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Non-kinetic information operations

On Friday, the House of Congress passed bill H Res 861 EH [pdf], which cunningly rolled approval of actions in Iraq into support for the “war on terror” generally. The bill ends by saying that the House:

(7) declares that the United States will prevail in the Global War on Terror, the noble struggle to protect freedom from the terrorist adversary.

Subtle, no? If you voted against the bill, you must want the US to lose the GWOT. The main point of the bill was to prevent any timetable for withdrawal of American troops. It was expressed like this:

[The House . . . ] (3) declares that it is not in the national security interest of the United States to set an arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Iraq;

This is of course a tautology, signalled by the cunning use of the word “arbitrary”. Of course it’s not in the interest, national-security or otherwise, of the US to perform any action that is “arbitrary”, ie without reason, unless Congress is populated by a bunch of Sartre-loving existentialists voting for their inalienable right to perform actes gratuites. The question of whether there might be good reasons to set a date for withdrawal, whether there could be a date that is not arbitrary, is shut down before it arises.

Prior to the debate, the Pentagon had taken the precaution of issuing to Republican representatives a 74-page Iraq Floor Debate Prep Book [.doc] [html]. It’s worth reading for its dedication to the Unspeak cause, if not for its attempt at sick humour . . .

Among the Prep Book’s prefabricated rebuttal bullets for anticipated Democratic carping are statements such as the following: the enemy want to “use their growing Islamic empire to gain WMD capabilities and control oil reserves” (the fear of a “growing Islamic empire” happily recalls President Reagan’s talk of an “Evil Empire”); and “Numerous countries that were part of the problem before September 11 are now increasingly becoming part of the solution” (for some ways in which Jordan, for instance, is “part of the solution”, see this post).

The Prep Book also contains much about how Iraq must become “a modern, private sector-oriented one in which the market is allowed to play the leading role”, and “create a sustainable economy that rewards innovation and investment”. It is true that many companies, not excluding notorious US conglomerates, have already been handsomely “rewarded” for their “investment’ in the country. To the charge that the US presence in Iraq is “counterproductive”, meanwhile, the Prep Book responds with a wonderful euphemism:

The solution that we prefer is non-kinetic, and that is indeed working to meet the basic needs of the people of Iraq.

A “kinetic” solution would be the use of fast-moving bits of hot metal. It is good to know that the Pentagon prefers non-kinetic solutions, though this preference does not appear to have trickled down to everyone on the ground. Meanwhile, the best news is that:

U.S. Marine and Army combat effectiveness – combined with very effective information operations – has taken the fun out of Jihad.

The mind boggles. Of course, we know what kind of “information operations” are being referred to. But taking the fun out of Jihad is a bizarre concept. Since the vast majority of Muslims consider “jihad” to mean primarily the individual’s personal struggle to be virtuous, it is unclear why the US military would want to take the “fun” out of it, unless they are operating under the bias of a particularly ascetic and pleasure-denying interpretation of Christian morality. On the other hand, if the Prep Book is using the word “Jihad” in the familiarly loose and prejudicial sense to mean Al Qaeda-type terrorism, it is still unclear how much “fun” suicide bombers suppose themselves to be having at the moment of death; whether “fun” is really the point at all.

Perhaps most disappointingly, the attempt to construct a chirpily upbeat slogan for victory in the “war on terror” is just not very clever. The letters of “fun” do not appear in the word “jihad”, so it doesn’t make a very good verbal joke. Surely we can do better? How about taking the “t” out of “terrorism”? Taking the “IQ” out of “Iraq”? Or even taking the “I had” out of “Jihadism”? Well, I’m just an amateur. Surely some punster in psyops can do better?

  1. 1  sw  June 18, 2006, 10:46 pm 

    Surely, taking the “yee-ha!” out of “jihad” (Spanish pron.) was what they were alluding to?

  2. 2  Steven Poole  June 18, 2006, 11:03 pm 

    Leaving us with D, for death, or defeat? Yes, I like it.

  3. 3  arbuthnotite  June 19, 2006, 7:19 pm 

    Taking the “vile” out of “violence” leaves “once”…. Ah, must do better.

  4. 4  Sohail  June 25, 2006, 1:27 am 

    Hello Steve

    There is nothing at all peculiar or tautologous about the bill’s reference to setting an “arbitary date” for withdrawal from Iraq. In fact it makes perfect sense (and is straightforwardly logical) if you permit yourself to enter a neo-conservative logic of US foreign policy. In fact in this sense, there is in effect a fairly clear internal logical consistency to US declared intentions in Iraq.

    Now, of course, if you don’t happen to like the neo-cons, the Republicans or more specifically the Bush adminstration (and as it happens I don’t :-)) those are all totally separate questions.

    Which is why it seems to me that the sort of questions you need to build up in your analyses is something like: why are the Neo-cons fixated with Iraq or why are they, say, obsesssed with executing the “war on terror”? Well, as I read it, it’s got everything to do with outdoing their main economic rivals namely China, India, Japan and the EU. Iraq (and more broadly the Middle East) is of course an enormous power lever which gives the US unmatchable leverage over her adversaries. This is why it makes perfect sense to me when the neo-con led ruling elite tells us it is not in the “national interest of the USA to set an arbitary date”. Indeed! As far as current US foreign policy planners are concerned, it makes absolutely NO sense to “arbitarily” withdraw from Iraq for the very the same reasons that France and Britain fought for control of Iraq in the wake of WW1 and then relinquished this prize to the Americans after WW2.

    In short, my point is that it makes very little sense to decontextualise arguments (and more specifically decontextualise text fragments) and then smugly hack away at them as one might at a strawman.



  5. 5  Steven Poole  June 25, 2006, 2:57 pm 

    Sohail, you offer a subtle and nuanced thesis indeed as to why the US does not want to withdraw from Iraq.

    Without addressing the motivations about which you theorize, I was merely pointing out, smugly or otherwise, that the language of an “arbitrary” date in the bill is clever since it rigs the argument so that an opponent must say that he has no good reason for setting any one date rather than another, or rather than none at all.

    You have simply missed or ignored this point.

  6. 6  Inigo Jones  July 3, 2006, 11:03 pm 

    US Marine and Army combat effectiveness has taken the fun out of (Islamic) Fundamentalism.

    Could that have been in the original, and edited out for sounding flippant?

  7. 7  Steven Poole  July 4, 2006, 1:26 am 

    Good theory, although it would be even more flippant if it had said they’ve taken the funda out of “fundamentalism”…

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