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[] und noch mehr OSI-Kritik,

International Herald Tribune
February 22, 2002

Lies Can Come Back To Hurt You

By Flora Lewis

PARIS -- The Pentagon has created an Office of Strategic Influence,
according to the news from Washington, and is now in the process of
discussing just who is to be disinformed, about what. The office was set
up during the fighting in Afghanistan as the administration began to be
concerned about losing support for its "war on terrorism" in foreign
countries, particularly Muslim countries.

The reports say there is some opposition within the Pentagon to plans
for using some false and misleading reports where that might help the
United States, and the White House has not yet given final approval for
that. So it can be assumed that this is another example of a hidden
policy debate on how to shape public opinion.

The deliberate leak about the possibility of using misinformation to
sway opinion shows that at least some of the people involved are aware
of the risks.

In many ways, the battle of words, of attitudes, of sympathies is the
major confrontation in this struggle against terrorism. The battle can
be decisive at crucial points. So the Pentagon has decided that it
should be involved. The question is how, and it is useful to give this
some airing before too much damage is done to credibility.

These are difficult and subtle issues.

Normally it is the State Department and the U.S. Information Service
which deal with the effort to move public response and create favorable
image. The effort is called public diplomacy. Ostensibly it is merely a
service to provide official information, but all countries - and
corporations, organizations, institutions and many individuals who have
a stake in how they are perceived by the public - make an effort to look
good and hide flaws.

Still, in theory at least, "strategic influence" should be inherent in
the sense of the project. If it takes lies to appear convincing, there
is reason to doubt the effective value of the influence.

After an initial chorus of support, there has been a swelling resonance
of complaint about some U.S. actions and plans. Washington is right to
pay attention to what allies and partners think, perhaps all the more so
because this isn't much of a military coalition, so the participation
has to be made more evident.

There is a range of concerns that the United States must deal with, and
they are sometimes contradictory. Nobody expects Washington to listen to
everybody's objections, but the suggestion that reasons and facts can be
invented if the real ones aren't good enough is worrisome.

The metaphor of a war on terrorism can be carried dangerously far,
particularly in a military context; there is a temptation to justify
whatever means are required by the all-important end of victory. In this
conflict, such an approach would lead to defeat rather than triumph of
the values that President George W. Bush repeatedly cites.

For a few weeks, the United States was fighting a war in Afghanistan,
and the confused but increasingly insistent rumbles from Washington make
it sound as if in a few more weeks it will be at war with Iraq. If so, a
great deal of the reaction depends on how the violence starts, and how
the war is conducted. Not much bland tolerance can be expected for some
kind of elaborate scenario that would seek to make it look as if Saddam
Hussein shot first.

The war between Israel and the Palestinians, which has now reached such
a steady level of well-armed violence that it can only be called a war,
adds enormously to the political and diplomatic complication.

Bush has not quite endorsed the extreme retaliatory measures that Israel
takes daily for Palestinian murders, and he has not quite accepted the
isolation of Yasser Arafat as another terrorist leader. But Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon has assimilated Arafat and Osama bin Laden in such
a way that the terrorist label is hard to remove. This puts America on
the opposite side for many Arabs.

That is probably the biggest barrier to "strategic influence," and it
won't yield easily. But there is an even more important stake that must
dictate resistance to the temptation to falsify a way around it. It is
the essential defense of America's credibility. The lies of the Vietnam
War and Vietnam diplomacy gravely harmed both America's position in the
world and its government's reliability in the eyes of the American
people, to an extent from which it has not yet recovered. Short-term
advantage of deception cannot be worth another great loss.

If "strategic influence" is to be achieved it had better be
straightforwardly, or the cost will be excessive.

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