In the military, it's known as psychological operations — or psych ops — the component of warfare charged with capturing the hearts and minds, rather than the soldiers and territory, of the enemy.
To the rest of the world, much of what goes on at the Army's Psych Ops unit, bunkered at Fort Bragg, N.C., may sound a lot like marketing and public relations, ratcheted up a few pegs past Madison Avenue.
Psych-Ops has been working overtime in America's war on terrorism. Quelling the virulent anti-American sentiment behind terrorism is vital to quashing the threat, and the administration has mobilized a major operation on this front. But the battle ahead against the attitudes and perceptions that fuel such hatred could prove tougher than smoking out Al-Qaeda, and the administration has even called up some special forces — hiring Charlotte Beers, a former advertising executive, as an under secretary at the State Department.
Just how enormous a challenge is bridging such a gaping cultural divide? According to two top public relations executives interviewed by Foxnews.com, successfully "marketing" America to such a hostile audience is going to be a much trickier task than toppling the Taliban.
The statistics alone are a nightmare, said Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn in New York City.
While senior citizens are the fastest-growing segment of the American population, in the Islamic world of southwest Asia, 52 percent of the population is under 18. Theirs is a generation of young people faced with rampant unemployment, poor or no education and unstable governments — a recipe for radicalism if there ever was one.
While making the task harder, Bloomgarden said the youth of this target audience also presents an incredible opportunity for the U.S. Entertainment could be key, she said. Beaming in Britney Spears won't do the trick, but developing a series of films and movies that offer insight into American values and culture without offending Islamic sensibilities might.
"There is a lot in our culture that we could export, but we have to be very careful," she said. "There is a contempt for the American way of life. It would have to be movies created within an Islamic context, soap operas that reflect their values, little stories you can see, like children aspiring to come to a university in the West" and finding a good life here, she said.
The U.S. also needs to reach out to prominent American Muslims such as Muhammad Ali to serve as cultural emissaries, she said. People who retain their faith while succeeding in and embracing the West set good examples, she said.
Bloomgarden also suggested more programs like the Peace Corps that bring Americans, Arabs and Muslims together to rebuild communities, improve education and help women re-enter the workforce.
The U.S. also must become much more effective at using Arab media outlets, she said.
"Even among the educated elite there was a belief that bin Laden was not responsible (for the Sept. 11 attacks)," Bloomgarden said. "With this level of misinformation and mistrust, it can't be the usual newsletter. It needs to be much more persuasive and stronger than the usual outpouring of information."
Another P.R. pro, Mark Schannon, a partner with Ketchum Public Relations in Washington, D.C, said he couldn't conceive of a more difficult assignment.
Noting that conflicts between Muslim and western cultures date back 1,000 years, Schannon said the U.S. must first accept that it is in for a long, slow process.
"We tend to be really impatient. If we're going to fix our relationship with the Muslim world, we can't give it six months and when it hasn't worked, think something has gone wrong," he said. "It's not going to happen in a month, year or even five or ten years."
The U.S., he said, must forego the mindset that it's America's job to drag the Arab world into the 21st century. Instead, he said, the focus should be about learning to understand each other and finding opportunities to work together with the Muslim world that won't involve forcing western ideals upon them.
"We don't understand them very well and they don't understand us very well," Schannon said. "We need to find ways to work together where neither side has to give up a sense of pride or dignity."
Rebuilding Afghanistan, securing the country and helping it establish a sound, stable government is one example of such efforts, he said. "That's something we can say we did together," he said. Bringing western medicine and technology to the region is another way to build bridges.
Cultural education programs and professor exchanges are another area where common ground can be realized, he said.
"We have to demonstrate that we're willing to learn about their culture," he said. "We can insult them with the best intentions," he said.
None of these efforts will do the trick however, he said, unless the U.S. does some smart public relations that makes sure both sides know that progress is being made. The U.S. must do "a lot of talking in Arabic in the Arab world so that people see the working together that's going on," he said. "It's a process of bringing people together and then making a very big deal about it."