October 28, 2009

US Institute of Propaganda

The US Institute of Peace is one of Washington’s most powerful think tanks, a choice spot for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to lecture government officials, outside players, and lay-people on US-Pakistani relations. For one night the US Institute of Propaganda transformed into Clinton’s personal launch pad.

“It is unfortunate that there is a lot of mistrust that has built up with respect to the United States,” she said. “And I think we saw that in some of the reaction on the Kerry-Lugar legislation, which we’d been working on and consulting with the government of Pakistan for many, many months. And the ultimate passage of it we saw as a great milestone in our relationship, and we were very concerned when the reaction was so volatile and negative.”

Clinton, overloaded by America’s own failures and the hostile environment in Pakistan, was shocked by perception and reality. But the White House has clearly had enough.

‘I think we have, as a government, not done a very good job in responding to what you rightly call propaganda, misinformation, even in some instances disinformation, about our motivations and our actions in Pakistan. That became clear to me as we were doing our review, and I saw how often there were stories in the Pakistani media that were totally untrue, but we were not responding as effectively as we need to.”

Few American official have come out swinging so hard at the Pakistani press and those harboring anti-American sentiment. Ten years of manipulation, followed by ten years of abandonment, followed by nine years of manipulation, equals a steep battle for Pakistani hearts and minds. Without discussing why anti-Americanism runs so high, Clinton outlined her plan to overwhelm reality with words.

“This is going to take time,” she insisted. “This is not something you can fix in a news cycle or by just snapping your fingers and asking people to believe you. You have to go at it day in and day out. And I was, frankly, quite surprised that we had not done much of this in an effective manner. But we’re going to remedy that.”

A startling admission in itself when every poll in the last 15 years has America down in Pakistan. Hatred reached boiling point during the Musharraf saga and though polls indicate President Obama has reduced anti-Americanism, a majority of Pakistanis still disapprove of US influence in the region. Clinton shouldn’t have been surprised in the least.

Now she’s knee-jerking the boat around.

“There’s no guarantee that people will pay more attention to what we say, but at least we’re going to be in the mix and we’re going to be in the mix every day in getting out information that can be used by those who understand that the United States is hoping to be a good partner for not just the Government of Pakistan, but more importantly, the people of Pakistan.”

To spread her “information,” Clinton said she is, "moving very rapidly to try to fill that void. We have a new team going into Pakistan. A Public Affairs officer may be already there. We have adopted a new approach, which is we do not leave any misstatement or inaccuracy unanswered. It may be that people won’t believe it at first, but we intend to counter a lot of this propaganda with the best weapon we have; namely, the truth. And we’re going to be much more aggressive in interacting with the Pakistani media.”

The American propaganda factory, VOA, is online and Clinton’s machine is entering the warpath, but the road is heavily mined.

First, America isn't despised out of fabrication. The high level of propaganda is generated by America’s cumulative actions in the region. History, one of Clinton’s true targets, cannot be erased and the war in Afghanistan adds another demographic incapable of being dissuaded. Anti-Americanism is so ingrained in Pakistan society that even during down years like now, when the Taliban dips to record lows, America was jolted by Kerry-Lugar - the Kill Bill.

Clinton’s approach is suspect. Certainly America needs to “not leave any misstatement or inaccuracy unanswered,” and the sooner the better. She's referring to thousands of unanswered rumors about Pakistan’s embassy, nuclear weapons, drones, and foreign contractors. That the State Department didn’t realize its problem sooner doesn’t lend confidence to their problem solving.

Octopus Mountain doesn’t expect a peaceful outcome, but we're interested to see Clinton and crew, “be much more aggressive in interacting with the Pakistani media.” America is already considered schizophrenically aggressive and silent, and deliberate aggression - a publicized American propaganda campaign - spells backlash.

How much more aggressive will America be? Anne Patterson, ambassador to Pakistan, has sparred numerous times with the Pakistani press and Shireen Mazari in particular. Special envoy Richard Holbrooke takes shots his own shots; the American press is rabidly anti-Pakistan. And on the reverse, President Obama has barely spoken to Pakistanis except through the Kerry-Lugar bill.

As innocent as a sinister bill can appear, the details contain at least three potential spoilers: demands to attack Taliban operating in Afghanistan (an emerging dispute), access to Pakistani nuclear officials, and labeling Quetta as a terrorist center. Truth or lie, Pakistanis at every level, not just the press, has reservations about Kerry-Lugar: the army, political opposition, and average citizen.

This leads to what Clinton’s strategy should be. Counter real propaganda, but remember "truth" can be subjective. Be cordial instead of aggressive, forceful, or overt, which will annoy and repel. Don’t blame others for personal mistakes and recognize the limitations of American propaganda in Pakistan. Pakistan’s propaganda is imbued with reality, thus America must change reality.

Developing an exit strategy for Afghanistan would please a large number of Pakistanis, yet President Obama is close to escalation. A lower profile is more practical and overdue; frequent high-profile meetings produce an impression of micro-managing, not friendship. Kerry-Lugar is a long shot, but demonstrable results should double or even triple aid to be channeled into the FATA. Failing to develop Waziristan in the future will render the present battle obsolete.

Clinton just landed in Islamabad and shouldn't be surprised by any blow back in the press. Change reality and she can change the propaganda. If business continues as usual then reality will crush her propaganda.

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