Magazine article National Defense

War of Words: When It Comes to the Battle of Ideas, the U.S. Has No General

Magazine article National Defense

War of Words: When It Comes to the Battle of Ideas, the U.S. Has No General

Article excerpt

"Our adversaries are way ahead of us in the use of the Internet and the use of the media," said Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin, undersecretary of defense of intelligence.

It was a stunning statement.

The United States invented the Internet. Its entrepreneurs in a few short years transformed the world. Google, Yahoo,, YouTube--the list goes on.

Hollywood produces films that generate billions of dollars worldwide each year. Foreign audiences can't get enough of them. Network television, Cable TV, 24-hour news channels--all born in the U.S.A.

The nation possesses enormous human capital as well. Every spring, America's world-class universities produce legions of behavioral scientists, cultural anthropologists, sociologists, media specialists, film school grads and computer engineers. Its citizenry includes populations of moderate Muslims from every corner of the world.

But despite all of this, when it comes to fighting the ideology of radical Islam, the United States is getting its butt handed to it on a plate.

"The question is on a day to day basis, who is responsible for information operations for the United States government?" Boykin asked. "And the answer is 'nobody' ... There is no one in charge on a day to day basis."

Although the message hasn't sunk in with the general population, think tanks, academia and even some at the Pentagon will insist that all the bullets, fighter jets and high-tech sensors aren't going to win the so-called global war on terror. Bombs can't kill ideas. (Although they can kill civilians and their tragic deaths can deftly be used as anti-U.S. propaganda.)

The Quadrennial Defense Review spelled it out. The end of the war will only come "when extremist ideologies are discredited in the eyes of their host populations and tacit supporters."

Thomas O'Connell, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, is among those who are lamenting the nation's lack of unity in countering the ideas of radical Islam. The enemy is adept at using information technology tools, he said at the conference. He criticized the U.S. and international media, but also laid some blame on the Defense Department.

He described a successful raid by Iraqi forces on a terrorist compound. Insurgents immediately posted a video of the aftermath that showed dead bodies inside what they said was a mosque. It was a prayer room in a house, not a mosque, he contended. There was plenty of evidence uncovered that showed the insurgents there had tortured Iraqi troops and weren't innocent civilians as the propaganda video claimed.

U.S. Central Command responded to the allegations a day and half later, O'Connell said. By that time, the Iraqi units had already taken a "hammering" in the press, he said.

"We have got to do a better job of telling our story," he said. "I think we make efforts. I don't know if they're efforts that are very well coordinated both on an international and a domestic level."

The false mosque story was a tactical victory scored on the part of a nimble and sophisticated enemy. Strategically, the nation is losing ground in the larger ideological war. Al-Qaida and its sympathizers are creating their own "narrative," in which their spin on world events is widely believed, two recent reports have pointed out. The terrorist group now has its own media production arm, dubbed As-Sahab, which serves as an information clearinghouse. Any U.S. public relations firm would recognize its methods.

A recent Senate hearing pointed to the lack of attention being paid to the issue.

On the same day U.S. Central Command's chief, Navy Adm. William Fallon, sat before a packed Senate Armed Services Committee, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held the second in a series of three briefings on terrorism and the Internet.

Fallon attracted several television cameras. …

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