War by Other Means

The question "Why do they hate us?" so commonly asked by Americans after Sept. 11, now has been given a twist: "How can we make them love us?"

President Bush plans to add a White House office of "global communications" that will make sure all levels of government are making the same persuasive pitch for US actions around the world.

The targeted "them," of course, are Muslims, Arabs, or others who dislike the United States for one reason or another, and who also provide either money, recruits, or general support for terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.

The war on terrorism is mostly not a military war, except in Afghanistan, because Al Qaeda is not a standing army. US spies more than generals will win this war. But one arrow in the president's quiver is "public diplomacy," or a hearts-and-minds campaign aimed mainly at the Mideast.

The old view is that war is diplomacy by other means. Now diplomacy must be war by other means.

Bush's new office will elevate this public relations "weapon" beyond a new Arab-language radio broadcast and other efforts set up after Sept. 11. It's a full acknowledgement that the US has an image problem. The difficulty, however, will be deciding whether its bad image is based on false information or on US policy that's unlikely to change, such as ensuring Israel's existence.

A new report by the Council on Foreign Relations calls for public diplomacy to be central to US foreign policy as a way to "make it easier for our allies to support us and to reduce the 'attractiveness' of terrorism." But it argues that such diplomacy – based on listening more to US opponents – will require the US to change some policies to win more foreign support in the antiterrorism campaign.

PR is not a one-way street, in other words, and Bush's new global communicator will need to bring messages to the president's ear as well as take the "good news" about America to foreign lands.

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