OSI was un-American

    The United States abandoned a dangerous new “”weapon”” in the “”War on Terror”” last week when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced the dissolution of the Office of Strategic Influence, a newly established department of the Pentagon dedicated to bolstering American support in allied and hostile countries alike using possible strong-arm and deceptive tactics.

    It comes as no surprise that the OSI was killed last week: It would have employed strategies that ultimately clash with American ideology.

    The government secretly established the OSI after the Sept. 11 attacks to boost foreign support for American activities overseas, the current military campaign in Afghanistan being the primary concern. However, after the office and its proposed activities were publicized in early February, the Bush administration decided to abandon this project due to the overwhelmingly negative reaction of the global populace.

    While the goals of the OSI appear to be noble, the proposed tactics are not so virtuous. According to certain Pentagon classified briefings concerning the possible ways to conduct its campaigns, the OSI was established to ensure that the foreign press convey “”accurate”” and likely pro-American news concerning the United States. It might have gone so far as to punish those who published “”misconstrued”” information.

    Though Rumsfeld denies it, rumors exist that the OSI would have also delivered misinformation to allied and hostile nations alike, simply to boost pro-American sentiment in other countries.

    The Bush administration recognized that the United States is losing support throughout the world. During Bush’s stay in South Korea, a U.S.-allied nation, South Koreans burned American flags and pictures of Bush to protest his actions and decisions as president.

    In the world’s current state of affairs, it would be a great luxury if the OSI could bully the rest of the world into accepting American actions as legitimate. However, such an organization is antagonistic to everything that the United States stands for, specifically the freedoms of the press and of opinion.

    There is no way to avoid looking hypocritical by coercing foreign peoples, not even under U.S. jurisdiction, to adhere to the opinions of a country that guarantees the freedom of opinions and of the press for its own populace.

    Perhaps the greatest crime the OSI would have committed is that it would have operated under the very tactics that it condemned its opponents for using: force and deception. Currently, the United States’ greatest enemies are terrorist organizations, with the Al-Qaeda network at the forefront, and we accuse them of deceiving and harassing the people they claim to “”represent.””

    In fact, one of the few campaigns the OSI managed to initiate before its dissolution was to combat rumors spread by Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters that the humanitarian meals dropped by American forces were poisoned.

    However, the most visible demonstration of coercive, terrorist propaganda is the videotaped execution of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The abduction and murder of an innocent man is a horrendous way of forcing others to accept terms, and the world joins us in condemning this group of zealots for its actions.

    Unfortunately, it becomes more difficult for us as a people to condemn such actions when our own government is about to engage in similar tactics. Obviously, there is a huge difference between lying to the press and executing a hostage to gather support. Nevertheless, two wrongs don’t make a right.

    Rumsfeld admits that the exercise of “”strategic influence”” will be performed through different offices. There is certainly nothing morally wrong in pursuing popularity overseas; the problem lies in how this boosting of foreign approval will be achieved. There are benign ways and malicious ways, such as humanitarian aid and deception, respectively, to gain support from other countries. However, there are some prices that are just too high to pay for gaining foreign support.

    Americans live in a free society that thrives on freedom of the press and freedom of individual opinion. We cannot justify creating such an organization as the OSI if it means taking from our foreign neighbors the rights we enjoy.

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