Tuesday, December 16, 2008

No Business Like Shoe Business

Shoes and PSYOP seem to go hand in glove. I remember one evening in 1998 I was home alone and actually in charge of the TV and could watch whatever I wanted. As it turns out, I was fresh from my stint in Bosnia and “Wag The Dog” was one. Since I had never heard of it, and it featured Dustin Hoffman and Robert DiNiro I tuned it in. To my surprise it was all about PSYOP and centered around an “old shoe” theme. For those not familiar with the plot, a sitting US President needed to divert public attention from his personal sexual peccadilloes.

Fast forward to this week and shoes are in the air again because a disgruntled Iraqi reporter threw a pair of shoes at President Bush. Today’s post is not about Mr. Bush or his legendary prowess at Dodge Ball, nor is it about the significance of shoes and soles thereof in the Arab world – it’s about seizing the initiative and mass PSYOP. The picture above comes from the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2008/12/15/world/1215-SHOE_3.html) and is one of 8 ‘slides’ dealing with the post shoe protests.

While the general tenor about progress in Iraq has had an uptick, and optimism that President Elect Obama will bring an end to the unpopular war permeates the media, nevertheless, the rapid response and size of protests in supporter of the reporter rather than the President is worthy of note. Clearly anti-Americanism is still a popular cause, one which will seduce people into group activity. As a MI type, I wonder who was behind the organization of these events. Crowds do not materialize absent organization and these protest crowds are no exceptions.

The quick and dramatic reaction of our enemies should be noted, especially by those who advocate a hasty withdrawal from Iraq. The protests in support of the reporter seem to play out better visually than the actual shoe incident itself.
It is clear that much remains to be done if the USG goal is to win popular support. The inauguration of President Elect Obama may be a good focal point for an information offensive designed to show that the New Year will bring significant change to Iraq and that the Iraqi people will need to shoulder more and more of the responsibility for the security and political climate of their country. It will not be an easy sell. The incoming Administration would do well to consider what their desired end state ought to be and what behavior on the part of the Iraqi people would demonstrate the successful achievement of that result.

Meanwhile military PSYOP efforts should concentrate on local successes and build confidence in the new environment one neighborhood at a time. It is my contention that success in terms of popular support is a bottom up effort. The sum of a number of local successes is more significant than a top down view of popular satisfaction.

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