In Battle to Defang ISIS, U.S. Targets Its Psychology

At the New York Times, Eric Schmitt reports on our government’s efforts to combat ISIS, specifically its psychology, marketing, and use of technology. The article focuses on General Michael Nagata, commander of American Special Operations forces in the Middle East.

Trying to decipher this complex enemy — a hybrid terrorist organization and a conventional army — is such a conundrum that General Nagata assembled an unofficial brain trust outside the traditional realms of expertise within the Pentagon, State Department and intelligence agencies, in search of fresh ideas and inspiration. Business professors, for example, are examining the Islamic State’s marketing and branding strategies.

Nagata comes across as deeply curious, skeptical of dismissing our enemies as small minded monsters we can destroy with sheer firepower.

During the call, General Nagata alluded to the Islamic State’s sophisticated use of social media to project and amplify its propaganda, and insisted the United States needed “people born and raised in the region” to help combat the problem.

“I want to engage in a long-term conversation to understand a commonly held view of the psychological, emotional and cultural power of I.S. in terms of a diversity of audiences,” the general said. “They are drawing people to them in droves. There are I.S. T-shirts and mugs.”

Nagata’s initiative sounds promising. What worries me, though, is the tone of the article. It suggests this kind of thinking — on intangibles, culture, and the motivations of our adversaries — is stridently innovative and out of the ordinary.

We weren’t doing this before?


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