11/24/2004

Panel Sees U.S. Losing 'War of Ideas' Among Muslims

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is losing the war of ideas in the Islamic world, failing to elucidate its policies to Muslims wary of American intentions and 'self-serving hypocrisy,' a Pentagon (news - web sites) advisory panel has found.

The Defense Science Board, in a report made available on Wednesday, urged the creation of a "strategic communication" apparatus within the White House and an overhaul of public diplomacy, public affairs and information dissemination efforts by the Pentagon and State Department.

"If we really want to see the Muslim world as a whole and the Arabic-speaking world in particular move more toward our understanding of 'moderation' and 'tolerance,' we must reassure Muslims that this does not mean that they must submit to the American way," the report stated.

The toughly worded report said that while America's efforts to explain its policies have failed, improved public relations efforts cannot sell faulty policies. "Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies," the panel stated.

"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 states."

"Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy," the report stated.

The Bush administration has portrayed the war in Iraq (news - web sites) launched last year as a mission to bring democracy to that country in the hope that it could serve as a model to others in the Middle East.

U.S. intervention in the Muslim world, including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (news - web sites), had actually elevated the stature of radical enemies of America, the report stated.

"In 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 Muslim self-determination," the report stated.

The Defense Science Board is made up of civilian experts appointed by the Pentagon, and offers the department advice on scientific, technical and other matters.

WHAT IS PERMISSIBLE?

There has been a debate inside the U.S. government on what actions are permissible in providing information intended to influence allies and foes alike.

In 2002, the Defense Department shut down its new Office of Strategic Influence after critics accused the department of creating a propaganda office to spread lies around the world under the premise of misleading U.S. enemies.

"The 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," but was crucial in the U.S.-declared global war on terrorism, the report said.

"In this war, it is an essential objective because the larger goals of U.S. strategy depend on separating the vast majority of nonviolent Muslims from the radical-militant Islamist-Jihadists," it said.

"But American efforts have not only failed in this respect. They may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended," the report added.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said no decisions have been made on the report's recommendations, but added that "the Pentagon will not deviate from its guiding principle of making information available in a timely and accurate manner."

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