The first Gulf War and invasion of Iraq ended more than a decade before Twitter launched onto the socialsphere.
Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm were waged in a sandbox battlefield with traditional warfare tactics. The news-media was fed largely by journalists embedded within the military, and stories were filed by satellite up-link or the pings and bleeps of a slow internet connection.
Much has changed on the battlefield since the early 1990’s – and the developments surrounding new hostilities in Iraq will see a quantum shift in the area of operations (AO) for all sides of this conflict: the ISIS, Iraqi National Guard and responding Western and Middle Eastern Forces.
Desert Storm just evolved into #DesertStorm
With Tony Blair proclaiming ‘We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that “we” caused this’ … and the Pentagon Press Secretary reporting that the Pentagon is providing options to President Obama; the Influence Operations (#IOinAction) battle has already begun, without a single foreign soldier being sent to Iraq.
Gruesome pictures are already emerging on Twitter of mass executions of Iraqi soldiers by the ISIS; and as the Western world considers options, the news media is going into overdrive – reliant upon smartphone warriors on the ground – and ISIS itself. Twitter has been progressively taking down their accounts, but as the information vacuum gathers momentum and the Iraqi Government move to shutdown social media within the country – the battlespace is quickly outgrowing it’s regionalised AO in a cyber sense.
This will – at rapid pace – present public affairs challenges for the social savvy military forces that come to Iraq’s aid. In what became one of the most contested invasions in history, overcoming the negative perceptions created during George W. Bush’s hunt for Weapons of Mass Destruction in the first Gulf War; and on the back of Tony Blair’s most recent denial of accountability – the challenge for military public affairs is to convince the citizens of their country this conflict is different, and foreign military assistance will have a meaningful, positive impact on the Iraqi people.
Quite ironically, earlier today the US Navy official Twitter account announced that the USS George.W Bush would be heading to the Arabian Gulf; in what can only be described as pre-emptive military posturing and a public affairs foot-in-mouth moment.
Twitter is already in over-drive with anti-Blair sentiment making tempering public opinion with military strategic communications and the rhetoric of Government a challenge of epic proportions. Add into the mix the military draw-down currently occurring in Afghanistan, and you have a population already fatigued with #IOinAction messaging from the Middle Eastern Area of Operations (MEAO).
With social media the new kid on the block in an old sand-box; how Iraq and those who provide it with support against the ISIS will fare in the court of public opinion is yet to be seen.
In this battle, the enemy will not be the target of #IOinAction…