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Pentagon experts have made a discovery: Muslims do not hate America’s freedoms, but its policies

by Sidney Blumenthal (www.salon.com), December 1, 2004. Sidney Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, is Washington bureau chief of www.salon.com.

Who wrote this – a pop sociologist, obscure blogger or anti-war playwright? “Muslims see Americans as strangely narcissistic – namely, that the war is all about us. As the Muslims see it, everything about the war is – for Americans – really no more than an extension of American domestic politics and its great game. This perception is … heightened by election-year atmospherics, but none the less sustains their impression that when Americans talk to Muslims, they are talking to themselves.”

Actually, this is the conclusion of the report of the defence science board taskforce on strategic communication – the product of a Pentagon advisory panel – delivered in September. Its 102 pages were not made public in the presidential campaign, but, barely noticed by the US press, silently slipped on to a Pentagon website on Thanksgiving eve.

The taskforce of military, diplomatic, academic and business experts, assigned to develop strategy for communications in the “global war on terrorism”, had unfettered access, denied to journalists, to the inner workings of the national security apparatus. There was no intent to contribute to public debate, much less political controversy; the report
was for internal consumption only.

They discovered more than a government sector “in crisis”, though it found that: “Missing are strong leadership, strategic direction, adequate coordination, sufficient resources, and a culture of measurement and evaluation.” As it journeyed into the recesses of the Bush foreign policy,
the taskforce documented the failure of fundamental premises. “America’s negative image in world opinion and diminished ability to persuade are consequences of factors other than the failure to implement communications strategies,” the report declares. What emerges is an indictment of an expanding and unmitigated disaster based on stubborn ignorance of the world and failed concepts that bear little relation to empirical reality, except insofar as they confirm and incite gathering hatred among Muslims.

The Bush administration, according to the defence science board, has misconceived a war on terrorism in the image of the cold war. However, the struggle is not the west versus Islam; while we blindly call this a “war on terrorism”, Muslims “in contrast see a history-shaking movement of Islamic restoration” against “apostate” Arab regimes allied with the US and “western modernity – an agenda hidden within the official rubric of a ‘war on terrorism'”.

In this conflict, “wholly unlike the cold war”, the Bush administration’s impulse has been to “imitate the routines and bureaucratic … mindset that so characterised that era”. So the US projects Iraqis and other Arabs as people to be liberated, like those “oppressed by Soviet rule”. And the US accepts authoritarian Arab regimes as allies against the “radical fighters”. All this is nothing less than a gigantic “strategic mistake”.

“There is no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-US groundswell among Muslim societies – except to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the US so determinedly promotes and defends.” Rhetoric about freedom is received as “no more than self-serving hypocrisy”, highlighted daily by the US occupation in Iraq. “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom’, but rather they hate our policies.” The “dramatic narrative … of the war on terrorism”, Bush’s grand storyline connecting all the dots from the World Trade Centre to Baghdad, has “borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars”. As a result, jihadists have been able to transform themselves from marginal figures in the Muslim world into defenders against invasion, with a following of millions.

“Thus the critical problem in American public diplomacy directed toward the Muslim world is not one of ‘dissemination of information’, or even one of crafting and delivering the ‘right’ message. Rather, it is a fundamental
problem of credibility. Simply, there is none – the United States is without a working channel of communication to the world of Muslims … Inevitably, therefore, whatever Americans do and say only serves the party that has both the message and the ‘loud and clear’ channel: the enemy.”

Almost three months ago, the board delivered its report to the White House. But, a source told me, it has received no word back. The report has been ignored by those to whom its recommendations are directed.

For the Bush administration, expert analysis is extraneous, as it is making clear to national security professionals in its partisan scapegoating of the CIA. Experts can only be expert in telling the White House what it wants to hear. Expertise is valued not for the evidence it offers for
correction, but for propaganda and validation. But no one, not in the White House, Congress or the dwindling coalition of the willing, can claim the catastrophe has not been foretold by the best and most objective minds commissioned by the Pentagon – perhaps for the last time.