PSYOPS by ridicule: New York Times says IWP paper got Pentagon review

May 7, 2006  |  ARTICLES

The New York Times reports that officials in the Pentagon and Iraq have reviewed an Institute of World Politics paper that called for a strategic psychological campaign of ridicule against terrorist leaders and other adversaries.

The IWP paper "has been circulating at the Pentagon and among military commanders with experience in Iraq recently," the New York Times reported in its May 6 edition.

The paper, titled Ridicule: An instrument in the war on terrorism, argues for the US to exploit information and intelligence to make terrorist leaders look weak and foolish in the eyes of their followers and would-be supporters, to undermine their authority and appeal.

The New York Times article, which was critical of such a strategy, reported, "'In Arab and Muslim societies, pride and shame are felt much more profoundly than they are in Western culture,' said J. Michael Waller, a professor at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school in Washington. 'To find video like this that can cut him [Zarqawi] down to size and discredit him is a real way of fighting terrorism.' A paper written by Professor Waller advocating the use of ridicule against the insurgents has been circulating at the Pentagon and among military commanders with experience in Iraq recently, according to several military officers."

Waller, who leads IWP's program on the study of public diplomacy and political warfare, has long argued for the US to emphasize psychology and political action as strategic weapons in Iraq and against terrorists and other adversaries worldwide.

In interviewing the author for the story, a Times reporter told Dr. Waller that officers on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, and others in Iraq, said the paper helped inspire the recent release of raw video footage of Zarqawi. IWP is not making that claim.

In the video, Zarqawi is shown wearing American sneakers and a ninja costume as he struggled to operate a US-made machine gun (pictured). Zarqawi has assumed larger-than-life proportions in much of the world by controlling his image through the release of edited videos. The release of raw outtakes from al Qaeda's own propaganda video was intended to destroy that image.

Drafts of the IWP ridicule paper circulated in the Pentagon and in Iraq in January. The document is part of a series on public diplomacy and political warfare designed to advance IWP's curriculum in the strategic communication discipline.