Nov. 6, 2007 - Remarks to Univ. Of Oklahoma Journalism Students
January 25, 2008
General George W. Casey, Jr.
Chief of Staff of the Army
OU Journalism Remarks
6 November 2007
General Casey: It's great to be here. I'm going to talk a little bit about the -- Can I see officially how many folks were here last night' Okay, so I apologize in advance for a little repetition, but I think it's important for me to set the context for the environment that I think the country's going to be operating in and then for those of you who are budding journalists, the environment that I think you'll probably be operating in. And I'll talk a little bit about a topic, about the media and the military and give you some personal insights about how I think we can both work to make that better, and better for both of us.
Those of you who are [inaudible] weren't here last night, I can tell you the people that were were shameless in their praise of Allen. [Laughter]. Anyway.
I will talk briefly about how I see the security environment that the country will be facing for the next couple of decades. That will basically be a review of last night. Then I want to talk about how I see the nature of conflict in the future and how that's changed over time from the nature of the conflict we thought we would fight in the Cold War in Europe and we actually fought in Iraq and Kuwait several times. Then I'll wrap up with just some thoughts on military/media interaction.
I will tell you, I used to [inaudible] of Iraq, you shouldn't take military advice from politicians and you shouldn't take political advice from generals. I'll repeat the same caveat to you. You shouldn't take journalistic advice from generals, and you shouldn't take military advice from [journalists].
Anyway, let's talk about the environment. Our country has been at war for over six years, since we were attacked in New York and Washington on September 11th. And we are at war with a global extremist terrorist network that is out to destroy our way of life and [inaudible]. That's what they say. They have a long view, it's a 100 year view, and they're very patient. But make no mistake about it, that is their goal.
Historically, people have not necessarily been able to focus on threats that don't impact them directly. If you think back to Churchill and the years leading up to World War II and he was talking about the gathering storm of Nazi Germany. He was basically booted out of his seat in parliament for his [inaudible] pressure on them.
I don't necessarily equate the two, but this is a very real threat and it is not a threat that's going to quite and [go home peaceably]. It's one that we need to work.
That said, we're at war. There's a global extremist terrorist network out there and I see the trends around the globe moving in directions that will actually exacerbate that threat rather than lessen it. I went through some trends last night that I'll just work through here briefly.
Globalization. There's no question that globalization is having a positive impact on the prosperity of people all around the world. Unfortunately the benefits of that prosperity are primarily [inaudible]. If you look at where poverty is around the world -- South America, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia -- you've got a [further] developing have and have not culture that could be leveraged by these ideological extremist groups.
Technology. Again, pluses and minuses. The very technology that ties us all together that makes information available to anyone in the world. I had a training program for generals, that I'd take them out to a business that's transformational in how they operate. I'd have them sit down with the leaders of that business so they understand how to do transformation. I took them out to [inaudible] and in 1995 Google came up with a one sentence vision statement -- "Capture the world's information and make it available to everyone." They have been very very successful at that and information is available to anyone with a computer [inaudible] and it's hugely powerful. But by the same token, it's also available to terrorist organizations and they're using it to export terror around the world.
You all know about demographic changes that are coming especially in the less developed countries. The population of some of these [less developed] countries, particularly ones like Pakistan where there is already an extremist threat and [are] expected to double in the next 10 to 15 years. Very challenging.
The flip side of that is middle class and [inaudible]. The middle class in India is already exceeding the population of the United States. You're seeing the same type thing in China. That creates increased pressure for resources. Our resources primarily [inaudible] out of the MidEast. The MidEast will become more, not less, important to us here in the coming years.
The two [trends] that bother me the most are the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and failed states that become safe havens for terrorist organizations. There are over 1200 terrorist organizations around the world. I won't say all of them, but a majority of them are seeking chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons. There is no question in my mind that when they get those they will attempt to use them against their fellow man. That's something that keeps me awake at night.
And failed states. What we saw happen in Afghanistan can be replicated in other countries. Countries that are either unable or unwilling to govern themselves. Those countries can become bases for terrorist organizations to conduct and export terror in the region and around the world.
So as I look ahead in the coming decades I see the country and our allies in a developed world facing a decade of what I call persistent conflict. And that's the tragic confrontation among state, non-state and individual actors who are increasingly willing to use violence to accomplish their political and ideological ends. That's a mouthful. A political science mouthful, but it's about as simply as I can say it. [Inaudible], non-state individual actors, that's a big [inaudible] and I'll talk about that in a second. And then willing to use violence to accomplish their objectives.
So as you look to that, and as you look at your journalistic future, there are certainly large opportunities here I would think to cover conflict.
Let me talk about the nature of that future conflict because it's going to be different. We've seen it already. I think the first principal different is that it's not going to be state on state. We can't [inaudible] forever, because it's not. As we look to the future, one thing that is absolutely certain, that however hard we try to think about the future, we're always going to get it wrong. We're never going to get it precisely right. When the [inaudible] failed, we can't predict the future, we can't read people's minds, so whatever we do, we have to have virtual strategies that can adapt when we [inaudible].
But all of the international norms, international law, are set up to govern state on state conflict and that's not what we're doing now. And those states that are involved in conflict are doing it covertly so they're not exposed. They're doing it [clandestinely], like Iran. What Iran is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan right now is clandestine. It's through their Kudz force, their revolutionary guard force, who are working through locals. They're providing them the weapons and the training. That's the kind of thing that we'll be facing.
Non-state actors. Very difficult if not impossible to deter. It's very hard to deter a terrorist group. They have no population that can be [inaudible]. They have nothing that's exposed. It really changes the way that you have to think about conflict.
The second, and I mentioned this a little bit last night, the second key difference, is in conventional war you fight around the population. You're target is the enemy force. You're trying to destroy an enemy force or [inaudible]. Your target is [inaudible]. In fact the population makes your job more complicated. You think about the history that you've read where large armies have bypassed big urban areas, where [inaudible] refugees. You move them out of your way, you try to keep them out of the [inaudible]. It's very different in the conflict we are seeing now in Iraq and Afghanistan and I believe we'll see for the rest of the 21st Century. The combat will take place among the population rather than around it. That requires us militarily to act differently.
I think it also complicates your lives as journalists because the story becomes inherently far more complex than reporting on this force is here, this force is here, this battle took place, these guys won, these guys lost. It's a much much different environment and much much more complex. Hold that thought.
The third element is that we are facing truly adaptive enemies and they are employing asymmetric tactics and techniques against us. That's no surprise. They've seen the impact of the conventional power of the United States of America and its allies. There's no question we're the best in the world in doing that. They are quick learners. In Iraq there has not been a large battle since November 2004 when we went in and cleaned the terrorists out of Fallujah. There were about 3,000 terrorists sand insurgents in Fallujah at that time. We killed or captured probably 2,000 of them and 1,000 of them got away. They have never massed in anything like that again. You're talking about 50 or 60 is the maximum that we see. Every time they do we bring the power of our military against them. So it's a very different environment.
What they're doing is they're using asymmetric tactics and improvised explosive devices to gradually attrit us and portray to our publics through the media that they are gaining an upper hand on us, which they're not. They aren't even close to any type of military defeat in Iraq or Afghanistan. In six years of war, we've never lost a squad in battle. In the history of warfare that's very significant.
So we have to train our leaders to adapt to that. War is hard enough anyway, but when you take it out of [inaudible] batteries, these are the good guys, these are the bad guys, this is what you need to do, we can deal with that. But we're all having to recalibrate ourselves to operate in this asymmetric environment. An environment where the military tools of the trade aren't necessarily going to be decisive. That's a big challenge for us.
These conflicts are going to be longer duration. The war, the ground war in Iraq was about three weeks. The Iraqi military forces collapsed, we broke their will. The stability operations in the aftermath of that war have gone on for six years. And these struggles are about the population. The population is the prize. And they are inherently political struggles. And in political struggles you don't succeed until people make choices. They don't make choices until they feel that their rights can and will be protected by the government. Until then, the struggle will continue.
So these things are going to stretch out over time. That means you're not going to have quick success. What I saw in Iraq is that the successes we do have are relatively small. They're local successes. And they don't necessarily add up to items of international significance. So the good things that happen on a daily basis all around Iraq don't necessarily wind up in the media.
What happens is you're reporting the violence, which there is violence in Iraq and Afghanistan every day. But at the same time there are good things happening and the good things don't rise to the level of attention so what you have is a picture that it's all violence and there are no positive things happening.
I have no great interest [story] on that one because violence is news, there's no question about it. But I'd ask you to think about that.
Last, and probably most significant, the most significant to you I think, is we're fighting these wars now in the glare and under the microscope of the 24 hour media cycle. You can project, and it's instantaneous, from anywhere on the globe to television in a minute. That's both a positive and a negative also.
But anything we do we have to take into account the media reaction to what we're saying and doing about a military operation. And it's an element for us that we know we have to deal with.
To wrap up, future conflicts. Very complex. A dedicated effort to understand. I remember when I was a colonel, a brigadier, back in the United States knowing I was going to Germany and I'd be involved in the Balkans, trying to understand what the heck was going on by reading the papers, reading books, and all the pitches. I know we have some people from Kosovo and Macedonia here. The names of [inaudible]. It's very hard to get the essence of a complex situation like that from [inaudible] and you really have to go out and immerse yourself in the story.
Again, [inaudible] population. Two elements of that. We're all subject to manipulation by the [inaudible] of the population. It's interesting for me to watch my young soldiers. If an Iraqi spoke English the natural tendency was to trust them more than some who didn't speak English because they couldn't relate as well. I watched our guys get manipulated. I got manipulated myself in the Balkans. So you just have to be careful about that. And the media is also subject to that level of manipulation.
The other thing is you don't have freedom of movement in these environments. The media is a target. I want to say [inaudible] in Iraq and Afghanistan. So you are a target. And when [inaudible] by the terrorists and the insurgents for their own aims. So you don't have freedom of movement. So how do you get out, how do you get the story' That's something to talk about in questions and answers.
Lastly, as I mentioned, the pressure of the 24 hour cycle. You have a conflict that plays out very slowly yet there's a demand on reporters to generate reports about what's going on every day. That's just something which you have to sort out.
So the nature of future conflict is something that we all need to talk about because it's going to change our relationships and we all need to think our way through that. I think now more than ever understanding an appropriate interaction between the media and the military is even more important.
Let me just take a swing here at some thoughts about the media and military interaction.
I was looking at the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists. It says, "public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy." I absolutely believe that. I think everybody in the military absolutely believes that. In fact we fight to allow that to happen and that's one of our inherent freedoms that we enjoy here in the United States that we take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. So we're all after the same thing.
The issue is how do they come undone' How do we get [inaudible] in this' And friction and tension is not necessarily all bad, by the way.
As I said last night, we need to get to know the others' culture. And I think this applies to any field we go into whether it's business or whether it's academics or whether it's foreign policy or military operations, you need to know the culture of the [individual you're reporting on]. And they're all different. Because I had no [inaudible] cultures. And frankly, it really wasn't until I got to be about a colonel that I started to see myself the impact of organizational cultures. First in the Army, then in organizations outside the Army. But you need to understand how people think and why they think like they do and why they do what they do. You start to begin to understand that, and it takes time and it takes an investment of your effort, but when you do that your ability to report becomes much greater.
I'm going to show you just a tape here at the end, just to give you an idea of what kinds of things stimulate us and what we think about [inaudible]. It's intended to just give you a little peek inside the Army's culture.
The second thing I'd tell you, and I'm sure this is the same thing [inaudible] was telling you, it's the same thing he demonstrated when he went to Iraq,  years old, after a story that was an important story to tell. And I think that kind of zeal [inaudible] professional journalist, no matter how old you get it's always there. There's an important story to tell, I need to understand it, to understand it I need to go there and I need to see it and feel it and touch it until I understand it, and then I need to report it.
Now I was there when Allen made his last [inaudible] at 68 years old. As he said, he came to Iraq, spent some time walking around, and I was going down to visit one of our [inaudible] facilities right on the border of Kuwait. I was meeting [inaudible] some place else. That night our guys found a tunnel about 600 feet long just like on the Great Escape. Went form inside the compound to outside the compound. There could have been [inaudible], if it had gotten outside the compound and there was, you could have escaped. There could have been a huge escape out of that compound. So it was big news. Al just happened to be there. I was working for [inaudible]. I think at that time it was a weekly or bi-weekly -- It was a weekly newspaper about the [inaudible]. But Allen was the only journalist there. He would hunt for a story and blast it across the media. It was wonderful. Of course the other part of the story is Al didn't have all the numbers he needed on the cell phone so we had to get another one before we could give him the numbers. He didn't know how to work his cell phone. [Laughter]. You can appreciate that.
But Al got this story, reported it, and it was exactly right. And we got calls from national news organizations in Washington saying how come you didn't give us that story' I had to bite my tongue.
Anyway, getting out, going after the story, and then sticking with it until you get it right. And right is in the eye of the beholder. As you'll see, you have to hold the story up and look at it from all different angles and aspects. That's where the culture comes in. And as you develop understanding of other cultures here you'll be able to understand why this general is standing there telling you something that you know isn't quite right but it's what he believes.
The tenacity and the perseverance to stay with a story until you're comfortable that it's not only comprehensive but it's thorough and it's fair, and it's an accurate reflection of what you see. [Inaudible]. But I have seen more journalists who fit that bill by far than [inaudible]. I mentioned I participated in a roast for Bob Woodruff, the ABC reporter who was very seriously injured while covering our forces north of Baghdad in January, 2006. Very very serious brain injury. In fact I remember telling Sheila when I got the report that [inaudible] was going to make it but we weren't sure about Bob. He has worked himself back over the last 13 months where he actually went back on television 13 months after this horrific accident. But Bob, who was the ABC anchor at that time, recently [inaudible], was out in Iraq in the back of an Iraqi armored vehicle, getting out, trying to understand the story of our soldiers working with the Iraqi soldiers.
Kimberly Dozier is another great example. She was out with our soldiers, attacked by an IED, almost died, and I saw her [inaudible] in Baghdad operating [inaudible]. She has worked herself back to where she's now a Pentagon correspondent there.
It's the fire inside that keeps those folks going.
A little sideline on Bob Woodruff. He not only has recovered personally, he has established a foundation on supporting research on traumatic brain injury and is making a huge contribution to keeping attention focused on what has become the signature injury of this war. That's pretty good character, right'
Work to get it right. Know the culture and work to get it right. And that's actually very much at the limits of my journalistic expertise so I'll be happy to take your questions here about other ways to connect better with the military with your organization that you're covering.
Again, understand the culture that you're operating in and the context that you're operating in, and having the zeal and the drive to get the story right. I think [inaudible] help you as you go through your careers.
I'd like to just share with you a video here. The video that we showed at our annual convention. The theme of our annual convention was America's Army, the Strength of the Nation. This video gets at the culture that's behind that.
You can see your local recruiter to sign up. [Laughter].
That's just the heart of the military, my view on this. Values, commitment to the ideals that this country stands for, and selfless service and Warrior Ethos. With that, I'd be happy to take your questions. Your penetrating and challenging questions. [Laughter