US Has Zero Credibility Among Muslims Pentagon
and radical Islamists are winning the propaganda war against the
United States, says a high-level Pentagon panel, which concluded
that Bush administration policies in the Middle East, its fundamental
failure to understand the Muslim world, and a lack of imagination
in using new communications technologies are responsible.
a report concluded in September but only released this week, the
Defense Science Board (DSB) called for a major overhaul of Washington's
"public diplomacy" and "strategic communication"
apparatus that would include much more money and the creation of
a new independent agency to enlist the support of the private sector,
researchers, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to promote
U.S. messages to an increasingly hostile Islamic world.
communication is a vital component of U.S. national security,"
stressed the 111-page report. "It is in crisis, and it must
be transformed with a strength of purpose that matches our commitment
to diplomacy, defense, intelligence, law enforcement and homeland
security. ... Collaboration between government and the private sector
on an unprecedented scale is imperative."
document also called on U.S. policymakers to spend more time "listening"
to their intended audience and use messages that "should seek
to reduce, not increase, perceptions of arrogance, opportunism,
and double standards."
DSB, made up of private sector and academic experts appointed by
Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, normally confines its advice to
scientific and technological matters. While it has no executive
authority, its prominence, the generally hawkish cast of its membership
and the urgent tone of the report will likely place its recommendations
high on the agenda in President George W. Bush's second term.
study is based on interviews with senior U.S. public-diplomacy,
strategic-communication, and psychological-warfare officials and
experts, more than a dozen studies by NGOs, such as the Council
on Foreign Relations, public-opinion surveys, and internal government
reports over the past three years.
of them have shown a sharp plunge in U.S. standing throughout the
Arab and Islamic worlds, particularly since the March 2003 invasion
of Iraq, as well as virtually total failure of the United States
to effectively reverse that view, in large part due to the perception
among Muslims that Washington's policies are aimed at their submission.
one task force headed by former President George H.W. Bush's top
Middle East adviser, Edward Djerejian, concluded 13 months ago,
"'Spin' and manipulative public relations and propaganda are
not the answer. Foreign policy counts. ... Sugarcoating and fast
talking are no solutions."
DSB report also stresses that U.S. policies in the Mideast
notably Washington's support for Israel, the Iraq invasion, and
its backing of autocratic leaders in the region make it very
difficult for Washington to persuade Muslims of its good intentions.
The report, however, does not advise changing policies, which would
be beyond its mandate.
gap between Washington's rhetoric and its actions in the region,
as perceived by Muslims, has contributed to a virtually total loss
of credibility, argues the study.
larger goals of U.S. strategy depend on separating the vast majority
of nonviolent Muslims from the radical-militant Islamist-jihadists,"
it argues. "But American efforts have not only failed in this
respect: they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended"
by essentially bearing out "the entire radical Islamist bill
contrary to the mantra of the administration and its neoconservative
advisers, asserts the report, "Muslims do not 'hate our freedom,'
but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice
their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor
of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing
even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies,
most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf
"when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy
to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving
hypocrisy," while "saying that 'freedom is the future
of the Middle East' is seen as patronizing, suggesting that Arabs
are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World,"
which, asserts the report, is not how Arabs see their situation
the contrary, it adds, the large majority yearn "to be liberated
perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the U.S. so
determinedly promotes and defends."
the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq
has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering,"
notes the document.
critical problem in American public diplomacy directed toward the
Muslim world is not one of 'dissemination of information,' or even
one of crafting and delivering the 'right' message," the report
it is a fundamental problem of credibility. Simply, there is none
the United States today is without a working channel of communication
to the world of Muslims and of Islam. Inevitably, therefore, whatever
Americans do and say only serves the party that has both the message
and the 'loud and clear' channel: the enemy."
and administration efforts to depict the "war on terrorism"
that Bush launched after the 9/11 attacks as a war against "another
totalitarian evil," as in the Cold War, have been a "strategic
mistake," according to the report.
stark contrast to the Cold War, the United States today is not seeking
to contain a threatening state-empire, but rather seeking to convert
a broad movement within Islamic civilization to accept the value
structure of western modernity an agenda hidden within the
official rubric of a 'war on terrorism.'"
we really want to see the Muslim world as a whole and the Arab-speaking
world in particular move more toward our understanding of 'moderation'
and 'tolerance,' we must reassure Muslims that this does not mean
they must submit to the American way," argues the report.
succeed, Washington must target those in the Islamic world "who
support, or are likely to support, our views based on their own
culture, traditions, and attitudes about such things as personal
control, choice, and change," it adds.
believe the most 'movable' targets will be the so-called secularists
of the Muslim world: businesspeople, scientists, non-religious educators,
politicians or public administrators, musicians, artists, poets,
writers, journalists, actors, and their audiences and admirers."
themes and messages that can persuade this group to back U.S. goals
include: "respect for human dignity and individual rights;
individual education and economic opportunity; and personal freedom,
safety, and mobility," suggests the report, which also stresses
developing new techniques for reaching that audience, including
electronic mail, Internet chat rooms, video games, and interactive
traditional efforts, such as television broadcasts, person-to-person
exchanges, the enlistment of celebrities in government public-diplomacy
efforts, should also be expanded by injecting hundreds of millions
of dollars into existing programs that have, says the report, become
"anemic" since the Cold War.
president should also establish a new deputy national security advisor
for strategic communication post in the White House, as well as
a "strategic communication committee" within the National
Security Council (NSC) on which senior representatives from all
relevant agencies should serve, it proposes.
should also establish a Center for Strategic Communication modeled
after the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) that, among other
things, would act as a think tank devising new programs, such as
a children's TV series in Arabic, to communicate core messages.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service