More controversy erupted this week about the non-quote that's not from President Abraham Lincoln.
It's based on a story I wrote for Insight magazine in December, 2003, in which I quoted from President Lincoln's July, 1863 letter that the Union League distributed as a pamphlet later that year. In the letter, President Lincoln referred to the treasonous acts of a US Congressman, asking why a boy who deserts from the army must be shot, while a "wily agitator" (Rep. Clement L. Vallandigham) "who induces him to desert" should get a lesser punishment.
The implication I drew from the letter was that, if it was legal to execute the boy-deserter, it would be just as legal to mete out the same punishment to the saboteur congressman. I quoted from the original Union League copy of the Lincoln letter: "Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier-boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert? This is none the less injurious when effected by getting a father, or brother, or friend, into a public meeting, and there working upon his feelings till he is persuaded to write the soldier-boy that he is fighting in a bad cause, for a wicked Administration of a contemptible Government, too weak to arrest and punish him if he shall desert.
"I think that in such a case to silence the agitator and save the boy is not only constitutional, but withal a great mercy."
"His [Vallandigham's] arrest was made because he was laboring, with some effect, to prevent the raising of troops; to encourage desertions from the Army; and to leave the rebellion without an adequate military force to suppress it.
"He was not arrested because he was damaging the political prospects of the Administration, or the personal interests of the commanding general, but because he was damaging the Army, upon the existence and vigor of which the life of the nation depends.
"He was warring upon the military, and this gave the military constitutional jurisdiction to lay hands on him."
"Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier-boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert? This is none the less injurious when effected by getting a father, or brother, or friend, into a public meeting, and there working upon his feelings till he is persuaded to write the soldier-boy that he is fighting in a bad cause, for a wicked Administration of a contemptible Government, too weak to arrest and punish him if he shall desert.
No. 1 The American way of propaganda: Lessons from the founding fathers
No. 2 Wartime public diplomacy: A strategy to deliver the messages
No. 3 The importance of words in message-making
No. 4 (Not yet available online)
No. 5 Branding as a tool against the enemy: Time to try it again
No. 6 (Not yet available online)
No. 7 Ridicule as a weapon in the war on terrorism
Public Diplomacy and Political Warfare White Paper No. 1
The Institute of World Politics
by J. Michael Waller
This article is the first in a series of White Papers about the transformation of American public diplomacy and strategic communication.
One of the most contentious debates in the war on terrorism centers on the “hearts and minds” aspect of the fight. Many argue for complete transparency in U.S. message-making, emphasizing the softer aspects of public diplomacy. A minority argues that the United States must make greater use of edgier information instruments such as propaganda, political action and psychological warfare. Critics of the minority view say such actions are un-democratic and unworthy of serious consideration as instruments – let alone weapons – of American statecraft.
The methods, however, were part of the American founding. This article discusses how the fathers of the United States employed public diplomacy, propaganda, counterpropaganda and political warfare as instruments of democracy in the struggle for independence.
All these instruments bred the American revolution. Massachusetts patriot Samuel Adams pioneered what a biographer called a blend of “philosophy and action in ongoing political struggles.” A follower of 17th century English philosopher John Locke, Adams typically mounted a relentless negative political or ideological attack followed by a positive alternative solution that would keep the enemy on the defensive. The alternative was soundly based in philosophical and moral terms. Adams strategically integrated the negative and the positive with political action both at home and, when necessary and possible, abroad.
Promote ideas, values, and an image of victory
He worked through the English constitutional and legal system, using the system as a weapon against its very self, exploiting laws, procedures and precedents to his revolutionary advantage. As he orchestrated political takeovers on the inside, he attacked the system as politically and morally illegitimate from the outside to show that the crown could do nothing to meet the people’s fair demands against taxation without representation. He worded legislative resolutions and other pronouncements in ways designed to put the local royal authorities, as well as parliament and the king, in impossible situations, placing them in lose/lose positions for which to attack them no matter what decision they made.
Taking advantage of the crown’s own mis-steps and the dislikable traits of royal authorities in Boston, Adams built parallel political and administrative structures that mocked and negated British rule while creating new, legitimate democratic formations that demonstrated both the limits of the crown’s power and the new powers of the people.
Crowds made effigies of royal officials and hanged them from the branches of the Liberty Tree before thousands of enthralled Bostonians. A weak speaker, Adams understood the integration of oratory with the written word and the visual image. Recruiting a young, wealthy merchant named John Hancock, he ensured that protesters were outfitted with elaborate costumes, props, and musical instruments to lead protest songs in harborside demonstrations and parades through Boston’s streets. He filled broadsheets with news of events that he created or orchestrated. Newspapers throughout the colonies and in London reported about the brash and colorful spectacles that energized crowds and made stories interesting and exciting to tell and retell. They reinforced the fears and hopes of political figures in other colonies, warning them that if the people of Boston were threatened, the people of all the colonies would be threatened.
Throughout the American independence period, the British repeatedly complained about revolutionary propaganda, and often viewed the political warriors as more dangerous than the shockingly unconventional warriors on the battlefield. For the Americans, propaganda and political action would compensate in the asymmetrical war ahead – areas where the British were not as competent in their wayward colonies – and the British knew it.
As the unanimous bedrock statement of principle of the United States of America, the declaration illustrates the founding fathers’ three-part approach to communicating their message.
The document begins with repeated positive statements of rights, ideals and obligations, including the right to oust repressive governments.
Second, it resists Britain’s divide-and-conquer colonial strategy and aims at attracting other large powers as allies by showing inter-colonial unity.
Finally, it vilifies the repressive government, while sparing the British people and even parliament, laying all blame on the king: “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”
The king refused to approve necessary local laws, respected only those who signed away their rights, and harassed legislative assemblies “for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance.”
Gen. George Washington wrote a specific letter “To the Inhabitants of Canada” and another to the people of Bermuda, calling for their support. Washington’s letter to the Canadians said, in part:
Come then, my Brethern, Unite with us in an indissoluble Union. Let us run together to the same Goal. We have taken up Arms in Defence of our Liberty, our Property; our Wives and our Children: We are determined to preserve them or die. We look forward with pleasure to that day not far remote (we hope) when the Inhabitants of America shall have one Sentiment and the full Enjoyment of the blessings of a Free Government.
The committee also recruited French Catholic priests to promote Canada secession to the rebel cause. The effort failed, however, due in part to excesses of American troops who attacked Montreal and Quebec, a hostile Canadian clergy, French-Canadian antipathy toward the openly anti-Catholic New Englanders on their border, and Congress’s inability to deliver more than promises.
British General John Burgoyne blamed his recruitment woes in Canada “to the poison which the emissaries of the rebels have thrown into their mind.”
Thanks to Franklin’s secret work, the Continental Congress received copies of the British-Hessian treaties in May. Gen. Washington asked Congress President Hancock about raising German-American groups to promote desertions, while the Congress appointed John Adams, Jefferson and to others to a new committee to make propaganda out of the treaties, or in its words, to “extract and publish the treaties,” and to “prepare an address to the foreign mercenaries who are coming to invade America.”
Franklin had the leaflets printed at his shop and sent them to troops in New Jersey on August 24. Two days later, Washington reported that his agents successfully infiltrated the leaflets among Hessian ranks. That same day, Franklin and John Adams wrote a congressional resolution to non-English officers in the British military, offering a sweeter deal of hundreds of acres of land to each deserter. The resolution was immediately translated into German and printed the night of August 26-27.
Washington wrote to Hancock on the 29th, “As to the Encouragement to the Hessian Officers, I wish it may have the desired effect, perhaps it might have been better, had the offer been made sooner.”
British Ambassador Lord Stormont, who also headed the king’s secret service station in France, wrote less than admiringly to the British Foreign Secretary in London:
I cannot but suspect that he comes charged with a secret Commission from Congress . . . and as he is a subtle, artful Man, and void of all Truth, he will, in that Case, use every means to deceive. . . . He has the advantage of several intimate connexions here, and stands high in the general opinion. . . . In a word, my Lord, I look upon him as a dangerous engine and am very sorry that some English frigate did not meet him by the way.
Franklin knew his next move: a proposed Treaty of Amity and Commerce with France, part of which included an American military alliance with France and Spain against the British. He had already written a draft in anticipation. Less than two months later he signed a Franco-American military alliance. The army and navy of King Louis XVI formally engaged, sealing ultimate defeat for the British.
Counterpropaganda in Europe
Sent as a U.S. emissary to the Netherlands, John Adams wrote to Franklin, “It is necessary for America to have agents in different parts of Europe, to give some information concerning our affairs, and to refute the abominable lies that the hired emissaries of Great Britain circulate in every corner of Europe, by which they keep up their own credit and ruin ours.”
The founders’ message strategy was simple: Relentlessly tell the best about the American cause and the worst about the enemy. As they provided us with our first principles and our Constitution, our founding fathers gave us with the diplomatic and political tools to promote and defend our interests around the world.
Those tools, properly used, meant the margin of victory for America’s first strategic hearts-and-minds campaign. They were life-saving ways of achieving military objectives by political means. They were created and implemented by the very individuals who helped draft and who signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
In a seamless garment they combined intelligence and military force with what today is known as diplomacy, public diplomacy, propaganda, counterpropaganda, political warfare and psychological warfare, a spectrum of statecraft that carried the day for the founding of the United States and for its future defense.
J. Michael Waller is the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Professor of International Communication at the Institute of World Politics.
Public Diplomacy and Political Warfare White Paper No. 2
The Institute of World Politics
by J. Michael Waller
This article is the second in a series of White Papers about the transformation of American public diplomacy and strategic communication. This version is a draft that is posted for public comment.
Yet policymakers and others lack a clear definition of how one relates to the other, or how either relates to present international political, diplomatic, military and security realities.
Advances in information technology and the proliferation of electronic media outlets have enabled small powers, non-governmental organizations, and even individuals to undermine Washington’s carefully crafted messages rapidly and constantly. Cheap and plentiful information outlets allow adversaries or any size to attack in swarms and refute, distort and drown out U.S. messages, and agitating an increasingly shrill opposition that can dominate news reporting and public discourse worldwide.
Creative and capable use of information technologies can make up for years of lost time. A new approach toward information technology will help the nation to pull itself out of its political nosedive.
This timid approach defies reason and precedent and has demonstrably failed.
The problem, of course, is that such an approach mismatches the tools to fix the problem. Diplomacy is not necessarily, if ever, the best primary tool against hostile strategic psychological warfare.
Most proposals to date argue for such structural changes. But changing the structures, which takes years, is not a useful first step toward solving immediate problems.
Until the vision, laws, structures, guidelines, appropriations, authorizations, doctrines, personnel re-training and turf battles are settled – a process that has not even begun – the U.S. should implement new ways to use the inadequate structures and resources already in place.
The idea of public diplomacy, and indeed the official definition of the term, has changed over time and often varies according to the perspectives of those who view the mission. At one extreme, it is psychological and political warfare. On the other extreme it is passive “soft power.” Both conceptions are important, but neither is sufficient in itself.
Public diplomacy supplements and reinforces traditional diplomacy by explaining U.S. policies to foreign publics, by providing them with information about American society and culture, by enabling many to experience the diversity of our country personally, and by assessing foreign public opinion for American ambassadors and foreign policy decisionmakers in the United States. It is not one-shot dramatic efforts that make public diplomacy succeed. Rather, it is the steady, wise use of all the resources of public diplomacy over time. It is recognition by those who seek disproportionately to enhance educational and cultural exchange that the articulation of U.S. policies is also necessary to mutual understanding and rational international dialogue.
Building upon his 40 years as a professional communicator, Reagan used public diplomacy as a relationship-building device and as an offensive weapon against the Soviet enemy. In January 1983 he integrated it into his larger – and at the time highly controversial – scrapping of the “containment” of communism policy that had been in place since the late 1940s, and waged a “liberation” strategy to undermine Soviet Communist power and hasten the collapse of the USSR.
The change in public diplomacy strategy was a fundamental, integrated component of Reagan’s radically changed approach to the Soviet empire and communist ideology. The president signed both strategy documents within three days of one another.
That loosening of the regimes’ control of expression, a publicity campaign called glasnost, failed to save the system and, with continued American pressure, ultimately ushered in the Soviet collapse.
There public diplomacy has sat, unimaginatively, ever since. The broadcasting component became an independent entity. As of this writing, the present administration is sending the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to a similar fate as USIA, even though the administration placed international humanitarian and development assistance on equal footing with diplomacy and the military.
Accelerated public diplomacy
We seek to help the world understand what we are all about, but we are locked in mortal combat with an enemy that is waging political and ideological warfare – not diplomatic support activity, but actual psychological combat – against us and the rest of the world.
Such traditional public diplomacy forms naturally promote the warming of relations and cooling of tensions, and should operate constantly, much like a computer’s operating system that supports any given application at any given time. The existing action aspect to public diplomacy, such as training and funding democratic movements, independent media and NGOs, has made decisive differences and, structural problems notwithstanding, will continue to do so.
One of the exceptions is the important 2004 Defense Science Board (DSB) report, which defines public diplomacy in relation to public affairs, public relations and strategic communication. But even that vital report overlooks what communication methods the U.S. should use when traditional communication fails. Military force is not the only option.
Though the passage of time and changing attitudes to statecraft give it an almost archaic air, no other term capably describes the third way between diplomacy and armed combat: political and psychological warfare. U.S. national security culture once fostered careful study and practice of psychological strategy in order to resolve or win conflicts around the world without escalating to all-out war between the superpowers. It’s time to bring back the practice for new realities, and view ideological combat through the prism of asymmetrical warfare, and not diplomatic support.
A 1989 National Defense University study offered an integrated view of how public diplomacy fits into the American defense arsenal:
Public diplomacy is a form of international political advocacy directed openly by civilians to a broad spectrum of audiences. . . . It is aimed at civilians and is confined in the main to forms of advocacy available to host governments. It seeks to elicit popular support for solutions of mutual benefit that avoids threats, compulsion, or intimidation. It is not a form of political warfare, although it may be used in combination with political warfare.
Political warfare and PSYOP by necessity must be separate disciplines from public diplomacy, yet public diplomacy strategists must accept and integrate all strategic communication tools into their planning and operations.
what prompted me to speak are the repeated fallacies of your President Bush in his comment on the outcome of the U.S. opinion polls, which indicated that the overwhelming majority of you want the withdrawal of the forces from Iraq, but he objected to this desire and said that the withdrawal of troops would send a wrong message to the enemy.
The Pentagon figures indicate the rise in the number of your dead and wounded, let alone the huge material losses, and let alone the collapse of the morale of the soldiers there and the increase in the suicide cases among them.
So, just imagine the state of psychological breakdown that afflicts the soldier while collecting the remnants of his comrades' dead bodies after they hit mines, which torn them. Following such situation, the soldier becomes between two fires. If he refuses to go out of his military barracks for patrols, he will face the penalties of the Vietnam butcher, and if he goes out, he will face the danger of mines.
So, he is between two bitter situations, something which puts him under psychological pressure - fear, humiliation, and coercion. Moreover, his people are careless about him. So he has no choice to commit suicide.
The results, and widespread reporting of them, appeared to ratify bin Laden’s analysis.
We need to break the psychological siege not only by trying to win the wide middle of undecideds and softer opponents, but by directly attacking the enemy’s own circles of support – and even the terrorists’ cadres – on the intellectual and emotional fronts.
This approach has many precedents since the American Revolution. Founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence offer a model: present uplifting goals and beliefs to take the moral high ground, and attack the enemy mercilessly, in the words of Samuel Adams, to “keep the Enemy in the Wrong.”
The message-makers under Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Reagan followed the Founders’ model. They ably combined passive public diplomacy with political and psychological warfare to confront and attack, instead of merely defend against, German and Soviet propaganda and ideological warfare.
The following simplified chart illustrates (1) how the two approaches differ, and (2) how they can be integrated.
Promote America’s good image
Tell America’s story
This is not an either/or scenario. We can reinterpret the diagram as a stylized mathematical formula, showing how the traditional public diplomacy approach plus the wartime accelerant add up to victory in the war of ideas.
It must combine the positive vision and soft approach of traditional public diplomacy with offensive political and psychological campaigns.
That combination must be designed to subdue the enemy’s will and prevent others from developing the will to terrorize, while providing optimism and charity to sustain morale at home and abroad.
The new system anticipates rather than reacts. It is dynamic and flexible when it must be reactive. It accepts a diversity of new approaches and functions. And it is opportunity-oriented to take immediate advantage of rapidly-changing situations. Finally, the strategy must contain at its core a fighting spirit to wage the war of ideas twenty-four hours a day, every day, until the war is won.
The Institute of World Politics
The human mind is the battlespace of the war of ideas. Words and images create, define and elaborate ideas, and are used to popularize or destroy their appeal. They require relentless repetition. Words are not static objects. The written and spoken word, as George Orwell said, can be used “as an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.”
Public Diplomacy and Political War White Paper No. 5
The Institute of World Politics
by J. Michael Waller
Branding – the art of conditioning an audience to associate a given product, person or idea with a desired cognitive or emotional response – can be an important part of developing messages. The U.S. attempted to “brand” itself after 9/11, but after some innovative attempts with negligible results, quietly abandoned the effort. The idea, however, is sound. In the commercial marketplace of ideas, branding is a proven path to success, and the failure to brand can put one out of business.
It is time to try branding again, but this time the U.S. should start with a message that its audiences are most likely to accept readily: the evil nature of the enemy. Reinforcement of that negative “brand” sets the stage for greater audience receptivity to positive follow-on messages about the United States itself.
Campaign veterans say that the systematic telling of unpleasant truths about the opponent, what some call negative campaigning, can be crucial – if you can’t win, at least you can make your opponent lose – despite the wishes of the candidate and usually the electorate, for more positive and genteel messages. Here is where third-party voices again become important, where others can create and sustain powerful negative messages against the opponent while keeping the candidate and his persona (or in the war effort, the United States or the president and top leaders) above the unseemliness of it all.
Branding the enemy
Bin Laden’s August 1996 fatwa declaring war, though titled as a war against U.S. “occupiers” in Saudi Arabia, site of the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina, declared a war on the world. In addition to attacking the United States, al Qaeda’s declaration spanned from Europe, across Africa, the Middle East and Eurasia, to Southeast Asia, warring against Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Bin Laden said in his declaration,
It should not be hidden from you that the people of Islam had suffered from aggression, iniquity and injustice imposed on them by the Zionist-Crusaders alliance and their collaborators; to the extent that the Muslims’ blood became the cheapest and their wealth as loot in the hands of the enemies. Their blood was spilled in Palestine and Iraq. The horrifying pictures of the massacre of Qana, in Lebanon are still fresh in our memory. Massacres in Tajikistan, Burma, Kashmir, Assam, the Philippines, Fatani, Ogaden, Somalia, Eritrea, Chechnya and in Bosnia-Herzegovina took place, massacres that send shivers in the body and shake the conscience. All of this and the world watch and hear, and not only didn't respond to these atrocities, but also with a clear conspiracy between the USA and its' allies and under the cover of the iniquitous United Nations, the dispossessed people were even prevented from obtaining arms to defend themselves.
The people of Islam awakened and realized that they are the main target for the aggression of the Zionist-Crusaders alliance. All false claims and propaganda about ‘Human Rights’ were hammered down and exposed by the massacres that took place against the Muslims in every part of the world. . . .
. . . I say to the [U.S.] Secretary of Defense: The sons of the land of the two Holy Places [Mecca and Medina] had come out to fight against the Russian in Afghanistan, the Serb in Bosnia-Herzegovina and today they are fighting in Chechnya and – by the permission of Allah – they have been made victorious over your partner, the Russians. By the command of Allah, they are also fighting in Tajikistan.
For his target audience in the worldwide ummah, some would perceive his message as positive and inspirational, even uplifting. Bin Laden branded himself as a liberator against the Americans who propped the corrupt regime in Saudi Arabia first, and secondarily the Zionists in Israel.
The declaration was an ambitious political agenda for the black sheep of a prominent Saudi family, a man without a country hiding in Sudan and Afghanistan, a sociopath on the fringes of the fringe. Indeed bin Laden had a substantial following of tens of thousands who went through his terrorism and ideological training camps, but to most Muslims he was a dangerous threat.
The American message played into bin Laden’s hands. Personalized presidential rhetoric elevated the terrorist from obscurity and disgrace to rhetorical peer status with the President of the United States. White House rhetoric from two successive presidents degraded the status of the president to bin Laden’s level. It poured the foundation of the U.S. message, and cemented the davidian stature of bin Laden, that both sides built upon ever since.
Not since Fidel Castro took power nearly half a century before had so small an entity become the focus such a personal and sustained verbal attack of an American president. Presidential rhetoric helped bin Laden convert himself in much of the ummah and beyond from a wayward son or common nuisance to somewhat of an underdog.
The American branding intensified after every al Qaeda attack, from the embassies in 1998 to the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, and again under a second American president from the other political party after 9/11.
Because people like [Abu Musab-al] Zarqawi and their al Qaeda affiliates and their al Qaeda colleagues know that when Iraq is stable and peaceful and prosperous and democratic, that we will blow a huge hole in their sense of inevitability for this murderous jihad that they're trying to carry out. That's why Zarqawi and those people are in and if you think for one minute that if we weren't in Iraq, they were just going to be someplace drinking tea? No. (Laughter.) They were going to be fighting the jihad somewhere.
Indeed, it could be argued that bin Laden is more worried about losing his prestige among Muslims than he is about losing his life to the Americans; on several occasions he has made statements defending himself against allegations of apostasy and blasphemy. If this is true, the American public diplomacy and strategic communication messages must constantly quote from recognized Islamic figures around the world denouncing the terrorists as unbelievers. (Some fatwa declarations, such as that of the Spanish Muslims in March, 2005, squarely aimed at bin Laden and al Qaeda; others, including the British and American Muslim fatwas of July, 2005, did not.)
It must inspire confidence and invincibility despite the promise of a long and bloody struggle and terrible sacrifice. The name must be easy for ordinary people across cultures to understand. It must captivate the average citizen and make him part of the war effort, infusing the world with the sense of justice and solidarity.
Even the Korean war and Vietnam war, though not technically wars in the legal sense, provided a sense of geography and the idea of where the enemy was, as did the Mexican War, Indian wars, and the Spanish-American War in the nineteenth century. Interestingly, those five geographically-themed wars are the least romanticized and often the most criticized of the nation’s armed conflicts.
The oddly named War of 1812 might evoke few passions from the average educated citizen today, but it burst with inspiration and romance, from the immortal “Don’t Give Up the Ship” standard of the Battle of Lake Erie to Francis Scott Key’s poem, penned on Baltimore harbor during a British naval bombardment, that became our national anthem.
In 2006, administration officials contemplated not calling it a war after all. Instead, the conflict was a “struggle,” specifically, a Struggle Against Violent Extremism (SAVE). By lowering the war footing to a mere struggle, advocates of the terminology change intended to send a message that the conflict was more than just military. Struggle, though, is anything but a decisive and confident-sounding term, especially in reference to a war effort led by the world’s wealthiest and most militarily powerful nation. The defensive-sounding SAVE acronym needs no comment.
In World War II, there was no mistaking that our troops in the Pacific were fighting the same war as our troops in North Africa, Asia, and Europe. U.S. leaders referred to each area of fighting as the “War in the Pacific” and “War in the Atlantic,” but unmistakably as separate “theaters” or “fronts” of the same worldwide war. Even the most massive and protracted of fighting in one or two European countries or in and around Japan did not earn the official individual name “war.” They were different “battles,” bloody parts of a much greater conflict.
President George W. Bush did refer to the U.S.-led invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq as “battles” in a global war. He specifically, if only briefly, mention what he called the “Battle of Afghanistan” and the “Battle of Iraq.” However, the rest of the administration failed to follow, and soon the U.S. government and public as a whole defaulted back to the two-war position of the “Afghan War” and the “Iraq War,” thus eliminating the message of connectedness between both conflicts as part of a larger global war.
The accepted name must provide wiggle room for complicated local situations, allowing individual national leaders to interpret the meaning as they must, permitting certain parties to see the light and switch from enemy to ally (as with the Soviets in World War II) while presenting the broadest of broad fronts against the faceless enemy.
The name must put the people and bureaucracy on a war footing, presuming that the world is in mortal danger, while inspiring and uplifting people. A proper name accepts hardship and sacrifice against apparently insurmountable odds, and lends the unspoken assurance that in the end, if we all pull together, everything will be all right.
The name of the mission, “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” shaped the message unequivocally. (A review of American public diplomacy on Iraq is beyond the bounds of this paper, though it must be said that the U.S. failed even to attempt to communicate strategically and persuasively with the world during the planning stages, undermining pro-U.S. leaders and political parties.)
For our present purposes, we can see how the war produced its own crop of mis-used words that harmed the U.S. mission and inadvertently helped the enemy.
Neutrals and even advocates can misinterpret innocently; critics and adversaries can coin malicious translations or interpretations. This was true of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Legally, Iraq was not part of Operation Enduring Freedom, but the name implied a useful metaphor as a sub-conflict of the larger war.
At the same time, while obviously intended to inspire the troops, the Iraqi people and the rest of the world, name of the operation inadvertently helped divert attention from the “war on terrorism” aspect of the conflict. It reinforced not the GWOT message, but created a new tangent under a different set of reasons. Consequently the idea that the “War in Iraq” was part of the Global War on Terror was a tough sell, especially with a weapons of mass destruction rationale, apparently the result of lowest-common-denominator interagency negotiations, never materialized in ways easy for the public to see and understand.
In English, particularly American English, the words “freedom” and “liberty” are usually used interchangeably.Other languages have only one major word to describe the idea. “Freedom” has Anglo-Saxon origins, while “liberty” finds its roots in the Latin word libertatem. Speakers of languages with even stronger Latin roots than English, use variations; in French, the preferred word is liberté.
It is logical and reasonable, then, for people of good or ill will to misunderstand or mistranslate Operation Iraqi Freedom as Operation Iraqi Liberty – with the unfortunate acronym OIL. Critics across the Internet passed along a false story that the Pentagon had originally chosen Operation Iraqi Liberty as the name of the invasion, but to avoid looking like a petroleum grab, had changed the word to “freedom.” Al Jazeera occasionally used the OIL abbreviation without comment, as did some mainline Western news organizations.
The enemy was as bad or worse than the toppled regime, yet the coalition offered no vilification campaign despite the perfection of the circumstances. As its modus operandi, the enemy was targeting mosques, churches, streets, shops, markets, government officials, clergymen, local citizens seeking employment to rebuild their country and feed their families, even children excitedly taking candy from American soldiers: perfect examples of the work of mufsidoon evildoers.
As Guirard suggests, if the government and news media can introduce Arabic words like jihad into official and public discourse and incorporate them into the English language, certainly they can do the same with concepts like mufsidoon. All it takes is persistence in daily press briefings and public statements.
Public Diplomacy White Paper No. 7
The Institute of World Politics
by J. Michael Waller
This article is the seventh in a series of White Papers about the transformation of American public diplomacy and strategic communication. USA Today featured this paper in its March 23, 2006 issue. The New York Times reported that this paper was reviewed by the Joint Staff and elsewhere at the Pentagon, and by US military forces in Iraq, and the reporter said that the paper helped inspire production of the video mocking an al Qaeda leader in iraq.
Incessant, morbid portrayals of an individual, movement, or nation as a mortal enemy might rally support for the American side, but they have a shelf-life that gets tired over time. Constant specters of unrelenting dangers risk sowing defeatism and chipping away at our own morale. Abroad they risk making the U.S. look like a bully in some places and surrender the propaganda advantage to the other side. The questions at this stage of the war are:
Humor is an excellent means of making policy points and building constructive relations abroad. Everybody wins.
We get the word “satire” from the ancient Greek satyr, the mythical drunk, hedonistic or otherwise naughty man-goat. Satyrs performed the fourth and final part of a tetralogy drama, usually in a burlesque performance that poked fun at the preceding serious or tragic trilogy. The audience would leave the performance satisfied and upbeat.
Prominent Classical literary figures used satire and ridicule against war. Poet-playwright Aristophanes, for example, in 425 B.C., satirized Athenian policy of the Peloponnesian War in The Acharnians, and mocked government, society and war in subsequent plays; he filled his plays with invective and ad hominem attacks as well as sexual humor. Greek society, irrespective of the type of government, placed boundaries on the types and intensity of ridicule, as did other ancients.
While permitted under certain circumstances, ridicule was seen as such a devastatingly powerful weapon that the ancients proscribed its use except in extreme situations. Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar banned jokes about the emperor.
In Christianity, ridicule of another person is considered uncharitable and can even be sinful, except, one reasons, in time of war when violence and killing can be morally permissible.
Muhammad, the founder of Islam, personally used ridicule as a weapon of war early after he announced his prophethood. Islamic poets were not mere literary artists; they were often warriors who wrote satire and ridicule of the enemy as an important weapon of offensive warfare. Muhammad banned the faithful from drawing human images, including his own, in large part to stamp out idolatry. Violent Muslim overreactions in early 2006 to some European cartoons depicting Muhammad appear to be less manifestations of offended sensitivities than of vulnerability to the power of ridicule.
Dictators, tyrants, and those aspire to seize and keep power by intimidation and force can tolerate no public ridicule. They generally harbor grandiose self-images with little bearing on how people really think of them. They require a controlled political environment, reinforced by sycophants and toadies, to preserve an impenetrable image. Some are more tolerant of reasoned or principled opposition but few of satire or ridicule. The size of their egos may be seen as inversely proportional to the thickness of their skin. However, few are true madmen; most are rational and serious.
Saddam Hussein had a strong sense of humor, and is known to have told mildly self-deprecating stories about himself in public. That is not to say he accepted others’ stories; Saddam’s storytelling was under his own control.
Jokes and contempt know no philosophy and a good laugh, even of the gallows humor variety, spread virally, almost impossible to control.
Czechoslovakian novelist Milan Kundera wrote in The Joke, “because laughter is the rust that corrodes every thing.”
While the Russians ultimately did away with a department of jokes, their president, Boris Yeltsin, could laugh at his political opponents’ innovative, irreverent and wildly popular political satire TV puppet show, Kukly. But the sense of humor of his tough-minded successor, former KGB Lt. Col. Vladimir Putin, has no such ability. Putin shut down Kukly and the NTV television channel that produced it. In Putin’s Russia, mocking or insulting the president is a crime punishable by imprisonment.
Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez pushed through a similar law to protect him from open ridicule. In the 1980s, the Islamic Republic of Iran went so far as to assassinate jokesters abroad, even in western Europe, where the regime murdered an exiled humorist in Germany and a London merchant who sold CD recordings that mocked the mullahs.
Humor survives repression; in the words of Professor Luis Aguilar of Georgetown University, repression “only drives it underground. For repressed people, it is a subtle form of rebellion; a collective means to pay back the oppressor; the last resort; the last laugh.”
That collective payback, that last laugh, can empower the powerless. It need not be expressed outwardly, where doing so could mean punishment or even death. In Iran, friends take taxi rides just to share jokes away from informers in their schools and places of work. Even quiet or inward expression remains alive, ready to flame with the first breath of oxygen. Jokes are a release of the fearful, a rewarding act of defiance, a rhetorical rock hurled at the oppressor.
The best ones spread because they speak the truth, and the truth leads to freedom. The joke is quietly shared and spread; the people know that they are not alone. “Every joke is a tiny revolution,” said George Orwell. “Whatever destroys dignity, and brings down the mighty from their seats, preferably with a bump, is funny.”
Like rifles and satellites, submarines and propaganda, ridicule is a neutral piece of technology. It can soften up entrenched and hardened targets, especially when those targets have alienated large parts of the population, or even small but loud elements in society.
Mass murderers can still have a good laugh, but usually at others’ expense. Adolf Hitler’s sense of humor knew no self-deprecation; his was what the Germans call schadenfreude, a word that has no English equivalent but can be understood as taking malicious pleasure at others’ misfortune. Hitler loved cruel jokes on his own ministers, especially on Foreign Minister Ribbentrop, but always away from public view. He could never laugh at himself. His propagandists in 1933 tried to appeal to the satirical German public by issuing a compendium of tame political cartoons, but the effort went nowhere.
Little if any American World War II-era ridicule had much effect on continental Europe, but it was still vital to the war effort. Ridicule can be a defensive weapon if it helps calm the fears of the public at home and give hope that they can indeed defeat the enemy. British and American boys sang anti-Hitler songs, mostly mocking the fuehrer’s private parts, as one might expect from adolescents, but laughing at the enemy during wartime helps one become less fearful and more optimistic of victory.
Others in Hollywood also helped the war effort through humor and ridicule. Charlie Chaplin’s famous full-length movie, The Great Dictator, though developed years before, followed the first Stooges episode in 1940. Chaplin – complaining that Hitler had stolen his trademark mustache - starred as fuehrer lookalike Adenoid Hynkel, accompanied by his sidekick Benzoni Napolini, dictator of Bacteria.
Like many in Hollywood did at the time, the cartoon studios put their talent at the disposal of the war effort. Disney’s Donald Duck, in the 1942 short “Donald Duck In Nutziland” (retitled “Der Fuehrer’s Face”), won an Academy Award after the unhappy duck dreamed he was stuck in Nazi Germany. Disney produced dozens of anti-Axis cartoons, as did Warner Bros. starring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Both studios have released some of the cartoon shorts on video but limited the rebroadcast and banned the re-release of some on what critics call political correctness grounds.
Despite their far superior training, discipline, skill and firepower, the British were unprepared for irregular combat with the colonists. The Americans were guerrilla fighters who had the bad form not to stand in formation on a battlefield and to shoot at enemy officers.
How brave you went out with muskets all bright,
And thought to befrighten the folks with the sight;
But when you got there how they powder’d your pums,
And all the way home how they pepper’d your bums,
And is it not, honies, a comical farce,
To be proud in the face, and be shot in the arse.
Sir William, he, snug as a flea,
Lay all this time a-snoring
Nor dreamed of harm, as he lay warm
In bed with Mrs. -------.
Franklin at the time viewed himself as an Englishman from Pennsylvania, and did not support the idea of American independence. He also used ridicule as a weapon at home as a printer, writer and patriot, and later in France as a diplomat, propagandist and intelligence officer.
The more extreme the leader, the more vulnerable he tends to be to ridicule.
Ridicule can cut the enemy down to size.
The previous Iranian government tolerated some forms of political satire, but Iran’s top political impersonator Ali Dean, who did hilarious impressions of various mullahs, was forced to an American exile. Private Farsi-language TV stations in North America lampoon Iranian leaders. The most influential station, NITV, is owned by an exiled Iranian rock star, with Dean as its top humorist, broadcasting into Iran.
The United States need do little more than give them publicity and play on its official and semi-official global radio, TV and Internet media, and help them become “discovered.” And it should be relentless about it.
by J. Michael Waller
Providence Journal, May 24, 2006
WASHINGTON - The arms embargo recently announced by the U.S. against the revolutionary regime in Venezuela is long overdue. Venezuela's dictator, Hugo Chavez, has gone out of his way to align his country with terrorist regimes, aid extremist movements and break anti-terrorism treaty obligations.
But at least one of our North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies wants to ignore U.S. security concerns and sell military equipment to Venezuela - while competing to sell the same equipment to the U.S. Coast Guard and Pentagon.
Worse, that ostensible ally is collaborating with the dictator's propaganda campaign to trash the United States, while simultaneously lobbying Congress for billions of dollars to buy its military products.
In a globalized economy, it's no longer possible to procure defense systems that are 100-percent made in America. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, provided the suppliers are reliable allies who share U.S. security concerns. But in the Venezuela case, the suppliers - the Spanish government and the state-owned aircraft manufacturer CASA - are no longer reliable.
Until two years ago, Spain was a staunch ally in the global war on terrorists and their supporters. Most observers expected Spain's pro-U.S. government to win re-election until the al Qaeda bombings of the Madrid transit system propelled the Socialist Workers Party to power.
In one of his first acts in office, after pledging to pull Spain from the Iraq coalition, President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero flew to Venezuela to sell military patrol boats and CASA CN-235 transport planes to the dictator Chavez.
The Bush administration, after fruitlessly voicing its concerns to Spain, invoked a 1992 law allowing the United States to veto other countries' sale of military hardware built with U.S.-made components.
Undeterred, CASA stripped out nearly five dozen U.S.-made parts to allow the sale to Chavez. From that point, the Spanish and Venezuelan governments conspired to rub it in America's face abroad, while CASA lobbied in Washington for U.S. tax dollars.
The game worked.
Last November, after CASA lobbyists had gotten Congress to spend $68 million on the first Coast Guard CN-235s, Spanish Defense Minister Jose Bono flew to Caracas "to stress what (Chavez) described as a 'defeat' of the United States," according to the major Madrid daily El Pais. In Caracas, Bono publicly criticized the United States as an "empire" as he stood with Chavez, who praised Spain for "confronting the hegemonic and imperialistic ambitions of the elite that now governs the United States (and is) massacring the people of Iraq."
While Chavez celebrated the deal with the Spanish defense minister, he refused entry to a bipartisan U.S. congressional delegation that had been cleared to visit Venezuela. In an act orchestrated to humiliate Congress, Chavez forced the lawmakers (led by 81-year-old House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill.) to sit in their plane for two hours without being allowed to disembark. Chavez then ordered the congressmen expelled from the country.
Meanwhile, Chavez - to his credit - has taken exception to CASA's and Spain's assurances to Washington that Chavez would use the aircraft exclusively within Venezuela and for peaceful purposes.
CASA and its socialist patrons in Madrid have played a double game, taking part in Chavez's anti-U.S. propaganda while lobbying Congress as valued members of the NATO security network.
Now, CASA is competing for its biggest contracts ever: more planes for the Coast Guard's Deepwater program and the new Army-Air Force Joint Cargo Aircraft, worth $3 billion to $4 billion in the short term, and as much as $30 billion over the decade ahead. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said recently, "national security cannot take a back seat to world trade." He's right. Congress should deny contracts to foreign companies that undermine U.S. national-security interests. Making an example out of the CASA aircraft deal would be an excellent place to start.
The U.S. arms embargo won't mean much if Washington continues to share military suppliers with the Venezuelan regime. Our diplomacy with Spain failed, but we needn't enrich the eurosocialists as they stab us in the back. They have chosen whose side they're on. Let them pay the price.
by J. Michael Waller
Los Angeles Times, May 21, 2006
OSAMA BIN LADEN says he doesn't fear dying. He says he fears being humiliated.
So let's give it to him.
Bin Laden and others have thrived on the almost obsessive American focus on them as personal rivals. We give them the coveted "Enemy of the Great Satan" brand whenever our national leaders single them out by name.
What would happen if we ridiculed the terrorists instead?
Would young people still flock to become "fighters" and suicide bombers? Would they still leave on their doomed missions with tearful support from their mothers, fathers, grandparents and the pretty girls at home, blessed by a cleric who justifies murder as a noble sacrifice in Allah's name?
Terrorism is psychological warfare: to accomplish much with little by manipulating people's perceptions, emotions and actions. That's why the terrorists like soft targets — innocent civilians in a skyscraper or mosque — that have little if any military value. The killings serve to terrorize civilized society, Muslim and otherwise. Ridicule strips the terrorist of his power. If we stop being afraid, we turn the icons of fear into objects of contempt.
The U.S. military may be developing its war-fighting skills to do just that. Recently it shattered the seemingly invincible persona of Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, whose beheadings and bombings have terrorized Iraq and the world, by pairing his latest video release with captured raw outtakes.
The outtakes showed Zarqawi not as a fearsome fighter but as a confused, bumbling fat boy in American sneakers and a black ninja costume who couldn't figure out how to operate a simple machine gun. (And even if it wasn't simple, there was no way to know that from the outtakes.) For the first time ever, the world saw Zarqawi's weak side: a pudgy, vulnerable, even contemptible creature who can't fight like a real warrior.
To most Americans, ridiculing terrorists might seem trivial, even sophomoric, as a weapon of war. But dictators and terrorists, being unable to function in the free market of ideas, need propagandists to control (not merely spin) their public images. They require obedience or acquiescence — a fear factor that cannot long coexist with put-downs and snickering. (That's why, six months after taking power in 1959, Fidel Castro had signs placed in official buildings that read "Counterrevolutionary jokes forbidden here." One of the first publications he shutdown was Zig Zag, a humor magazine.)
Pride, honor and shame are profound in much of Arab Muslim culture. The Zarqawi video was devastating. That's why Iraqi television and other moderate Arab media gave it plenty of play.
The ancients of the Middle East understood the mortal power of ridicule. In the Talmud, the basis of Jewish law, the Hebrews proclaimed, "All mockery (leitzanut) is prohibited except for mockery of idol worship."
Muhammad, the founder of Islam, weaponized ridicule. From the third to fifth years of his annunciation as a prophet, Muhammad deployed warrior poets ahead of his invading armies to soften the targets through mockery and derision.
Back in simpler times, Americans reflexively ridiculed their enemies. In a 1940 episode of "The Three Stooges," Moe did a ridiculous impression of Hitler while Larry heiled as propaganda minister, and Curly dressed as Goering with his belly and buttocks festooned with medals.
When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, the Army turned film studios into wartime propaganda mills. Humor about sacrifices at home and ridicule of the enemy were staples in Disney and Warner Bros. productions that starred Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny. (In fact, "Donald Duck in Nutziland" won an Academy Award in 1942.) To home audiences, the parody brought comfort and reassurance that, mighty as the enemy was, we could still defeat it.
In a January 2006 recorded message, Bin Laden signed off by saying: "I swear not to die but a free man even if I taste the bitterness of death. I fear to be humiliated or betrayed."
If he's not afraid to die, let's pour on the humiliation.
As long as the terrorists can make themselves look like fearsome winners — and as long as we inadvertently help them — they will always recruit followers. But nobody likes to follow a loser.