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U.S.: Washington Pressing Public Diplomacy In Terrorism War

Is the Bush adminstration winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim world? The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush says it is trying to win the war on terrorism in part by reaching out to the Arab and Muslim worlds. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, says Washington wants to go beyond military action to help foster a more positive view of the United States in the region. But as RFE/RL reports, not everyone sees this effort as a benign gesture.

Washington, 20 August 2004 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush has justified the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as vital to neutralizing the threat posed by Al-Qaeda and its perceived collaborators.

But Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, stressed yesterday that military action alone will not win the war against terrorism. From the start, she said, Bush has realized that it is important to convince the Arab and Muslim worlds that the United States is not its enemy. Rice spoke at the United States Institute of Peace, a private research center in Washington funded by the U.S. Congress.

"Since the beginning of the war on terror, the president has recognized that the war on terror is as much a conflict of visions as a conflict of arms. One terrorist put it succinctly. He said, 'You love life, we love death.' True victory will come not merely when the terrorists are defeated by force, but when the ideology of death and hatred is overcome by the appeal of life and hope, and when lies are replaced by truth," Rice said.

To do this, Rice said, the Bush administration has been engaged in public diplomacy that aims to establish a more positive and constructive relationship between the United States and the Islamic world.

An important way for the government to make its case is to address the people of these regions directly, in part through international broadcasting. She said such efforts were successful during the Cold War, and she expects them to be equally successful in the current conflict.

"I'm a student of the Cold War. I'm a Cold War baby. In fact, my entire life was linked up in the Cold War. And I know that Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty and Voice of America played an extraordinarily important part in making sure that clear and truthful messages could get out and that people on the other side of the Iron Curtain hung on to those messages," Rice said.

She said that during the Cold War, U.S. colleges and universities joined in the effort, offering courses in Russian and other Eastern European languages, and in the cultures of the countries aligned with the Soviet Union. She urged academia to get involved now by offering similar instruction in the Arabic language and the Islamic world.
"We have a bunch of Cold War relics trying to fight that war [on terrorism]. I think public diplomacy works, but they got it all wrong." - Tayeh

This effort sounds good in the abstract, Raeed Tayeh told RFE/RL, but in practice it has not succeeded. Tayeh is the communications director of the Washington-based group American Muslims for Jerusalem. In part, the group seeks to accomplish in America on behalf of Palestinians what the U.S. government is trying to achieve with its image overseas.

Tayeh said that Rice's own words provide a clue to the problem. "Public diplomacy can work, but it depends on what type of actions are used to promote the image of the United States," he said. "Looking at the track record of the Bush administration, they have failed miserably. We have a bunch of Cold War relics trying to fight that war [on terrorism]. I think public diplomacy works, but they got it all wrong."

Tayeh said the public diplomacy of the latter half of the 20th century worked because a Euro-centric civilization -- the United States and Western Europe -- was communicating with another Euro-centric civilization -- the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The same techniques cannot be applied to the Arab and Islamic worlds, he said.

Besides, Tayeh said, Muslims differentiate between what the United States says and what it does. "Public diplomacy implies that there is a problem with the image, and we need to set that image straight, we need to let people know it's not [as bad as] they think," he said. "We're ignoring people's grievances and trying to say: 'Well, we know what you're bothered with, but we have democracy and we have freedom and we have great athletes and we have sexy singers, and don't worry about our support of Israel. Forget about that.' This is what [the Bush administration's] version of public diplomacy is. And, frankly, it's propaganda."

In her comments to the Institute of Peace, Rice acknowledged that the U.S. government must make a greater effort. "We are obviously not very well organized for the side of public diplomacy," she said. "Yes, there is more that the government should do."

For the latest news on the U.S.-led War on Terror, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The War on Terror".

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