Pentagon Readies Efforts to Sway Sentiment Abroad
February 19, 2002 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Pentagon Readies Efforts to Sway Sentiment Abroad The latest in our propaganda war. Why not simply hire such notables as Britney Spears and other worthies to entertain, free, in countries that do not seem to appreciate what democracy and capitalism are able to showcase as why our system is so good?
posted by Postroad (14 comments total)
The Pentagon is developing plans to provide news items, possibly even false ones, to foreign media organizations

...because foreign media organizations don't read the NY Times, so will never guess what's going on.
posted by ook at 9:00 AM on February 19, 2002

Postroad - I always figured that culture would be the ultimate way to convert the youth of these troubled nations away from the likes of Al Qaeda.

I remember seeing a picture of a little kid posing with a bunch of masked men who hoped to become "martyrs."
More than anything, I wanted to find that little kid, take him to Six Flags, buy him a teddy bear and some cotton candy and show him that the "Great Satan" loves him and doesn't mean him any harm at all. I'd love to take his older brother to a skate park and play video games and crank some Ramones or go to the beach and go girl watching. When young people get a taste of that, hanging out in the desert with a religious fanatic dosen't seem like so much fun anymore.
It sounds silly but action flicks and rock music are going to be a major part of bringing these troubled places into the modern world.
posted by jonmc at 9:09 AM on February 19, 2002

It seems like a half-baked scheme that is only likely to cause more ruin down the road. Also, one has to question the wisdom and motives of such a press-release: If you really want to plant disinformation, do you tell people about it beforehand?
posted by cell divide at 9:13 AM on February 19, 2002

Actually, this press release itself is misinformation. They just don't want us to guess what the Office of Strategic Influence is really for.
posted by ook at 9:17 AM on February 19, 2002

Further proof, if any was needed, that our government does not value honesty and truth.
posted by yesster at 9:28 AM on February 19, 2002

jonmc, that's a nice theory, but pretty superficial when you consider that many of terrorists on September 11 were educated and exposed to the modern world. They can already get movies in Kabul, and I'm quite sure that they can get stuffed animals and sweets, too (economics of a postwar zone aside). It's not that they don't have access to our culture -- in fact, they more likely do and are reacting violently against it. (Even here in blue Metafilter land one can find malcontents of American culture, even though they've been exposed to it all their life.)

The key seems more in line with Musharraf's recent speech where he noted that the entire Muslim world, representing up to one quarter of the planet's population, has an economy that's smaller than recessionary Japan. That breeds poverty, which is part of the problem, but it also means there isn't a strong, stable middle class which can influence and participate in political affairs, and would restrain their governments from thinking of military adventurism. This will also have the long-term effect of starving the radicals.

Oddly, we used to have an agency that did this very same thing during the cold war; it was called the US Information Agency, and as implied in the article, it was an arm of the State Department. There was an audit flap of some sort that resulted in it being shut down in the early 90s as an unneeded appendix, apparently a premature act.

yesster: if we have any coherent, shared message, we should use any and all means to get it out there. We can't just passively hope, as jonmc does, that they'll eventually absorb it. How would you promote democracy, particularly in regions where progress is retrograde?
posted by dhartung at 9:33 AM on February 19, 2002

dhartung- obviously, you're right. I was just speaking of my gut reflexes upon seeing kids in those enviornment.

We can't just passively hope, as jonmc does, that they'll eventually absorb it.

That's not what I'm thinking, dhartung, obviously we have to use the traditional methods of education, intelligence work and diplomacy to truly accomplish these goals.

However, back in the days of the Iron Curtain, people would risk arrest to smuggle in Elvis Presley records and folks in Cuba use shortwave radios to pick up broadcasts of major league baseball. These bits of culture and the (admittedly) minor and trivial ones I mentioned in my first comments are examples of things that can only blossom in a democratic, free-enterprise society. If they can help whet peoples appetites for democracy, that's a good thing.

You are correct that the fight against terrorism is primarily a military/political struggle, but I don't think the role of culture in turning potential foes into allies should be underrated.
posted by jonmc at 10:05 AM on February 19, 2002

I'd promote democracy with the truth. Lies, deception, and misinformation are totalitarian tools, and should never be the tools of a culture that espouses values of openness and truth. Hypocrisy is inherently alienating.
posted by yesster at 10:40 AM on February 19, 2002

I think I have to agree with jonmc. Much like blue jeans and McDonalds among others helped to topple the Soviet Empire, so can American culture. More than any military or army, our culture is what has created an American Empire.
posted by owillis at 11:49 AM on February 19, 2002

I somehow doubt that American culture per se helped topple the Soviet Union. I think the reality is that once the people there saw that Americans had good jobs, the freedom to buy what they wanted, and most of all a much higher standard-of-living, they realized there was no other way to go. In short, it had a lot more to do with cold, hard cash than with lust for burgers and Pepsi.

Most Islamic fanatics are specifically rebelling against American Culture and its ills. They will not be convinced by anything cultural thrown at them. On the other side of the coin is that most Middle-Eastern countries have already accepted many facets of Western culture, and adopted them for their own use. Modernizing the economies and governments of these countries will do a lot more than exporting Mickey Mouse, who is already well known.
posted by cell divide at 12:03 PM on February 19, 2002

Oh my God the horror of it, even more American Cuture forced down the throat of the rest of the world... Yippee.

Seriously, this would not be a good thing. As cell divide notes above, there are people around the world who hate American culture and all it stands for, so giving them more is hardly going to help eh?

showcase as why our system is so good?

Is it so good? Really? Why? What things, that are not directly related to the size of the economy, make it so good?
posted by iain at 2:16 PM on February 19, 2002

What things, that are not directly related to the size of the economy, make it so good?

Well, since you asked....
posted by jonmc at 2:22 PM on February 19, 2002

I'm all for spreading democracy, though I hope that we'd encourage a more egalitarian democracy than what we enjoy in the US. But spreading democracy does not require spreading capitalism.
posted by yesster at 2:59 PM on February 19, 2002

iain, perhaps, but remember that what we stand for is the principle that individuals in their culture can pick and choose what they like of our culture. I have absolutely no objection to individuals in another culture exercising their individual right to choose not to participate. They are not objecting to us "forcing our culture down their throats" -- as if we could, or were holding a gun to people's heads -- they are objecting to the parts of our culture that their neighbors and relatives have freely adopted. Such as Valentine's Day.

And iain: I would say that we have the freedom to choose. That does lead to trash from Britney Spears (pace, o-dog) to porn pictures with Dubya's head, true, but then I don't have to look at those things if I don't want to, and I largely manage not to. And yes, I go to McDonald's and Starbucks on a regular basis, thanks for asking. I'll be filing my coercion lawsuit any day now.

yesster: they are not linked as a requirement, but the most successful democracies are also capitalist. Note that I consider the US a capitalist economy, although many believe it is mildly socialist. And, while I do not object to you personally doing whatever you like to spread greater egalitarianism, most would consider it a truism that the democratic system here is sufficient to make it more so should the people really want, so what we have is probably what they do want, and so this is the type that we have a consensus for spreading.
posted by dhartung at 4:32 PM on February 19, 2002

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