The Islamic Post Blog


A New Diplomacy: American Governmental Institutions Reaching Out To The Muslim World by Khalida
December 1, 2008, 1:07 am
Filed under: December Volume 1 - 2008, Interfaith, International, World | Tags: , ,

By Noora Ahmad
Islamic Post Staff Writer

Over three hundred million dollars was awarded this fall to private public relations contractors to boost the image of America in Iraq using public diplomacy and polling as part of a new strategic communications initiative headed by the Department of Defense.
Public diplomacy is a combination of the international outreach efforts that had traditionally been undertaken by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the diplomatic endeavors of the State Department. But after 2003, when torture at Abu Ghraib was exposed, there have been calls by various government offices for a more consolidated effort to communicate the global democratic aims of the United States, to the Muslim world in particular.
USAID is undertaking training, education, and also policy development for the Defense Department’s new responsibilities via the Office of Military Affairs.
The definition of “public diplomacy” differs slightly, but significantly, from that of “psychological operations,” or PsyOps, which have been part of the military since World War II. Both are characterized by not crediting the content of the campaigns to the Pentagon and, as such, are prohibited for broadcast within the United States.
In 2006 the overall stated goal of U.S. public diplomacy efforts was stated as: “To understand, inform, engage, and influence the attitudes and behavior of global audiences in ways that support the United States’ strategic interests.”
In slight contrast, the Defense Department defined PsyOps in 2003 as: “Planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence the emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.” Here, the emphasis was on conveying information and changing opinions, a notable difference from the acts of informing and engaging circa 2006.
However, the definition of propaganda before 2003 differs greatly. The following is from the Department of Defense in 1987: “The planned use of propaganda and other psychological actions having the primary purpose of influencing the opinions, emotions, attitudes, and behavior of hostile foreign groups in such a way as to support the achievement of national objectives.”
The most recent definition of public diplomacy –cited first– which is based on a higher level of understanding between the United States and the Islamic World, was quoted from a 2006 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report entitled, “State Department Efforts to Engage Muslim Audiences Lack Certain Communication Elements and Face Significant Challenges.” The brief dealt with the difficulties facing the U.S. government’s communication of positive messages to the Muslim world, and gave examples of how public diplomacy has been attempted.
One of the projects discussed in the GAO report highlighted Muslims living in America to illustrate “the common values and beliefs shared by Muslims and Americans demonstrate that America is not at war with Islam, and stimulate dialogue between the United States and the Muslim world.”
The above-mentioned campaign, called the Shared Values Initiative, was launched in 2002. Although innovative, it was discontinued about the same time as the Abu Ghraib scandal, after some U.S. embassies abroad expressed reluctance to promote the advertisements, as they were viewed by media outlets in many countries as “propaganda, and unlikely to succeed as long as U.S. foreign policy remained unchanged.”
Other examples of public diplomacy include learning exchange programs and a Rapid Response Unit –established in the Bureau of Public Affairs– to produce a daily report on breaking world news from foreign news outlets to assist officials in espousing the U.S. position on those issues.
While nations with significant Muslim populations are being targeted as one grouping and inclusive culture spanning 58 nations in Europe, Africa, and Asia, specific advances are also being made to various countries.
The Arabic-language magazine, Hi, was started in July 2003 with an annual budget of $4.5 million to highlight American culture, values, and lifestyles. Hi, directed at Arab youth in the Middle East and North Africa, was expected to influence Arab youth to have a more positive perception of the United States, according to the GAO report.
The GAO states the other areas targeted for propaganda include Nigeria, whose U.S. embassy project, “Influencing International Public Opinion,” states intent to move the opinions of Northern Nigerians to mirror those of the rest of the Nigerian population, which is largely supportive of U.S. values and principles. In Pakistan, the project is called “Promoting Mutual Understanding,” and its aims are to enhance the image of the United States in that nation, and increase the depth of understanding among Pakistanis of how American society, culture, and values shape the objectives behind, and reasons for, U.S. policies towards Pakistan. The third is Egypt’s “Advancing American Values” program, which promotes “information activities, exchanges, and local information programming to bolster awareness among Egyptians of values shared with Americans and increase Egyptian public understanding of American society.”
On a broader level, a united effort is being sought by the GAO, and also some members of Congress, to coordinate the efforts of various offices to reach a “younger, broader, deeper” audience in the Muslim world.  According to one senior official in Washington, D.C, “Younger,” denotes “the need to target even high school students who might be tomorrow’s opinion leaders;” “broader” implies “the need to reach beyond elites and target disadvantaged youth as well;” and “deeper” signifies the desire that all program participants have “as meaningful an experience as possible.”
“Experience also shows that to be effective, we must adopt a model of partnership, not paternalism,” concurred President G.W. Bush in a September speech made to the United Nations, in a show of support for the new diplomacy initiated under his administration.

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