The war in Afghanistan started with a blow on the image of the United States of America. Time magazine wrote it was a media war, in a greater extent than ever before. A critical situation always causes a crisis in the field of mass media, there is a serious lack of information for those, who wish to get it, for the people have this feeling that something is being concealed from them.
Then there is another problem – the problem of the negative image, which is activated during such times. To manipulate this situation means to block the negative image and to strengthen the positive one. It is a usual thing to happen, but they start going faster during the critical times, since the negative image becomes qualitatively technological as the positive image during the peaceful times. The negative image of the anti-terrorist organization is very easy to create, like any other one. It may come up at any moment, like a ghost, but it appears automatically, when certain actions are perceived negatively. So, using “anti-terrorist operation” instead of “bombing” does not remove the problems.
The USA is trying to manipulate the opinions of other countries, especially of the Islamic world, giving other signals to the acts of bombing. For example, they cancel the bombardments on Fridays. Al-Jazeera Arabic television network gives negative estimations to the things happening (in contrast to CNN) and actively broadcasts the footage showing the losses among the civilians, ruins. Los-Angeles Times wrote (October 12, 2001) that Al-Jazeera was only a battlefield in the new type of the conflict – in the informational war. By the way, it turned out to be a good commercial product, since the sale of each three-minute extract of Bin Laden’s speech brings 250 thousand dollars. An American official declared: “It is a struggle for the public opinion. We are doing our best to win in this war.” A microphone is also a weapon.
The USA has to improve that “imagery failure” with its special services and with the positions of a superpower in the world. Army has always been demonstrated as “our guys,” having “discipline and order,” and the “top technological level of the military hardware.” These three issues have not worked as a result. So now they are being actively promoted in Afghanistan, where unmanned planes are already in use. A Ukrainian missile, which downed the Russian plane above the Black Sea also destroyed two features from the three and there was only one left – “our guys.”
Bin Laden launched two imagery features with his TV appearance, setting difficult goals to propagandists. On the one hand he appeared as a “saint,” on the other hand - as a “warrior.” Anti-American demonstrations always take place with Bin Laden’s poster depicting him sitting in the position as he appeared on TV screen all over the world. The experts, who analyzed his TV appearance stressed out it was meant for the Arabic people only, and it was made within the framework of the Muslim rhetorical tradition, taking account of the painful issues of the Muslim audience. There are linguistic and cultural indications in that speech, which can be understood by the Arabian or Muslim audience only. Bin Laden did not even mention the word “Afghanistan” in order to give a wider context to the war. Experts say Bin Laden is doing a lot to make the people perceive him as a scientist and a warrior, which is a very important issue for this kind of audience. The Arabian experts state Bin Laden became a hero among their audience.
The image of the American president has been through a major transformation during the military actions. His military image got the highest estimation from the audience. Here is the opinion poll, which was carried out on October 15, 2001 by ABC News/Washington Post:
“Do you approve or disapprove the way George Bush is running the American campaign against terrorism?”
Approve – 92% Disapprove – 5% Don’t know – 3%
The American journalists called the rise of their president’s image as “the patriotic spin.” We will not go more into that – whether it is good or bad from the ethic points of view. But this has been done professionally. The people, doing this kind of job, are called spin doctors. Their objective is to manipulate the informational space. One of the White House specialists offered to collect money to help the Afghan children. There was something similar during the times of the Great Depression. George Bush used that idea immediately and now on the site of he White House you can see a link to the adequate fund.
An American colonel, a specialist in the field of psychology said: “If we can use the American ingenuity to make the world buy hamburgers, automobiles and fried chicken, then we must be able to serve freedom, independence and justice.” The Americans acknowledge it now that this situation helped George Bush to find his own style and that Albert Gore would not manage to cope with that.
The second front in Afghanistan is the psychological war, which is all about the struggle for images. That is why the American military men had meetings with Hollywood movie directors, image experts, in order to strengthen their opportunities to exert more influence on the people of the Islamic world first and foremost.
Tony Blair also acts in the propaganda. He toured some of the Arabian countries, wrote letters to the Arabian newspapers, made a TV appearance for Al-Jazeera network – simply to reach those 35 million viewers, which this company has registered. An editor of one of the Arabian newspaper had this to say to make a point: “I can not understand, why Tony Blair is the British premier and not the US Minister for Propaganda.” The Mirror editor said: “The more pictures we get from Afghanistan – about the powerful military strength, bombing the small enemy, the harder it will be to work against Bin Laden’s status.”
The Washington Post wrote that it took a certain time to prepare the population to the counter strike after the terror attack on America. Therefore, the time gap between September 11 and October 7, when the bombing started, was only used to get ready for the military actions. It was also used to shift the people’s attention to an opportunity of the new kind of actions and their consequences. It was also very relevant to prepare the population to the fact that there would be the real war and the real victims. That is why Bush’s speeches contain the word “patience.” The Americans are not used to the idea of losing any of their soldiers. There were no losses in Kosovo at all, Panama – 23, the war in the Persian gulf – 148, Somali – 43.
The notorious and racy things that happened with Monica Lewinsky showed some possibilities to work with the public opinion. The people separated Clinton - the president and Clinton - the human being. But this was probably the outcome of the work of Clinton’s spin doctors. There was both a positive and negative image. It was important not to allow Clinton’s personal traits to mix with his presidential features. As a result, the population came to conclusion that Clinton could be bad as a person, but at the same time he was wonderful as the president.
The war of images became a usual thing in the economic field long ago, when McDonalds, for example, positioned itself as the company, which treasured the family values. The war of images is normal in the political struggle too, when we elect this or that candidacy; we basically use the notion of image as the major one, going to the polls.
The current war in Afghanistan demonstrates the war of images on the international arena – the same rules are used in this respect, like in the peaceful life, when one has to strengthen the positive characteristics and block the negative ones. The images of the armies, special forces, political figures are all boiling in that Afghan pot. The imagery war is always beside the real war.
Reuters photo: A man sells posters of Osama bin Laden, chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States
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