CINCINNATI (TDB) -- No matter what's being said in Washington about improving conditions on the ground, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates remains convinced the war in cyberspace has turned into a virtual rout against America. He says al-Qaeda is using the Internet extremely well to communicate its message, and that American efforts to match it have flopped. The Pentagon chief said it is "plain embarrassing" that a movement headquartered in an Afghanistan cave has proven more adroit at adapting to the new online technologies than the United States. Even if the Internet was invented in the U.S., Gates sees Al-Qaeda's geeks as having a 21st Century mindset as they demonstrate its power to reach people around the globe.
"For example, public relations was invented in the United States, yet we are miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals. It is just plain embarrassing that al-Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America. As one foreign diplomat asked a couple of years ago, 'How has one man in a cave managed to out-communicate the world's greatest communications society?' Speed, agility, and cultural relevance are not terms that come readily to mind when discussing U.S. strategic communications."
Gate made the remark Monday at Kansas State University in a foreign policy lecture that urged the U.S. to put more emphasis on what he called "soft" power as opposed to hard military might. A full transcript of his remarks is here. The Internet comment is near the conclusion of the lecture. It was not mentioned in news reports nor a Defense Department press release that summarized his speech.
Gates seemed to be saying that the Internet was as critical a tool as diplomacy, foreign aid assistance, civil administration and democracy-building programs.
"My message is that if we are to meet the myriad challenges around the world in the coming decades, this country must strengthen other important elements of national power both institutionally and financially, and apply the capability to integrate all of the elements of national power to the problems and challenges abroad."