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U.S. Must Work to Improve Image Abroad, Panel Finds

The 13-member advisory group stated in its report, ”Hostility toward America has reached shocking levels.”

“The United States today lacks the capabilities in public diplomacy to meet the national security threat emanating from political instability, economic deprivation and extremism, especially in the Arab and Muslim world,” the report said.

“What is required is not merely tactical adaptation but strategic, and radical, transformation,” the panel, called the Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World, said.

Congress commissioned the panel in June 2003 to examine the alarming rise of anti-American attitudes abroad, particularly in predominantly Muslim nations.

The committee, led by Edward Djerejian, a former ambassador to Israel and Syria, traveled to Egypt, Syria, Senegal, Morocco, Turkey, France and the United Kingdom to examine the effectiveness of U.S. outreach initiatives on its public image. Other members of the advisory panel included Mamoun Fandy from the United States Institute of Peace; Shibley Telhami, a Middle East expert at the University of Maryland; and John Zogby, head of an international polling firm.

By late September, the group completed its research, finding the “apparatus of public diplomacy has proven inadequate, especially in the Arab and Muslim world.”

“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,” the report, entitled “Changing Minds, Winning Peace,” continues.

The committee faulted “a system that has become outmoded, lacking both strategic direction and resources” for the problems with U.S. public diplomacy programs.

Additionally, the report says public diplomacy programs urgently require a “dramatic increase in funding.”

The State Department spent roughly $600 million on outreach programs last year, and another $540 million for the Voice of America and other broadcast programs, according to the study.

Of that amount, the panel noted, the government allotted a mere $25 million to outreach programs in the Arab and Muslim world.

“In this time of peril, public diplomacy is absurdly and dangerously underfunded,” the study found. 

The panel also acknowledged that U.S. policies were partly to blame for the anti-American attitudes in the Middle East, but the panel stressed the government could reverse the trend by dramatically enhancing its diplomatic operations and activities.

“Surveys indicate that much of the resentment toward America stems from real conflicts and displeasure with policies, including those involving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Iraq. But our mandate is clearly limited to issues of public diplomacy, where we believe a significant new effort is required,” the report said.

As part of the “new effort,” the panel recommended a number of reforms, including the creation of a new “special counselor” to the president, who would develop the overall strategy for the government’s communications abroad. The counselor would direct public diplomacy programs and coordinate with other agencies to ensure that U.S. policies in general were sensitive to foreign public opinion.

The panel also criticized the government’s deficient methods of auditing its current public diplomacy programs and called for a “new culture of measurement” in the State Department and other federal agencies.

The study calls upon the government to hire 600 fluent Arabic speakers within five years. The report pointed out that only 54 officials in the State Department had a reasonable level of fluency in Arabic and only a couple could participate in discussion on Arab television and radio programs.

In reviewing existing and upcoming operations, the report calls for an independent review of the planned government-sponsored Middle East Television Network, and says Radio Sawa, the U.S. government’s music-oriented radio broadcast for Arab listeners, needs a clearer objective than building a large audience.”

The report’s other recommendations include building more libraries and information centers in predominantly Muslim nations, translating more American books into Arabic and increasing the number of scholarships and visiting fellowships to scholars from the region.

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