of the Under Secretary of Defense
What is the Problem? Who Are We Dealing With?
information campaign — or as some still would have it, “the war of
ideas,” or the struggle for “hearts and minds” — is important to
every war effort. In this war it is an essential objective, because the
larger goals of U.S. strategy depend on separating the vast majority of
non-violent Muslims from the radical-militant Islamist-Jihadists. But
American efforts have not only failed in this respect: they may also have
achieved the opposite of what they intended.
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.
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
longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as
tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the
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.
the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to
democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in
contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled
in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly
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.
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.
Muslims see Americans as strangely narcissistic — namely, that the war
is all about us. As the Muslims see it, everything about the war is —
for Americans — really no more than an extension of American domestic
politics and its great game. This perception is of course necessarily
heightened by election-year atmospherics, but nonetheless sustains their
impression that when Americans talk to Muslims they are really just
talking to themselves.
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. Inevitably therefore, whatever Americans do and say
only serves the party that has both the message and the “loud and clear”
channel: the enemy.
Arguably the first step toward mitigating and eventually even reversing this situation is to better understand the values and worldview of the target audience itself.