Are we a nation of arrogant hypocrites as so many despotic leaders decry? Joint Chiefs of Staff head Admiral Mike Mullen thinks so. And he has to deal with creating military policies to stabilize regions on this planet, notably Afghanistan and Pakistan, that don’t really seem to be stabilizing. On June 4th, President Obama delivered an impassioned plea for reconciliation with the Islamic world in his speech from Egypt. But when American missiles, launched from drones at Taliban and Al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan also killed scores of civilians, that speech pretty much fell into the category of the “same-old, same-old” of American rhetoric – extremist Islamists were quick to point out that Muslims should watch what Americas do, not listen to the words they utter.
Here are a few of Mike Mullen’s choicest words as noted in the August 27th New York Times mostly from an essay that was published on August 28th by Joint Force Quarterly, an official military journal:
“To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate.”
“I would argue that most strategic communication problems are not communication problems at all… They are policy and execution problems. Each time we fail to live up to our values or don’t follow up on a promise, we look more and more like the arrogant Americans the enemy claims we are.”
“The problem isn’t that we are bad at communicating or being outdone by men in caves… Most of them aren’t even in caves. The Taliban and Al Qaeda live largely among the people. They intimidate and control and communicate from within, not from the sidelines.”
American messages to counter extremist information campaigns “lack credibility, because we haven’t invested enough in building trust and relationships, and we haven’t always delivered on promises,”
“[T]he essence of good communication: having the right intent up front and letting our actions speak for themselves… We shouldn’t care if people don’t like us. That isn’t the goal. The goal is credibility. And we earn that over time.”
“It’s not about telling our story… We must also be better listeners.”
The Muslim community “is a subtle world we don’t fully — and don’t always attempt to — understand… Only through a shared appreciation of the people’s culture, needs and hopes for the future can we hope ourselves to supplant the extremist narrative.”
Not listening to all of these words of wisdom could easily be a trillion dollar mistake. Mr. Mullen is a very wise man.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I also approve this message.