By Andrew Hammond
The opinions expressed are his own.
Almost 10 years after 9/11, the United States has a new window of opportunity to regain the initiative in the “missing battle” of the campaign against terrorism. That is, a sustained soft power effort to win the battle for hearts and minds in predominantly Muslim countries.
The US and wider Western response to the September 2001 attacks has been dominated by counter-terrorism and military might. While key successes have been achieved, including the unseating of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, an overwhelming emphasis on hard power has fueled controversy across much of the world.
Even former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged the problem when, in 2006, he asserted that the United States “probably deserves [only] a ‘D’ or a D-plus’ as a country as to how well we’re doing in the battle of ideas” [in the anti-terrorism campaign], and that “we have to find a formula as a country” for countering the jihadist message.
However, the death of Osama bin Laden, especially when taken in combination with the ongoing Arab Spring, offers a new window of opportunity for policymakers to re-emphasize the importance of soft power in the campaign against terrorism. As President Barack Obama said, this must include an “alternative narrative” for a disaffected generation in predominantly Muslim countries.
According to the just-released annual findings of the Pew Global Attitudes Project, in 9 out of 13 key countries for which relevant time series data is available, significantly fewer people think favorably of the United States in 2011 than before 9/11. Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than in predominantly Muslim countries. In Turkey, for instance, US favorability ratings have declined precipitously from 52% in 2000 to 10% in 2011. In Pakistan, the fall-off is from 23% in 2000 to 12% in 2011.