Flawed U.S. diplomacy contributes to Muslims’ hostility, report says

Pentagon panel critical of White House, Congress

WASHINGTON – The U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have created an anti-American cause among Muslim extremists who are otherwise divided and have raised the stature of the radicals in the eyes of ordinary Muslims, a Pentagon advisory panel says.

The report by the Defense Science Board concludes that the U.S. government must urgently change its approach to understanding and communicating with the Muslim world. U.S. public diplomacy is in crisis, and neither the White House nor Congress has done enough to improve it, the report says.

At the root of the problem, it says, is a fundamental misunderstanding of the reasons many Muslims are hostile toward the United States. They hate U.S. policies, not the nation’s freedom, it says.

The report notes a “pervasive atmosphere of hostility” toward the U.S. government that has intensified since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the U.S. responses to them.

“The dramatic narrative since 9/11 has essentially borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars” against the United States, the report says. “American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims.”

The report is among several produced over the summer by the board, a group of nongovernment experts that advises the secretary of defense on a range of issues.

Among the board’s recommendations is that the government reorganize its strategic communications efforts so that policy-makers can improve their understanding of global public opinion and communicate U.S. policy decisions and actions more effectively to the rest of the world.

Bryan Whitman, a spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said yesterday that the report will “stimulate debate and add to the existing body of ideas” about the way the Defense Department communicates.

“While there have been no decisions regarding the recommendations, the Pentagon will not deviate from its guiding principle of making information available in a timely and accurate manner,” he said.

The problem, the report says, has less to do with the availability of information than it does with a failure generally to understand how people in other parts of the world, particularly Arabs, perceive U.S. policies and actions.

“In the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering,” it says. “U.S. actions appear, in contrast, to be motivated by ulterior motives and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination.”

The report uses as an example Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally and birthplace of Osama bin Laden. A large majority of Saudis think the United States is trying to weaken Islam, the report says.

“In other words, Americans have become the enemy,” it says. “It is noteworthy that opinion is [strongest] against America in precisely those places ruled by what Muslims call ‘apostates’ and tyrants – the tyrants we support. This should give us pause.”

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