21 October 2007

The Value of Information

Since 9/11, Western governments have put a premium on information, specifically intelligence information. Knowing what al Qaeda and other terrorist operatives are up to, where they are, where they intend to go, what they intend to do, and so forth are vital aspects of the Global War on Terror & Tyranny that the West seeks to prosecute while instituting tranformative change in the Middle East. While this is mostly defensive--protecting the homeland and Canadian/American allies--it also allows us to go on the offensive, targeting terrorist training camps, rooting out insurgents, and eliminating threats to the stability and reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, one element that has been conspicuous in its absence--and which I have called for on a number of occasions--is a sustained campaign dedicated to winning over hearts and minds of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, our allies, and indeed here at home. It's incredible that a NATO-led, UN-sanctioned mission to rebuild a war-shattered country only enjoys 50/50 support in Canada, and not the good kind of incredible. It represents failure on the part of successive governments to put out a coherent and cohesive message for what the Canadian Forces and Canadian aid workers and diplomats are doing in that faraway land about which many Canadians know little. Given due explanation, it is my belief that the public would more warmly embrace the efforts of our fine men and women to bring a modicum of peace and security to a country that has not enjoyed it for decades. People who criticize "neo-conservatives" will no doubt see this as another example of a "neo-con" and his abiding faith that a little propaganda is all it takes to magically sweep people off their feet.

It is that simple word--propaganda--that has become a barrier to Canadian efforts (and those of its allies) to win over hearts and minds domestically and abroad. Any effort on the part of the government to disseminate information is automatically cast as something about which people should be dubious and skeptical, the very word conjured up to remind people of Goebbels and Hitler and the Nazi Propaganda Ministry. There is a fantastic article in the current issue of Parameters, the US Army's quarterly academic journal, that focuses on the problems that a democracy faces in waging an information campaign alongside a military one. Whereas terrorists have no inhibitions about stretching the truth or saying things which are blatantly false, democracies must rely solely on pure, unadulterated fact. And even when this is deployed, the press is usually there to portray the government as doing something sinister to guide people along a pre-determined path of their choosing. Never mind that national interests and objectives are at stake. I'm all for retaining a healthy sense of skepticism, but forcing information agencies to shut down within weeks of being established is going too far and indeed hinders the government's ability to achieve the objectives of the state.

To check out the article, written by Dennis Murphy and James White, click on the link. All comments for discussion are, of course, welcome. Propaganda: Can a Word Decide a War?

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