News | July 5, 2018

Bombs, Not Broadcasts: U.S. Preference for Kinetic Strategy in Asymmetric Conflict

By Cole Livieratos Joint Force Quarterly 90

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Captain Cole Livieratos, USA, is a Ph.D. candidate at Georgetown University.

Airman prepares inert weapon for loading during annual weapons load competition in Hangar One at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, January 20, 2016 (U.S. Air Force/Preston Cherry)
Airman prepares inert weapon for loading during annual weapons load competition in Hangar One at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, January 20, 2016 (U.S. Air Force/Preston Cherry)
Airman prepares inert weapon for loading during annual weapons load competition in Hangar One at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, January 20, 2016 (U.S. Air Force/Preston Cherry)
Airman prepares inert weapon for loading during annual weapons load competition
Airman prepares inert weapon for loading during annual weapons load competition in Hangar One at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, January 20, 2016 (U.S. Air Force/Preston Cherry)
Photo By: Airman 1st Class Preston Cherry
VIRIN: 170120-F-EQ149-997

In 2016, the United States dropped 24,287 bombs in Iraq and Syria targeting so-called Islamic State (IS) fighters as part of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR). The authority to release ordnance for a preplanned target in OIR has been delegated to brigadier generals and below (it is even lower for nonplanned targets in support of American or allied forces). If the U.S. military wishes to conduct an information operation, such as dropping leaflets or beginning a new series of radio broadcasts, the approval authority is higher—a major general. Any information operation conducted via the Internet or social media as part of OIR requires Pentagon-level approval. Despite mounting criticism of the use of American ordnance because of recent civilian casualties, the approval authority to release ordnance has not changed. In fact, President Donald Trump has signaled that he will delegate even greater authority for kinetic operations to military leaders, while the approval process for information operations remains the same.

The disparity in approval authorities between dropping bombs and dropping leaflets is puzzling for those who study foreign policy. Why is there less scrutiny over kinetic operations that have the potential to kill innocent civilians than over information operations that cannot physically harm anyone? This phenomenon is not unique to OIR in Iraq and Syria. The United States has regularly prioritized kinetic operations above information operations when fighting asymmetric conflicts. The hostilities in Vietnam, the second war in Iraq, and the operations in Afghanistan and Libya have all demonstrated heavy American reliance on kinetic operations (especially airpower) and a reluctance to focus on information operations at the strategic level. This article answers the question of why the United States consistently prefers kinetic strategies instead of information-centric strategies in asymmetric conflicts. Qualitative research, including examination of primary source materials, demonstrates that an “issue public coalition” highly scrutinizes military information operations, thereby raising the potential cost for military commanders to choose information-centric strategies. An existing military preference for kinetic operations—compared with a high level of scrutiny of information operations—makes it unlikely that military leaders will choose an information-centric strategy in asymmetric conflicts.

Issue Public Coalition, Military Culture, and Strategic Choice

An information-centric strategy can be conceived of as a military strategy that prioritizes informational tools, such as psychological operations, as a major component of the strategic approach. Strategies that are not information-centric rely on kinetic operations (including air strikes as well as raids and targeted strikes) and/or train and equip missions; these are referred to here as kinetic strategies. The term information operations refers to inform and influence activities and strategic communications more broadly. It is distinct from the military functional area of information operations (which includes psychological operations in addition to other components like electronic warfare, operations security, and military deception). Information operations can be conducted via the Internet, but in this article, the term is separate from cyber operations.

The military’s use of information as a tool is fundamentally different than the use of any military hardware because the military has a monopoly over hardware like tanks and bomber aircraft, but no such monopoly exists over information. The military competes in the information marketplace, or the marketplace of ideas, with others who trade in information as a profession. Journalists, academics, public relations professionals, and certain policymakers are in the business of generating or sharing information. Thomas Risse-Kappen separates the public into three disparate groups: the “mass public,” “attentive public” (which has a general interest in politics), and “issue public” attuned to specific policy issues.1

Members of the issue public from the marketplace of ideas represent a de facto coalition against the development and conduct of information operations by the military. This “issue public coalition” is not concerned with having to compete with the military over information, but it is concerned that military “weaponization” of information could undermine American credibility and negatively impact their professions.2 Even though the mass public readily accepts information as an influence technique in terms of consumer marketing or political campaigns, the issue public coalition argues that inform and influence activities conducted by the executive branch are more problematic, even when directed at foreign audiences. The coalition frames military information operations in a manner that puts these activities at odds with American political culture, painting military information operations as undemocratic or contrary to the freedom of speech rights guaranteed in the First Amendment. The issue public coalition therefore acts in accordance with what Elizabeth Kier describes when she argues that civilian groups constrain military doctrinal development because of concerns about the military’s power within the state.3 As a result, the level of scrutiny placed on military information operations is high—disproportionately greater than other types of military operations.

Individual agencies of the U.S. Government may self-select into the issue public coalition depending on the nature of a specific conflict or proposed military information operation. At times, the public affairs and public diplomacy sections in the State Department, members of the Intelligence Community (IC), and even the military’s own public affairs branch will join the issue public coalition seeking to limit the military’s use of information operations. Other government agencies that selectively join the issue public coalition may do so because of concerns about the military’s use of information undermining their credibility or infringing on their own operations. Though these turf battles may sometimes be made public, they often play out privately among organizations. The relationship between the Department of Defense (DOD) and IC fits this pattern. Tactical and operational coordination on information operations has traditionally been successful, but the IC is more likely to scrutinize strategic-level informational efforts by DOD. The nature of this scrutiny is different than public criticism from the media, but it pressures military commanders and raises the costs of conducting information operations nonetheless.

While the issue public coalition highly scrutinizes information operations, the military already has an organizational culture with a preference for kinetic operations. Commanders are not opposed to conducting information operations, but most commanders do not understand the process or understand the utility. If commanders do decide to use informational tools, they rarely integrate them throughout the entire operational planning process. As former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen wrote in an article for Joint Force Quarterly in 2009, “We’ve come to believe that messages are something we can launch downrange like a rocket, something we can fire for effect.”4 The military’s cultural preference for kinetic operations transcends its failure to comprehend information operations; its organizational structure, promotion system, professional military education, budget allocation, authorities, and even uniforms all reinforce this underlying preference for kinetic action. Combatant commanders in asymmetric conflicts are almost always selected from the infantry or a combat arms branch. Even within special operations units, theater special operations commanders, special operations task force commanders, and country-level special operations team leaders are almost all from the Army’s Special Forces or Navy SEALs, both of which prioritize kinetic activities, especially since 9/11. Few mechanisms prioritize or reward nonkinetic operations, even when those means appear to be better suited to achieve the conflict’s political goals.

Asymmetric conflicts should necessitate high involvement from all parts of the U.S. Government, but the reliance on the military to plan and execute asymmetric warfare since 9/11 has substantially increased. When policymakers commit the United States to an asymmetric conflict, such as Libya in 2011 or fighting the IS in Iraq and Syria starting in 2014, the military is primarily responsible for planning and executing strategy. With an organizational culture predisposed toward conventional kinetic methods and an elevated level of scrutiny from the issue public coalition on information operations, the risks and potential costs for military leaders to adopt an information-centric strategy are far too high. Military leaders default to something more familiar and less risky: a kinetic strategy. Through this lens, even civilian casualties from an air strike will be seemingly less costly to a military commander than an errant tweet. Though civilian casualties are likely to receive attention in the media, the issue public coalition is unlikely to frame the tragedy as a threat to American democratic values.

USS Harry S. Truman’s support of Operation Inherent Resolve demonstrates capability and flexibility of Navy and its resolve to eliminate so-called Islamic State, Mediterranean Sea, May 21, 2018 (U.S. Navy/Thomas Gooley)
USS Harry S. Truman’s support of Operation Inherent Resolve demonstrates capability and flexibility of Navy and its resolve to eliminate so-called Islamic State, Mediterranean Sea, May 21, 2018 (U.S. Navy/Thomas Gooley)
USS Harry S. Truman’s support of Operation Inherent Resolve demonstrates capability and flexibility of Navy and its resolve to eliminate so-called Islamic State, Mediterranean Sea, May 21, 2018 (U.S. Navy/Thomas Gooley)
USS Harry S. Truman’s support of Operation Inherent Resolve demonstrates capability and flexibility of Navy and its resolve to eliminate so-called Islamic State
USS Harry S. Truman’s support of Operation Inherent Resolve demonstrates capability and flexibility of Navy and its resolve to eliminate so-called Islamic State, Mediterranean Sea, May 21, 2018 (U.S. Navy/Thomas Gooley)
Photo By: Thomas Gooley, U.S. Navy
VIRIN: 180521-N-EA818-0050

Potential Counterarguments

Existing theories on asymmetric warfare, information operations, and state-society relations may offer counterarguments to the idea that decisions against information-centric strategies in asymmetric war result from an issue public coalition that scrutinizes military information operations and a military organizational culture predisposed toward kinetic action. The first of these counterarguments is that an information-centric strategy is a weapon of the weak and actors only choose this strategy to compensate for military strength. It is true that disparities in military capacity do result in belligerents selecting different strategies to maximize their strengths and attack their opponents’ weaknesses. However, several strong actors like Russia and Israel employ information as a major component of their strategy in asymmetric conflict, while several weak actors like Iraq (in 2003), Libya, and Ukraine do not prominently feature information operations. Additionally, well-executed information operations consume a large amount of resources. Actors like Russia and the IS decide to invest heavily in those capabilities, while many actors with similar capacity do not invest in technologies like media production and social media. While relative capacity may partially explain whether an actor uses an information-centric strategy, this alone does not appear to be a sufficient explanation.

A second potential counterargument to explain why we do not use information-centric strategies in asymmetric conflict is that the United States is simply bad at conducting information operations. There is some evidence to support the notion that U.S. military information operations have been ineffective.5 However, the evidence pointing to not prioritizing military information operations is insufficient for two reasons. First, even though the results of military information operations have been mixed, it has produced major successes along with its failures.6 In recent asymmetric conflicts, the results of more kinetic approaches have resulted in failure rather than success. It is difficult to argue that the United States should maintain its unsuccessful strategy. Second, military capabilities reflect the prioritization and resources invested in those capabilities. When the budget for military information operations was near its peak in fiscal year 2011, the total budget for strategic communications, information operations, and psychological operations was roughly $525 million.7 This amounted to only 0.07 percent of the total Defense Department budget of $708.2 billion that year.8 If success of information operations were a priority, this budget would be much larger. Furthermore, previous studies on asymmetric conflict suggests that stronger actors should match weaker actors’ strategies to prevail.9 American professional military educators regularly warn against ceding battleground to the enemy. In asymmetric conflicts, the decisive battleground is often not geographic space but the information environment and public perception. From a strategic perspective, it therefore is not logical for a stronger actor to cede the information domain to a weaker one.

A final potential counterargument is normative, positing that the U.S. military already is too involved in information operations and should not be conducting such activities to begin with. This argument is consistent with the issue public coalition’s criticism of military information operations. As previously noted by budgetary figures, the U.S. military is not too involved in information operations already. The argument that the military should not conduct information operations usually takes two forms: first, this activity should belong to other departments like the State Department or Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and second, it is against democratic principles for the executive branch (and especially the military) to conduct information operations. In response to the first point, DOD is explicitly charged with conducting these operations in support of military objectives worldwide.10 Properly conducted, information operations require close coordination between several agencies, but especially DOD, State, and the CIA. Each of these agencies should have a distinct role in information operations (or “public diplomacy” or “strategic communications” depending on the agency, target, and methods involved), but they should all mutually support one another. Second, the United States has a long history of the executive branch and the military conducting information operations, dating back to the Revolutionary War. The notion that this method of targeting foreign audiences is contrary to democratic principles or freedom of speech is mainly the result of framing from the issue public coalition.

The remainder of this article uses qualitative evidence since World War II to demonstrate how this framing progressed and became a regular fixture in foreign policy discourse.

Post–World War II and the Cold War

World War II and the early years of the Cold War reinforced the belief in information operations and the power of propaganda. To combat Soviet propaganda abroad, the United States created several agencies, institutions, and organizations in the early Cold War years. The United States Information Agency (USIA), the U.S. Agency for International Development, the political action component of the CIA, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, the Peace Corps, and the National Endowment for Democracy were all established during this period. Psychological warfare units, which are still employed today, were originally established during World War II. President Harry S. Truman officially founded the Army Special Forces (an outgrowth of the Army’s psychological warfare branch) in 1952.

Because of concerns over the use of information operations domestically, Congress passed the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, also known as the Smith-Mundt Act. This act specifically charges the Department of State (executed through USIA) with the conduct of information operations abroad and strictly prohibits targeting domestic audiences with public diplomacy/information operations. 11 Even though Smith-Mundt placed public diplomacy within the purview of State, Presidents Truman through Ronald Reagan knew the importance of developing the capability for information operations within the CIA and DOD. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower commissioned the Committee on International Information Activities (also known as the Jackson Committee) stating, “It has long been my conviction that a unified and dynamic effort in this field [information operations] is essential to the security of the United States and of the peoples in the community of free nations.”12 The committee concluded that psychological warfare was inseparable from other aspects of foreign policy and that such activities needed to be better coordinated and centralized. The military would continue developing these functions, but the committee recommended they privatize most their operations.

From the beginning of the Cold War until the early 1960s, the conduct of information operations and public diplomacy abroad was a major priority of the U.S. Government. The proliferation of agencies and organizations to conduct such activities, including growth of these organizations within the military, was understood and authorized by Congress to combat the Soviet threat.

Elite views and public discourse concerning information operations and the organizations that conducted these activities began to shift in the early 1960s. Many people in Congress and the media started to publicly object to military information programs around this time, but the formation of the issue public coalition can largely be attributed to Senator J. William Fulbright (D-AR). From 1960 through the end of his term as a Senator, Fulbright was the most vocal critic of Pentagon efforts to shape public opinion. He “investigated, exposed, and denounced as undemocratic many of the tactics and techniques that the Pentagon still uses today.”13 Fulbright believed that any attempt by the executive branch to “manufacture opinion” domestically or to foreign audiences was undemocratic, akin to “brainwashing.”14 Fulbright’s personal feud with the military can be traced to 1959, his first year as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He believed that the military interfered with Senate investigations into U.S. military participation in the black market in Turkey and that they subsequently censored news about the scandal in Stars and Stripes.15 Fulbright made it his personal mission to investigate and expose DOD information operations, which he increasingly thought were “trampling on democratic traditions and practices” by using “deceptive and coercive propaganda.”16 This battle culminated in his 1970 book The Pentagon Propaganda Machine.17 Fulbright’s immediate efforts to end all military information operations were unsuccessful, but his efforts spurred the rise in scholarly and media criticism of the government’s participation in the marketplace of ideas.18

Toward the end of the Cold War, President Reagan reemphasized the use of information as a tool of foreign policy to defeat Soviet propaganda and ideology across the globe. Largely due to his background in film and radio, Reagan knew the important and unique influence of information activities. He passed three separate National Security Decision Directives (NSDD)—in 1982, 1983, and 1984—to reorganize elements of the executive branch responsible for information operations, including the National Security Council, USIA, and the Department of State’s Office of Public Diplomacy.19 By giving these agencies additional authorities and resources, as well as increasing funding for the military’s psychological operations branch, Reagan placed public diplomacy and information operations at the center of his foreign policy agenda. Even though most scholars acknowledge the direct contribution of these efforts in bringing about the collapse of the Soviet Union, criticism from academics and the media over the actual or perceived covert nature of some informational programs (especially focused on Latin America) forced President Reagan to dismantle the NSDD-77 structure in 1987.20 Throughout the end of the Cold War, the influence of the issue public coalition opposing executive use of information operations continued to grow. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the issue public coalition worked with conservative lawmakers seeking to save money and limit the size of the Federal Government to dismantle the USIA. As Gil Merom and Elizabeth Kier argue, a small sector of civil society influenced government structure and policy by closing down an agency that they believed no longer had a foreign policy purpose.

Pilots with 96th Expeditionary Bomber Squadron fly B-52 Stratofortress to execute air operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, February 13, 2017 (U.S. Air Force/Jordan Castelan)
Pilots with 96th Expeditionary Bomber Squadron fly B-52 Stratofortress to execute air operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, February 13, 2017 (U.S. Air Force/Jordan Castelan)
Pilots with 96th Expeditionary Bomber Squadron fly B-52 Stratofortress to execute air operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, February 13, 2017 (U.S. Air Force/Jordan Castelan)
Pilots with 96th Expeditionary Bomber Squadron fly B-52 Stratofortress
Pilots with 96th Expeditionary Bomber Squadron fly B-52 Stratofortress to execute air operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, February 13, 2017 (U.S. Air Force/Jordan Castelan)
Photo By: Senior Airman Jordan Castelan
VIRIN: 170213-F-YC884-0165

The Saga of the Office of Strategic Influence

The growing influence of the issue public coalition over foreign policy became evident only a few short months after the 9/11 attacks. Quick to recognize that the coming conflict with global Islamic terrorism would largely be ideological in nature, President George W. Bush’s administration created the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) within DOD in October 2001. The official charter and responsibilities for OSI had not been fully developed when the office was created, but it would primarily be responsible for coordinating and executing military information operations.21 Indications from the head of OSI, Douglas Feith; general officers; and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were that OSI would mainly be used to plan and coordinate information operations by drawing on existing units and capabilities, like psychological operations and information operations units. Nonetheless, the New York Times published a story on February 19, 2002, indicating that OSI planned to conduct “black” (that is, covert) programs that would intentionally release disinformation to foreign media outlets.22 A media firestorm ensued with daily stories about OSI’s apparent intent to disinform foreign media appearing in all the major American media outlets such as the Washington Post, Fox News, and National Public Radio. After a week of sustained media coverage, Secretary Rumsfeld announced the decision to close OSI on February 26, 2002.

The case of OSI provides a clear example of how the issue public coalition engaged in what Gil Merom calls a “process of societal ‘coercion.’”23 As it turned out, the leak to the New York Times about potential black programs came from DOD’s own Bureau of Public Affairs. Such a leak is consistent with the characterization of leaks in bureaucratic politics being used to undermine a rival group. Despite repeated assurances from Feith, military commanders, and Secretary Rumsfeld that OSI would not conduct any disinformation campaigns and would never disinform any audience, foreign or domestic, media coverage continued to allege that OSI would intentionally submit false information to foreign and domestic audiences.24 Even after OSI was shut down, academic articles, media reports, and even congressional testimony continued to charge that OSI was an “attack on truth”25 and a “profoundly undemocratic program devoted to spreading disinformation.”26

The irony is that the original leak from DOD Public Affairs began a process of misinformation itself, as there was no substantiating evidence that OSI planned on conducting disinformation. Public statements from the highest levels of leadership as well as the training and approval process (which strictly forbid using false information) within military information operations suggest that the military would not be conducting disinformation operations. The issue public coalition of public affairs professionals, the press, scholars, and certain policymakers capitalized on a single report (later shown to be false) to force a policy change. There is no indication that the broader, mass public took issue with OSI; the only criticism on record came from members of the issue public coalition. Put another way, the case of OSI showed how “societal preferences undercut and defeat state preferences, not ameliorate them” . . . and that “a minority among the public can defeat state policy.”27

The Situation Today

Since the end of the Cold War, high-ranking officials in successive administrations have lamented American inability to compete in the international market of ideas. In 2006, Secretary Rumsfeld stated, “If I were grading, I would say we probably deserve a D or D plus as a country as to how well we’re doing in the battle of ideas . . . we have not found the formula as a country.”28 His successor, Robert Gates, admitted that it was a mistake to close USIA at the end of the Cold War. Gates stated, “We are miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals.”29 Without the proper tools and resources, the U.S. Government will not be able to improve this deficiency. Remarkably, scrutiny from the issue public coalition has prevented the military from developing or employing these capabilities. Such a pattern is unique to military information operations and does not work in the same way for other military capabilities. For example, when the United States began to diminish its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, it gave or sold several mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles to police forces in the United States, contributing to what has been called the “militarization” of the police. Many interest groups (including not only issue publics but also much of the mass public as well) began protesting this practice, asking that police forces no longer be equipped with these military vehicles. In this case, the public drew the line at the domestic use of a military capability; they did not protest the development of MRAPs and their use in other countries. When it comes to military information operations, however, the issue public coalition resists the existence or development of this very capability, even if it will exclusively be used on foreign audiences. The cost for military commanders, who already prefer kinetic operations, is too high to change this situation, resulting in kinetic strategies in asymmetric conflict.

In a December 2016 DOD report to Congress on the progress of Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria, there is no mention of “information operations” or “psychological operations” in any of the 138 pages.30 The report acknowledges the “psychological effects of ISIL’s propaganda on Iraqi and Syrian populations,” but proposes no American efforts to counter these or conduct our own information operations. Instead, the report examines the coalition’s air campaign against the so-called Islamic State; humanitarian assistance; governance; and coalition efforts to train, advise, assist, and equip partners in Iraq and Syria. There is little indication that the United States will change its strategy in Iraq and Syria or prepare for future asymmetric conflicts by featuring information operations more prominently.

Soldiers with 399th Tactical Psychological Operations Company ask permission of local school headmaster to post information outside school in Cristo Rey, Belize, April 24, 2017 (U.S. Army/Joshua E. Powell)
Soldiers with 399th Tactical Psychological Operations Company ask permission of local school headmaster to post information outside school in Cristo Rey, Belize, April 24, 2017 (U.S. Army/Joshua E. Powell)
Soldiers with 399th Tactical Psychological Operations Company ask permission of local school headmaster to post information outside school in Cristo Rey, Belize, April 24, 2017 (U.S. Army/Joshua E. Powell)
Soldiers with 399th Tactical Psychological Operations Company ask permission of local school headmaster to post information outside school in Cristo Rey, Belize
Soldiers with 399th Tactical Psychological Operations Company ask permission of local school headmaster to post information outside school in Cristo Rey, Belize, April 24, 2017 (U.S. Army/Joshua E. Powell)
Photo By: Sgt. Joshua E. Powell
VIRIN: 170424-A-NU685-205

Policy Recommendations

There are tangible steps the U.S. Government and DOD can take to use information operations more effectively without eroding credibility or threatening American democratic values. The government needs to establish an independent organization to coordinate, monitor, and improve information operations across the government. The organization does not need to be an independent department or agency, but it would need some autonomy and authority to coordinate information operations among DOD, State, and the CIA and oversee their execution. Personnel working in information operations in all three agencies should have cross-training with the other agencies to maintain awareness of their procedures and practices. These suggestions would require an increase in budget and resources dedicated to information operations (to include public diplomacy) at the national level. Finally, Congress needs to continue its 2013 reforms to the Smith-Mundt Act to allow greater latitude for agencies (especially the military) to conduct information operations online.

Separate from an interagency organization to coordinate information operations across the government, DOD should enact an Information Operations Task Force to focus strictly on information operations and counterpropaganda rather than the advise and assist or man, train, and equip missions that information operations and psychological operations units are often tasked with. Such a task force would be one of the most direct ways to get more trained personnel working on information operations even when they are not deployed, thereby operationalizing a greater number of qualified Servicemembers. Forward deployed teams would continue their current inform and influence missions, but they would have more support and resources for the operational portion of the mission from this task force.

If the military wishes to be more successful in asymmetric wars, which the United States will likely remain involved in for the foreseeable future, it needs to begin a dedicated effort to shift organizational culture to more fully embrace the role of information. One of the most direct ways to make commanders at all levels appreciate the importance of information operations is to push approval authorities for such programs below their current (general officer) levels, as was done during the surge in Iraq. Only by giving company and battalion commanders the authority to conduct information operations will they begin to understand their impact and seek to utilize them more often. Commanders of all combat units should be required to receive training in the process and purposes of information operations to move away from the mentality of treating messages like munitions.

The military should also increase funding for information operations, especially focusing on training. More civilian experts need to be incorporated into psychological operations and information operations courses with an emphasis on operational design and measures of effectiveness; there is simply not enough technical knowledge within the military to teach these topics successfully. Military information operations experts should be given greater latitude to conduct their operations, lowering approval authority at or below those required for kinetic operations. The increase in latitude to conduct information operations should be accompanied by an increase in accountability, especially for demonstrating program effectiveness. All military information operations programs must be able to demonstrate that they are based on truth (not disinformation) and never intentionally target American citizens as the primary audience. Only through greater program and message accountability can the military demonstrate to the issue public coalition that its programs both serve American interests and are in accordance with American values. JFQ


1 Thomas Risse-Kappen, “Public Opinion, Domestic Structure, and Foreign Policy in Liberal Democracies,” World Politics 43, no. 4 (July 1991), 479–512.

2 Ibid.

3 Elizabeth Kier, “Culture and Military Doctrine: France Between the Wars,” International Security 19, no. 4 (1995), 65.

4 Michael Mullen, “Strategic Communication: Getting Back to Basics,” Joint Force Quarterly 55 (4th Quarter 2009), 2–4.

5 Peter Cary, The Pentagon, Information Operations, and International Media Development (Washington, DC: Center for International Media Assistance, 2010).

6 Arturo Munoz, U.S. Military Information Operations in Afghanistan: Effectiveness of Psychological Operations 2001–2010 (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2012).

7 Cary.

8 Ibid. Despite the small portion of the budget, military information operations received disproportionately high levels of scrutiny from the media and think tanks when compared to other types of military activities.

9 Ivan Arreguin-Toft, “How the Weak Win Wars,” International Security 26, no. 1 (2001), 93–128.

10 Joint Publication 3-13, Information Operations (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, November 20, 2014).

11 United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, U.S. Code 22, Chap. 18, Pub. L. No. 80-402, § 6, available at <>.

12 Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Statement by the President on Establishing the President’s Committee on International Information Activities,” Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, January 26, 1953, available at <;view=image;q1=dynamic+effort>.

13 Stacey Cone, “The Pentagon’s Propaganda Windmills: How ‘Arkansas’ Quijote’ Tilted Against Militarism and Challenged the Marketplace of Ideas in America,” Journalism History 33, no. 1 (Spring 2007), 24–41.

14 Ibid., 24.

15 Ibid., 28.

16 Ibid., 25.

17 J. William Fulbright, The Pentagon Propaganda Machine (New York: Liveright, 1970).

18 Cone, 24.

19 National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 45, United States International Broadcasting, July 15, 1982, available at <>; NSDD-77, Management of Public Diplomacy Relative to National Security, January 14, 1983, available at <>; and NSDD-130, U.S. International Information Policy, March 6, 1984, available at <>.

20 Ibid., NSDD-77.

21 Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith, Breakfast with Defense Writers Group, transcript, Federation of American Scientists, February 20, 2002, available at <>.

22 James Dao and Eric Schmitt, “Pentagon Readies Efforts to Sway Sentiment Abroad,” New York Times, February 19, 2002, available at <>.

23 Gil Merom, How Democracies Lose Small Wars: State, Society, and the Failures of France in Algeria, Israel in Lebanon, and the United States in Vietnam (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 16.

24 Department of Defense (DOD) News Briefing, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, February 21, 2002, available at <>; DOD News Briefing, Donald H. Rumsfeld, February 26, 2002, available at <>; see also Feith.

25 U.S. House, Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), “The Twilight Zone, Otherwise Known as George Bush’s America,” 107th Cong., 2nd sess., March 5, 2002, H676.

26 Cone, 24.

27 Merom, 16–18. Emphasis in original.

28 Quoted in Kathy Fitzpatrick, The Future of U.S. Public Diplomacy an Uncertain Fate (Boston: Brill, 2010).

29 Thom Shanker, “Defense Secretary Urges More Spending for U.S. Diplomacy,” New York Times, November 27, 2007, available at <>.

30 Lead Inspector General for Overseas Contingency Operations, “Operation Inherent Resolve: Report to the United States Congress,” July 1, 2016–September 30, 2016, available at <>.