Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The war we are losing

I have always thought that most Europeans underestimate the importance of military might as a component of what constitutes "power" in this world. Thankfully the United States (and not some crackpot dictator) has the upper hand in this domain, and it would be nice if Continental Europe also pulled its act together on this front as its increased bargaining power on the world stage would (hopefully) be a force for the good.
However, and there is simply no way to stress this enough, in this day and age it is at least equally important to unleash intellectual fire-power. Unfortunately this aspect has been woefully neglected by the Bush administration. As Anne Applebaum noted a while back there are millions of pro-Americans in the world, and they are under siege. Additionally there are millions of freedom-loving and fair-minded people who are in thrall to misconceptions that can and must be rectified. The US needs to decisively reach out to these people.
Stephen Green of Vodkapundit brilliantly makes the case (via Instapundit):
Four years into the Terror War, "What's the most important element for victory?" is a question long overdue. It's also a question our national leadership, nearly all of our intellectuals, and none of our mainstream media have yet to answer.
So what does matter? What is the postmodern arm of decision?
Previously, I wrote that in order to win the Terror War, we must "prove the enemy ideology to be ineffective," just as we did in the Cold War. In that conflict, we did so in three ways: by fighting where we had to while maintaining our freedoms, but most importantly by out-growing the Communist economies. I argued that similar methods would win the Terror War. We'd have to fight, we'd have to maintain our freedoms, but the primary key to victory in the Current Mess is taking the initiative.
What I didn't see then - but what I do see today - is what "taking the initiative" really means.
It means, fighting a media war. It means, turning the enemy's one great strength into our own. Broadcast words, sounds, and images are the arm of decision in today's world.
And if that assessment is correct, then we're losing this war and badly.
Germany lost WW I because they couldn't match our manpower. They lost again in 1945, because they couldn't match Allied productive might. We could very well lose this war, because our leadership has so far failed to recognize the power of the media. We might also lose because our enemies are oftentimes more media-savvy than we are. We could lose also because our mainstream media seems to find terrorists less unattractive than having a conservative Texan in the White House.
Do read the whole thing. I think the blogosphere is having an increasingly positive effect: keeping the US media in check. The real problem is abroad. It is nice to see that Condoleezza Rice is travelling a lot, but it is simply not enough. The US Diplomatic Corps needs an overhaul more than the CIA does: it needs to become an army of highly educated, trained and motivated individuals who are deeply involved in the public discourse in the countries where they serve and relentlessly make the argument in favour of the United States. They have to be well spoken in the local language, meticulously briefed about the cultural intricacies and they have to be ready and willing to wage an all-out intellectual and media war on the immense number of distortions and lies that appear even in the Western media (not to mention elsewhere). At the very least this means intensive letter-writing, constant television appearances, debates and speeches.
Nobody in his right mind would suggest that an individual deserves to become a high-ranking officer in the army because he made generous campaign contributions. In the same way it must become absolutely unacceptable to use this criterion to make ambassadorial appointments (see the third paragraph here). Here is an excellent example of a breathtaking incident which incredibly elicited no response from the embassy, and no wonder: the ambassador doesn't even speak the local language!
From personal experience I can say that most of the anti-Americanism I encounter (and there is a lot) is the fruit of the subtle, but relentless, stream of inaccuracies that people absorb from the media. The US cannot rely on amateurish bloggers (or the rare journalist) to make the case for it. It needs to realize the incredible importance of having worldwide "public opinion" on its side, and mount an intensive and professional campaign to reach that goal. Obviously in some countries this will be harder than in others, and there will always be some intensely unpopular policies, but I have the feeling that there are really a lot of people who can be influenced, if not to change their minds, at least to see Ameica's point of view, and realize that most of the time Americans are not war-mongering crazed fools. And in a world with an increasing number of democracies public opinion matters. A lot.

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