Thursday, December 02, 2004

Bush's "communications problem" in the GWOT

In what will likely serve to augment the Bush regime's hatred for anything labelled "scientific", a Pentagon group called the Defense Science Board has issued a report that labels the Bush regime's Middle East "communications strategy" as an unmitigated disaster in terms of its effort to win over the hearts and minds of the peoples of the Middle East.

I must say that I find the reference to Bush's "communications problem" almost as amusing as references to his "intelligence failures."

But leave that to one side. What's really striking is that the Pentagon would have posted a paper that in so many ways repudiates everything that Bush has been saying about the GWOT. Let me pick out a few passages.

America is losing the war for hearts and minds:

We face a war on terrorism, intensified conflict within Islam, and insurgency in Iraq. Worldwide anger and discontent are directed at America’s tarnished credibility and ways the U.S. pursues its goals. There is consensus that America’s power to persuade is in a state of crisis....

Opinion surveys conducted by Zogby International, the Pew Research Center, Gallup (CNN/USA Today), and the Department of State (INR) reveal widespread animosity toward the United States and its policies. A year and a half after going to war in Iraq, Arab/Muslim anger has intensified. Data from Zogby International in July 2004, for example, show that the U.S. is viewed unfavorably by overwhelming majorities in Egypt (98 percent), Saudi Arabia (94 percent), Morocco (88 percent), and Jordan (78 percent). The war has increased mistrust of America in Europe, weakened support for the war on terrorism, and undermined U.S. credibility worldwide. Media commentary is consistent with polling data. In a State Department (INR) survey of editorials and op-eds in 72 countries, 82.5 % of commentaries were negative, 17.5% positive.

As a framing device, the "global war on terrorism" meme confuses more than it clarifies and that leads to misplaced policy objectives:

The events of September 11, 2001 were a catalyst in creating a new way to think about national security. The Global War on Terrorism replaced the Cold War as a national security metanarrative.... Like the Cold War frame, the terrorism frame marginalizes other significant issues and problems: failing states, non-proliferation, HIV/AIDS pandemic, economic globalization, transnational threats other than terrorism, and global warming. Often the terrorism frame directs attention to tactics not strategy. The focus is more on capturing and killing terrorists than attitudinal, political, and economic forces that are the underlying source of threats and opportunities in national security....

We call it a war on terrorism ― but Muslims in contrast see a history-shaking movement of Islamic restoration. This is not simply a religious revival, however, but also a renewal of the Muslim World itself. And it has taken form through many variant movements, both moderate and militant, with many millions of adherents ― of which radical fighters are only a small part.... U.S. policies and actions are increasingly seen by the overwhelming majority of Muslims as a threat to the survival of Islam itself....

Equating the GWOT with the Cold War is likewise misleading:

The Cold War emphasized dissemination of information to "huddled masses yearning to be free." Today we reflexively compare Muslim "masses" to those oppressed under Soviet rule. This is a strategic mistake. There is no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-U.S. groundswell among Muslim societies — except to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the U.S. so determinedly promotes and defends....

American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single-digits in some Arab societies. Muslims do not "hate our freedom," but rather, they hate our policies....

When American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, 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 — but Muslims do not feel this way: they feel oppressed, but not enslaved.

Bush's foreign policy is strengthening, not weakening, our true enemies:

The dramatic narrative since 9/11 has essentially borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars. American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims. Fighting groups portray themselves as the true defenders of an Ummah (the entire Muslim community) invaded and under attack — to broad public support. What was a marginal network is now an Ummah-wide movement of fighting groups. Not only has there been a proliferation of "terrorist" groups: the unifying context of a shared cause creates a sense of affiliation across the many cultural and sectarian boundaries that divide Islam....

The 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. Rather, it is a fundamental problem of credibility. Simply, there is none....

That the American belief that we can be both good and pursue our interests is a crock:

Americans believe that while the U.S. necessarily shapes foreign policies to support our national interests, those same interests are not necessarily in opposition to the interests of other nations and cultures. To the contrary, Americans are convinced that the U.S. is a benevolent "superpower" that elevates values emphasizing freedom and prosperity as at the core of its own national interest. Thus, for Americans, "U.S. values" are in reality "world values"... so deep down we assume that everyone should naturally support our policies. Yet the world of Islam — by overwhelming majorities at this time — sees things differently. Muslims see American policies as inimical to their values, American rhetoric about freedom and democracy as hypocritical, and American actions as deeply threatening.

Finally, the Bush regime is itself the core of the problem:

There is consensus... that U.S. public diplomacy is in crisis. Missing are strong leadership, strategic direction, adequate coordination, sufficient resources, and a culture of measurement and evaluation. America’s image problem, many suggest, is linked to perceptions of the United States as arrogant, hypocritical, and self-indulgent.... So far these concerns have produced no real change. The White House has paid little attention.

Taken as a whole, this report underscores how completely Bush's foreign policy (and related communications approach) has been subordinated to winning the hearts and minds 51% of Americans in November 2004. And although doing and saying things that please evangelical American farmers proved an effective reelection strategy for Bush, from a policy perspective it's been a disaster for all Americans -- and for the world.

Finally, the last thing that struck me as I read this report was that it helps to illuminate another underpinning of what readers of this blog will know I refer to as Bush's "other GWOT," namely his global war on transparency. This report makes clear why Bush is waging the other GWOT: the more information flows freely, the less Bush can spin. (As the report concludes, "Fifty years ago political struggles were about the ability to control and transmit scarce information. Today, political struggles are about the creation and destruction of credibility." It's not even necessary to specify whose credibility has been destroyed. Let's just say that it's not Osama's.)

As the Cold War taught us, the free flow of information is the enemy of projects of domination, and the desire to contain the flow of information is the hallmark of a politically bankrupt regime. Reports like this will surely only strengthen the hand of those in the Bush regime who wish to further restrain the free flow of information.

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