Wednesday, May 7, 2008

SecDef at West Point Had PSYOP in Mind

Good Morning From Atlanta,

One of my colleagues passed along a copy of the speech that SecDef Gates gave at West Point on 21 April. While I had very strong negative feelings about Secretary Gates’ predecessor I had a positive, but fuzzy picture of the current SecDef. After reading the speech, it’s clear to me that he ‘gets it’. (You can find the full speech at:

While that speech was targeted to future officers, there are some key points for all of us in PSYOP past, present and future. We need to understand that healthy informed dialogue is an important way to insure freshness and candor in our organizations. We also need to recognize that, in general, the Press and the Congress offer a proper balance to the Executive Branch and in the words of the SecDef a critical eye on the way we do business.

Secretary Gates cited a little known officer, MG Fox Conner. While Conner died before the start of WWII his mentorship of its leaders notably General Eisenhower and General Marshall was likely more of a contribution to the successful conclusion of WWII then any of us will ever know. It’s worth a bit of your time to review the references to Conner’s rules of war noted during the speech.

The battlefield of the twenty first century will be riddled by dilemmas according to the secretary: “dilemmas posed by a non-linear environment made up of civilian detainees, contractors, embedded media and an adversary that does not wear uniforms or obey the laws of war; an adversary that could be your enemy on one day or, as we've seen in Iraq's Anbar province, your partner the next.”

PSYOP is one of the forces to straighten the curves of this non-linear environment. Consistent and effective PSYOP is the way to inform and influence adversaries and sometimes our allies in a way as to hasten the achievement of the Commander’s goals. In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan the Commander is perhaps more the Captain dealing with the front line than General Petreaus.

As the secretary notes “our Army will require leaders of uncommon agility, resourcefulness and imagination; leaders willing and able to think and act creatively and decisively in a different kind of world, in a different kind of conflict than we have prepared for the last six decades”.

In the PSYOP world this means understanding your audience and creating the most effective path to influencing them. Creativity has advantages, but creativity in the Western Mind will not necessarily have the desired effect on other cultures. PSYOP down range requires more than a cursory knowledge of language and culture. PSYOP works best when you are in tune with your audience, where you understand the nuances of messaging in the context of the social and psychological environment.

In carrying out tactical AO the PSYOP leader on the ground has to make critical decisions and report observations and recommendations up the chain of command. While PSYOP personnel are generally not shy, a few will consider the impact on their efficiency report and career as a part of the decision making process. It’s my feeling and experience that your career path is not part of the equation. But perhaps the Secretary said it better when he described the duties of an officer – which are the duties of all us in the PSYOP community:

1. To provide blunt and candid advice always;
2. To keep disagreements private;
3. And to implement faithfully decisions that go against you.

Adhering to these duties won’t win popularity contests, but you will know that you are being honest with yourself and making a genuine contribution.

No comments: