PSYOP by ridicule: New York Times says Waller’s paper got Pentagon review

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

The paper “has been circulating at the Pentagon and among military commanders with experience in Iraq recently,” the New York Timesreported in its May 6, 2006 edition.

The paper, titled “Ridicule: An instrument in the war on terrorism” (PDF here as chapter download: Messaging of Ridicule), 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 solutions are applicable to allies and Coalition partners as well.

The New York Timesarticle, 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 led IWP’s program on the study of public diplomacy and political warfare at the time, 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 Timesreporter 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.

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 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 the strategic communication discipline.

The paper was published as a chapter titled “The Secret Weapon That’s Worse Than Death” in Waller’s 2007 monograph, Fighting the War of Ideas Like a Real War.