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Jewish World Review Nov. 21, 2001 / 6 Kislev, 5762

Fred Barnes

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Just win, baby -- THE WHITE HOUSE has put together an aggressive public relations campaign to promote the war against terrorism and combat the falsehoods spread by America's enemies. The director is a hyperactive presidential aide, Jim Wilkinson, who runs it like a guerilla operation. When the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan held news conferences in Islamabad, an American operative would show up and pass out a "catalog" of Taliban lies to reporters. Another operative trucks photographers and TV camera crews to photo ops that highlight Taliban atrocities. Still another part of the campaign is high-minded: Tonight President Bush will celebrate Ramadan at an Iftaar dinner with ambassadors from 50 Muslim countries.

It's a successful campaign, but it's not the reason the United States has won a smashing victory in Afghanistan over the Taliban in the past week. Why not? Because this is not a war for the hearts and minds of citizens in the Muslim world. And it doesn't really matter if they believe the United States is fighting against Osama bin Laden and terrorism but not against Islam, or if they think proof of bin Laden's guilt in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon hasn't been demonstrated. What matters is what happens on the battlefield.

The collapse of the Taliban was triggered solely by military actions. Public relations had nothing to do with it. Once American bombing cleared the way for Northern Alliance troops to capture Mazar-i-Sharif a little over a week ago, the Taliban began to collapse all over Afghanistan. Beforehand, Taliban soldiers had been conspicuous in their refusal to defect. But when it became clear America was winning, they began defecting in droves, declining to stay and fight in Kabul, Jalalabad, and Kandahar. It's not that they like America any better. It's that they suddenly fear the United States and its determination to win.

Reporters often didn't understand this phenomenon. Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post, writing from the Afghan-Pakistan border on Nov. 7, reported that a month of American bombing had only deepened the popularity of the Taliban. In other words, the Afghan street wasn't with us. Now, less than two weeks later, the Afghan street is suddenly thrilled to be on America's side. The joyful faces of people in liberated Kabul are proof of this. They're discarding veils, cutting beards, and playing music. It's not because they've suddenly been persuaded the United States has good intentions. It's because America has won a swift and decisive victory. There's just nothing like victory to change minds.

The warlords in Afghanistan are another example of the effect of military success. They are notoriously risk-averse. They want to be with a winner. And once the United States--along with its underrated ally, the Northern Alliance--looked like a sure winner, the warlords began jumping ship and collecting their forces to fight the Taliban on their own. Also, consider the anti-American protests in Pakistan. They've died down since the United States began exerting its military strength.

As part of its war effort, the Bush administration has tapped Charlotte Beers, a former Madison Avenue advertising executive, to tout America's story. She says "the brand of the United States" must be sold to foreigners. There's nothing wrong with that long-term project. But as William Powers notes in National Journal, it's the daily news cycle that's important. And you win there with military victories, not press releases.

Fred Barnes is Executive editor at the Weekly Standard. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001 The Weekly Standard