Friday, September 08, 2006

What would Stonewall Jackson Do?

In the recent series of guest posts by Owen Johnson on Shrinkwrapped’s blog, an important part of Mr. Johnson’s focus was on the Information War (IW), both the strategy and tactics that are used by the Jihadis (his preferred word for what Gates of Vienna has often termed “the Islamofascists”) to win sympathy and gain credibility for its murderous campaign.

CENTCOMIn that theatre of this Long War, Centcom has been playing catch-up. But at least they are now actively in the game; among other things, they have an listserve that periodically sends out military news about the situation in the Middle East to anyone who has signed up for the mailings. Even better, they solicited friendly blogs, asking that they become involved.

So, earlier this week Gates of Vienna was sent a CENTCOM CCPA Electronic Media notice which linked to a story and an interview in The St. Petersburg Times, which is more or less the hometown newspaper for McDill AFB, where Centcom headquarters is located. The linked articles combined an interview with General Abizaid by Times staff writer, Paul De La Garza, along with an “imbed” account by the same writer as he accompanied Abizaid on one of his frequent in-person tours of some of the hotspots in the Middle East sectors Abizaid commands.

[Unfortunately, CENTCOM has some kinks to work out in its communications. The link they sent on September 5th, and which I opened, then copying the story, was bad by the time I came to write this post. In order to find the story at all, I had to hunt through Google news for the original article in the Times. This underlines the growing need for grungy geeks in the ranks . It’s going to have to change its rules of admission to attract the nerds/hackers it needs to fight the Information War. We need guys who started playing with computer programming when they were six years old, not military men who are assigned an MOS in the computer field based on their intelligence. We need someone who can build a web page without even thinking about it, and based on my experience with trying to access their links, CENTCOM does not yet have that capacity.]

Meanwhile, in the real (vs. the virtual) battle, there is no substitute for on-the-ground, in-the-flesh appearances by commanders in the field of battle. When the top banana does show up, it makes a real impact on those who serve under daily grave and dangerous threat. On this particular trip, lasting five days, General Abizaid hit Qatar (the regional headquarters in the Middle East for Centcom), followed by a visit to the USS McFaul in the North Persian Gulf, before going on to Kabul and Kandahar in Afghanistan, and ending with several appearances in Baghdad.

The Times staff writer gave us a straight-forward and often humorous account of Abizaid’s trip and the some of the effects his presence had on the troops. As an addendum to the story, the author notes that he and his photographer met up with the General in Qatar on July 18th and accompanied him from there. In addition to his own work, the author cited Abizaid’s staff for providing background briefings. After the trip, Abizaid “granted the newspaper a one-on-one interview in Qatar and a subsequent telephone interview in Tampa.” But here is the telling sentence at the close: “the trip had been under discussion nearly three years.” [emphasis mine]

Pardon me?? Exactly why did it take three years for Centcom to give the hometown newspaper this kind of access? If this is the military’s version of moving quickly in the Information War, someone needs to reconstitute the cavalry to lead this charge because it’s obvious that the brass are foot-dragging when it comes to strategy and planning for this theatre — i.e., the War of Information.

In other words, Centcom is still on foot — as though they were the infantry — while the enemy has managed to wrap up the more seditious members of the MSM. The Jihadis use the media 24/7 to get their message out. This story took place in July, and Centcom just got around to emailing its friends about it. Don’t you wonder how many layers this went through before they finally hit the “send” button? It’s bad enough that we have to put up with the treason of old grey doxy in New York City, but it’s alarming that we are also forced to witness the slooow response of those in charge to the media situation.

Recently, the Navy ordered its admirals to get out and mingle. According to an article on The Strategy Page, the Chief of Naval Operations sent down an order to get out and mingle. How often do they have to put themselves out there to meet and greet the public? Once or twice a year. Needless to say, those affected are grumbling about this onerous duty.

The military is slow to change. It tends to be conservative (in the old meaning of that word) in its thinking and demeanor. As the famous adage goes, they’re always fighting the last war. In some ways, this is a good thing. You can’t have a bunch of Hotspurs running things. On the other hand, if those in command don’t wake up and smell the (Arabic) coffee, they may as well surrender now and save some soldiers’ lives.

The military is also insular, and for good reason. Those who have served in battle (see Winds of Change, “The Smell of Death”) are set apart by their experience. However, the former rules of engagement have now been cast aside by the enemy, and our military leaders had better be quickly about the business of learning how to play the Information War game. They owe it to their men, and they owe it to us.

So what would Stonewall Jackson do? Why, he’d be in the thick of it, giving interviews, dragging reporters through campaigns and making sure they understood the facts on the ground and the stakes of the game. Jackson died with his boots on, leading his men. In this day and age, he wouldn’t be on a horse, he’d be in a helicopter, headed for the next speech or the next meeting with his men. That’s what Stonewall Jackson would do.

Get a move on, you lardbuckets generals and admirals cluttering up the Pentagon. You have left so many important tasks undone when it comes to informing the American people of what this is about that even if you start tomorrow and work it like a real soldier or sailor, you’ll be years just breaking even.

John Boyd was right back when he told his colonels that they had a choice: they could either “be somebody” — i.e., go for a staff position and be groomed to act the part of a general, or they could “do something” with their lives by serving their men. Things haven’t changed.


Papa Ray said...

I've heard stories from my retired buds about trips by the "brass", most of them here in the States.

It seems that for one General (or Admiral, we don't know, cause we ain't got no swabbies in our band of ol' war dogs)to get out and "mingle" it takes a huge amount of money, time, resources and things you wouldn't even believe for it to happen and it never seems to please the said General.

First off, they can't travel without their staff, they may leave a couple of staff wennies to answer the phone and such, but they bring the other two dozen with them. Of course they can't rely on regular commo enroute or at their destinations so they have to bring a platoon of commo guys and all the truck (or plane) loads of gear with them.

So, it's not like it was back in the day, where you might have had an aide or two and your horse and his stable man.

No, not anymore.

P.S. as all of us retired before 9/11 (except for one Jarhead) we are hoping things are a little different and more streamlined now.

But we doubt it.

Papa Ray
West Texas

Profitsbeard said...

Not to muddy the metaphor, but wasn't Stonewall Jackson accidentally killed by a volley fired his own confused men? And didn't he die from complications of his 'friendly fire' injuries, in bed, 8 days later, sans boots and nowhere near his troops?

In that case, "What would Stonewall Jackson do?"

He'd say: "Damn! This sucks!"

(Which is just what I say about Islam.)