THE OFFICE of Strategic Influence won't get the chance to spin yarns to the foreign press now that it has been done in by strategic influence of another kind.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made it official a week after word leaked out that the Pentagon's newly formed office, created to fight the war on terrorism by swaying public opinion and policy abroad, would not necessarily subscribe to the idea of telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It would have planted stories with the foreign press, and might have stretched the truth on occasion -- all, of course, in the name of painting a more favorable picture of our country.
President Bush didn't much care for that line of defense and said so. Although Mr. Rumsfeld characterized the assertions about the Office of Strategic Influence as "off the mark," he conceded that the damage had been done: "It's pretty clear to me it could not function effectively."
From the start of its campaign to rout Osama bin Laden and the Taliban from Afghanistan, this administration has had to counter a scurrilous propaganda campaign against the effort. And America no doubt will have to defend itself again as it has in the past.
"Those activities that are appropriate to this department we certainly will be doing," the defense chief said. He reiterated that disinformation is not part of his arsenal.
That sounds honorable, Mr. Secretary. But it was just the other day that a Pentagon spokesman characterized the OSI as "a work in progress," even though 15 staffers were assigned there. And this is the same kind of sensitive, usually classified work that resulted in proposals last fall calling for "coercive" measures against the foreign press.
As one draft succinctly stated: "Penalize those who send the wrong message."
However the Pentagon chooses to get its message across overseas, it should rely on credible, persuasive arguments, not a strategy of falsehoods and retribution.