Top officer says US bungling Muslim outreach

By ANNE GEARAN, AP National Security Writer – Fri Aug 28

WASHINGTON – The U.S. military is bungling its outreach to the Muslim world and squandering good will by failing to live up to its promises, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer wrote Friday.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there is too much emphasis on telling the U.S. story and not enough on building … trust and credibility.

“We hurt ourselves and the message we are trying to send when it appears we are doing something merely for the credit,” Mullen wrote in an essay published in a military journal. “We hurt ourselves more when our words don’t align with our actions.”

Mullen said he dislikes the military’s focus on “strategic communications,” which he said has become a cottage industry where the shaping of a message eclipses what that message says.

“Most strategic communication problems are not communicatons problems at all,” Mullen wrote. “They are policy and execution problems.”

Efforts to reach out to the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world is a main priority of the vast communications and public relations machinery of the Defense Department. Mullen suggested that much of the effort is wasted, or at least misdirected.

Public opinion in the Muslim world would seem to bear him out.

A survey of two dozen nations conducted this spring found that positive public attitudes toward the United States have surged in many parts of the world since President Barack Obama‘s election, but not in most of the Arab and Muslim world.

The poll registered continuing levels of profound distrust about U.S. influence and motives among Muslims, particularly in Turkey, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories. There, the report from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center said, animosity toward the United States “continues to run deep and unabated.”

U.S. intelligence considers Pakistan, a nuclear-armed Muslim country that Mullen has made a priority with nearly a dozen visits over the past 18 months, among the most profoundly anti-American places on Earth.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates frequently remarks that the United States has let itself be “out-communicated by men living in caves,” a wry reference to the skill with which al-Qaida uses the Internet to distribute its messages and capitalize on U.S. failings.

Mullen noted one of those failings, the abuse of Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison, but he said the problem isn’t the skill of the communicators.

“Our biggest problem isn’t caves, it’s credibility,” Mullen wrote in the Joint Force Quarterly. “Our messages lack credibility because we haven’t invested enough in building trust and relationships, and we haven’t always delivered on promises.”

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