WASHINGTON – The U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have created a shared anti-American cause among otherwise-divided Muslim extremists and raised the stature of the radicals in the eyes of ordinary Muslims, a Pentagon advisory panel says.
The report by the Defense Science Board (search) concludes that the government must urgently change its approach to understanding and communicating with the Muslim world. It says U.S. public diplomacy is in crisis, and neither the White House nor Congress has done enough to fix it.
At the root of the problem, the report says, is a fundamental misunderstanding of why many Muslims are hostile toward the United States. They "hate our policies," not our freedom, it said.
The report cites a "pervasive atmosphere of hostility" toward the American government that has intensified since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the U.S. responses to them.
"The dramatic narrative since 9/11 has essentially borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars" against the United States, the report said. "American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi (search) insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims."
The report, first disclosed by the New York Times in its Wednesday editions, is available on the Pentagon's Web site. It is among a series of reports produced last summer by the board, a group of nongovernment experts who advise the secretary of defense on a range of issues.
Among the board's recommendations is that the government reorganize its strategic communications efforts so policy makers can improve their understanding of global public opinion and communicate U.S. policy decisions and actions more effectively to the rest of the world.
"To win a global battle of ideas, a global strategy for communicating those ideas is essential," the board's chairman, William Schneider, Jr., wrote in a memo introducing the report.
Bryan Whitman, a spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said Wednesday the report will "stimulate debate and add to the existing body of ideas" about how the Defense Department communicates.
"While there have been no decisions regarding the recommendations, the Pentagon will not deviate from its guiding principle of making information available in a timely and accurate manner," he said.
The problem, as described by the report, is not so much the availability of information as a failure generally to understand how people in other parts of the world, particularly Arabs, perceive U.S. policies and actions.
"In the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering," it said. "U.S. actions appear, in contrast, to be motivated by ulterior motives and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination."
The report cited as an example Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally and birthplace of Usama bin Laden (search). A large majority of Saudis believe the United States is trying to weaken Islam, the report said.
"In other words, Americans have become the enemy," it said. "It is noteworthy that opinion is (strongest) against America in precisely those places ruled by what Muslims call `apostates' and tyrants -- the tyrants we support. This should give us pause."