America's PR Challenge

Quiz time. From whom is the following quote?

"We are engaged in an epic struggle for our very survival against an implacable foe, an enemy that is doing everything in its power to change our way of life."

Was it a) President George W. Bush, or b) al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Ladin?

Actually it was neither; I made up the quote. Sorry for tricking you, but it was to make a point. The struggle in which we are currently engaged is, on both sides, more a battle for public opinion than a military conflict. This is what will ultimately mean victory or defeat.

As Bush puts it, the struggle is “between those who yearn for peace and those who want their children to grow up in a normal, decent society, and radicals and extremists who want to impose their dark vision on people throughout the world.” But the sad irony is that this is precisely the argument, in reverse, that Al Qaeda and its many spinoffs use to justify their fight. And Al Qaeda’s people, as leading counterinsurgency strategists admit, make their case much more effectively.

An idea, of course, is only the beginning of an ideology, but if you don’t have a firm grip on it, you’re going to have trouble with all the rest. And the basic idea used by Osama bin Laden’s fellow travelers to justify their actions is that they’re under attack and on the defensive everywhere just because they’re Muslims. They could raise their families in peace and with dignity if it were not for the “dark vision” of the Bush administration and the forces of godless globalization that it represents. MORE

"Godless globalization." That's actually a pretty good description of what the U.S. has to offer the rest of the world, and thanks to modern technology they're getting it, whether they want it or not. Read on:

As Byron Farwell wrote 35 years ago in his book “Queen Victoria’s Little Wars,” the more far flung a great nation’s interests, the more pretexts for war present themselves: protecting one’s citizens or businesses; repelling an attack you provoked in the first place; filling “a power vacuum” to “restore law and order”; preventing another country from expanding its empire, or suppressing a rebellion “by those who did not understand the benefits of British rule and were ungrateful for the blessings of English civilization bestowed upon them.” President Bush often seems as puzzled by the ungrateful Iraqis as Queen Victoria must have been by the Afghans or, for that matter, the Boers. But, of course, in those days the people Rudyard Kipling sometimes called “the Fuzzy-Wuzzies” didn’t crash airplanes into London’s towers.
Unfortunately, withdrawing all U.S. cultural and political influence from the Islamic world isn't really an option at this point. The best we can do is try to mitigate the downside our presence creates among certain segments of the population. The way to do that is with a well-designed strategy of communicating with the people who wish we would go away. It's called "public diplomacy" and the Bush Administration does a lousy job of it.

I know that "winning hearts and minds" sounds like leftist lunacy to some people. Here's the problem: there is no other way out of the current mess. We cannot kill a billion Muslims. We certainly cannot pacify them and make them like us. Our attempts to do so have had the opposite effect.
As I've said, the Islamic world is not unified against us - yet. Somehow we have to convince non-Jihadist Islam to deal with the problem of its fringe elements. Until we figure out how to do that, this war will not end. It will only get worse.

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