2/3/2003

 

U. S. wants to lie to its friends

 

Here’s an item that hasn’t gotten much press coverage, but which I hope will wither in the light of day The New York Times and Reuters reported on 12/16 that the Pentagon is considering a propaganda program aimed, not at adversaries, but at neutral and friendly countries. That’s right. They would try to bribe journalists in Germany (was one example) to carry stories with a more U. S. friendly slant in order to influence public opinion. Or the program, “…could include financing public demonstrations in support of America…” or,  “… undermine the influence of mosques and religious schools… It might even include setting up schools with secret American financing to teach a moderate Islamic position …”.

 

A Defense Department official said, “Those who want to do this aren't talking about lying.” Well a planted story might be true, but bribing to get it planted, or manufacturing a demonstration, would seem to qualify as deception, or to use the more direct term, lying.

 

The White House has downplayed the idea, but not shut it down entirely, and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is apparently still considering it.

 

We certainly need to influence public opinion around the world, but in open, above board ways. How do you get people to buy a message that the U. S. is a place where truth is valued, rights are respected, and fair play is (at least supposedly) valued above might-makes-right, when you’re trying to sell it via lies?

 

Certainly we should be in the face of the Saudi rulers about their allowing radical muslim schools to paint a terrible image of the U. S. Maybe we need some political arm twisting so the Saudis will allow their more truthful journalists to challenge those clerics to prove their claims. Maybe some more arm twisting to allow for liable suits. That’s the way we’d deal with it here. If some cleric makes slanderous claims against U. S. citizens or companies, let them sue. Make the clerics prove their claims or the mosques pay the fines.

 

We also have existing, open, information programs to try to spread a positive view of the U. S. We should increase those efforts ten fold. But imagine, ten years from now, some 20 year old muslim man in Germany or Saudi Arabia finds out that the mosque school he’s been going to since he was 10 has all along been financed by the CIA, and that the teachers were paid to give a positive image of the U. S.? Can you imagine the sense of betrayal, of being played for a fool? The sense of outrage? Would it be surprising if that outraged helped to push him towards terrorism?

 

Just the fact that the proposal is not immediately banned by those high up in the administration is damage enough. Even if the idea is rejected, all a terrorist recruiter has to do is point out that the program was seriously considered, and suggest that maybe the program did go ahead secretly. That would make any young muslim wonder whether any good thing he hears about the U. S. isn’t a lie paid for by the CIA. It’s perfect fodder for radicals to discredit any positive U. S. view put forth by a moderate mosque or school. And what a great way to enrage our friends, and turn public opinion in both friendly and unfriendly nations even further against us.

 

You can “carry a big stick” and use it as needed, and you can aggressively push a truer view of the U. S., but it can be done in ways that are open and show a respect for the truth and for the people it is being told to. That would avoid so many unnecessary negative side effects. Side effects that lead to the world being less safe for us in the future.