STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
A Better Afghan Propaganda?
By Staff News & Analysis - March 16, 2010

The United States military, has struggled with how to manage media coverage of the war in Afghanistan – and even the most basic approaches to an effective public-relations campaign. A haphazard approach causes significant harm to the war effort: Coverage of repeated televised apologies overshadows progress made by troops on the ground, and effective Taliban propaganda continues without adequate repudiation. With an effective media/public relations policy, the military could leverage news organizations to be an invaluable resource in fighting the Taliban. As it stands now, however, the military's PR incompetence makes the media akin to a lead weight on the shoulders of a marathon runner. Since the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the military and media have shared a rocky relationship characterized by periods of mutual benefit, but also mutual hostility. Unprecedented access for reporters allows for never-before-seen coverage: Few of us can forget, for instance, the live reporting from a tank speeding toward Baghdad at the outset of the Iraq war. The downside now to giving "embedded" reporters such access, however, is that every mistake and miscommunication in Afghanistan is captured and instantly beamed to televisions around the world or disseminated across the Internet, weakening public support for the war, while providing a free recruiting tool to the Taliban. – Christian Science Monitor

Dominant Social Theme: War is hell, and covering it is no easier.

Free-Market Analysis: We find this article in the Christian Science Monitor remarkable (what was it doing there?). It is, in fact, a frank and damning assessment of US rhetoric as it involves the proper presentation of the war from the perspective of eventual victory. The point of the critique is that the US and its allies must do better at bringing across the reasons that the Taliban must be defeated – and Afghanistan pacified. Here's a little more from the article:

As the public's attitude toward the mission in Afghanistan has soured, so, too has the tone taken by the media in its coverage of the war. News coverage is dominated by stories of corrupt Afghan officials and the newest trend, civilian deaths, leaving coalition commanders to engage in an endless cycle of public apologies.

Even during the fierce fighting last month in Marjah, Afghanistan, the media was filled with stories of civilian casualties, forcing repeated apologies and pledges of restraint from Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Therein lies the first problem with the US military's media strategy: It is impossible to win a war if one spends half the time apologizing. Compounding this, pledges to avoid civilian deaths, short of a stop to all military operations, are unfeasible. What the military ends up with is a public relations disaster and essentially "wins the battle, but loses the war."

Coalition troops may have scored a solid tactical victory in routing the Taliban from Marjah, but that triumph was overshadowed, even characterized, by coverage of civilian deaths and Gen. McChrystal shamefacedly appearing on TV to apologize. Worse, it will be another asset for the Taliban to use in its propaganda and recruiting campaigns.

The Daily Bell has long argued that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are wars intended to expand the influence and power of the West, particularly the Anglo-American axis into the one part of the world that has proved somewhat resistant to it. In fact, power elite rationales for particular activities tend to come in threes and the war may be no exception. First is the ostensible reason for the war – revenge for 9/11. Then comes the "secret reality" – exploitation of resources and expansion of an energy pipeline. Then, finally, comes the really significant reason, which has to do with global conquest and the imposition of regulatory (Western) cohesiveness throughout the world and especially the Muslim world.

The war, seen from this perspective, is a perhaps (primarily) aimed at "westernizing" Pashtuns – the tribe of 40 million strong from whom the Taliban is drawn. This may be a laudable goal, at least for some, but it is increasingly running into Western economic realities. There has, in fact, been a surge of Western citizens – post financial crisis – who are fairly disenchanted with their own governments' policies and may see no point in extending them to a far off land.

In fact, as the West's economic system continues to struggle, the idea that one can argue for the continued assumption of "the white man's burden" may be increasingly questionable – especially as regards a decade-long war. Not only that, but there is a steady- official – drumbeat to negotiate with the Taliban (the Pashtuns, really) and this does not necessarily add credibility to the moral argument that Afghanistan must be reconfigured to resemble, say, Ireland.

There are other problems with arriving at a comprehensive PR solution (as the article demands) that make the task formidable.

Afghanistan currently has a (puppet Western) government so many average citizens may be forgiven for wondering what the fuss is about. Mission accomplished, bring the troops home. The perception is that the West is "over there" – in someone else's land. Usually wars of liberation are undertaken to free an oppressed people from an oppressive (foreign) entity. In this case, the war is being waged against a tribal culture that is perhaps thousands of years old and has its own customs and history.

There may be ways to solve the propaganda problem that the Christian Science Monitor article identifies. But it will not be easy to do as it will involve teasing out putative subtleties that most people do not have the time or patience to internalize. Lacking increased support for the war effort, the American military-industrial complex and their allied partners may find sustaining it much longer to be a difficult proposition.

After Thoughts

As stated above (from our point of view), one of the power elite's major strategic goals has been to extend Western hegemony into Muslim regions and to make the democratic regulatory state a global reality. Lacking Afghanistan (and Pakistan) – among other countries – this goal will not be fully realized. This would be a major setback to those behind this policy and embolden many in the "third world" – and even in the West – who have currently concluded that Western governance is the only realistic model available. This, of course, would have major economic and balance-of-power ramifications. The stakes are high.

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