While we can easily retake the high ground and can easily own the media through active engagement and managed discourse, we don't. GOOD Magazine published a short article of mine comparing the public diplomacy of Al Qaeda to that of the U.S. State Department.
Iraq has become a stage on which terrorists, insurgents, and Coalition forces compete for a global audience. YouTube, blogs, and all other forms of citizen media ensure that every GI Joe and Jihadi has at least a bit part in the theater of public opinion. The result is a new public diplomacy that insurgents understand, and the U.S. State Department doesn’t.
...As the enemy shapes itself into a more and more fearsome force, America’s failure to understand or to participate in the war over public perception is not a noble act, but one of implicit suicide. Insurgents can now measure their success in terms of money, supplies, safe houses, and recruits—all of which come at the expense of trust in the United States and its influence on the people. The Administration must stop thinking of foreign audiences as sympathetic and become smarter about how to wage information campaigns. That means realizing that military action is diplomacy, and that embassies are advertisements.
Two images that didn't make the cut are below. The one on the left is insurgent propaganda available easily available on YouTube. It was almost hard to pick the best picture, and painful to go through the footage. It was an exercise in why we must do better in this conflict. The picture on the right is a recent AP photo of the embassy compound. "It's like Fort Apache in the middle of Indian country, except this time the Indians have mortars."
- IEDs as "Weapons of Strategic Influence"
- IED as a Weapon of Strategic Influence: Creating the Blackwater Nightmare
- More on Fortress Baghdad, er, the New American Embassy
- and David Phinney's posts on the delays announced after my article went to press