Over at Neo-neocon there is a post about public relation and propaganda during a war. My response, with regard to the War on Terror is as follows.
The war against terror is a misnomer. This is a war against fundamental and militant Islam as represented by Wahhabism, spreading among the Arabs and through the Middle East. Thus if you see this as the primary threat, then you have to formulate a strategy to defeat it.
This administration's strategy is to fight fundamentalist Islam with liberalized Islam. They believe that if given the choice, most Muslims as most humans would not kill and maim innocent non-Muslims. Liberalism at its root is predicated on individual freedom. Where could they cultivate a sufficient number of liberal Arab Muslims to stand against the fundamentalists? By taking those who would crave individual choice after years of being denied individual choices and liberate them. You start with those oppressed the worse and work your way up. Thus first liberate the Afghans under the Taliban and follow that up with Iraqi under Saddam. Risky? Very.
Thus if you are about to undertake a massive social-political-religious transformation, do you declare you intent for all to hear, especially the target of your work? There was no way this could have or ever would be declared.
So where do you start after 911? By declaring an apparent target of threat, in this case terrorists in particular and states that harbor and support them. But if you are bound by certain international laws, like the UN charter, what are your options? With Afghanistan it was easy in appearance, the Taliban had al Qaeda and refused to hand them over, thus with a blur the Taliban and al Qaeda was treated as one and the same. Now it was Afghanistan-al Qaeda that attacked the US on 911 and thus we had the legal context to strike back. Done.
But Afghanistan is far away from the core of the problem of Wahhabism that is in the Middle East (Afghanistan more Central Asian). It would have been pointless to attack Saudi Arabia because you cannot cultivate the Saudi to fight Wahhabism. The Saudis were not craving freedom from oppression. Thus Iraq. Legal context? Violation of the ceasefire from 1991.
As much as possible all the international actions had to be interpreted as consistent with our international rights and obligations. The greatest stumbling block has been the American public perception that the war against terror should only be against terrorists in general and al Qaeda in particular.
What I am getting at is that while this administration has been poorer at PR than necessary, the nature of this war's strategy does not lend itself to a PR campaign. While it maybe easy now to sell capitalism over communism, this wasn't so clear 30 years ago. But at least we could announced that was your intention for all to hear. How do you go about declaring that we will turn moderate Muslims against their brethren the fundamentalist Muslims? How do you go about selling this to your domestic public and not let the international audience hear about it? I don't think it can be done well if at all.
I am satisfied with the reasons and motives for the war on terror, and its progress thus. Bad PR included, as you cannot always declare your intentions.