Swans Commentary » swans.com March 13, 2006  



The Insurgent Word: Information Environment


by Gerard Donnelly Smith





(Swans - March 13, 2006)   If the United States and its "coalition of the willing" are the alleged good guys, as we have been reminded over and over again by President Bush, then how did we lose the control of the "information environment"? In speech after speech, President Bush claims that we have "spread freedom" and "democracy" wherever the US military goes. He claims over and over again that "We are at war to spread peace." Such a reversal of logic would embed the Peace Corps and the Red Cross in the Pentagon. President Bush has routinely called entire nations "evil" or part of an "axis of evil," has supported the withdrawal of humanitarian aid, has suspended the Geneva Conventions for the treatment of prisoners of war, allowing for abuse and torture of individuals who never were "enemy combatants" or "terrorists."

According to Maj. Norman Emery in "Fighting Terrorism and Insurgency: Shaping the Information Environment,"

the information environment consists of information that resides in the mind, physical world, and electromagnetic spectrum. Boundaries are "not limited to the linear battlespace that military commanders conceptualize, [and] activities in the information environment often shape a commander's understanding of the battle and can profoundly affect his decisions in the physical environment" [Joint Doctrine for Information Operations]. For example, forces providing security to a population is an act in the physical environment, but the population's perception of security is in the information environment. Military leaders and planners must understand that the PE and IE domains exist in simultaneous yet separate battlespaces.

In other words, one must win the hearts and minds of the population; if the population that supports the insurgency sees the "liberating force" as a hostile occupier, then the information "battle" has been lost. Mistakes made in Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, and Guantánamo create the "perception" in the population's mind that the U.S., rather than bringing freedom, peace, and justice to their country, have instead continued the massacres and tortures of the past.

Regardless of the overall mission, the negative words and actions of both political and military personnel, including those pundits who support them, serve to support the insurgency. Printing political cartoons that depict the Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist undermine freedom of speech, as does all hate speech. Desecrating the Koran, or any other religious icon (swastikas on synagogues, for example) are weapons in the "battlespace," the military calls the information environment. Civilian and military action result from policies of political leaders; when the political leaders use religious language to present their agendas, the inquisition has already begun.

When the insurgency has popular support, any counter-insurgency will fail. Such was the case in Algeria, in Vietnam, and in the United States during its revolution. In Palestine and in Lebanon, a popular insurgency -- just like Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland -- has won political legitimacy in a fair, democratic election. Control over an information "battlespace" has been decided.

Rather than send emissaries to provide a physical symbol to influence the information environment, both Israel and the United States send other messages: withholding of aid. Such messages only fuel to reinforce the "perception" that the insurgency was correct all along, and that without them, the legitimate grievances of the population would not have been addressed or corrected. Actions such as withholding food, medicine, and capital for economic development fuel insurgencies. Righteous indignation over such heavy-handed actions becomes the insurgent's greatest recruitment tool. Children dying from malnutrition and from lack of medical treatment represent physical evidence -- hard information -- that cannot be refuted by rhetoric or propaganda in the "electromagnetic spectrum."

Instead of admitting that years of oppression created the popular insurgency that achieved its political ends, the Bush administration decided to "control" the information battlespace by threats, and by using food and medical aid as a weapon -- a very familiar humanitarian gesture on its part. Rather than listen diplomatically to grievances, grievances are ignored while information is framed to shape the public's perception.

"The true tests for Hamas and terrorist organizations is the complete dismantlement of their terrorist networks, their capacity to blow up the peace process," said President Bush at the European Union Summit in June of 2003. Concerning the cease-fire that had recently been signed between Israel and Palestine, Bush reiterated: "It's one thing to make a verbal agreement, but in order for there to be peace in the Middle East, we must see organizations such as Hamas dismantled. And then we'll have peace, then we'll have a chance for peace."

To the dismay of both the Israelis and the Bush administration, Hamas was not dismantled; to the contrary, it overwhelmingly took legitimate control of the Palestinian government. The democratic process in Palestine, monitored by the United Nations, gave a victory to an insurgency that has used suicide bombings to achieve its political ends. At first, shocked that this "terrorist" group had won, the Bush administration acted conciliatory, stating that they would work with Hamas to achieve peace if the new Palestinian government would renounce its avowal to destroy Israel.

Then the US administration began the pressure to disarm the military arm of Hamas using food and medical supplies as a weapon. Bush declared to the CBS Evening News that "If they don't, we won't deal with them. The aid packages won't go forward. That's their decision to make, but we won't be providing help to a government that wants to destroy our ally and friend." Later, the Israeli government withheld tax revenue that belonged to the Palestinian government, citing national security and fears that the money would be used by Hamas to threaten national security.

However, those threats only further reinforced the "perception" that neither Israel nor the U.S. are interested in democracy, if democracy doesn't fit their plans. In contrast, other Arab states have sent monetary support to the new government, sending a clear message that they support the democratic process. Whenever a popular movement threatens the interest of the U.S., whether in Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, or in the Middle East, the U.S. uses physical means to control the "information environment," including sanctions and military intervention.

Indeed, the recent nuclear fuel and technology negotiations between India and the U.S. emphasize this hypocritical foreign policy. While Iran, a Muslim state, is defined as part of the "axis of evil" and thus prohibited from developing nuclear energy, India is encouraged to develop it and promised US nuclear technology even though India has never signed the non-nuclear proliferation treaty.

Such blatant hypocrisy doesn't go unnoticed in this "information age." The lies, the double-dealing, and the betrayals are routinely exposed: the truth will come out. Then, who has won the battle of the "information environment"?

Former military leaders like General Wesley Clark express grave concern about how the policies of the Bush administration may have helped Hamas and Hezbolla gain democratic victories in Palestine and Lebanon. In both instances foreign policy analysts and war strategists explain that the U.S. first lost control of the information environment and second, lost control of the physical environment. Just as in Iraq, exclaims Clark, the most extreme groups will gain democratic control if the hearts and minds of the people are lost.

One must ask, how are the hearts and the minds of the people lost? If those people desire freedom and peace, then should one bring freedom and peace by the sword? Does one win the battle for hearts and minds by starving children, by ensuring that disease kills them, by bulldozing houses and bombing villages "suspected" of housing terrorist? In the minds of the "people" being starved and bombed, this information does not create a "perception." Rather, it creates an undeniable "fact" in the "physical" environment. Here is the fact created: Those who claim to fight the war on terror are themselves terrorists.


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About the Author

Gerard Donnelly Smith on Swans (with bio).



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Published March 13, 2006