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[casi] Winning Round Two of American Public Diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim Worlds

Hi all,

A short glance into one of the kettles of the psyops alchemy kitchen:

"Winning Round Two of American Public Diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim

"Public Diplomacy" de-orwellized is of course just the opposite of what it
pretends to be: It's "Clandestine Manipulation/Info Warware directed at the

Now, how much sophistication in this ingenious business will finally be
needed to market a rotten product?

The author is sneaking up to an answer to this existential question -
existential to the US admins, of course.



Winning Round Two of American Public Diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim Worlds
By R.S. Zaharna | June 13, 2003

Editor: John Gershman, Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC)

Foreign Policy In Focus

According to a poll released early last week by the Pew Research Center for
the People and the Press (, America's image has
become "dangerously" negative throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
Ironically, this follows an intensive public diplomacy initiative aimed
specifically at the region. How did America's battle for the hearts and
minds of the Arabs and Muslims wind up alienating the very people Washington
was trying to reach?

Many in Washington are struggling to find an answer. On June 6, the State
Department appointed Edward Djerejian, former ambassador to Syria, to lead a
team of experts to improve America's communication with Arabs and Muslims.
But before we begin the second round of public diplomacy, it may be helpful
to review what went wrong in the first.

Lessons From Round One

The immediate explanation for the declining support is America's war on
terrorism that culminated with the American-led military action in Iraq.
However, the purpose of public diplomacy is to garner support for policies,
even unpopular policies--and even from skeptical foreign publics. To be
effective, public diplomacy must work not only in times of peace, but also
in times of conflict. During times of conflict, support is even more

Another explanation is American credibility. Many throughout the region
perceive a mismatch between the words of American public diplomacy and the
actions of American foreign policy. This discrepancy between America's words
and actions creates a serious credibility problem that can undermine even
the best campaign.

While not all public diplomacy problems are "communication problems,"
communication can help resolve policy and credibility issues. Public
diplomacy may not have been the answer to the post-September 11th crisis,
but it was an important tool. The problem is, it didn't work.

The idea that American public communication backfired with foreign audiences
suggests a primary culprit: culture. Rather than being culturally neutral,
American public diplomacy reflects a uniquely American cultural style of
communicating. While effective with the American public, this style failed
with Arab and Muslim publics. In some cases, efforts by American officials
to explain American policy were as offensive as the policy itself.

First, the goal of American public diplomacy focused on getting America's
message out. This information-centered goal parallels the "information
overload" syndrome found in America, where communication problems are seen
and solved by supply of information. The Arab world has a more
relationship-centered view of communication. Rather than focusing on one-way
message strategies to inform people, Arab culture tends to use two-way
relationship-building strategies to connect people. America's
information-centered goal resulted in a flood of information that was neatly
packaged, but that failed to connect with the people.

Second, American public diplomacy relied heavily on the mass media to get
Washington's message out to the most people in the least time. Americans'
emphasis on communication efficiency, as well as a relatively long and
trusting relationship with the mass media, make the mass media the most
efficient and effective medium for communicating with the American public.
In the Arab world, meeting people face to face may not be the most efficient
means of communicating, but it is the most effective. Interpersonal channels
are not only preferred, but the Arab mass media does not have a stellar
history of credibility and trust with its public. Accordingly, relying on
the mass media may be ineffective, if not counterproductive.

American officials were repeatedly shocked by the tenacity of rumors when
America went after the Taliban in Afghanistan. Despite setting up a rapid
response team of American spokespersons to cover the news cycle from Karachi
to Washington, vicious rumors persisted. Rumors speak to the power that
social networks have over the media to spread information. The
misperceptions speak to the credibility that interpersonal communication has
over the mass media.

The State Department's multi-million dollar advertising campaign promoting
Muslim life in America failed for the same reason. Television advertisements
cannot compete with personal phone calls from Muslims and Arabs in America
about the immigration and discrimination problems they have faced here after
Sept. 11.

Similarly, the American style uses facts and evidence as its primary tools
of persuasion. Each time Secretary Colin Powell appeared before the UN, he
forcefully detailed the facts of America's case against Saddam Hussein. For
most Americans, "the facts speak for themselves." For most people in the
Muslim world, impersonal facts ring hollow, while metaphors and analogies
persuade. Not coincidentally, the dominant persuasive devices found in the
Holy Quran are analogies, metaphors, and rhetorical questions. These are the
tools bin Laden wields so effectively.

Directness is another stylistic difference. President Bush's penchant for
"speaking straight" communicated a resolve that most Americans cheered. In
many Muslim countries, such directness in public settings is perceived as
"confrontational," threatening one's public face as well as the collective
social fabric.

Finally, many of the appeals found in American messages missed the mark. One
outstanding example was American attempts to show how the "war on terror"
was not a "war on Islam" by emphasizing America's help to Muslims in Bosnia,
Kosovo, and Afghanistan. Emphasizing "one's good" is a coveted practice in
American public relations. American officials were naturally confused, and
some offended by the apparent ingratitude. However, for most Muslims,
calling attention to one's charity or good deeds is frowned upon. The Quran
admonishes, "cancel not your charity by reminders of your generosity or

Missing Culture

These are but a few of the subtle, yet powerful cultural differences that
distinguish American public communication from that in the Arab and Muslim
world. Because the American style elicits such a positive response with the
American public, American officials were at a loss to explain why their best
efforts were failing and America's image was spiraling downward. Many were
understandably frustrated. However, seldom do different styles of
communicating resonate the same with different cultures.

American officials appear to have overlooked culture as an inherent feature
of public diplomacy, and in the process, inadvertently magnified
misunderstandings and tensions between America and the Arab and Muslim
worlds. Because of the open nature of public diplomacy, a nation can no
longer separate its domestic public from foreign publics. What one hears,
the other hears. When America amplified its message through stronger
language and more vigorous dissemination, American domestic support grew and
foreign support weakened--same message, opposite reactions. The more America
intensified is public diplomacy efforts--using an American style--the
greater the gap became between America's domestic and foreign publics.

The problem may have been exacerbated by America's crisis management
strategy. During times of conflict, rallying domestic support often means
identifying a foreign enemy. If a foreign public identifies with the
"foreign enemy," efforts to demonize the enemy will only further alienate
the foreign public. The Pew study bears this out.

As America embarks on a new round of public diplomacy, the challenge is how
to cross the cultural barriers so America's public communication positively
resonates with its domestic and foreign publics. Meeting this challenge
requires that American public diplomacy coordinate America's message among
its many spokespersons and harmonize America's communication with its many
publics. The two go hand in hand.

Achieving internal coordination appears promising. America's initial public
diplomacy efforts highlighted the need for coordination. Disputes within the
administration were producing conflicting messages. However, by the time
America entered Iraq, all officials were speaking with one powerful voice.
If there was a success in the first round of American public diplomacy,
achieving coordination was it.

However, now that America is in Iraq, the problem of coordination has
re-emerged. When the American military entered Iraq, it became the new face
of American public diplomacy in the region. American troops are now are both
the medium and the message. America's credibility, matching words about Iraq
with deeds in Iraq, will be closely monitored. Such scrutiny will require
even greater coordination between the Pentagon and State Department, but the
two have had much practice.

Harmonizing America's communication with its internal and external publics
will be more challenging and require large doses of cultural awareness. Just
as culture appears to shape the communication of a people, so culture shapes
the public diplomacy of a nation. Ironically, American officials may have
been so focused on studying their audience's culture that they neglected the
influence of their own. Being more attuned to culture may mean less
Washington-driven initiatives that sound good here, and more field-driven
initiatives that work well there.

Few can envy the public diplomacy task Ambassador Djerejian faces. But then,
as a veteran diplomat, he may find the dual goals of coordinating America's
communication internally and harmonizing it externally, very much in keeping
with his expertise. Public diplomacy, like traditional diplomacy, is more
about building relationships than sending out messages.

(R.S. Zaharna <> is a Middle East analyst for Foreign
Policy In Focus (online at and an assistant professor of
public communication at American University.)

For more see:
Views of a Changing World 2003
Pew Research center for People and the Press

Finding America's Voice in the Middle East
by R.S. Zaharna

American Public Diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim World:
A Strategic Communication Analysis
by R.S. Zaharna

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