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Does a Democracy's Freedom of Speech Give Hope and Comfort to The Enemy?

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By John E. Carey
Peace and freedom
January 18, 2007

I can't help thinking that much of what is said, published and televised about the war on terror within the United States and by U.S. and allied leaders and their best intentioned citizens gives hope and comfort to the enemy.

Case in point: Leila Fadel of the McClatchy Newspapers is reporting today that Iraq's "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki voiced frustration with both President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday, saying their recent criticism of the Iraqi government probably helped the 'terrorists.'"

"Such statements give moral boosts to the terrorists and push them towards making an extra effort and making them believe that they have defeated the American administration, but I can tell you that they haven't defeated the Iraqi government," Mr. Maliki said during a meeting with a handful of reporters.

I can't help thinking that if Mr. Maliki is unhappy with the utterances of President Bush and Secretary of State Rice he must be absolutely livid at Senators Clinton, Biden, Obama, Hagel, Leahy and the list goes on and on.

So that raises again the always unresolved question: "Of what importance is the discontent expressed openly in a democracy at war to the enemy?"

Well, I think most all journalists would have to take a hard look at the Vietnam war between 1968 and 1975 and evaluate how much the ugly response of the American media and the American public may or may not have contributed to the enemy's resolve, determination and staying power.

This is not to say that disagreement and even dissent are wrong or necessarily harmful. It just seems that there should be some temperance applied by those with wisdom and a sense of understanding that the enemy certainly watches and listens to the debate in America during war.

It should go without saying, but we find we need to say it anyway because many Americans seem ill informed about the media seen in the Muslim and Middle Eastern world. Outlets such as Al Jazeera and others spout an unbelievably biased message: 24 hours a day.

And what message do these outlets push to their audiences?

Messages such as Ayman al-Zawahri's, recall he's second in command to Osama bin Laden, who has said al-Qaida now sees "all the world as a battlefield open in front of us." The terrorist leader also said, "this is a jihad for God's sake and will last until our religion prevails."

In Lebanon, a terrorist organization, Hezbollah, controls its own media, including a TV station al-Manar ("The Beacon").

Al Jazeera and others echo the Hezbollah message.

If it was not clear last autumn that Hezbollah prevailed in its war with Israel, the Arab media was there to make sure Arabs understood the 'truth."

Hands down and without question, believe what you will but Arabs almost universally heard and accepted one message: Hezbollah won the war.

Just after the war ended, banners reading "Made In America" were hanging on buildings destroyed by Israel in southern Lebanon.

Communists countries, and other repressive regimes, always seem to keep a reined-in and controlled media. This allows those in power to stay in power and also helps the government to maintain a "happy face" both to its own people and to the prying eyes of the outside world. When Fidel Castro went into the hospital last year, what is the first action of his stand-in brother Raul? He banned all outside satellite and cable TV.

China is making some timid attempts to open up its media because the 2008 Olympics are looming. How could China even hope to control all the media about to descend upon that great nation? But China's history for more than 50 years is to tightly manage and control the media: and writers and editors that go their own way usually end up as guests of the government in jail.

In Iran, the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad uses military helicopters to look for prohibited satellite TV antennas. Ahmadinejad fears that western TV with real free speech and real news reporting might get into his nation (and into the heads of his highly educated population).

Since the democratically elected government of Thailand was ousted by a military coup last September, what has happened to the free and open Thai media? Well, just this week the government of Thailand pulled the plug on a CNN interview of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin. The interview was seen in just about every nation of the world except Thailand.

For six months before President Bush traveled to Communist Vietnam last November we at Peace and Freedom monitored the daily news from Vietnam's state controlled system. Nearly ever single news report was an upbeat piece with enough spin to speed up the earth's revolutions.

The "good news" from Vietnam was so obviously created for the western audience that some of our people began to choke on it. One morning an analyst said to me, "The shrimp are so big off Vietnam it takes two guys in a big boat to bring just one aboard and once they get the thing ashore it jumps into the frying pan and cooks itself!"

During that six months, Vietnam went though an unprecedented period devoid of fires, flood, corruption, unrest and civil disobedience. There was zero reportable crime!

Now let's look at our own media for a moment.

I wrote this in an essay titled "Can America 'Win' in an Era of Disunion?" at the end of last December: "Listen to any hard core political activist or blogger in the United States and you'll likely hear a screed against the 'other side;' that defined usually as the amorphous blob of Americans that oppose his or her point of view. The problem with this is that 'the other side' used to mean the enemy we faced in a war: not what the British call 'the loyal opposition.'"

Of course, the White House tries now and again to emulate master spin doctors like Hezbollah and Vietnam. But they usually fail.

"The great irony of this administration is that its opponents credit it with being masterful at spin," wrote Mr. Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post on September 3, 2006."When it is in fact pathetic in managing its messages and its collective image. Whatever small credit Bush was gaining for becoming more realistic about Iraq was quickly wiped out by the controversy created by sharply partisan speeches of Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld last week in the latest example of a gang that can't spin straight."

We call this "misunderspinning."

In September, 2005, President Bush hired Karen Hughes, his long-time media advisor, to run the U.S. Department of State's "hearts and minds" campaign. We thought Ms. Hughes might assist in stemming the flow of "misunderspinning."On August 29, 2006, President George W. Bush told NBC News reporter Brian Williams, "We are great with TV but we are getting crushed on the P.R. [Public Relations] front."

Karen: Pack your bags. And forget about working in your line in Vietnam, China or Lebanon. You aren't good enough to find work there.

Because we Americans have lost the cohesion that we had for the twinkling of an eye after September 11, 2001, one wonders if we can stay together on any topic, plan or course of action long enough to effectively participate in the war against terror and prevail.

But one thing is clear: freedom of expression has never been better in the United States of America!

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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.

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