Department of Defense report lambasts communication failure in US War on Terror

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Monday, December 20, 2004

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A U.S. Department of Defense advisory committee has released a report harshly criticizing the U.S.-led "[[War on Terror]]". The report details communication failures with the Muslim world, and notes that current efforts may have achieved the opposite of their intended effect.

The report released without publicity the Wednesday before Thanksgiving by Defense Science Board, focuses on a failure of communication, which the Defense Science Board considers vital to the war on terror. It asserts this failure of "strategic communication" contributes to a perceived "negative image in world opinion and diminished ability to persuade" of the United States, and that a resulting atmosphere of hostility can manifest in numerous ways.

The list of harmful effects includes "terrorism, thin coalitions, harmful effects on business, restrictions on travel, declines in cross border tourism and education flows, and damaging consequences for other elements of U.S. soft power".

According to the report, "The information campaign ... 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."

By way of example, the report quotes figures from a June 2004 Zogby poll, claiming to show a significant drop in Arab support for the U.S. in the past couple years. Statistical results are reproduced below.

Country June 2004
April 2002
Morocco 11/88 38/61
Saudi Arabia 4/94 12/87
Jordan 15/78 34/61
Lebanon 20/69 26/70
UAE 14/73 11/87
Egypt 2/98 15/76

The report further claims, "American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists." As summarised in a Christian Science Monitor headline, 'They hate our policies, not our freedom'.

So why has support for the U.S. dropped? -- to single digits in some Arab nations. President Bush and others have famously claimed that America is hated for its freedom. But the Defense Science Board concluded that most Arabs "do not hate us for our values, but because of our policies." From the same Zogby study:

Saudi Arabia
Science / Technology 90/8 48/51 83/13 52/46 84/12
Freedom / Democracy 53/41 39/60 57/40 41/56 39/53
People 59/29 28/64 52/39 39/58 46/35
Movies / TV 60/37 35/60 56/41 30/66 54/43
Products 73/24 37/59 61/35 39/57 63/34
Education 61/16 12/74 59/29 38/54 63/23
Policy toward Arabs 4/90 4/85 8/89 5/86 7/87
Policy toward Palestinians 3/93 3/95 7/89 4/90 5/90
Policy on Terrorism 13/82 2/96 21/75 10/84 9/84
Iraq Policy 1/98 1/97 2/78 4/93 4/91

This study explains that while support for American values may not be overwhelming, it is practically non-existent for America's policies in the Middle East.

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

In the eyes of Muslims, according to this report, America is really only looking out for its own interests.

It concludes from this that the fundamental problem with relations with the Muslim world is not a simple matter of crafting the right message. "Rather, it is a fundamental problem of credibility. Simply, there is none."