- August 15, 2007
Madison Avenue At War
By now, most Americans understand that winning the war against Iraqi insurgents will be, at least in part, a matter of winning the hearts and minds of Iraqi noncombatants so they turn against U.S. enemies hiding among them. What's less clear is just how to woo civilians to America's side.
Adopt American advertising techniques, suggests a RAND Corp. report released in mid-July. "Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation" is chock-a-block with recommendations for how GIs can become PR operatives in unconventional conflicts.
For one thing, notes the report's lead author, Todd Helmus, the U.S. military needs to update its own brand. Our adversaries have seen the truth behind the "force of might" brand: You can't beat the United States on the open battlefield, force on force. Instead, they've turned to bleeding away American resolve by hiding among the civilian population and continually inflicting casualties, often by homemade bombs.
The military needs a new brand to match its new reality: "The same infantry battalion that fights tooth and nail to establish a foothold in enemy-held urban territory must further conduct kind-hearted and culturally attuned stability-and- support operations while being prepared for administration of restrained violence directed at insurgents." Perhaps the branding message might be "We will help you," the report suggests. Or perhaps the motto adopted by Maj. Gen. James Mattis for his 1st Marine Division while preparing to invade Iraq in 2003: "No better friend, no worse enemy," the epitaph of Roman dictator Sulla in 78 B.C.
Branding isn't just a way to win over the locals, either, Helmus notes. It's a vital method for re-educating military service members, too. For example, the Army soldier's creed emphasizes the need to destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat. "It speaks to the pre-eminent focus . . . on conducting conventional military operations and leaves soldiers ill prepared to meet the . . . needs of the [counterinsurgency] environment," Helmus writes. Better to teach soldiers that befriending locals and restraining the use of force can be just as great a military achievement as overwhelming the enemy with firepower.
He recommends realigning training and rewards to cultivate "softer" skills, even to the point of awarding battlefield medals for valorous acts in pursuit of counterinsurgency interests.
Face-Off Over Earmarks
In football and basketball, you always can expect a good show when the Sooners meet the Cornhuskers. Now, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn and Nebraska Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson are raising dust in a squabble over pork barreling.
Coburn took the first shot, pressing Nelson to drop a $7.5 million earmark for 21st Century Systems Inc. for military software, which he called "video games." Nelson responded with a slap at an Oklahoma firm that got federal dollars to help produce Full Spectrum Warrior, a popular Sony video game produced in concert with the Defense Department. Coburn parried with a request that Defense Secretary Robert Gates investigate whether 21st Century used any federal funds to lobby legislators for earmarks.
According to the Omaha World Herald, 21st Century gets 80 percent of its revenue through federal contracts, and more than $40 million was steered directly to the company by Congress members. Nelson has snagged more than $25 million for the firm, which employs his son, Patrick, as marketing director. His $7.5 million earmark in the fiscal 2008 defense appropriations bill would fund a software system for targeting bombs.
Coburn claims the Pentagon hasn't asked for any of 21st Century's technology. Company chief executive officer Jeff Hicks counters that Defense has awarded the firm more than 100 Small Business Innovation Research Program contracts. The firm has given more than $160,000 to candidates since 2000, mostly Democrats on Defense appropriations and oversight committees, according to Fox News.
Government By Charity
As the government has pulled back from directly delivering services, nonprofit organizations have stepped in to the breach. The Government Accountability Office recently reported that government spent about $317 billion through charitable organizations in 2004 and that federal support to nonprofits grew more than 230 percent from 1980 to 2004. Past research indicates that a large proportion of federal spending on nonprofits went to hospitals through the Medicare program-about $115 billion in fiscal 2001. Money also flows directly via research grants to universities and indirectly via grants to states and local governments, which then fund charitable entities. The organizations also benefit from their exemption from federal taxes.
Data is relatively scarce about nonprofits' role in implementing initiatives, GAO found. "Given the way the sector is woven into the basic fabric of our society, it is essential that we maintain and cultivate its inherent strength and vitality and have accurate and reliable data on the overall size and funding flows to [it]," the report stated.