Understanding the 21st Century Global Information War: Protect Your Zeitgeist
By Eric Pottenger and Jeff Friesen
January 24, 2012
Authors’ Introductory Note: the following essay was prepared in the style of an “open letter” intended to be read by leaders and policy-makers of nation-states targeted for “regime change” by the West.
Try to imagine a world where cultural guidance and future prospects are created largely from within rather than from without. Try to imagine youth in your country—symbolized by genuine energy and enthusiasm and political awareness—pointing the way toward a new national understanding based upon instincts offered from within instead of from without.
Of course each of us knows that Western governments hope to subvert the ambitious political plans of competitor countries and blocs so as to maintain global hegemony and forestall a more equitable distribution of power.
And although there are multiple levels to explore, understand, and different ways to combat this threat, brevity demands that the following analysis offer only a brief solution in the most simplistic terms: namely, the prospect of a world where fear of young people and new ideas are replaced by embracing possibilities; the kind of possibilities that these young people should rightfully embody.
The premise here is that it’s absolutely incorrect (and potentially catastrophic) to conclude that ‘oppositionists’ in each of your countries—and here we mean young local ‘foot soldiers’ of Western-backed political agendas—are conscious ‘agents’ of Western governments; or that they’re largely “corrupt” or even “unpatriotic.”
The defining characteristics of typical foreign-funded opposition protesters are their youth, their inexperience, their lack of discernment, their relatively high level of education, their personal ambition, their access to media and technology, and their strong inclinations to rebel against the status quo (what they deem to be an unrewarding social and political culture).
In other words, if strategically-placed foreign money, tactical training, and a self-interested geopolitical purpose were absent, these young “protesters” and their rebellion could stably be addressed by (and absorbed within) the local social and political culture, even help infuse this culture with characteristics that every great culture needs: self-reflection; derision; laughter; art; indifference; transcendence; something greater than mere self-preservation.
Unfortunately these movements aren’t isolated concerns of an individual nation—they are international security threats. The West now uses both “humanitarian” crises and fake social “revolutions” as a part of its strategic package. This makes national political movements potential arms of foreign powers. To quote Allen Weinstein, the first President of the United States’ National Endowment for Democracy (NED), “A lot of what [the NED does] today was done covertly twenty-five years ago by the CIA.”
This presents the principle challenge: how to develop an effective self-defense strategy. The trick is to provide a remedy that doesn’t fuel more discord. Coercion sows discord. The movement tacticians anticipate and use ham-handed, unsophisticated, strictly coercive local responses as part of their operational templates. They derive strength from these responses, not weakness. Ultimately the coercive response is a recipe for defeat. If the coercive response appears to be necessary or inevitable, at least it should be provided with some balance.
|When the “pro-democracy protester” faces the “government crackdown,” whose side are you gonna be on?
Better instead to learn how the imperialist game is now played. The new battlefield of warfare is in the informational realm, the psychological realm. More than at any point in history, war is primarily a media war. The reason the United States, in particular, has been so effective in this style of warfare is because the whole structure of U.S. society has been built around promotion and consumption as a pathway to wealth and power. In the United States, the corporate marketing and advertisement industry has merged seamlessly into the operational templates of foreign policy. There is little difference between selling Coca Cola and selling a particular foreign policy initiative. Corporations sell commodities through marketing campaigns and advertisements; governments sell policies through a myriad of techniques of information control and propaganda.
|only the emotional imprint…
Like corporate advertising, propaganda is primarily effective as a form of emotional communication, not one of critical analysis. The purpose is to promote a prescribed behavior, whether that behavior result in the purchasing of a new pair of blue jeans, the supporting of a social initiative, or advocating one’s inclusion amongst a battalion of protesters, each of them dragged willingly into the streets to weaken the stature of a particular government.
One identifiable technique the propaganda specialist employs to overthrow unwanted leaders is the exact same one used in the corporate realm: “branding.” In essence, the propagandist attempts to strengthen the “brand” of the opposition movement while weakening the “brand” of the targeted leader or system.
|…of the brand remains.
All critical details are removed from the propaganda message; only the emotional imprint of the “brand” remains. The propagandist will rarely explain in substantive terms either the problems of society or the concrete solutions. Instead he will brand the issues in broad emotional terms. The opposition movement will likely be branded as “fun,” “rebellious,” or “revolutionary,” etc., whereas the problems of the entire society are made unspecific, reduced to the actions of a “corrupt,” “greedy,” “power-hungry” “dictator.” The goal is to broadcast this message simply and incessantly; and especially to make people believe that it’s true.
|Oh, you pretty things! In the words of OTPOR (Serbian) youth group co-founder and international regime change tactician, Ivan Marovic, “I hate politics. It sucks. It’s boring. It’s not cool. Normal people hate politics…but…you need normal people if you’re gonna make change. To do that, you need to make politics sexy. Make it cool. Make it hip. REVOLUTION as a FASHION LINE.”
This branding logic works the same for Western governments to achieve domestic public consent for aggressive foreign policy initiatives. For example, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is known throughout the West as “Europe’s Last Dictator.” That is Lukashenko’s brand in the West. This brand has been created to prepare Western audiences for his abrupt removal from power. Like Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi: allegations of corruption and sponsorship of terrorism had for years been attached to the image of Gaddafi, a fact which later made it permissible for NATO to not only remove him from power illegally, but to even kill him. This should be seen as no surprise. Gaddafi had been branded beforehand for such a fate. The Western public had already been prepared to react uncritically to this violation international justice. For many Westerns, the killing of Gaddafi was even seen as a victory for “the people.”
|If I don’t live in these countries; and if I know next to nothing about them; WHAT are these ubiquitous images sure to convince me into THINKING? The answers are obvious, but here’s the rub: since I don’t live there, how can I know for certain whether the impressions they are promoting are actually true?
The only defense against the strength of these branding techniques is to challenge the brand.
Opposition media should never be restricted or prohibited. Instead, governments should provide the domestic media with tools for an effective counter-attack. Governments should sponsor new and better media. They should throw money at it; promote it culturally; expand educational initiatives that develop it. They should make it more entertaining; make it more interesting; infuse it with substance and criticism.
Media should be used to deconstruct the brand the West is selling; it should successfully offer an alternative brand.
The idea here is to hire young people instead of arresting them. Put people to work in the government that have credibility and can project youth and vigor. Demanding love for the country will never be effective if it’s about prostrating oneself before the government. The most important and effective way for young people to invest in the destiny of the country is to be embraced as part of the internal power structure. Otherwise these same people are left to wander, highly vulnerable to the venus flytrap of Western propaganda.
Independent media voices in the West can help, both at home and abroad.
Through the critical lens of independent Western media, the highly-romantic impression of “life in the West” (that which is deceptively sold by the propagandist) can be legitimately challenged. Credibility in this case is essential. If these romantic impressions are countered by the local government, the criticism could easily be perceived as propaganda; whereas if an independent Westerner said the same thing, the impressions would probably be considered both interesting and informative. These voices are plentiful in the West. The challenge is to find them and put them to use.
So far as how your countries are perceived in the West, what’s important to know is that Western audiences (and especially those in the United States) usually become aware of the existence of a country (and all its internal “problems”) only after that country has been publicly targeted for attack. Although a sizable portion of Western audiences could one day be made to see the injustice of such an attack, by that time it’s already too late.
These policies and the motives behind them can be anticipated and even preempted in the dialogue of Western media.
The logic here is that policy-makers and local leaders around the world should come to recognize the value in strengthening the reach of independent voices in the Western media, and expand contacts with them. In other words, help Western journalists more effectively use their own platforms toward the creation of a more balanced view of your countries. Ensure that local officials and scholars are made available to foreign journalists as informational resources. Promote critical conferences and cultural exchanges.
Help assist independent foreign voices to “re-brand” your countries in the West.
Russia has provided a solid example to follow with the launching of the English language media network, Russia Today. By offering Western analysts with a high-profile media platform, Russia Today has provided serious critics of Western policy with the ability to challenge and subvert NED/CIA propaganda campaigns.
Through this contribution, in many circles Russia has come to be seen as “progressive” and even “hip” in the West. And furthermore it is now Western governments–not the usual political targets–that must combat a damaging informational narrative, even on territory the Western propagandist once monopolized.
We conclude here by pointing out that, in a world where the information war reigns supreme, the essence of protecting national sovereignty is change: not change of values, necessarily, but change of attitudes and perspectives. A smart policy would be to embrace this change.
Why not lead the struggle off the traditional battlefield and into the media realm: to television and radio broadcasts; to books and blogs and publications?
Why not take the fight to the battlefield that actually matters?