Center of gravity
Secretary Rumsfeld's press conference should be read in its entirety because news accounts based on it have selectively emphasized items which fit the media outlet's particular editorial template. The first part of the news conference is actually an indirect name-calling session between Rumsfeld and members of the press.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Charlie.
Q Mr. Secretary, I'd like to clear up exactly what you're saying here. Are you saying that this poll and that what you call the rush toward declaring civil war in Iraq, is that the result of intentional misreporting of the situation there?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I can't go into people's minds. All I'm doing is reporting on what we've seen. General Casey pointed out to this group here that he believes -- his data shows that the numbers of mosque attacks and the nature of the attacks and the severity of the attacks have been considerably exaggerated and that the number of civilian Iraqis that have been killed or wounded has been exaggerated.
And -- now, why someone or whoever did this, I have no way to judge. I'm not going to judge them. It's just a fact that he is saying that, and I believe he's correct.
Q But you said, Sir, that -- I believe that the reporting was virtually one-sided. Does that mean --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah, the interesting thing about it is they all seem to be of a kind. All the things that have later been corrected or need to be corrected or that he believes were exaggerated all seem to be on one side of the equation. We don't see the similar thing on the other side, which you normally would get in some kind of a random spread, one would think.
Q Well, do you believe that the media's been duped by the situation or doesn't understand it or what?
SEC. RUMSFELD: All I'm doing is reporting. I'm just reporting the facts. (Laughter.) The facts are as I've stated them.
Q Mr. Secretary?
SEC. RUMSFELD: You'll have to draw your own conclusions about it.
Then it gets more adversarial. One correspondent asks whether the 'rush to declare a civil war' is part of a disinformation campaign. Here's Secretary Rumsfeld's response.
Q And when you say one side, is that the Western press? Is that Al-Jazeera and comparable press? Do you feel it's a campaign of disinformation here that's taking place? Are you planning to counter that campaign even more than you are now?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, we're obviously not successful at all if we're trying to counter it. We -- because -- (chuckles) -- that would be like trying to stop the tide. It's not possible.
The -- we do know, of course, that al Qaeda has media committees. We do know that they teach people exactly how to try to manipulate the media. They do this regularly. We see the intelligence that reports on their meetings and -- now, I can't take a string and tie it to a news report and then trace it back to an al Qaeda media committee meeting.
I'm not able to do that at all. We do know that their goal is to try to break the will -- that they consider the center of gravity of this not to be in Iraq -- because they know they can't win a battle out there -- they consider it to be in Washington, D.C., and in London, in the capitals of the Western world.
A number of other issues were also discussed in this poisonous tone, among them:
- Iran's deployment of special forces (al-Quds) into Iran;
- Iranian-supplied shaped charges sent into Iraq expressly to penetrate American armor;
- a long wrangle over whether Rumsfeld is carrying out his 'promise' to bring back American troops from Iraq.
These are important issues in themselves, but I think they are best understood in the context of the disinformation campaigns which Secretary Rumsfeld talked about, because enemy military action in the field has always been keyed to support themes being promoted in the press. It's a good bet that the presence of special shaped charges and Iranian special forces in Iraq will eventually support a news campaign. Here's my guess as to how it is meant to work out.
The 'Iraq is in a state of civil war' lead will continue to be emphasized but attacks may suddenly shift to American troops after a long period of being concentrated upon sectarian targets to create another theme: a Shi'ite insurgency. This plus a clamor to 'bring the boys home' may create a triple wave designed to entirely collapse public support for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The enemy may have failed to win the Sunni insurgency; been unable to plunge Iraq into civil war; proved incapable of stopping the formation of a new Iraqi army and state. But none of that will matter if the three themes of 'ongoing civil war', a Shi'ite insurgency and the need to engage in headlong retreat are successfully promoted in "the capitals of the Western world".