Excerpt: Tough Sell

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The following is an excerpt from Tough Sell: Fighting the Media War in Iraq (May 2017) by Tom Basile. Basile is a Forbes opinion contributor, national political commentator, radio host, a faculty member of Fordham University, and principal of the New York–based strategic communications firm Empire Solutions. He has served in government at the local, state, and federal levels. Basile is a former Bush administration appointee and served as senior press advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad from 2003 to 2004, for which he received the Joint Civilian Service Commendation Medal.

From the introduction:

If policymakers do not effectively articulate policy, manage their message strategy, and counter misinformation, they soon will find themselves unable to execute policy.

That places America and freedom at great risk.

All I could think was that I was going to die. It wasn’t the first time, but I really wondered whether this was it as I clutched the bottom of my jump seat with both hands. As the countermeasures deployed, I watched the cargo lift off the deck and felt weightless during the plane’s steep plunge toward the earth. I looked over at the lieutenant colonel seated next to me and he was white as a sheet. There was fear in his eyes. We had been fired upon. It all happened so quickly, but that incident stays with me. It remains a stark reminder that no matter what the politicians or headlines say, make no mistake, we are a nation at war.

It is a constant struggle between those who believe that government exists to provide a few with privilege and those who believe it is a mechanism to enhance the freedom of all individuals. It is a fight between those who use power to control absolutely the destinies of millions and those who seek to enhance the right of self-determination. It is a war between those who use ignorance as a tool to produce violence and those who bring the tolerance and empowerment that secure peace.

The current conflict with radicalism in the form of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Al-Qaeda, and dozens of other groups is a new world war against a lethal, unconventional enemy called Islamic extremism. No single movement or philosophy in the world today has the aim of killing more Americans, more Westerners, more Jews, more Christians, and certainly more Muslims than Islamic extremism. This conflict wasn’t born out of the imagination of a group of “neocons” huddled in the basement of some Washington-based think tank. It’s real, and free nations (including the United States) are still fumbling in their efforts to counter the threat.

This global conflict, like all modern warfare, is waged with different resources. Territorial wars fought by militaries and nation-states are evolving into something more dangerous and more complex. For millennia, the causes of war and the strategies associated with it were defined within particular margins, involving a combination of resource and territorial acquisition aimed at the subjugation or oppression of conquered populations. I suggest that, for most people, this paradigm continues to drive perceptions of war. One nation invades another, plants its flag, rapes the land of resources, and controls the population until another nation or the indigenous people eject it.

What we witnessed in the rise of Al-Qaeda during the Clinton administration, and the decision-making of the United States in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 (9/11) during the Bush years was a sharp departure from the usual war-making paradigm. In fact, we are still in a transitional phase regarding the way this country handles both its military and diplomatic strategy to account for this shift.

Gone are the days of the Cold War when mutually assured destruction kept the world in a state of relative stability. Today, we face different enemies around the world who are non-state actors and who call no set of boundaries home. The state aggressors are still there to be sure and, since the 1990s, many have assisted the growing and emboldened Islamic extremist movement through acts of commission and omission.

This more complex paradigm and the rise of pervasive digital media require governments to evolve also in the way they execute and articulate policy. Now more than ever it takes a broad assortment of people with wide-ranging specialties to execute effective wartime strategies. Now more than ever civilians are a critical component of winning a war on the battlefield and here at home. Our heroes in uniform are increasingly dependent on the expertise and sacrifice of civilians. Civilians are playing often unseen roles in the aftermath of conflict in everything from getting the lights back on and the phone lines up to developing new government institutions and furthering democratic reforms. They also play key roles in articulating and defending policy in our age of digital media. Their contribution to the success of our foreign policy objectives diplomatically, politically, and militarily both at home and abroad was felt more distinctly during our engagement in Iraq than in any other mission in history.