Belmont commenters on Rumsfeld
The previous open thread on the subject of information warfare between radical Islamism and the West (for want of better terms) drew hundreds of well-reasoned responses from Belmont Club commenters. The point of departure was Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's assertion that the United States was losing the information war to radical Islam because it was unsuited to fighting that type of conflict. It contained a thinly disguised lament that the Mainstream Media was not bearing its weight and that more had to be done to redress the imbalance. The Belmont Club commenters reacted very vigorously.
Some argued that the key target of information warfare was not the Islamic world at all but the internal audience in the West. Tony said: "When the cards are turned over in this war, the opinions of Americans and Europeans are going to either win or lose the battle, much more so than the opinions of the indefatigably hateful Islamic extremists in Muslim lands. They are already doing their best to hurt us, and have been doing so forever. The only way we can really lose, is if we lose our will." Fred argued one could not premise victory on the assumption that the opponent can be made your friend. Victory, he suggested, occurs foremost when you are determined to be your own friend. "In war, I do not care a damn about what the enemy thinks of me. I want him to fear and respect me. And I want to break his will and break his ability to fight. Truthfully, I do not care about what ordinary Arabs and other Muslims think of me, the unclean infidel. I will always be an infidel to him. ... The only propaganda war that matters to me is the internal one at home. These are the people who will decide my country's fate, and perhaps even the fate of all civilization worth saving. ... And if your domestic media are working on behalf of the enemies of civilization and of your country, you have one major problem that cannot be glossed."
Others believed that it was important to carry the argument to the intellectual opponent in words and terms that they could understand. Optho said: "our propagandists should be armed with an extensive knowledge of Islam, and Islam's history of irony, disdain for sanctimony, and extra-Koranic dialectic and debate. ... if we'd been ready with that kind of knowledge, we could have used the whole cartoon kerfuffle for its enormous pedantic potential. We're nowhere near doing this even now, which to my thinking is an inexcusable lapse." Desert Rat mentions "Visuals, docudramas, documentarys, dramas, all with US Production values in Arabic and Farsi. Using both historical and current themes to show the false teachings of the current crop of Imams. Cartoons of Mohammedans fighting Mighty Mouse or better yet, Elmer Fudd, and losing should become commonplace."
Many commenters felt any US government effort to engage in information warfare was doomed by the bureaucratic nature of government itself. It could never succeed alone. Desert Rat ridicules the idea of a government-led information campaign, the idea providing more communications training to military personnel or giving public affairs posts a higher career status would make any difference. What was essential, many commenters argued, was to find some way to harness the private sector and individual effort to the task. Canoneer No. 4 gives some flavor of the argument:
Ever since Algore invented the internet, America has been the superpower in cyberspace. Housewives in the Midwest are infiltrating Jihadi web sites. We have a lot more computer-literate people than they do. We need to get them organized and on the same sheet of music. We need monitors who find the poison and writers who can refute, rebut, and counteract the poison. It doesn't take a soldier to do this.
Some commenters believed that information warfare should be used to goad the Muslim street into a final, apocalyptic confrontation. Pork Rind for Allah seriously argues for the use of ridicule "to drive them insane", reflecting the view that the mental struggle between Islam and the West was between two irreconcilable camps, in which perhaps the jeer is the only remaining statement to make. While many commenters did not believe the world was locked in a final war of civilizations, the question of whether any resolution between the two intellectual camps other than an indefinite truce remained hanging in the air. For Freedom quoted an Asian Times article authored by Spengler which examined the question as legitimately intellectual exercise: When Even the Pope has to Whisper.
Now Pope Benedict XVI has let it be known that he does not believe Islam can reform. This we learn from the transcript of a January 5 US radio interview with one of Benedict's students and friends, Father Joseph Fessio, SJ, the provost of Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, posted on the Asia Times Online forum by a sharp-eyed reader. For the pope to refute the fundamental premise of US policy is news of inestimable strategic importance, yet a Google News scan reveals that not a single media outlet has taken notice of what Fessio told interviewer Hugh Hewitt last week. No matter: still and small as Benedict's voice might be, it carries further than earthquake and whirlwind.
Alexis, a self-confessed former political activist, tried to knit some of the idea threads in commentary together and his remarks survey of many of the notions in the open thread.
There is one place where al-Qaeda has met its match in terms of propaganda -- and that's us. Right here in the blogosphere. If we don't respond to their onslaught, nobody else will. Forget for a second about the Arab audience. Al-Qaeda can reach the American audience any time it pleases, for the most part unfiltered. In contrast, what we say IS filtered by the mainstream media.
If we want to reach out to the Arab audience, there is a very easy way to do it -- don't. That is, we are more likely to get our messages to them heard by them when we publish them domestically than if we aim them at them directly. Just as I don't even bother to listen Arab propaganda about a "peaceful" Islam but listen instead to translations of mosque sermons in Arabic, Middle Easterners tend to tune out anything that appears to be aimed specifically at them. They assume our propaganda will be as two-faced as theirs.
The classic children's story of Who Will Bell the Cat? illustrates the problem of good ideas in search of an implementation. Many of the concepts discussed in the open thread do not fit into the existing bureaucratic or business models in American society. As such they are not actionable. Concepts, however valid in principle, need to be packaged into forms that can be funded, marketed and managed otherwise they will remain interesting concepts without a practical future. One standard way of getting a conceptual show on the road is to organize a conference simply to serve as a kernel around which nebulous ideas can coalesce and transform themselves into an practical program. There are probably other ways. The Belmont Club has never run two open threads back to back. I promise this will be the only one.