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Thread: How America lost the war of ideas

  1. #1
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default How America lost the war of ideas

    A BBC analyst Roger Hardy, currently on sabbatical in academia, has written a long, good article which ends with:
    Even if Al-Qaida has been weakened, its ideological influence persists. The idea lives on.

    In confronting that idea, American policy-makers face an inescapable dilemma, regardless of which administration is in power. Like it or not, the United States is seen as the new imperial power. Americans are reluctant imperialists. They want to be regarded as liberators rather than as oppressors, even when their actions belie their words. Islamism feeds on the perception that a once-powerful Muslim world has been brought low by the strength, technology, and culture of an all-conquering American-led West. This view may be exaggerated. It may be ruthlessly exploited by demagogues and bigots. It may produce an unhealthy culture of victim-hood. But it persists, and without a sea-change in Western attitudes and Western policy it will retain enough truth to be persuasive. Changing the perception requires changing the reality.
    Link:http://www.opendemocracy.net/roger-h...t-war-of-ideas

    I am sure some of these points have been made elsewhere, although on a quick skim of this group of threads there is nothing similar.
    davidbfpo

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    I am not that impressed. As a history of the (failed) American "soft power" war, its OK, but what exactly is the suggested "change the reality"? The author abruptly stops at that point, which may tell us that he is intelligent and doesnt want to make an ass of himself, but it tells us nothing else.
    There is a new paradigm (post-national? post-Westphalian? post-whatever?) struggling to be born in the world, but neither this author nor I know too much about it, so lets leave that aside. Within the "old paradigm", we can still try and think rationally. I have to get back to work, but here are a few random thoughts:
    1. The whole "its an ideology, not a state" idea is 93% bull####. There is an "idea" of socialism which has been around ever since capitalism (or earlier, depending on how you define it) and it is STILL around. There is an idea of Islamism. There are many ideas. And it probably makes a difference when a rich country spends money promoting one and suppressing another. But that is not the problem wars are being fought over. Abrams and company may believe that, but maybe even they dont. Maybe they too have other, more prosaic aims in view (like protecting Israel? or grabbing oil fields...though I could never understand what anybody will do with their oil if they dont sell it to the people who need it?).
    The particular armed groups that launched the most spectacular Islamist attacks have a specific physical and organizational presence (unfortunately, its in Pakistan). They are not really "stateless". If the states that shelter them are forced to confront them, half the job is done. If no state is willing to tolerate them then they will whither to "late red brigade" levels and the only "reality" needed to confront them will be law enforcement and intelligence work. The ONLY military action the US needed was action to force actual states to change their policies...and states that did not change policy would face very severe and escalating consequences. Soon enough they would either change their behavior or be overrun by their newly strengthened enemies (who doesnt have enemies?) or become almost walled off pariahs like North Korea. The rest is law enforcement... or a waste of money.
    2. If the US has to continue supporting Israeli occupation then the US will continue to face propaganda problems in the Muslim world (and not just the Muslim world) and no "war of ideas" is going to change that. The notion of winning a war of ideas while continuing to support Israel (all the other "crimes" of the US have a much smaller impact..in propaganda terms, they are an order of magnitude less effective than the issue of Palestine, which, for most people in the world, is a no-brainer and so is easy to use in propaganda and hard to counter) seems pointless. But maybe there IS a way out: maybe the US can tell the truth? It can emphasize that Israel is one issue, many other accusations are false and there are practical benefits to being friendly with the US even as it continues to support Israeli occupation. ....OK, this point is a pipe dream on my part.
    3. I think my main point is that the whole debate may be "not even wrong". Practical issues of who is funding whom, who provides training and shelter? who does not cooperate with law enforcement? and what military force should or should not be used to change this behavior?...that counts for more than all this "war of ideas".
    What do I know..

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    Council Member Levi's Avatar
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    But since 9/11, despite much talk of winning hearts and minds, and the outpouring of billions of dollars, two administrations with very different approaches to the issue have both been defeated by it.
    Defeated by what?

    ..the disappointments of real-world policy.
    Key phrase here being "real world".

    The question that haunted America after 9/11 – ‘Why do they hate us?’ – tended to provoke the wrong answers. It was falsely comforting to believe that America’s enemies did not understand it, and that the remedy was to harness the skills of Madison Avenue to demonstrate that the United States was a benign actor, a force for good that had brought the world science and technology as well as Hollywood and hamburgers.
    I am sorry he doesn't like hamburgers. I love them. So my take away here is that I, as an american, don't understand my enemies are great guys whereas my enemies do understand correctly that my government and my country in general are evil oppressing bastards. PR campaign to follow. Ok.

    Officials in the State Department, and Pillar and some of his colleagues at the CIA, tended to see extremism as a reaction to foreign occupation of Muslim lands (Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya) and as being rooted in poverty, under-development, and resentment of local dictators allied to the West. On the other hand, neo-conservatives such as Elliott Abrams in the National Security Council and Douglas Feith at the Pentagon saw the phenomenon as being rooted in a culture of hatred and intolerance nurtured by bigoted imams, pernicious schoolbooks, and Saudi money.
    So, it can't be a combination of those things? All black, or all white then?

    I will stop here and say and it's easy to pick apart failed policy, and bash the U.S. Maybe for good reason. But this is a (very) thinly disguised US hate letter.

    I didn't think it was that good at being even that, let alone "news".
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 09-14-2011 at 09:24 PM. Reason: Citations in quote marks

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default I didn't read the linked article for a variety of reasons

    Most revolving around this extract from davidfbpo's original post:
    ...But it persists, and without a sea-change in Western attitudes and Western policy it will retain enough truth to be persuasive. Changing the perception requires changing the reality.
    The author needs to improve his math skills, the west isn't going to change. Pleas and suggestions that the west 'must' do this or that are IMO quite specious and obscure the fact that we're all on this Earth and it is in our best interest to stay diverse AND to get along -- not love each other, just get along. No one should be encouraged to do things that go against their instincts and personal preferences so long as they do not afflict others -- afflict others and you become a fair target for unpleasantness. Rightly so and that applies to east and west, north and south, large and small, state and non-state...

    I think omarali50 has, as usual, an excellent point:
    ...The author abruptly stops at that point, which may tell us that he is intelligent and doesnt want to make an ass of himself, but it tells us nothing else.
    In fairness, he probably is a smart guy but his perceptions are clouded by his profession and proclivities, journalists tend to concentrate on the here and now but any 'war of ideas' is a very long term thing and in the post 9/11 milieu, it'll take years, probably decades, before winners and losers are identified. To suggest "loss" as a final decision in an effort that is far from over is quite premature.

    Then Levi struck a chord with his response to this quote:
    The question that haunted America after 9/11 – ‘Why do they hate us?’ – tended to provoke the wrong answers. It was falsely comforting to believe that America’s enemies did not understand it, and that the remedy was to harness the skills of Madison Avenue to demonstrate that the United States was a benign actor, a force for good that had brought the world science and technology as well as Hollywood and hamburgers.
    That's even less credible. The "Why do they hate us " mantra was a US Media construct with little traction among most Americans outside the political and foreign policy self appointed elites. The 'hate us' bit never gained much traction outside those three realms -- and to a lesser extent, the vales of Academe and their clonettes, the Think Tanks (both of whom pay far more attention to the media than they should... ). Most Americans, in the immortal words of Canadian journalist Christy Blatchford, "...don't give a rat's ass what the rest of the world thinks."

    The author then quoted Pillar and used the magic 'neocon' phrase, always a flaky and trite juxtaposition. I'm with Levi, it's a combination of those two and a great many more things, with the two political views being quite minor impactors.

    America lost the war of ideas because it never entered that war.

    Nor should we have, we're way too slow and cumbersome to play at that. We can do other things -- and probably will if we have to (we as a nation are not good at doing things unless we just really have to do them...).

    I'm also with Levi on the Hamburgers, larger and greasier the better...
    Last edited by Ken White; 09-15-2011 at 03:18 AM.

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    If America has lost the war of ideas... does that mean the war of ideas is over?

    Damn, I guess I'll just go boating. Bit of a relief actually.

    You might argue that America is losing the war of ideas, or that America has fallen behind in the war of ideas. Your arguments might or might not be right, but at least they wouldn't be ridiculous, which the notion of having "lost" the war of ideas certainly is.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    LOL.
    Thank God its over!
    A friend of mine says he met a marine officer once who became interested in him after he learned he is Pakistani. But when my friend (who reads Edward Said for fun..so you can imagine..) started trying to explain "the war of ideas" to the officer, the officer lost interest, started fidgeting and eventually (apologetically and politely) said "I am really not good at this stuff; I am interested in kinetics".
    My friend (who had never heard the term "kinetics" outside of high school physics) tells this tale as an example of American military obtuseness. But I am now convinced that the US might have done much better if more decision makers were more interested in "kinetics".
    The war of ideas has not been good for common sense....
    On the other hand, I may be getting carried away with the pleasure of being snarky. The war of ideas may not be lost and the US psyops effort may even be doing some good. We should not submit too easily to the pleasures of pessimism.

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