NEW YORK, Nov 25: The United States is losing the war of ideas in the Muslim world as it has failed to explain its diplomatic and military actions, says a report by a Pentagon advisory panel.
According to the New York Times, the Defence Science Board Report, which has not been released to the public, says the institutions charged with "strategic communication" stand broken, and calls for a comprehensive reorganization of the government's public affairs, public diplomacy and information efforts.
The report says that "Muslims do not 'hate our freedom', but rather they hate our policies". It adds that "when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy".
The report warns that no public relations plan or information operation can defend America from flawed policies. "America's negative image in the world and diminished ability to persuade are consequences of factors other than the failure to implement communications strategies," says the 102-page report, completed in September.
"Interests collide. Leadership counts. Policies matter. Mistakes dismay our friends and provide enemies with unintentional assistance. Strategic communication is not the problem, but it is a problem."
COMPARISON WITH COMMUNISM: The report, the NYT says, compares the national security challenge of the post-9/11 world to the decades-long struggle against Communism. But the study then argues that the government's cold-war-era communications institutions have not understood that the Muslim world - and Muslim extremists - present different challenges.
The report scolds the government for casting the new threat of Muslim militancy in a way that offends most Muslims. "In 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'," the report states.
The study does not constitute official policy, but it is described by the Pentagon's civilian and military leadership as capturing the essential themes of a debate that is now roiling not just the Defence Department but the entire United States government.
The debate centres on how far the United States can and should go in managing, even manipulating, information to deter enemies and persuade allies or neutral nations, the Times said.
There is little disagreement about the importance and utility of battlefield deception to help assure the success of a military operation and protect American or allied soldiers. But there is great concern among public affairs officials in the military at proposals for regional or even global information operations, especially if those efforts include falsehoods.
"Today we reflexively compare Muslim 'masses' to those oppressed under Soviet rule," the report adds. "This is a strategic mistake. There is no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-US groundswell among Muslim societies - except to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the US so determinedly promotes and defends."
The rub is that in an environment of 24-hour news and the Internet, overseas information operations easily become known to the American people, and any specific government-sponsored information campaign not based on fact risks damaging the nation's overall credibility.
The Defence Science Board report, "Strategic Communication", proposes a permanent "strategic communication structure" within the White House National Security Council and urges elevated roles and responsibilities for a designated senior officer within other government organizations, including the State Department and the Pentagon.
In the eyes of the Muslim world, the report adds, "American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering". The report also says: "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 - the United States today is without a working channel of communication to the world of Muslims and of Islam."
Larry Di Rita, the Pentagon spokesman, told the New York Times that the report had elevated the debate within the Defence Department, but added that no formal decisions had been made about reorganizing how the Pentagon and military communicate.
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