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[] NYT zur US-"Propaganda",

"Fundamentally, the administration's overseas efforts resemble those of
the Chinese Communist Party: excellent effort, lousy execution." :-)


New York Times, April 8, 2003

The Ring of Truth?


DOHA, Qatar

The front line in the war for hearts and minds in the Arab world and
beyond is here, at the U.S. Central Command headquarters and media
center, and it's prettier than most battlefields. The stage that the
generals speak from each day was built for the government by a showbiz
professional at a cost of $250,000, and it's as high-tech as an Abrams

But not, unfortunately, as effective.

One of America's most historic and bipartisan traditions is to do an
execrable job explaining itself to the world. The average Fortune 500
company is far more sophisticated at getting its message across abroad
than the U.S. government has been.

To its great credit, the Bush administration gets this. From President
Bush on down, particularly since 9/11, the administration has scrambled
to win over folks in Yemen and Pakistan and Indonesia as if they were
Florida voters. Mr. Bush hounds cabinet members to give interviews to Al
Jazeera television, a new White House office flatters foreign reporters
by spinning them, and the U.S. began Radio Sawa to seduce Iraqis and
other Arabs with sirens like Jennifer Lopez. The brilliant system of
embedding journalists in U.S. military units includes Arab journalists.

"By improving the way you get your message across, you have the ability
to save lives," notes Jim Wilkinson, a former White House press official
who is running the Central Command's P.R. campaign. And he's absolutely
right: the battle for global opinion is less dramatic than the one in
Baghdad but no less important.

President Bush's determination to sell the U.S., and its product of the
season - the war in Iraq - to a skeptical Muslim world is evident here
in Qatar, a flat expanse of desert that peeps out of the turquoise
waters of the gulf. Telegenic generals like Vincent Brooks were chosen
to be the congenial face of the American Imperium, the briefings are
translated simultaneously into Arabic, and Al Jazeera was assigned a
front-row seat for the briefings (The New York Times is in the second

The generals have just borrowed a couple of Arabic-speaking diplomats
from the State Department to spin Arabs in their own language, and the
experts have been coaching pronunciations: General Brooks is no longer
pronouncing the town of Umm Qasr as Umm Qazir (which sounds like the
Arabic for "filthy mother"). 

So why does everybody still hate us? Even in Britain, one of the rare
countries where a traveling American isn't tempted to seek camouflage by
donning an "O Canada" T-shirt, a poll last week found that fewer than
one person in seven trusts President Bush to tell the truth.

The central problem was underscored for me by a Chinese journalist who
sat next to me during a U.S. military briefing here in Doha.

"This is propaganda," he said brightly. "I was born and grew up in a
propaganda country, and so I know it well." He beamed. "Actually, they
do the propaganda very well, better than we do it. We in China can learn
from this propaganda."

Fundamentally, the administration's overseas efforts resemble those of
the Chinese Communist Party: excellent effort, lousy execution. The Bush
administration knows how important this issue is (which the Clinton
administration never did), but there's a Beijing-style rah-rah
self-righteousness, too earnest by half, so the propaganda fizzles, even
from a $250,000 stage.

Moreover, as Raghida Dergham, a columnist for Al Hayat, an Arabic
newspaper published in London, notes, "It's the policy, stupid." Arab
perceptions of America are framed by Mr. Bush's coziness with Ariel
Sharon. No amount of spin can soften that; it will take a serious and
balanced Middle East peace initiative of the kind that Tony Blair is

When he was secretary of state, James Baker was a master of both policy
and spin. He had a light touch and could spin reporters like Ping-Pong
balls; these days, we Ping-Pong balls just feel whacked.

At U.S. briefings, from Mr. Bush on down, we're always on plan, and our
coalitions are always the largest in history. The U.S. effort to
manufacture a huge global coalition involved an embarrassing effort to
recruit microdots in the Pacific, and the White House proudly put out a
list of supporting countries that included the Solomon Islands. When
reporters asked the Solomon Islands' prime minister about the support,
he said he was "completely unaware" of that.

Even China's propaganda officials can do better than that.

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