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[] CSM 24.09.02: Allies' PR War Targets Arab Street,

Christian Science Monitor September 24, 2002 Pg. 1

Allies' PR War Targets Arab Street

Tony Blair kicks off effort to paint Saddam as bad guy  and win 'hearts and 

By Howard LaFranchi, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

WASHINGTON - For almost a year, US officials beginning with President Bush 
have said one of the key pieces of the international war on terrorism is 
the battle for the "hearts and minds" of the Muslim world.

Now with the US on a course toward war with Iraq, that battle is about to 
begin in earnest.

The public relations offensive kicks off Tuesday as British Prime Minister 
Tony Blair releases a white paper detailing the offenses of Iraqi President 
Saddam Hussein. The dossier, which Mr. Blair's office says will "nail the 
lie" that Iraq is not an imminent danger to the world, mirrors a British PR 
campaign against the Taliban that was launched last year prior to the war 
in Afghanistan.

The United States will follow Blair's actions with a stepped-up campaign to 
convince Arab and Muslim populations that the Iraqi leader is the bad guy 
in the fight.

The message to the Arab street will detail everything from Mr. Hussein's 
weapons programs to his fondness for erecting statues of himself. It will 
also emphasize that the US goal is really a more prosperous and democratic 
future for the region.

Perhaps the biggest problem facing this hurry-up campaign is not so much 
its own composition as its starting point. The US has arguably neglected 
public diplomacy in this part of the world for years  and many Arab 
populations have developed negative views of the US due, among other 
things, to its stance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict  and suspicions 
that America is simply an oil-thirsty giant looking to secure its supplies.

"No doubt we'll see a significant public-diplomacy effort to tell our side 
of the story of this conflict with Iraq," says Dan Kuehl, a specialist in 
information warfare at the National Defense University in Washington. But, 
he warns, "This isn't something you'll be able to pull off in two months."

Cost to war with Iraq

Some observers also worry that attacking Iraq will set back the broader 
public opinion battle. "If we end up going to war with Iraq we will do so 
at a grave disadvantage in terms of our image and perception in the region, 
primarily because we have done so little to explain ourselves and build any 
trust," says Charles Freeman, US ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf 

But there are signs the US realizes it needs to do more. It has 
dramatically stepped up so-called "public diplomacy"  efforts to explain 
policies to foreign populations and to win adherents to the values behind 
them  since last year's terrorist attacks.

Congress has approved hundreds of millions of additional public diplomacy 

And the White House is about to announce a new office to raise the effort's 
profile and coordinate the US message and operations among offices spread 
from the State Department to the Pentagon.

To be effective, this must be a long-term campaign  one that's similar to 
America's cold-war-era efforts, which included Radio Free Europe, experts say.

And what ultimately works is emphasizing the values and accomplishments 
that are the basis for the deep reservoir of admiration that many Arabs and 
Muslims feel towards America.

Selling the American dream

"The hundreds of thousands of Arabs who have immigrated  and done well 
here  have come seeking after the very things they admired about this 
country before they came," says Harold Pachios, chairman of the US Advisory 
Commission on Public Diplomacy, which advises US officials on public 
diplomacy. "That's the product. We just don't do a very good of selling it, 
and that's what has to change."

One thing officials agree on is that while public diplomacy can explain US 
policy to foreign audiences, its purpose is not to alter that policy.

"It's not the role of those of us involved in public diplomacy to change 
the policies, but it is our job to enunciate how policy is arrived at 
democratically, with transparency, and with an underlying attention to 
furthering human decency," says Tucker Eskew, deputy assistant to the 
president in the White House Office of Global Communications. "We can 
explain what the policy is and how it reflects basic American values."

Adds Christopher Ross, special assistant to Charlotte Beers, undersecretary 
of state for public diplomacy, "Our first responsibility is to make sure 
people understand our policy for what it is, not what others say it is."

That may sound straightforward enough, but as Ms. Beers told an audience at 
the National War College last week, bridging the cultural divide is often 
complicated. Varying cultural perceptions and life experiences mean 
policies and messages can mean very different things to different people.

She cited a prototype antiterrorism campaign ad that some American 
officials thought very effective: a picture of an average man accompanied 
by his life expectancy, alongside the picture of a terrorist, with less 
than half the average man's life expectancy.

But the ad didn't have the same impact in test audiences of young Muslim 
males, and it was scuttled.

"You have to be careful that you're speaking to the conscience and values 
of the people you're trying to persuade, but we're just not there yet," 
says Ambassador Freeman, who is now president of the Middle East Policy 
Council in Washington.

Compared to a decade ago, Freeman says that one critical difference for the 
US in any war against Iraq will be how it will have to work alone in the 
Muslim world to explain its cause.

Prior to the Gulf war "the Saudis made a significant and effective 
contribution to the public diplomacy effort, explaining to the Muslim world 
why intervention by the US was justified," he says. "You don't have any of 
that this time."

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