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.
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 It also called the equipment the Air Force is now using to broadcast radio and perhaps TV messages to Afghans "outdated and inadequate."
The Bush administration and members of Congress have called for renewed efforts to improve America's image in the Islamic world, with Bush worrying aloud that the U.S. is losing the propaganda war to Islamic extremists. "I'm amazed that there's such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us," Bush said. "We've got to do a better job of making our case." An expensive advertising campaign in the Arab world, coupled with beefed-up Voice of America broadcasts, is making little headway as these PR efforts encounter a skeptical audience.
MediaChannel has put together a special online feature that examines "propaganda, censorship, bias, the challenges of covering a global war and its context, implications and cultural roots."
Dr. Nancy Snow spent two years working within the ranks of America's official propaganda organ, the United States Information Agency, and then surgically exposed the inner workings of the organization in her acclaimed publication, Propaganda Inc. In this interview with the Guerrilla News Network, Dr. Snow breaks down the covert history of U.S. propaganda efforts both inside and outside of the country's borders. Tracing the strategies employed by top propagandists like George Creel and Walter Lippman, Dr.
"Messrs Bush and Blair may tell the world they are going to win the 'war against terrorism' but in the Middle East, where Osama bin Laden is acquiring almost mythic status among Arabs, they have already lost," writes Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk.
"Bin Laden is winning the propaganda war," says the Guardian of London. "Of all the time pressures facing Washington and its allies, the daily, upward advancement of Bin Laden towards folk-hero status in the Muslim world is perhaps the most alarming. In political terms, his video disingenuously linking his evil cause with that of Palestine was as potentially devastating as the high-explosive bombs that accompanied its skilfully timed release.
Democracy Now! reports that some humanitarian groups have denounced the food packets the U.S. is air dropping into Afghanistan as a PR move. A spokesman for UK-based Muslim Aid says the air-dropped food is not effective on a humanitarian level. According to the Muslim Aid website, "Afghanistan has been suffering from a severe drought for the last four years.
The U.S. armed forces are waging a propaganda war in Afghanistan with leaflets, radio broadcasts, and food according to an AP story. "The effort involves information soldiers from the 4th Psychological Operations Group at Fort Bragg, N.C., and the 193rd Special Operations Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, a division of the U.S. Air Force's Special Operations Command. The psy-ops soldiers have planes to scatter leaflets, mobile print shops that can be dropped by parachute and loudspeaker systems to blare messages. The soldiers use local languages to reach people on the ground.
The Wall Street Journal reports, "Since Sept. 11, U.S. officials have scrambled to persuade local editors and broadcasters across South Asia and the Middle East to carry stories intended to soothe anti-American passions and win tolerance for military action. They include features on the importance of Muslims in American life and hard news reports on evidence linking Mr. bin Laden to the attacks." The PR effort also includes "deploying forces to mount psychological operations, or 'psy-ops,' inside Afghanistan.