Wednesday, February 24, 2010

American vs. Israeli Hasbara: A side-by-side Comparison

For the last few days, I've been following the horrific air strike in Uruzgan province in Afghanistan this week which killed 27 people. As the story has developed, the U.S. government has been very deliberate about its messages to the Afghan population. DoD sees this as an important part of its overall strategy in Afghanistan, and Israel should look closely at the statement issued by General McChrystal in both Pashtu and Dari on February 22:

Translation: The Great People of Afghanistan, Salam Alaikum. Sunday morning, the International Security Assistance Force, while conducting a mission with Afghan Security Forces, launched an attack against what we believed to be a group of insurgents in Kotal Chawzar, in Southern Afghanistan. We now believe the attack killed and injured a number of Afghan citizens. I have spoken with President Karzai and apologized to him and the Afghan people. I have instituted a thorough investigation to prevent this from happening again. We are extremely saddened by this tragic loss of innocent lives. I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people. I pledge to strengthen our efforts to regain your trust to build a brighter future for all Afghans. Most importantly, I express my deepest, heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families. We all share in their grief and will keep them in our thoughts and prayers.

A few things are significant about this release.

1) It came out within roughly 24 hours of the attack itself. McChrystal preempted the Taliban from spinning the event by issuing ISAF's spin first. Especially in the social media age, this quick response capability is crucial.

2) The response establishes that ISAF views the strike as a mistake, versus an inevitable outcome of the battle. "I have made it clear to my forces" is language which reflects that McChrystal is taking responsibility, and implies a certain level of reprimand.

What the statement doesn't do is mention the Taliban, or place blame for a U.S. airstrike on the Taliban. Nowhere does McChrystal imply "We were doing the best we can but that darn Taliban just makes it so hard." Civilians don't care about excuses, and McChrystal has shown that he understands this by highlighting action he has taken.

Now compare this to a video from the Arabic desk of the IDF Spokesperson's office:

Firstly, the speaker, Avichai Adraee does a fantastic job. His speaks Arabic extremely clearly, and essentially is the IDF Arabic Spokesperson's office. But notice that the statement itself makes no apology for killing innocent people, and certainly puts none of the blame on Israel. Essentially the video reiterates talking points that would be appropriate for an American or Israeli audience, but in Arabic.

The U.S. has clearly learned from Israel's use of Youtube to promote its message. But Israel stands to learn from the way the U.S. crafts its language. Showing a little more empathy and demonstrating accountability would be strong steps Israel could take to allay some of the damage done from this strike.

And being more deliberate and careful before shooting explosives would prevent these human tragedies from occuring in the first place. And that's in everybody's interest.

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