"We've just been asleep at the switch at this one for many years," Powell said. "Now, we have to work on it."
The fight for control over propaganda is a component of any conflict that can never be ignored, say foreign policy specialists, some of whom observed that the Bush administration was getting involved late in the game.
"The battle for hearts and minds is indispensable -- it's where you can win or lose," said Chester A. Crocker, a professor of international diplomacy at Georgetown University who was an assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration. "We've been caught flat-footed, and we're playing catch-up."
Crocker did not, however, directly fault the Bush administration, suggesting that Americans in general tended to assume that the rest of the world would immediately throw its support behind the United States after Sept. 11.
"It was the first attack since Pearl Harbor, and we were hurt," Crocker said. "We knew we had been hurt, we knew we were right, and we thought, 'Why would we have to explain that?' We thought every decent person has to be with us."
The president's senior counselor, Karen Hughes, has been working on strategies to manage information in the United States and overseas since shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
This week, Hughes began chairing frequent conference calls involving officials at the communications centers at the White House, in Britain and in Pakistan.
Administration officials say they are modeling their strategy to offer rapid-fire responses to the Taliban after the "war rooms" in recent American political campaigns.
That concept, which was popularized by Bill Clinton's campaign team in 1992, involves closely monitoring accusations and statements from the opposing candidate and firing back immediately.
As part of the new strategy yesterday, Paula Dobriansky, the undersecretary of state for global affairs, sat for an interview on Abu Dhabi television, based in the United Arab Emirates, in which she disputed charges by the Taliban that the Unites States is targeting civilians.
"Every effort is being made not to impact and have a loss of those who are innocent civilians," she said in the interview. "Every effort is being made in this military campaign to have targeted, precise bombings on those who are responsible for acts of terrorism."
Jay Farrar, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former Marine trained in psychological warfare, said he was pleased that the Bush administration "finally decided to get their act together" in launching a major campaign to seize the flow of information to the Islamic world.
Farrar said, however, that the delay was no surprise, given that American officials in past conflicts tended not to make propaganda a priority.
"Historically, we don't put information warfare at the forefront of national security efforts," Farrar said.
"We almost always come to that aspect of warfare later than earlier. It potentially involves manipulating information -- and we philosophically abhor that kind of thing. It kind of goes against the grain of American society and free speech."
U.S. working to counter Taliban propaganda
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