A senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan apologized Wednesday for propaganda leaflets that superimposed a key Islamic text on the image of a dog. The leaflets distributed by U.S. forces in Parwan province, north of Kabul, on Tuesday depicted a lion, representing the U.S.-led coalition, chasing a dog with a section of the Taliban’s banner, containing a passage from the Koran in Arabic, superimposed on its side.
Information campaigning in various forms is as old as politics itself, and nor is it the sole province of political bogeymen. Research shows that democracies are better than autocracies at influencing foreign public opinion, and businesses, politicians and states all use the mass media strategically for their information campaigns. The names we give a particular information campaign not only reflect our inferences about its aims; they can in fact amplify its power and advance its goals.
After coming under pressure from lawmakers, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has taken steps toward spending tens of millions of dollars to counter propaganda by Islamist extremists and governments such as Russia. A State Department official confirmed on Thursday that Tillerson last week approved the use of about $60 million by the Global Engagement Center toward the anti-propaganda efforts.
The tragic condition of U.S. foreign policy ever since the Reagan administration is that public diplomacy has consistently occupied a tertiary status in the scale of national priorities. [...] It is OK to send messages like the Tillerson-Mattis one only if we reassure the North Korean people that we haven’t abandoned them. The Tillerson-Mattis message can thus serve a psychological disarmament purpose, at least to a limited degree. But we must have a parallel track of diplomacy — with the North Korean people. We must give them hope.
By insisting on a pro-Kremlin agenda, and trying in vain to halt all inquiries into the Russian meddling in the election that brought him to power, Trump undermines his own political position, inviting further investigation of his financial dealings and opening the possibility of charges of obstruction of justice. Not a good time for policy, or those trying to communicate it.
Mark Dillen examines President Trump's confusing communications regarding Russia and Ukraine.
Why does this history matter? Because we are living at a similarly fraught moment, in a time when international alliances are in flux. America’s reputation abroad has plunged in many countries. Conspiracy theories have never been easier to create and pass on, both abroad and at home. [...] Yet at the moment, there is no systematic U.S. or Western response to Russian, Chinese or Islamic State disinformation.