Need more evidence that we have public relations problems in Iraq? Check this week’s Newsweek. A particularly telling passage from an article titled “How the U.S. is Losing the PR War in Iraq”:
Guerrillas have always sought alternative technologies to undermine their better-equipped enemies. What’s different now is the power and accessibility of such tools. Production work that once required a studio can now be done on a laptop. Compilation videos of attacks on U.S. forces sell in Baghdad markets for as little as 50 cents on video CDs. Advancements in cell-phone technology have made such devices particularly useful. Their small video files—the filming of Saddam Hussein’s hanging took up just over one megabyte—are especially easy to download and disseminate. “Literally, it’s only hours after an attack and [the videos] are available,” says Andrew Garfield, a British counterinsurgency expert who has advised U.S. forces in Baghdad. “You can really say it’s only a cell-phone call away.”
What the insurgents understand better than the Americans is how Iraqis consume information. Tapes of beheadings are stored on cell phones along with baby pictures and wedding videos. Popular Arab satellite channels like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya air far more graphic images than are typically seen on U.S. TV—leaving the impression, say U.S. military officials, that America is on the run. At the extreme is the Zawra channel, run by former Sunni parliamentarian Mishan Jibouri, who fled to Syria last year after being accused of corruption. (Jibouri says he’s being persecuted for political reasons, and can return to Iraq whenever he wants.) Since November the channel has been spewing out an unending series of videos showing American soldiers being killed in sniper and IED attacks. The clips are accompanied by commentary, often in English, admonishing Iraqis to “focus your utmost rage against the occupation.” Among Sunnis and even some Shiites, Zawra has become one of the most popular stations in Iraq. “I get e-mails from girls in their 20s from Arab countries; some of them are very wealthy,” Jibouri boasts. “Some offer to work for free, some offer money.”
Bottom line: They get new media. We don’t.
It has been several months since the Pentagon announced a reorganization of how the military will approach new media, under the direction of Alison Barber, a deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.
Have we heard anything else about this? Where are our successes in the realm of new media?
Update: Defense Tech has a great post on this as well. A must read.