Tuesday, October 30, 2007

CRB: Winning the War of Ideas

Robert Reilly has an essay on how to wage the war of ideas and a critique of American public diplomacy over at the Claremont Review of Books:

American public diplomacy is in disarray. We are not winning—indeed, we are hardly waging—the war of ideas, and it is vitally important that we do, because in our war against the radical Islamists the final victory will take place not on the battlefield but in the minds of men.
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First, in order to fight a war of ideas, one has to have an idea. This is not as simple as it may sound. A war of ideas is a struggle over the very nature of reality for which people are willing to die. Therefore, one must formulate the ideas that are so central to one's life that one is not willing to live without them. For a nation successfully to project such ideas, there must be a broad consensus within it as to what those ideas are.

Second, one cannot go into a war of ideas until one understands the ideas one is at war with. Such wars are always conducted in terms of moral legitimacy. The defense of one's ideas and the attack on those of the enemy are conducted with moral rhetoric. "Axis of evil" is a perfect example, as is "the great Satan." All moral differences are at root theological.

Third, wars of ideas, by definition, can only be fought by and with people who think. This defines the natural target audience for this war, the so-called "elites." The term "elite" is not determined by social or economic status, but by intellectual capabilities. Trying to use ideas to influence people who do not think is an exercise in futility. Such people are led and influenced by those who do think.

Fourth, along with a consistency of purpose, one must have the organizational and financial means for conducting a war of ideas over the course of generations. Ideas, when they are profound enough to form the basis of a civilization, or its negation, have a prolonged gestational period. K.P.S. Gill, India's foremost authority on counterterrorism, has said that, in Kashmir, radical Islamists taught their doctrines in madrassas for two decades before the occurrence of any terrorist acts. After this period of gestation, the war of ideas was already won in the minds of the students who then formed the cadre of Islamist terrorist organizations. The same is true in other parts of the Islamic world. The war of ideas requires institutions that are capable of countering this kind of indoctrination over similarly lengthy periods, i.e., decades.
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The State Department should concentrate on the implementation of the broad range of the president's policies. Public diplomacy should concentrate on the longer-range goal of winning the war of ideas.

We need a central U.S. government institution within which policy, personnel, and budget can be deployed coherently to implement a multifaceted strategy to fight the war of ideas over an extended period of time. Without it, the U.S. will remain largely absent from the field. In this time of crisis, a new USIA-like organization should be created that can articulate and promulgate American ideals to the world and counter hostile propaganda. This new cabinet-level communications agency, independent of the State Department, the Defense Department, and the CIA, could maintain a strategic focus on aiding Muslim liberals and moderates, and not get lost in daily "spin" control. It would be staffed by people who know substantively what the "war of ideas" is about and have the regional expertise to operate across the Muslim world and in other vital regions. Its director should report to the president.

Currently, annual U.S. public diplomacy expenditures approximate McDonald's global budget for promoting its burgers. This is roughly half of what Saudi Arabia has spent yearly for the past two decades to spread Wahhabism throughout the Muslim world and here. This $1.4 billion (1/365th of the Pentagon's budget) is grotesquely inadequate and needs to be trebled for starters.

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