Next, Iraq's cultural regime change
WASHINGTON — What do you get when you add three rocket-propelled grenades plus four Kalashnikov rifles? According to one primary-school textbook used in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the mathematical answer is simple: "Seven ways to kill the infidel enemy."
Those textbooks will soon be on their way out. New ones, now under development in Washington, will replace hate imagery with objects like apples and oranges.
The new curriculum is part of a broad effort that could prove as challenging, and controversial, as the US-led military campaign or the creation of a new Iraqi government.
At issue in this cultural campaign is whether Western-style democracy - and a better image of America - can begin to take root in the Arab world.
With the rapid collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, the effort has been pushed into overdrive.
US agencies are launching television shows and expanding broadcasting capacity. They are recruiting hundreds of Arabic-speaking journalists.
And they are preparing to help schools reopen for a new year, with new textbooks.
To many in Washington, the moves hold immense promise: The opportunity to communicate directly with people who have heard little but anti-US propaganda by a state-run press.
But to many in Iraq, such efforts will surely feel like an unwelcome cultural invasion. And America must compete with other forms of post-Hussein cultural expression that are already coming the fore, from the dictates of Shiite clerics to the publication of a newspaper in Baghdad Sunday, by the long-banned Iraq Communist Party.
"Propaganda can be harmful, if you're not aware of the culture. The basis of any broadcast to these countries [Iran and Iraq] should be a dialogue and not just giving people stuff to swallow or digest," says Azar Nafisi, a visiting scholar at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
Disagreement persists in official Washington over just what America's message to Iraqis should be, especially over how aggressively US policies and values should be presented in broadcasts and texts. But there is no dispute about the need for more resources - and for haste.
"Two weeks ago, the White House called to ask how quickly we could get something up [in Arabic] on TV in Iraq," says Norm Pattiz, chairman of the Mideast committee of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees the Voice of America. The first of those five-hour broadcasts, Iraq and the World, debuts Monday, using the capacity of a lumbering C-130 military cargo plane, dubbed Commander Solo.
The broadcasts will include two hours of original news plus 3-1/2 hours of material from networks including ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and PBS. CNN refused to participate, saying it is not appropriate for a worldwide news organization to be associated with the US government.
Other ventures on a fast track include:
• On April 15, the US Department of Defense began broadcasting the "The Voice of New Iraq" from an AM radio station in Umm Qasr. It's the first in a series of new services by the Iraq Media Network, an operation based in the Pentagon. Programming is in Arabic and staffed by Iraqi journalists.
• Both the BBG and the Pentagon will be starting additional new TV broadcasts this year - the first all-Arabic programming controlled by a Western nation. (One BBC effort lasted only a week.)
• Congress is pushing for the State Department to start spending the nearly $100 million appropriated to fund broadcasts for Iraqi opposition groups. Last week, the department released $4 million to fund TV Liberty.
• In the textbook effort, the US Agency for International Development, which is managing the effort, will consult extensively with a new Iraqi government to rework texts.
The moves mark a U-turn in America's information efforts overseas. After the end of the cold war, Washington cut deep into its budgets for public diplomacy, including broadcasting. With no "evil empire" left to conquer, there seemed little need to keep spending to get an American message out to the world.
But the terrorist attacks of 9/11 reopened debate on why the view of the US was so negative, especially in the Arab world.
"How is it that the country that invented Hollywood and Madison Avenue has allowed such a destructive and parodied image of itself to become the intellectual coin of the realm overseas," said Rep. Henry Hyde (R) of Illinois, chairman of the House International Relations Committee.
The debate over post-war cultural policy in Iraq closely tracks disagreements in the Bush administration over the war itself.
Sources close to the State Department and Voice of America emphasize the need for balance in coverage and close attention to the sensibilities of other Arab states in the region. But for many conservatives, including top advisers to the Pentagon, the need is to more aggressively tell the American story around the world. They protested the resignation of the director of Voice of America Robert Reilly, who fell out with the BBG governing board after pushing what some said was a too "ideological" line. Mr. Reilly is now directing the Pentagon's broadcast efforts in Iraq.
"We are not in the psychological operation or propaganda business," says Mr. Pattiz, referring to Pentagon initiatives. "Without the credibility of balanced, reliable, and truthful news, we would have no audience."
The Pentagon is not yet releasing objectives or details of its new broadcast ventures. But experts say it's important that it be more than government propaganda.
"The Pentagon seems to think that if we just keep saying we're about freedom and democracy, it will stick, says Nancy Snowe, propaganda expert at California State University at Fullerton. "But the No. 1 rule of persuasion is that you've got to know your audience. Our friends in the region are telling us to be careful that this message doesn't come across as fingerpointing at Islam."
"Iraq has a society of very intelligent and thinking people.... We want to be sure that the restrictions imposed in Bosnia and Kosovo are not repeated here," adds Marilyn Greene, executive director of World Press Freedom Committee in Washington.