by Austin Bay
Dub the U.S. and British air effort over Afghanistan a campaignof "HA and HE," humanitarian aid and high explosive.
The one-two punch of food and smart bombs, airlift andairstrike, illustrates both means and methods America will pursue as thecounter-terror war evolves. Those who choose to cooperate in America's warfor collective security will benefit. Those who obstruct and resist will paya steep price.
But the art of this two-track war is more than offering acare-package carrot in lieu of a stick of iron bombs.
Actions create facts -- rubble where the World Trade Center oncestood is a terrible fact. For a starving Hazari refugee in Afghanistan'scentral highlands, the 2,300 calories in a USAID "Humanitarian Daily Ration"are blessed facts that make the difference between health and starvation.
How these and similar facts are communicated (or notcommunicated) amid wartime's chaos and uncertainty deeply affects everynation's (or organization's) ability to successfully wage war.
Unfortunately, "propaganda" has a dark connotation. Still,"propaganda war" may be a more instructive term than "information war."
Enemies have different stories to tell and sell. Frankly,winning the counter-terror war requires smart bombast, as well as smartbombs.
It's a battle America must engage and win.
Steely ideologues like Osama bin Laden can be very toughopponents. Absolute certainty, rage and brazen contempt often impart aninitial emotional advantage, though over time the childish aspects of thosequalities usually become a liability.
Still, bin Laden is pursuing a shrewd propaganda campaign,albeit one the United States is countering, with varying degrees ofeffectiveness:
-- Let's call the first bin Laden propaganda gambit "the battlefor God." The "battle for Divine Sanction" is central to bin Laden's notionof a "globalized war of Islam against America."
At the moment, this battle rates as a draw, which indicates inthe long run bin Laden will lose it. Despite attempts to stir simultaneous"Muslim uprisings" in the aftermath of Sept. 11, no significant mass actionshave occurred. Isolated riots aren't what bin Laden wanted. Here's why thegambit failed: The Muslim world is as politically, ethnically, andreligiously fissured and fractured a landscape as any on Earth. Many Muslimsdon't subscribe to bin Laden's theology. Muslim clerics, often at greatpersonal risk, are beginning to openly contest bin Laden. Numerous clericsargue the Koran forbids the murder of innocent civilians.
-- Bin Laden has stated a key Al Qaeda goal is to destroy "themyth of American might." Blasting the Pentagon was supposed to demonstrateAmerica's secret weakness and rally the "disaffected" to his cause.
This bin Laden ploy has flopped. The terror attacks unifiedAmerica with resolve reminiscent of 1945. Although the United States is themost powerful nation the planet has ever known, battling bin Laden's murdersrequires diplomacy and vision, not irrational demands for revenge. U.S.actions and an hour-by-hour effort to publicize them (via the globalinformation grid) very effectively countered the bin Laden gambit.
-- Bin Laden says his violent actions give "voice to thevoiceless." This pitch is primarily directed toward the Arab world's senseof historical grievance and purloined dignity. Bin Laden wraps the "defenseof Palestine" and the claim he acts on behalf of "a million innocentchildren ... killed in Iraq without any guilt" in this assertion. (AlQaeda's October statement emphasized this propaganda line and leveragedPresident Bush's blunder of initially describing the U.S. effort as a"crusade.")
America isn't responsible for the Arabs' historical failure --lay that on the Turks, Mongols, Brits and Arabs themselves. But "it'sAmerica's fault" was a line pushed by the Soviets during the Cold War, andIslamists have linked that four-decade propaganda campaign to their eightcenturies of decline.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the hard factenergizing this bit of bin Laden and radical Islamist agitprop. Ironically,the Palestinian Authority is distancing itself from Al Qaeda. Washingtonneeds to encourage that policy.
Washington can't erase embedded myth, but it can mitigate someof its more dire effects. America does a poor job of touting its generosity.Military historian Dr. A.A. Nofi says between U.S. government and Americanprivate food aid programs, America makes up a substantial "food deficit" inmore than 50 countries.
U.S. spokespeople need to be on Al Jazeera (Qatar's Arabicsatellite television service), emphasizing America's aid programs.
Lunch for the planet's hungry is often the no-thanks-necessarycharity of generous Americans -- and that's a fact, in peace and in war.