OPINION: International Communications - The war must be fought tocapture hearts and minds

America must rethink its public diplomacy strategy, says Jack

Leslie, chairman of Weber Shandwick Worldwide. This is an edited

transcript of his speech before the House Committee on International

Relations on November 14.

I've spent the better part of my career advising organizations and

individuals in developing countries on how best to use communications to

achieve their public policy objectives. And so, like many others, I've

seen that the events of the past two months have brought into sharp and

tragic relief the long-term failure of the United States to communicate

effectively with the 1.2 billion people of the Muslim world.

And I use the word "people" deliberately. For, historically as a nation,

we've communicated government to government, not people to people. And

it has been exacerbated since the Cold War, when we cut back on public

diplomacy in the false belief that it was less important to communicate

our values. We're good at talking to the heads of nations, but have

overlooked their hearts. It would be as if members of this committee

campaigned only to civic leaders in your districts and ignored

rank-and-file voters. There is no better evidence of this phenomenon

than the astounding fact that we aren't reminding those who march

against America that our nation went to war against Christian

fundamentalists to protect Muslim minorities in places like Bosnia and


That said, most of us are well aware that the deep-seated hatred in the

Muslim world is no more the result of a communications failure by the

United States than the destruction of the World Trade Center was the

result of an intelligence failure. It is the result of many conditions -

widespread poverty, political repression, the ongoing

Palestinian-Israeli dispute, and America's involvement in these

situations, whether real or perceived - that are far more responsible

for public opinion in the Muslim world than is American public

diplomacy. The fact of the matter is that in most of these countries,

the only acceptable form of political expression has been to be

anti-American or anti-Israel.

A six-point plan

So while the antagonism we face in the Muslim world is not entirely our

fault, September 11 proved that it is our problem. And it is a problem

of both immediate and long-term proportions.

So what do we do about it? I believe that there are six courses of

action that are central to communicating the message of America.

First, we should heed the Powell Doctrine from the Persian Gulf War and

apply it now to communications. We must have clear objectives and then

we must bring overwhelming force - the full range of resources necessary

- to achieve those objectives.

It is unrealistic - and probably counterproductive - to suggest that in

the short-term we can sell America's values to the Arab street. We can,

however, make a strong case that Osama bin Laden and terrorist

organizations in the Muslim world haven't just hijacked airplanes, they

are trying to hijack Islam itself. So, to put it in political terms, the

short-term campaign should primarily be a negative one designed to put

the terrorists in a box. We need not be shy about it. In a culture that

above all else values family, bin Laden is estranged from his family,

ostracized from his tribe, a terrorist who murders innocent women and

children. We should be circulating widely the pictures of those Muslim

children in the United States who lost a parent during the attacks on

September 11. We need to personalize our communications.

In the long-term, our objective should be to encourage a dialogue among

Muslims about what are acceptable beliefs and behavior for Islam. We are

never going to convince radical Islamic fundamentalists of the benefits

of a pluralistic society. But we can carefully target those whose

opinions are soft, those who are undecided or conflicted. It should be

possible to persuade people who are searching for answers that the path

these radical elements have chosen is not only incompatible with the

teachings of the Koran, but antithetical to the kind of future most

people want to live.

Make changes, and get creative

Second, we need to reorganize how we manage public diplomacy. Our

government apparatus is still caught up in the Cold War, when we relied

upon an infrastructure with assets like Radio Free Europe, the Voice of

America, and our embassies to deliver our message. During those times,

we communicated our values to people willing to acknowledge and able to

receive them - people who wanted freedom and democracy.

These are very different times. A beefed-up Voice of America isn't going

to win this war. If we want to bring overwhelming force to the

communications battle, we'll need a centralized chain of command, not a

loose-knit collection of agencies and departments spread across the

government. The Coalition Information Center set-up by the White House

is a major step in the right direction.

Third, we need to tap into the best minds in this field. In our

business, we don't make widgets. We depend on the insights and talents

of individuals.

This is a creative process, and every effort must be made to recruit the

best creative minds to work with the US government. Reaching out to

groups like the Ad Council here and creative experts in the Muslim world

is critical.

Fourth, no tactic should be ruled out. CNN ran a segment recently on a

pro-bin Laden video game becoming popular in many Islamic countries.

Whether we counter with our own video games, use commercial advertising,

the internet, posters, or pamphlets - you name it, every tactical

approach should be considered that can deliver the right message to the

right targets with credibility. During the democratic revolution in the

Philippines, when Corazon Aquino had no access to the media except for

Catholic radio, we prompted Ted Koppel on Nightline to run a story about

the fact that Marcos bragged about military medals that turned out to be

fake. Marcos was so infuriated, he felt compelled to deny the charge in

the Philippine press, making it a campaign issue, and thus a turning

point in the campaign. We need to be similarly creative now in using

every available tactic at our disposal.

Fifth, just like our military campaign, we cannot win the communications

campaign without troops on the ground. This is not a war that will be

won on the airwaves alone. We must carry it to the street. Traditional

institutions, and certainly our government, lack the credibility needed

to carry the message. And so, we must rely on much more sophisticated

recruitment and training of credible people on the ground - clerics and

youth groups, sports heroes and teachers - anyone we can find to carry

the right messages.

And finally, we'll never succeed without actionable research. I'm sure

we have warehouses full of research throughout the government. But we

need to know much more than just what people are hearing and how they

are behaving. We need to know what messages and actions can change

attitudes and behavior - and what groups are most receptive to our


If we do these things, if we commit to using overwhelming force with

clear objectives and targeting, if we have centralized planning and a

chain of command, if we reach out to the best creative minds here and

abroad, if we demonstrate a willingness to employ innovative tactics and

sound, actionable research, then I believe America's message will be


It is a challenge no less important than any other in the new war

against terrorism.

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