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[infowar.de] 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
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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