Psychological Warfare Must Precede Strike on Iran
by Bill Levinson
Originally published in The American Thinkers
Sun Tzu wrote 2,500 years ago that war is of vital interest to the state, and a matter of life and death. Colonel Paul Linebarger’s Psychological Warfare says the same of his science: “Yet success, though incalculable, can be overwhelming; and failure, though undetectable, can be mortal.” Most of the West does not understand this science, and Israel is particularly deficient in its study.
Any attack on Iran’s nuclear program will, in the absence of preparatory psychological warfare, unite the Iranian people against the attacker. Germans who had no use for Hitler and Nazism nonetheless fought harder when Allied troops entered Germany itself, and Russians who feared or despised Stalin took up arms against German invaders. Iran’s government is obviously relying on its people to react similarly to any Western effort to derail Iran’s nuclear program, and may in fact want to provoke an attack to divert the minds of Iranians from their government’s numerous shortcomings. This is why a PsyWar campaign must precede an attack on Iran, and it may in fact make such an attack unnecessary.
The campaign must educate the Iranian people that the West has no quarrel with them, but only with their rulers, who plan to attack other countries with nuclear weapons. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s “World Without Zionism” poster shows a glass ball with the Israeli flag falling through an hourglass, along with a broken one with an American flag at the bottom. Iranians must realize that their leaders are effectively brandishing weapons of mass destruction, which both invites and justifies a pre-emptive response.
The first step of such a campaign is to identify the Propaganda Man, or hypothetical audience we seek to persuade. Most countries have more than one Propaganda Man. In Iran, for example, we have the soldiers who control the means of violence, as well as civilians who live in fear of the government and religious police. Both audiences are likely to dread the inevitable nuclear retaliation should their rulers put their threats into effect.
The propaganda campaign should therefore state, “The West has no quarrel with Iran unless Iran starts it, in which case the target of Iran’s aggression would have no choice but to retaliate in kind and with overwhelming force. Tens of millions of Iranians would die, and the great cities and proud heritage that date back to your Persian ancestors would lie in ruins. This [insert pictures of victims from Hiroshima and Nagasaki] is not what you seek for your great nation, but it is where your self-serving rulers are leading you.”
The phrase “self-serving” is important because a leader who does not serve his followers loses what China calls the Mandate of Heaven: the right to lead as derived from effective service to stakeholders. This argument can be phrased with the ancient Indo-European word dher, for the duty of a leader or ruler to care for the welfare of his subjects. It appears, for example, in the name of Darius (a king of Persia), Jemadar (lieutenant, holder in trust of a body of men), and Dharma (the Right Way). The Iranian words for duty and stewardship should therefore be used as often as possible.
The first step is therefore to persuade Iranians that the Ahmadinejad government, unlike a true Persian leader, rules for its own benefit and not for that of its people. The next step is to tell Iranians, and especially those who control weapons, what they can do about it.
- Another great nation, the people of Germany, had a heritage of learning and culture that, while not as old as Iran’s, was the envy of Europe. Then they made the mistake of electing a self-serving demagogue named Adolf Hitler. Hitler said he would lead Germany to greatness, but by 1944, it was clear that he was leading Germany nowhere but to utter ruin. Millions of Germans already lay dead, and the nations that Germany had attacked the way your government threatens to attack the West were closing in on it from both sides.
Then a group of patriotic German officers realized that loyalty to Hitler was not compatible with loyalty to their Fatherland. These German patriots conspired to kill Hitler, overthrow his government, and make peace with the nations whom Hitler had attacked. Had they succeeded, it is quite likely that the Allies would have made peace without occupying and humiliating Germany as they did in 1945. The elimination of the Nazi government and Germany’s withdrawal from all occupied countries would have left the Allies with no real reason to continue to fight.
Does your duty to your countrymen and to Iran’s ancient heritage call upon you to help start a senseless war in which your friends and families are likely to die wholesale, or to remove the self-serving rulers who call for this war in the name of an ideology every bit as deranged as that of the Nazis?
The appeal can add that the Italian people took matters into their own hands with regard to Benito Mussolini, and the famous or infamous pictures of Mussolini hanging upside-down could be included as a suggestion as to what ordinary Iranians can do with their government — especially religious judges and secret police who have made Iranian dissidents disappear, or have sentenced women to be stoned to death for mostly imaginary offenses.
This propaganda offers the added effect of fomenting paranoia in the Iranian government, and Sir Thomas More’s Utopia actually recommended this approach. It was the practice of More’s fictional Utopians to offer a reward for the murder of the enemy leaders, with amnesty for any enemy leader who turned on his associates. The resulting breakdown of trust, at least in a despotic government, is quite likely to result in preemptive executions and/or assassinations.
Commentators on Sun Tzu’s Art of War added a case study in which a country sent a “secret” message to a high-ranking official on the other side, with the intention that it be intercepted to make it look like the official was disloyal. The valuable official was put to death; Germany used the same technique to cause the execution of a Russian general during the Second World War.
Colonel Linebarger contended quite accurately that psychological warfare is the most humane of all weapons. If you can persuade an enemy to lay down his arms, desert, malinger, or otherwise not do his master’s bidding, he won’t kill you, and you don’t have to kill him. The persuasion of the Iranian people to overthrow their dictators will save lives on all sides while offering Iranians a prosperous future free of religious oppression, violence, and the dreaded knock on the door in the middle of the night.