Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Communication with Muslim Countries according to ICA Director Reinhardt (late 1970s)

Note: For a brief period (1978-1982), the United States Information Agency (USIA, 1953-1999) was renamed/reorganized as the U.S. International Communication Agency (USICA).

From the newly-published papers newly by the Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State:


200. Memorandum From the Director of the International Communication Agency (Reinhardt) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1

Washington, undated


Communication with Muslim Countries


NSC Memorandum of December 12, 1979

You asked us to develop a long-term plan for enhanced communication with Muslim countries.2

We have reviewed the emerging public environment in the Islamic countries, set in train an assessment of our current communication efforts, and begun to evolve an enhanced strategy for the long term (the principal first elements of which are outlined at the conclusion of this memorandum). While our focus has been on the area from the eastern Mediterranean littoral to Bangladesh, much of the analysis and prescription holds for other Muslim societies.

We have identified two phenomena which require urgent address, one short-term and the other longer-term.

Short-term. Our posts have reported a nascent perception among influential members of the Islamic world that the U.S. is hostile to the whole of Islam, fails to distinguish adequately between various manifestations of Islam in different countries and appears to confuse the Ayatollah Khomeini and Shi’ism with Islam as a whole. The problem is compounded by the tendency of U.S. news media and private Americans to project this undifferentiated view of Islam. U.S. interests will be served by projecting our appreciation of the fact that Islam takes many forms, of which the Ayatollah is not a leading representative. [Page 592]USICA media output will be scrupulous in this regard; it will be reinforced by the degree to which official public statements can support the point.

Long-term. Our analysis, buttressed by external consultation and field reports (and mirrored by Flora Lewis’ series in “The New York Times”)3 suggests that the root phenomenon with which we are faced is a widespread “Third World” kind of hostility to the developed nations in general and the U.S. in particular. Islam complicates the problem, but is essentially an overlay taking different manifestations in different countries, and therefore requiring a differentiated response. Islam—as a religion—does not appear to us to be at the heart of the matter. Specific policy differences (e.g., support of the Shah or Israel) accentuate other sources of hostility to us.

The attached cable from USICA Cairo4 arrived as we were completing our own analysis; it parallels our conclusions and provides a view from the field.

For the longer term, therefore, we see a continuing need to engage with influential Muslims in a manner which simultaneously responds to both their general “Third World” identity and their role as representatives of a serious religion, many (but not all) of whose values we share; a principal purpose of this continuing discourse will be to expand awareness of commonalities where they exist.5

For both short and longer-term purposes, the invasion of Afghanistan6 provides an extraordinary opportunity (which we are seizing) to dramatize Soviet military and cultural imperialism, to enhance our own psychological posture in Muslim minds, and to erode Soviet identification with the non-aligned countries.

We are setting the following specific actions in train and will be developing others.

1) Our posts are being asked to take a hard look at the pattern of their contacts to assure that we are reaching the right institutions and individuals in the context of recent events. We have asked for a report by February 1.

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2) We are developing, and hope to have in place shortly, variants on traditional exchanges activities which would involve religious/intellectual leaders from Muslim countries in much more directly value-centered discussions with American counterparts both in the U.S. and abroad. To the degree present funding is inadequate, we will reprogram internally.

3) We will be meeting this month with the Directors of the 11 NDEA language/area studies centers at American universities to explore the possibilities of mutual assistance in this current effort, to elicit their views as to new public diplomacy initiatives, to create joint research possibilities focussed on the psychological environment in the Muslim world as it may affect our operations, and to encourage them to expand their own contacts. NSC participation in that meeting would be welcomed.

4) There are over 100,000 Muslim students in the U.S. We are exploring ways of enhancing the probability that their experiences here will contribute to the objectives outlined above in this memorandum.

5) We are reviewing our internal training/assignment procedures to enhance the language and area competence of our personnel overseas.

6) As our posts abroad head into the next planning cycle we are directing them to focus much more explicitly on both the long and short-term objectives outlined above, to redirect resources and activities where indicated and to make recommendations for enhanced or improved support from USICA Washington.

7) We have created an Agency task group, including VOA and other media, to assure continuing, policy-sensitive coverage responsive to our objectives.

8) We believe the national interest would be well served by a close review—perhaps to be conducted cooperatively by the Departments of State and Defense, and representatives of the private sector—of the private American presence in key countries such as Saudi Arabia. That presence was, in both quality and quantity, a liability in Iran and may prove to be elsewhere as well. We recommend the NSC initiate such an effort, in which we would be pleased to participate.

9) Finally, we recommend renewed consideration of the recommendations from the President’s Commission on Foreign Language and International Studies. Funds available to increase the competence of Americans to deal with international problems are grossly inadequate to the need; many of the report’s recommendations made good sense even before Iran and Afghanistan; they make better sense now.


1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Agency File, Box 10, International Communication Agency: 1–4/80. Confidential. Brzezinski wrote Henze’s and Sick’s initials in the top right-hand corner of the memorandum. An unknown hand wrote in the top right-hand corner: “1/5 ZB requests your immediate reaction.” Henze sent a copy of the memorandum to Brzezinski under a January 8 covering note, in which he assessed Reinhardt’s memorandum and expressed his own reservations about ICA efforts, suggesting that the NSC Staff might initiate an “independent evaluation” of ICA’s performance. Brzezinski approved this recommendation. Henze sent both the note and the memorandum to Dodson under a January 9 covering note, which reads: “Note ZB’s approval of the actions I suggested in the final paragraph of the attached memorandum on ICA, etc. This means that we have the go-ahead to organize a consultants’ survey of ICA. Who do we have on our list that we could use?” (Ibid.)↩

2.See Document 195.↩

3. Reference is to four articles written by Lewis for The New York Times series entitled “Upsurge in Islam”: “Basis of New Moslem Fervor Seen as Rejection of Alien Values,” December 28, 1979, p. A1; “Students and the Young Leading Moslem Fundamentalist Revival,” December 29, 1979, p. A1; “Language a Key to the Spirit of an Islamic Revival,” December 30, 1979, p. A1; and “Moslem Leaders Watching Revival Warily,” December 31, 1979, p. A4.↩

4. Attached but not printed is telegram 26305 from Cairo, December 26, 1979, in which the PAO assessed Egyptian public reaction to the Iranian hostage crisis.↩

5. Brzezinski placed a vertical line in the left-hand margin next to this paragraph and placed a question mark next to it.↩

6. See footnote 1, Document 199.↩

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