Harlan Ullman coined the doctrine of "shock and awe" in his 1996 book of the same name. The term has now become the catchphrase for the war in Iraq, entering the public vocabulary as a synonym for the massive air and firepower the United States has unleashed on Saddam Hussein. But what exactly does it mean? And why did the Pentagon adopt this strategy? Ullman--a former naval officer who is now a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington--spoke to NEWSWEEK's Arlene Getz about how the theory was being applied in Iraq.
NEWSWEEK: The Pentagon called Friday "A-Day"--the day on which its much-hyped "shock and awe" program began with a massive barrage on Baghdad. Is this what you envisaged?
Harlan Ullman: Actually, shock and awe started a couple of days ago when we went after Saddam Hussein. Decapitating--killing in plain English--is a classic case of shock and awe. When we put in place this campaign in which we did limited strikes, the threat of shock and awe and American military violence was there as an inducement for the Iraqi military to surrender. What you saw Friday appears to be a large version of shock and awe. This is not an air attack alone, this is not a ground attack. It is a 360-degree attack from all media--air, sea, ground and the ether from which electronic warfare is launched.
Then it's not just what happened in Baghdad?
People are fixated on Baghdad because we've got great television coverage. That misses the point. At the same time we're conducting simultaneous operations on the ground, the Seals went into Basra to take over the port, the Marines are racing north, the Army is racing north, and has inserted, I'm sure, in 20, 30, 40 locations throughout all of Iraq forces to seize strategic points, bridgeheads, potential air fields, possible weapons of mass destruction sites, command-and-control points, possibly police stations---all the things on which Iraqi military and political power rests.
Is the campaign going according to plan?
Right now [it is]. Actually, it's going better. But before we're euphoric, it ain't over till it's over.
How do you feel about "shock and awe" becoming the catchphrase of the war?
Bemused. David Martin of CBS called me about a month ago to tell me shock and awe is now the doctrine we're using in a war plan. And I said, 'No s...t.' That was the first inclination I got that this was being used.
But didn't you brief Colin Powell on the concept?
I did, but a long time ago, after he'd retired. And Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld at a later stage [was] informed about it. But I've never had any official discussion [with the Pentagon] about it and I'm unfamiliar with the war plans, so I don't know how much of our philosophy was really adopted and how much was just a buzzword phrase that was used.
Colin Powell praises you in his "My American Journey" memoir as "a teacher who raised my vision several levels." You're said to have inner-office access to both him and Rumsfeld. Have you spoken to them in recent days?
I've communicated with [Powell] recently.
How did his mood seem?
None of your business.
When exactly did you speak to him?
Before or after the war began on Wednesday?
Last year you wrote "Unfinished Business: Afghanistan, the Middle East and Beyond" (Citadel, 2002.) As someone who's been studying this region a long time were there any surprises about what's happened since the war started?
The only surprise is that we had the intelligence to target Saddam Hussein.
You're a Vietnam vet and a former commander of a destroyer in the Persian Gulf. How do you feel watching this live and incredible footage of events like the bombing of Baghdad?
It's terrific. It informs the public and I think the administration has been brilliant in the way it's handled the psychological warfare and the information warfare strategy.
Does real time coverage have any effect on military strategy?
No, because the press are loyal. And it's terrific because for a long time the split between the press and the military was artificial and dangerous. I do an awful lot of television, and I haven't heard of any reporter who's let them down. There's been a great respect for the reporter and the troops, and vice versa and that is healthy.
You've also used the use of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as an example of a shock-and-awe strategy. But in these high tech days, do you believe people can still be so easily shocked and awed?
Yes. But what we did with Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not to advocate nuclear weapons. On the contrary. [The argument was that] if you take the behavior of a suicidal race, the Japanese, and change it instantaneously through shock and awe--two bombs that did not kill as many people in a night as were killed in firebomb raids that we had over Tokyo--if you can do that without using nuclear weapons, if you can do that with force, with psychology, that's really the highest setting that the bar is going to be at.
You've said that the peace movement uses you as a villain; that they say your strategy means blowing up Baghdad.
The peace movement doesn't realize [what it means.] Shock and awe is using a minimum amount of force to achieve a maximum amount of gain.
The phrase is taken from the book you co-authored: "Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance" (National Defense University Press, 1996.) How did you come up with the doctrine?
[After the 1991 gulf war] a friend and I put together a little group [with] a tiny amount of money from the National Defense University. I recruited some of the guys I had met years ago, when I was a young instructor in the Navy at the National War College, where I first met Colin [Powell]. They included guys who commanded the highest levels in Desert Storm: Chuck Horner ran the air war, Freddie Franks was the 7th Corps commander, later on we got Gary Luck who was the 18th Airborne Corps commander--those were the two principal ground forces--and then a number of other four-star commanders who had been in service at the time of the war. All of the military guys had Vietnam experience, and the original question was, 'could we refight and win Desert Storm, not in six months, but in a day, a week, a month, with far less people?' To do that, it became clear that the object was not necessarily destroying the military, which had been our objective. The object was the enemy's behavior.
So it's all psychology in the end?
It's largely psychology. But what you're looking at is human behavior and how to get them to do things we want them to do and not do things we don't want them to do. And how to use military force, how to use information warfare, psychological operations, those things to make that happen.