Blair's battle in propaganda war
By CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley
LONDON, England (CNN) -- A propaganda war is being fought in the media and on the diplomatic front in addition to the military action against Afghanistan.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been engaged in a flurry of diplomatic activity among Muslim nations on behalf of the U.S.-led coalition against terror.
So much so, that he has been dubbed the U.S.'s finest ambassador in some newspapers. But some of his attempts have been more successful than others.
He knows he cannot ease up because he faces the skilful and sophisticated abilities of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network, the U.S. prime suspects in the September 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington.
On his latest diplomatic flurry Blair saw the rulers of the United Arab Emirates and Oman as well as Egypt's President Mubarak.
But it did not suit the Saudi Arabian royal family to receive him, although both countries later said the meeting was put off by mutual agreement. Nor have they been willing for the U.S. to fly missions to Afghanistan from Saudi airbases.
Abel Bari Atwan, editor of Al Quds al Arabi, said: "I wonder whether Tony Blair is the prime minister of the UK or the propaganda minister of the U.S.
"I believe he is overdoing it by touring the region. He embarrassed many governments and many regimes by his trips."
The Saudi affair and the frantic diplomacy underline his fear, admitted in Egypt, that whatever military successes the allies may be scoring they are failing to win the battle for people's minds, especially in the Muslim world.
Already the strategy of bombing Afghanistan is being questioned closer to home, in the British media.
Piers Morgan, editor of the British tabloid newspaper The Mirror, said: "The more images we get from Afghanistan of the massive military force bombing the small ragbag enemy the worse it is going to be in inflating bin Laden's status to some kind of cult figure.
"That's really what we're trying to get at -- to try and cool down perhaps the traditional kneejerk Western military response and say 'Isn't there a more intelligent way of ending this organisation's reign of terror?'"
There were protests against the strikes on Afghanistan in several European cities over the weekend.
And in Muslim states far from Afghanistan, like Indonesia, the demonstrations, while smaller than feared, have been increasingly violent, despite the allies' loud insistence that their enemy is terrorism, not the world of Islam.
Atwat added: "Whatever Bush and Blair are saying to the people, Muslim people can see that targets of this war are Muslim people and Muslim states.
"That's what makes it hard to find new friends. Iran doesn't like the Taliban and a visit there by Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, was supposed to win their cooperation.
"But his Iranian counterpart has condemned the strikes as 'useless.'"
The allies insist they have done everything possible to avoid civilian casualties.
But they knew there were bound to be some. They seem to have been surprised though by the speed, and the extent, of the backlash.
And they're thinking hard now about what they can do to improve their prospects in the propaganda war.
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