion and conquering of European nations and now also the United States, the armies of Muhajideen jihadists only grow larger and larger with US aggression in Arab lands being a major contributing factor.

    It comes across to this writer that the presence of the US military in Arab lands and the various “accidentally discovered” hideous facts such as the misdeeds at the Abu Grhaib prison were purposely perpetrated in order to create more “customers” through hate for the small, ultra wealthy cabal of warfare dealers that own the US arms industry and Congress. It is this writer’s belief that these are the real culprits in the 9/11 disasters, the subsequent sequestration of the public from its liberties and the never-ending “war on terrorism.” It is their implicit goal to keep the war going for as long as the government will support it.

    Finally, a PSYOPs’ main purpose is to induce or reinforce behavior modification, or to intimidate a target group into giving up liberties, rights or simply to scare the group’s members to death and submit to an authority.

    Contrary to what some online sources claim, psyops are not limited to foreign nations, they are used ad nauseam within the United States itself; the continuous barrage of Problem-Reaction-Solution (PRS) media events lately are good examples: the overblown hype regarding Hurricane Irene and the tired old cliched “credible evidence of a coming terror attack” on the anniversary of 9/11 are but two examples. Some of the more notorious were not executed without collateral damage, however: the Columbine shootings and various other high profile school massacres and the shooting of the Arizona Congress woman in Tucson are rumored to have been psyops to force the people to accept gun control. Makes ya think, doesn’t it?

  • Lol Willaim, those “desert nomads” were funded by Osama Bin Laden. Not surprisingly, he was one of the richest men In the world, so they didn’t “suddenly” find money under a rock. And just because they’re from afganistan doesn’t mean they’re cave men who can’t take flying lessons. And what the hell does “plane proof” mean? Do you mean able to withstand 747 collisions? No such thing buddy. I read the first paragraph, which was mostly conspiracy theories, then moved on, so forgive me for not responding to the rest.

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