TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

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TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

• The Obama Administration shuttered OSI’s successor, the DoD’s“Office for Support to Public Diplomacy” in 2009 and then devolvedresponsibility for messaging to regional military combatant commandersin an effort to distance itself from previous practices. 222Due to the concern over a shift toward a single IO organ, the ad hoc natureof the US government’s current counterterrorism IO strategy, mostly pursuedby the Pentagon but also pursued by CIA and other intelligence agencies, willlikely remain in place. Still, the development and muscular articulation of a‘counternarrative’ to combat terrorist and extremist media messaging shouldnot just be an academic exercise but a core aspect of US counterterrorism andcounterinsurgency strategy. As counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen recentlynoted:“…along with other Western countries the United States mustalso, as a matter of priority, articulate and enact its own narrativethat explains and demonstrates to what end American actions arebeing taken, and why the world’s population would be better offparticipating in the international community under U.S. leadershipthan accepting [al Qaeda] domination and the takfiri extremistagenda. 223Detractors have commented that the US has had limited success in establishingan effective counternarrative against its terrorist adversaries, especially alQaeda. For instance, one RAND researcher in 2006 noted that the US has“so far failed to conduct anything approaching an effective counterideologicalcampaign” against al Qaeda and its allies, and that efforts to undermine terrorgroups’ extreme viewpoints clash with “liberal notions about the importanceof religious liberty and the need to maintain the separation of churchand state.” 224 While these criticisms are valid, the need to develop a strongcountermessage challenging the violent ideas espoused by terror groups—andthen sustain credible media platforms to broadcast this message—will be criticalto discrediting the ideological justifications undergirding the menace ofinternational terrorism.Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs | Harvard Kennedy School89

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