The United States lags dangerously behind al Qaeda and other enemies in getting out information in the digital media age and must update its old-fashioned methods, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Friday.
Modernization is crucial to winning the hearts and minds of Muslims worldwide who are bombarded with negative images of the West, Rumsfeld told the Council on Foreign Relations.
The Pentagon chief said today’s weapons of war included e-mail, Blackberries, instant messaging, digital cameras and Web logs, or blogs.
“Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today’s media age, but … our country has not adapted,” Rumsfeld said.
“For the most part, the U.S. government still functions as a ’five and dime’ store in an eBay world,” Rumsfeld said, referring to old-fashioned U.S. retail stores and the online auction house, respectively.
Rumsfeld said U.S. military public affairs officers must learn to anticipate news and respond faster, and good public affairs officers should be rewarded with promotions.
The military’s information offices still operate mostly eight hours a day, five or six days a week while the challenges they faces occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Rumsfeld called that a “dangerous deficiency.”
Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy of the opposition Democratic Party immediately criticized Rumsfeld as missing the point.
“Clearly, we need to improve our public diplomacy and information age communication in the Muslim world,” Kennedy said in a statement. “But nothing has done more to encourage increased Al Qaeda recruitment and made America less safe than the war in Iraq and the incompetent way it’s been managed. Our greatest failure is our policy.”
Rumsfeld lamented that vast media attention about U.S. abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq outweighed that given to the discovery of ” Saddam Hussein’s mass graves.”
On the emergence of satellite television and other media not under Arab state control, he said, “While al Qaeda and extremist movements have utilized this forum for many years … we in the government have barely even begun to compete in reaching their audiences.”