Hmm…let’s see. People the world over hate and fear America. Why is that? They seem to take issue with a preventive war doctrine that allows the U.S. to attack anybody it likes based on what it sees (or claims to see) in its crystal ball. They seem not to enjoy it when our President not only pulls out of international treaties but also makes a point of displaying utter contempt while he does it. And while the Bush Administration enthusiastically flouts international law, at the same time it cries foul when others break it.
And the rest of the world seems to have some kind of problem with that. I know–go figure.
So, obviously the cure for the low standing of the United States in world opinion is…a public relations campaign! Jack Tapper of Salon points out the cluelessness of the Bush Administration propaganda:
- When the State Department launched a propaganda TV campaign in the Arab and Muslim world last year, two of its Muslim-American stars were Rawia Ismail, a public school teacher born in Lebanon, and Abdul Hammuda, a bakery owner originally from Libya. Both live in Toledo, Ohio, and spoke lovingly of their adopted country in the ads, part of the “Shared Values Initiative.”
“I wear a hijab in the classroom where I teach. I have never had any child that thought it was weird or anything like that,” Ismail says in the TV spot. “Islam in the United States could be followed just as well as I can follow it in my village where I was raised.” Adds Hammuda in the commercial: “Religious freedom here is something very important, and no one ever bothered us. Since 9/11, we’ve had an overwhelming sense of support from our customers and clients.”
But Hammuda and Ismail, America’s goodwill ambassadors to the Arab world, have little good to say about the U.S. war with Iraq. “Everyone knew ahead of time that so many people were going to die, so no, I didn’t want it to happen,” Ismail tells Salon. While she opposes Saddam Hussein, she says the loss of life — whether of U.S. soldiers or Iraqis — was not worth the price. Through her satellite dish, she sees Arab news reports of the war: “All the locals and all the kids that died. And it hurts.”
“I don’t think war was the answer,” seconds Hammuda, speaking on the phone while serving baklava to his customers. “America has to do more positive steps to build bridges. Now they say, ‘You guys don’t care about us, you’re just here to kill us and take our oil,’ especially since we haven’t found any weapons of mass destruction, any chemicals.”
Asked if the negative opinion of the U.S. throughout the Muslim world is unfair, Hammuda says, “I had one view before the Iraq war. Now I have another.”
However much they love their adopted country, neither Hammuda nor Ismail would probably make good spokespeople in the U.S.’s elaborate planned media campaign in Iraq. But their criticisms offer an insight into America’s image problem as officials at the White House and State Department try to sell the benefits of democracy to the Muslim and Arab world. The American instinct is to try to sell it like a brand. But that approach — maybe best captured by a frustrated Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., who asked a House International Relations Committee panel on Oct. 10, 2001, “How is it that the country that invented Hollywood and Madison Avenue has such trouble promoting a positive image of itself overseas?” — misses the point. The problem isn’t that the United States is misunderstood; it’s that we’re understood quite well. Diplomacy can only be as effective as the policies it’s trying to sell — and there are some fundamental policy differences between America and the world that no spin can gloss over. By not acknowledging that, America’s international P.R. campaign hasn’t helped our image in the Middle East and elsewhere ? it may actually have hurt it.
Duh. TV shows aren’t gonna do it. It’s the policy, stupid.Powered by Sidelines