War is as much about propaganda as it is about fighting and weapons. Wars are popular or unpopular, and therefore winnable or unwinnable, depending on their level of public support. The US and NATO should bear this in mind if they want to win the war against the Taliban.
Napoleon promised the people of Europe freedom from oppressive monarchies—he was successful until people no longer believed in him. Bush and Blair used WMDS to scare people into initially supporting the invasion of Iraq.
America lost the war in Vietnam not on the battlefield but on the TV screen as news channels brought the horror of the war into the living room of the American people. During World War I the British concocted the story that the Germans were throwing Belgian babies into the fire. That was to play a major role in influencing American participation in the war.
That particularly nasty piece of propaganda was regurgitated when Iraq invaded Kuwait and we were told that the Iraqis were taking babies out of their incubators. It was only after the allied invasion that we found out that that singular lie was a fabrication of the ruling al-Sabah family of Kuwait and an American PR company. By then the lie had already done its job.
War is about propaganda so where have the US and NATO gone wrong in Afghanistan?
We know that in the initial stages Bush and Blair found Iraq a much more tempting target so they did not give Afghanistan the attention it deserved. Since then, the war has festered like an old sore. Obama has tried to rescue the situation but all indications are that wins on the battlefield will not translate into the winning of the war.
This blog believes that the war in Afghanistan is being lost because the US and its allies are, to use a quote from Agent Smith in The Matrix Reloaded, “still using all the muscles except the one that matters”.
Where is the propaganda war against the Taliban?
Let us examine the Taliban record. The Taliban rape young boys, poison little girls, murder teachers, blow up markets, destroy mosques and burn down schools. Yet when American soldiers pee on dead Taliban bodies or inappropriately dispose of a Koran the Taliban tell the world that it is the Americans, not them, who are the evil ones.
That logic could only hold true if we were all living in some parallel anti-matter universe.
While American soldiers must indeed be held to a higher standard, it seems really, really stupid that they should be the ones held up as being evil. What is even more strange is that a country which has perhaps the greatest and most sophisticated PR, media and social networking tools at its disposal, is being out-propagandized by a bunch of criminal extremists who live in tents and caves.
Muslims should never accept what they see as the inappropriate, misguided and sometimes harmful behavior of the west. Similarly, the West should not refrain from highlighting and condemning the immoral behavior of the extremists who hide behind Islam. Moreover, in expressing their condemnation, the West should seek the support of the wider Muslim world.
As such, the US and its NATO allies should use all the resources at their disposal to turn Pashtun public opinion, Afghan public opinion, American public opinion, Islamic public opinion and global public opinion against these despicable criminals know as the Taliban.
They should do everything in their power to turn the word Taliban into the lowest and most disgusting life-form on the planet.
Such a strategy would undercut the religious, spiritual, physical and social support that has sustained the Taliban, and make anyone who professes support for them ashamed of their actions. The great thing about this particular strategy of course is that in order to execute it no one has to lie—the Taliban’s own actions have rendered them unfit for human civilization.
That is how the US and its NATO allies should be looking to win the war in Afghanistan. Let the propaganda war begin.
Jonathan Ledwidge is the author of the books Clearing The Bull: The Financial Crisis and Why Banks Need a Human Transformation and a Mannequin for President.