Strategic communication: The abused and neglected tool in the present war
Excerpts from 2003 Pearl Harbor Day Address
Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2003
At a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, the United States has mobilized a global war against international terrorists and the regimes that sponsor them. It has built coalitions of the willing for different components of its global campaign. It has arrayed the most formidable combination of technology and firepower ever seen, and broken military record after military record in warfare on land, sea, air, and space. It has removed the first in the triad of the president's designated Axis of Evil. It has prepared to persevere for a generation or more. In October, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote a memorandum to his top military and civilian aides, asking probing, thought-provoking questions as his memos often do. He wondered if the Department of Defense has been changing enough to deal with the new security environment. He wondered if it was even possible to do so. He looked at what he called “mixed results” against main terrorist targets. Then he asked The Question: “Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?” In short: Are we eliminating terrorists more quickly than they can be recruited, or are they being recruited more quickly than we can eliminate them? Despite strong support for the United States in key quarters of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, anti-Americanism is sweeping the world.The Arab-Israeli question and alleged American arrogance are but parts of a much larger equation. Most of those who hate the U.S. have nothing to do with Palestine or Israel. Many have nothing to do with Islam or religion at all. These disparate movements have been gaining momentum long before 9/11, and long before this current presidency. They are rooted not simply in universities and political salons, but are out there in the grass-roots, all around the world: from Afghanistan and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the West Bank to Bolivia and Brazil, France and Germany, Russia and China. For the time being, at least, the United States of America is the world’s only superpower. While it is undisputedly a superpower in economic and military terms, it is no longer a superpower in what always had been its greatest strength of all – its moral leadership of the world. Hundreds of billions of dollars in first-class military and intelligence operations notwithstanding, the United States is in danger of abdicating its moral leadership. Perhaps it already has. With the exception of some fine rhetoric from the top, it has packed up its ideological bags and gone home. How does the Arab-Israeli conflict explain the rise of militant anti-American populism that has been sweeping Latin America? Marcela Sanchez noted in the Washington Post, “Throughout the hemisphere, new leaders are promulgating a kind of rhetoric about U.S. imperialistic ambitions eerily reminiscent of Cold War conspiracy theories of a generation ago. Such theories are not new. The problem this time around is that Washington is doing little to improve its image in the region and to counter such notions and the fears they engender. That leaves a vacuum too easily filled by the free flow of information – and disinformation – fueling anti-American sentiment in even the most distant corners of the continent.” Ditto for every single other continent and, since a Massachusetts senator broke the taboo last summer in a bid to help his junior colleague’s presidential campaign, here at home. This is a systematic, worldwide pattern of the United States having abdicated its strategic communication with the rest of the world, squandered its public diplomacy resources, and handed the forum over to the Wahhabis and the Bolivarians and the other radicals who hate everything we stand for. Consequently, we lost much of the human networks, goodwill and leverage we had built for decades through successful public diplomacy programs. The U.S. did away with crucial broadcasting, citizen exchanges, media services, cultural diplomacy, labor and entrepreneurial exchanges, and other education and training programs that had served the national interest. The Secretary of State doesn’t seem to take seriously the need to fill the vacant post of Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy. Yet nobody holds him accountable. Four years ago a government commission, coincidentally also headed by Donald Rumsfeld, warned that America faces a “Pearl Harbor” in space.Third-rate powers now have the ability to disrupt American satellite communications at will – and without fear of penalty. State-sponsors of terrorism have teamed up to attack U.S. assets in space. By successfully jamming our Telstar-12 telecommunications satellite over the Atlantic Ocean, the regimes of Fidel Castro in Cuba and the mullahs in Iran challenged our dominance of space and the assumptions of free access to satellite communication on which our society depends. That jamming – and the failed U.S. response to an act of space piracy or even war – succeed in depriving Iran’s internal opposition of its global TV and Internet links at a crucial time of political unrest, and enabled the ayatollahs to stomp it out. Despite – or perhaps, because of – weak U.S. diplomatic protests, the jamming Telstar-12’s transponder continued for nearly a month. Finally, the jamming stopped.But it didn’t stop against the far more influential, private Persian-language TV programming into Iraq from California. Zia Atabay, founder of one of the stations, NITV, told me, “In no way are they [the State Department] helping us.” The mullahs, he added, “are going to shut my mouth in America by remote control from Iran.” What a twisted irony: Instead of the U.S. using American satellites to support Iran’s then-growing democratic opposition against the mullahs, the mullahs successfully used an American satellite to silence the United States government from broadcasting into Iran, and to silence American citizens in California who were supporting the Iranian grassroots resistance movement. We have failed to engage in the strategic war for hearts and minds. We have willfully and consciously surrendered that crucial part of the battlespace. We ask ourselves why so much of the rest of the world doesn’t understand us. And we hold nobody accountable.