Good words, for certain, but President Bush missed out on one subtle point. He was indeed correct to note that, while Iraq wracked by horrific violence in 2006, countless US troops were working to bring some decency to the people of Iraq, despite the abhorrent conditions. He was also correct in mentioning that a free press is a paramount value in our society. Moreover, the President should also be credited for mentioning the value of blogs.
Yet, it's in the mention of blogs and the Internet that Mr. Bush missed a beat. Undoubtedly, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of service members with such pictures and videos. These policies were such that even a broadcast journalist, depicted in the town hall meeting above, could not disseminate videos of reconstruction efforts to an larger audience. The DoD had essentially shot itself in the foot, as the DoD's draconian anti-blogging policies virtually ensured that these images would never see the light of day. Milbloggers such as Captain Matthew Gallagher, author of "Kaboom: A Soldier's War Journal", were ordered to shut down their blogs, resulting in twenty-five Congressional inquiries. (Shameless plug: buy Matt's book, based on his blog)
Lt. General William Caldwell, then one of the military's top spokesmen in Iraq, was introduced to social media sites, such as Facebook and Youtube, by his younger staffers. Circumventing the Defense Department's IT bureaucracy, Lt. Gen. Caldwell and his staff created one of the most popular Youtube channels in the world at the time, showcasing successful missions, and highlighting development and reconstruction projects.
It took bold, senior-level pioneers to make the medium work, helping to dispel the belief that "weak leaders" might use the DoD's anti-blogging policy to crush dissent. Admiral James Stavridis was one of the first senior military officers to provide periodic dispatches during his travels about South and Central America, while serving as the Commander of US Southern Command. General Martin Dempsey, tapped to be the next Army Chief of Staff, has also posted at Small Wars Journal extensively, soliciting ideas and advice from from SWJ's brilliant, albeit somewhat eclectic audience.
Today, the military relies heavily on social media to tell its story. Its pervasive presence on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Youtube conveys the candor, bravery, and dedication of the US military and its allies to audiences all over the world. And we owe it to the efforts of these senior-level officers, as well as the dozens of "boots-on-ground" milbloggers who defied the DoD's policies and turned this medium into a mainstream occurrence. Sure, there's going to be some guffaws, and maybe some Gaga, but it's a small price to pay for ensuring that our side of the story makes it to the public domain.