THE OCTOBER CRISIS
BY WALTER CRONKITE
October dawned with dark clouds hanging over the White House, and there was evidence of turmoil in the seat of government.
It was revealed that someone was playing a very dirty game of politics in outing a CIA operative endangering her career and life as well as those of her contacts and sources. The White House ordered a thorough investigation, and that presumably is ongoing.
Perhaps even more bothersome to President Bush was a New York Times/CBS poll that showed a drop in his overall popularity and a fading confidence in his foreign policy. This, of course, reflected the high cost of casualties and funding in Iraq and a rapid and frightening deterioration of our position in Afghanistan.
Now the president has brought all of the strings of control related to efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan directly into the Oval Office in the person of his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. He endorsed a plan first proposed to him at his ranch last August by Ms. Rice, who has been at his side in the White House since the inception of plans for the Iraqi invasion. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and CIA Director George Tenet, much of whose responsibility and authority will presumably now be passed to Ms. Rice, were advised of the new chain of command last week.
Meanwhile, last week another story of significant bearing on the White House decision to reconstruct its Iraq-Afghanistan policies barely saw the light of day.
Last July, the Bush administration appointed something it called the United States Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World. That is a title that will never fit on a theater marquee, but it was meant to reflect an increasing concern in the administration about the growing chasm between the Muslim world and the American people.
Or was that what it was meant to do? It could serve also to blame the failure of our Iraq policy not on its fundamentals but on a simple thing like poor public relations.
It turned out that "Public Diplomacy" is nothing but a fancy title for press agentry. The mission assigned to the supposedly nonpartisan panel was to examine what the Arab and Muslim people think of us in the wake of the Iraqi invasion and to suggest what we can do about it. Is it really possible that this learned panel could not have known what the whole world knew the Arabs and Muslims think about us?
At any rate, the panel used strong language in its report. It said that "hostility toward America has reached shocking levels" and "has left us vulnerable to lethal threats to our interest and our safety." It was presumably meant as a wake-up call on the order of that delivered by the terrorist horror of Sept. 11.
The panel urged that we get to work on our public relations, heavily increasing our efforts via television, libraries, books and written and filmed material to convince Arabs and Muslims that we really are a great country and how much we want to help them.
All of this is well and good, but, as strong as were the words of the report, they missed the point that the way for this nation to win the hearts and minds of those most offended by our Iraqi invasion and occupation is not through press agentry and advertising. Rather, it is by proving to them that the American spirit which, with good will and unselfish financing, once helped reinvigorate the world after the great wars of the past century still exists in America despite the arrogant and bullying tactics with which we have launched the 21st century.
We Americans understand the necessity of a strong defense against our enemies. But we might find that, as well as in the smartest weapons, a large part of that defense can be found in creating friendship where it has never been and reviving it where it recently has been lost. That can be done by extending aid and unselfish help (i.e. without guaranteeing profits for American industry) to improve the living standards in the world's impoverished nations. And this effort to assure a peaceful world can be done at a fraction of our vast expenditure to prepare for pre-emptive war.
Write to Walter Cronkite c/o King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or e-mail him at mail(at)cronkitecolumn.com.
(c) 2003 Walter Cronkite
Distributed by King Features Syndicate