The Bush administration has belatedly deployed its forces for a propaganda war to win over the Arab public. But the campaign, intended to convince doubters that the American attacks on Afghanistan are justified and its Middle East policy is evenhanded, has so far proved ineffectual. Thousands of words from American officials, it appears, have proved no match for the last week's news, which produced a barrage of pictures of wounded Afghan children and of Israeli tanks rolling into Palestinian villages.
"Rare are the moments in American history when a Congress has surrendered so many cherished freedoms in a single trip to the altar of immediate fear," writes John Nichols regarding the ambitiously named Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act which was recently approved by Congress. In addition to authorizing unprecedented levels of surveillance and incarceration of both U.S.
"In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the United States finds itself embroiled in two different battles," writes Princeton University history professor Nicholas Guyatt. "The first, waged on the plains and in the mountains of Afghanistan, pits the world's richest nation (and most powerful military) against one of the world's poorest. It's not hard to predict that the United States will probably win this war, although its task in finding a legitimate replacement for the Taliban may be much harder.The second battle, however, is of an altogether different order of magnitude.
The dictatorship that governs Pakistan was held in contempt by the West prior to September 11, first for its repression of democracy at home and second for its ties with terrorists. Now that it has become our ally against Afghanistan, however, the song has changed. "It may be a good thing that Pakistan is ruled by a friendly military dictator," says Newsweek magazine, "rather than what could well be a hostile democracy." As Robert Fisk points out, "This, of course, is the very policy that dictates Washington's relations with the Arab world.
Jerold M. Starr, executive director of Citizens for Independent Public Broadcasting, takes an in-depth look at the Public Broadcasting Service in a series of article for TomPaine.com. In part three, Starr writes, "It is times like these that Americans need a truly independent public broadcasting service.
American people remain largely uninformed about the many foreign policy decisions (including aiding in the overthrow of leaders in Iran and bombing Lebanon, Afghanistan, Sudan and Libya) that have inflamed much of the Islamic world. We instead are told that we are hated because we are rich, free and angelic. Nor are most Americans aware that Central Asia, according to the Oil and World Journal, will account for 80 percent of our oil by 2050, and that some people with connections to the Bush administration have commercial interests in that exploration.
The New York Times reports that Hollywood executives and White House officials discussed recently how the entertainment industry can help the Bush administration's war effort. "Bryce Zabel, the chairman of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, said there was a strong sense among executives at the meeting that the United States needed to do more to highlight its strengths internationally. The United States, Mr. Zabel said, is losing the propaganda war abroad because so many people are willing to line up against it.
The Pentagon has hired the Rendon Group, a well-known Washington public-relations firm, to help it explain U.S. military strikes in Afghanistan to global audiences. Rendon will be paid $397,000 over the next four months to monitor news media in 79 countries, conduct focus groups and create a counterterrorism Web site. Rendon's help is needed because "we are clearly losing the 'hearts and minds' issue," said one official involved in the administration spin effort.
Military analysts say propaganda is especially critical in a war against those isolated from Western views and infused with a dogmatic hatred for the United States. But is the military up to the task? A Pentagon report commissioned after psyops failures in the 1999 Kosovo conflict criticized the military for failing to keep pace with advances in electronic communications. It also called the equipment the Air Force is now using to broadcast radio and perhaps TV messages to Afghans "outdated and inadequate."
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has issued a new statement of policy that encourages federal agencies to resist Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The new statement supersedes a 1993 memorandum from Attorney General Janet Reno which promoted disclosure of government information through the FOIA unless it was "reasonably foreseeable that disclosure would be harmful." The Ashcroft policy rejects this "foreseeable harm" standard and instructs agencies to withhold information whenever there is a "sound legal basis" for doing so.