Thursday, August 25, 2005

Beacon No. 61 (cont'd.): Interview with Dan Kuehl


This is the second part of Beacon's interview with National Defense University's Dan Kuehl, an expert on the information aspects of U.S. power:

Beacon: What combination of circumstances might cause an adversary like al-Qa'ida to become deterrable, or do Martians have to invade to get their attention?

Kuehl: I think the way you deter al-Qa'ida is not by putting them in fear of death. ... I think you convince them that what they're doing isn't working. How many beheading videos have you seen in the past few months? ... They realized those videos were hurting them rather than helping them, because the vast portion of the Muslim population was reacting with disgust—"This is not who we are, this is not what we do." [The key is] if you can find ways to convince them that what they do harms their cause rather than helps them.

Beacon: Is there any point in targeting messages to al-Qa'ida members or operatives or do you simply try to dry up the ideological water in which they swim?

Kuehl: I don't think we're going to have much success at all in trying to target or send messages to the 5 percent hard core. They're gone. [You target the other 95 percent.] They don't have to like what we're doing and agree with pluralism and send their daughter to Berkeley next year; we just have to get them to not agree with the cause of the hard core thousands .

I think the key to that is to find their own leaders to espouse that, and by that I mean Islamic religious leaders. We've already seen the number-one Islamic leader in Spain come out with a fatwa against the suicide bombers. Those guys are the thought leaders for one billion-plus.

Beacon: Did you read Michael Schrage's August 21 Washington Post piece on "soft preemption?" It seems to be a package of tools that fall short of killing and property destruction: disruption of banking networks, communication grids, deportations of undesirables and so on. How do you think these activities might play in soft-power terms?
Kuehl: I think it can be helpful if it's done carefully, but again there's that fine line between actions that the other observing audience can see and take as reasonable, and what isn't. The vast majority of the rest of the world looked at Afghanistan and said, "They [the Taliban] asked for it. ... That's not the way they looked at Iraq [but in Afghanistan there was] a clear example of an action that the Islamic world looked at and said "okay."

Beacon: So there needs to be a "bright line" that someone steps over?

Kuehl: And the Afghani Taliban stepped over that.

Beacon: In the courses you teach, do you talk about passive or nearly passive, or incidental components of soft power like product brands, Hollywood movies, scientific achievement and so on?

Kuehl: Back in February I was part of a small group from NDU that spent some time in Hollywood on the set of JAG. We went out there, about eight of us, and spent the better part of the week watching JAG.

First of all, the technical proficiency and expertise of the people involved in making that and other programs was ... seeing it was something else, and seeing the amount of resources that had to go into it was something else. For 46 minutes and 47 seconds of programming, $3 million per episode, and the same thing for NCIS. That goes well beyond what State can do in terms of producing programming .

Secondly, there was a review in the Washington Post Book World in the past 2-3 weeks of a film that has just come out or been released called Original Child Bomb, a documentary about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The guys that made this tapped into some post-World War II archives, Army and Army Air Force footage from Hiroshima and Nagasaki right after World War II. The quality of the filming was good because the people doing it were filmmakers, they were movie people. It almost goes back to the issue of why was Ronald Reagan so effective? He was an information guy. He understood how to use the information medium and was brilliant at it.

The guys doing JAG are TV filmmakers. No one in the government has that kind of expertise, nor should they try to. In the course of talking [with the producers] about JAG, I found it goes to about 90 countries. I fell off my chair. [People in those countries] are looking at a version for the U.S. military that I want them to see. But that's not the perspective [the producers] are coming from.

[We agree that the producers are primarily looking for market appeal, not carrying a message for the U.S. government per se.]

Kuehl: We need to form something like a national information council that would be similar to the National Economic Council. If you look at the elements of power—military, economic, diplomatic, and informational—almost to a person the students go, What's that [when you get to discussing "informational"]?

How do you integrate these? You can identify the official office door that controls military power. You can't identify the door to economic power, it comes out of Detroit and Birmingham and other places. [We need] the latter model [for information strategy]. We sit down with [people in Hollywood and elsewhere] and say this is the situation and tell them what we're trying to do. I would hope over the course of time we'd get enough shared interest and shared benefit that we can help them and they can help us.

[We touch on how valuable Radio Sawa might be.]

Kuehl: If you listen to Radio Sawa, its music helps emphasize togetherness. [Sawa's] Norm Pattiz understands that if the Arab youth is listening to Sawa, they're not listening to someone else. ... On Super Bowl Sunday, Americans are the world's most voracious consumers of propaganda. And what beer is advertised more on Super Bowl Sunday, more than other beers by a factor of four or five to one? Budweiser! Because Bud is keeping everybody else from advertising. If you're not watching Miller Genuine Draft or Corona, if all you're seeing is Bud, that's a good thing to do.

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