I sincerly hope that the US Government remembers that successful PR means actually doing something - not just blasting out the same message over and over again:
U.S. Must Counteract Image in Muslim World, Panel Says
By STEVEN R. WEISMAN
WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 — The United States must drastically increase and overhaul its public relations efforts to salvage its plummeting image among Muslims and Arabs abroad, a panel chosen by the Bush administration has found.
"Hostility toward America has reached shocking levels," the panel stated in its report, which will be released Wednesday. "What is required is not merely tactical adaptation but strategic, and radical, transformation."
The report added that "spin" and manipulative public relations "are not the answer," but that neither is avoiding the debate. A copy of the report was made available Tuesday to The New York Times.
The panel warned that the war in Iraq and the intensified conflict in the Middle East had increased anger at the United States, and that people throughout the world were ignorant of or misinformed about American policies.
"A process of unilateral disarmament in the weapons of advocacy over the last decade has contributed to widespread hostility toward Americans and left us vulnerable to lethal threats to our interests and our safety," said the panel, the United States Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World.
Led by Edward P. Djerejian, an Arab specialist and former ambassador and White House spokesman, the panel spent several months surveying the American efforts to promote the United States' views to the world's 1.5 billion Muslims. Its 13 members, including academics, diplomats and writers, traveled to the Middle East, Asia and Europe.
The committee found that the State Department spent about $600 million last year on its programs to advocate American policies, and $540 million more for the Voice of America and other broadcast networks.
If the $100 million to expand economic aid in the Middle East is included, the report notes, the total is about three-tenths of a percent of the Defense Department budget.
Examining those figures, however, the panel found that only $150 million of the "public diplomacy" budget was spent in Muslim-majority countries, and most of that went to exchange programs, overhead and salaries. The government spent only $25 million on "outreach programs" in the entire Arab and Muslim world.
"To say that financial resources are inadequate to the task is a gross understatement," the report concludes.
Senior State Department officials said that they were very pleased with the report and that they hoped it would pave the way for increased financing for these activities.
The panel's recommendations — including the establishment of a special White House coordinator for public relations efforts abroad — come at a time when some American officials acknowledge that programs even in the last couple of years have been confused and fitful.
The Bush administration, for example, started a program called "shared values" last year, a series of television commercials showing that Muslims in the United States lead lives of dignity and equal rights. The advertisements were suspended after several Arab countries refused to show them.
Many in the administration were privately critical of the commercials, agreeing with Arab and Muslim spokesmen who said they were irrelevant to Muslim concerns about American policies toward Iraq and Israel.
The advisory panel said that it recognized that American policies might well be the root of the problem, but that Washington could do far more to present its side of the issues and rebut widespread misinformation among Muslims overseas.
In an interview, Mr. Djerejian, a former ambassador to Syria and Israel, pointed to the power of Arab satellite television, and the absence of American perspectives there. He said he was struck during a recent visit to Cairo when he saw a panel discussion on Al Arabiya television about the "Americanization" — a code word for corruption — of Islam.
"It was their version of our saying that extremists have hijacked Islam," he said. "But during that whole two-hour program, there wasn't one person who could in any way convey the American context."
Another panel delegate visited some of the worst slums in Casablanca, Morocco, Mr. Djerejian added. "She said it was your worst nightmare," he said of the delegate. "Those hovels all had no plumbing, but they all had satellite TV dishes. You know, Woody Allen said 90 percent of life is just showing up. In the Arab world, the United States just doesn't show up."
Mr. Djerejian said that compared with the early 1990's, spending on "public diplomacy" had dropped more than 30 percent in dollars, and probably closer to 50 percent in real terms. Compared with the high spending levels in the 1980's, at a peak in the cold war under President Ronald Reagan, the drop has been far sharper, he said. Mr. Djerejian was a deputy White House press secretary for foreign affairs from 1985 to 1986 in the Reagan administration.
The panel's recommendation may get traction, in the view of some of its officials, by invoking the crisis of the cold war. Its members and supporters note that the State Department has requested sharp increases in financing for its "public diplomacy" activities but has been rebuffed by President Bush's budget aides.
At the beginning of the cold war, the United States Information Agency was created to explain and promote American policies. The Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and other related entities were filled with programs and news reports.
There was no recommendation to revive the information agency itself, which was dismantled in 1999 and folded into the State Department. Rather, the panel recommended that steps be taken to coordinate public relations efforts with other agencies.
The advisory group's report, titled "Changing Minds, Winning Peace," was issued only four months after the panel was created in June 2003 at the request of Representative Frank R. Wolf, Republican of Virginia and chairman of a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.
Mr. Djerejian, director of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, said he tried to pick a bipartisan cross-section for members of the panel. Among them are Shibley Telhami, a scholar at the University of Maryland, and John Zogby, an expert on public opinion in the Arab world.
The group's major recommendations, besides creating a new White House director of public diplomacy, were to build libraries and information centers in the Muslim world, translate more Western books into Arabic, increase scholarships and visiting fellowships, upgrade the American Internet presence, and train more Arabists, Arab speakers and public relations specialists.
A photograph in the report, showing a picture of the Cairo opera house, said the structure had gained credit for the Japanese for its construction, while the United States got no credit for building the city's infrastructure. A new consulate in Istanbul, it said, "satisfies important security concerns" but looks like a "crusader's castle" atop a mountain.