Belmont Club

Crusader Rabbit

Christian Whitton and Kristopher Harrison of the State Department make a private argument for the establishment of a government propaganda to fight “the ideology that underpins the global jihadist insurgency”. In an article in the WSJ they write:

The U.S. government needs to resurrect the nonviolent practice of “political warfare” and create an agency to manage it. The Bush administration started this process by providing more resources for public diplomacy and appointing prominent officials to oversee the task. But efforts to explain America’s values and ideals to Muslims need to be supplemented with measures that confront directly the jihadist ideology.

Mr. Obama’s administration could use as a model the British Political Warfare Executive, which rallied support for the Allied cause behind enemy lines during World War II, or the U.S. Information Agency, which helped network opponents of communism and undermine Moscow’s intellectual appeal during the Cold War.

A civilian should sit atop this new organization. His or her mission should be to undermine the jihadist ideology that underpins terrorism. We believe this mission is so important that the person should answer directly to the President, just as military combatant commanders do.

The question is: does fighting “the ideology that underpins the global jihadist insurgency” mean waging ideological warfare against Islam? In other words, it engaged in “information operations” in the same sense that Hezbollah today would understand it.

The Political Warfare Executive of World War 2 was specifically designed to discredit Nazism. It engaged in polemic, it de-programmed Nazis, it even engaged in campaigns of deception.

PWE included staff from the Ministry of Information, the propaganda elements of the Special Operations Executive, and from the BBC. Its main headquarters was at Woburn Abbey with London offices at the BBC’s Bush House. As the Political Warfare Executive was a secret department when dealing with the outside world PWE used the covername Political Intelligence Department (PID).

The main forms of propaganda were in the form of radio broadcasts and printed postcards, leaflets and documents. PWE created a number of clandestine radio stations including Gustav Siegfried Eins, Soldatensender Calais and Kurzwellesender Atlantik. In order to deliver its subversive messages, PWE also disseminated reliable news and information on events in Germany and the occupied countries, gathering intelligence from other services and agencies, including POW interrogations, and newspapers obtained from occupied countries, and bombing raid photo analysis. This latter source was used to broadcast lists of streets (and even individual houses) that had been destroyed and on occasion to mock up faked “real time” reports of actual raids. …

At the end of World War II PWE were tasked with the re-education of German Prisoners of War. As with different types of propaganda, PWE used the same ‘white’, ‘grey’, and ‘black’ classifications for German POWs. Prisoners classed as ‘black’ were considered dangerous ardent Nazis, with anti-Nazis classed as ‘white’ and regular non-political soldiers classed as ‘grey’.

The problem with creating a new Political Warfare Executive is not primarily bureaucratic. It is political. Western societies do not have the same uncompromising opposition to radical Islam that the wartime alliance had against Nazism. It is difficult to imagine the BBC, the State Department or PBS taking marching orders to discredit the foundations of radical Islam. Why even President Obama might object.

But Whitton and Harrison are right in arguing that the struggle against radical Islam can’t be won by bullets alone. The only problem is that they may be too right. No one — as yet — will bell this cat.

It may be far more cost effective to provide protection to dissident elements in the Islamic world itself. For example, Hot Air describes how Muslims in Mumbai have blocked the burial of the terrorist gunmen.

The influential Muslim Jama Masjid Trust, which runs the 7.5-acre Badakabrastan graveyard, said it would not bury the gunmen because they were not true followers of Islam.

Hanif Nalkhande, a spokesman for the trust, said: “People who committed this heinous crime cannot be called Muslim. Islam does not permit this sort of barbaric crime.” …

It is only a matter of time before the Jama Masjid Trust is put under collegial pressure — perhaps even from human rights organizations in the West — to bury the malefactors. Radical Islam itself engages in information operations by supporting the Wests’s own internal critics. It funds academic departments, provides lavish welcomes for its Western allies, etc. Why not return the favor?

Currently the West cannot even provide security for Salman Rushdie or Hirsi Ali. They have to shift for themselves. Given that, the best form for a Political Warfare Executive could be a witness protection program. If government can’t do it, then perhaps a billionaire can become the real John Beresford Tipton and hand out grants to Muslim dissidents on the run. That would be more effective, I think, than creating a propaganda bureaucracy whose heart won’t be in the task.