Okay, I’ll yank the band-aid…
My email inbox is afire, message boards are muttering, posts are being made based on this here blog and comments on Steeljaw’s post. The bottom line is that a flag officer’s comments are getting some play around the blogosphere. Kudos to the man for engaging; stand by for return fire, I guess. New media is sometimes more like the JOPA sitting around with a beer than Dust Covered Minutiae Quarterly, but you can’t miss those golden nuggets you pick up with the JOPA. If we on active duty don’t get engaged effectively with new media, and I don’t mean by “information prevention” methods, then we cede any relevant arguments to whoever actually shows up and is effective. Worse, we could shut down the “forceful backup” we should be getting and wind up with silly decisions that cost a lot or drive the sailors crazy. We could also find ourselves in the same situation that a former Air Force Chief of Staff did in realizing the need to engage with media too late to learn and make public communication mistakes at a junior level (from an article in the Autumn 1998 Airpower Journal) :
Of all the freedom-of-speech cases involving high-ranking military leaders, that of General [Michael] Dugan is, to me at least, one of the most troublesome. On taking up the reins as chief of staff of the Air Force in the summer of 1990, General Dugan announced publicly that he wanted senior Air Force officers to be more open with reporters: “I think that the leaders . . . need to be upfront, they need to take the gaff that goes with it.”
This policy of openness would prove his undoing. In September 1990 during a tour of US forces deployed in the Gulf preparatory to Operation Desert Storm, General Dugan took the risky step of making himself and five senior generals of the Air Staff available for press interviews focused on US strategy, with particular emphasis on the prominent role to be played by airpower. The resulting story made front-page news in the Washington Post on Sunday, 16 September 1990, with the headline reading “U.S. to Rely on Air Strikes If War Erupts.”
In his autobiography My American Journey, Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, summed up what he regarded as the objectionable positions expressed by General Dugan during the interviews: “Among the things Dugan was quoted as saying in the Post article were that ‘airpower is the only answer that’s available to our country’; that the Israelis had advised him ‘the best way to hurt Saddam’ was to target his family, his personal guard, and his mistress; that Dugan did not ‘expect to be concerned’ with political constraints in selecting bombing targets; that Iraq’s air force had ‘very limited military capability’; and that its army was ‘incompetent.’ ”
The next day, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney peremptorily relieved Dugan, charging the general with “lack of judgment” in disclosing “operational details” and in addressing “decisions that may or may not be made by the president in the future.”
The need to engage with media is more important in a war where the enemy looks at the information effect before he executes. From the .pdf file in this link:
We typically design physical operations first, then craft supporting information operations to explain our actions. This is the reverse of al-Qaida’s approach. For all our professionalism, compared to the enemy’s, our public information is an afterthought. In military terms, for al-Qaida the ‘main effort’ is information; for us, information is a ‘supporting effort.
Countering the Terrorist Mentality,
New Paradigms for 21st Century Conflict
However, an officer interacts at career peril even in public affairs issues, making it terribly difficult to warm to thinking about media. (An example discussion of this, from a 2004 post).
Here’s a small roundup of response to the admiral’s comments.
- Small Wars Journal is happy about the shout out. They deserve it; they’ve done good work. Don’t get cocky, y’all.
- Galrahn responds more directly, with a assertion of credibility and standing, and an implied challenge for the blogosphere to be taken seriously by Big Navy.
But here is an unavoidable truth. No one from the Navy has ever contacted me to suggest information I am presenting is inaccurate, but both the industry and members of Congress have. If the Navy is frustrated about the accuracy of information on blogs, then quit conceding the conversation to others; engage it. It isn’t like the authors on the blog are hard to reach, the email address is posted on the top of the blog.
- Lex responds with a different challenge: for Big Navy to catch up with new media.
But there are senior officers out there who would dearly like to constrain the limits of what’s considered acceptable debate. Used to be folks could vent on the pages of the Naval Institute Proceedings, and we could have a real professional discourse. Then a couple of heretics got burned, and everyone else got a whiff.
There aren’t any easy choices when you get to the three-star and above ranks: There are never enough resources to go around, someone has to decide, and everybody else is charged with making it happen. Otherwise it becomes the State Department, and we’ve already got one of those.
Still, there’s something to be said for transparency in the airing of alternate viewpoints. Flag officers, brilliant though they often are, tend to live in a bubble, surrounded by those who have a vested interest in ensuring them that everything’s fine, no reason to worry. Step away from the window.
- Maggie hopes she isn’t the target of the broadside.
- Jules Crittenden takes the comments “mainstream” (blogosphere-wise, anyway) and gets an Instalanche for his trouble.
- CDR Salamander also rounds up and mentions CAPT Toti’s cautionary article about publishing and avoiding being the one used to pour encourager les autres.
- Update: Spencer Ackerman weighs in as well, emphasizing the value of the conversational nature of blogging as journalism vice straight reporting.