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Extended Interview: Christopher Ross

A State Dept. special adviser and former ambassador, Christopher Ross discusses the scope of his agency's public diplomacy campaign. The following are extended excerpts of his interview with Terence Smith.

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  • TERENCE SMITH:

    I'm curious about the enormity of the task and your perception of it, of conveying a different image of the United States to such a large audience, basically, the Muslim world. It sounds like a big job.

  • CHRISTOPHER ROSS:

    It is a big job. It is not quite as it has been portrayed in parts of the media. What has been said is that people out there hate us. The fact is that Americans, as individuals, remain welcome in most parts of the Arab and Muslim world. To the extent that there is a dislike, an antipathy, it tends to be more towards specific policies with which various people don't agree.

    There is, of course, a fringe element of extremists who have a very specific agenda that begins with the presence of U.S. forces in what they consider to be the holy territory of Saudi Arabia, and those extremists probably do hate us, and it would be very hard to reach them even if we tried. Our task is to reach out to a large silent majority, which heretofore has not been very active in countering the extremist reading of Islam that Osama bin Laden has presented.

    We are reaching out, first, with an exposition and explanation of our policies, putting them into context, ensuring that our policies are understood correctly for what they are, and not for what other people say they are. That carries us a certain way, but there will always be policy differences where there are differences in interest.

    But we see, also, a much longer-term task at work here, a task of trying to create a future in which extremism and terrorism no longer have a place, and we seek to do this in several ways. We're developing a strategy for mobilizing our resources, encouraging others to mobilize their resources in support of a strategy: first, of representing what this country is about and the American values that define us; second, to encourage a process of greater democratization, greater openness, stronger civil society in the countries of the region; and, third, to help to develop educational systems that give the younger generation the tools that they would need to participate in modern life in a way that is diametrically opposed to the program of someone like Osama bin Laden.

  • CHRISTOPHER ROSS:

    Our policies are under constant review. They're not going to be changed because of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and so we do not see it as our business of suggesting that policy will change.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    But that's part of the problem is the policy itself.

  • CHRISTOPHER ROSS:

    I wouldn't call it part of the problem. I think the problem is in the way the policy is received among Muslims and Arabs. The other obstacle I would mention is the relative decline in the resources available for public diplomacy.

    In the last decade, since the end of the Cold War, there has been a significant drop in resources, and this has affected both the human and material base for conducting public diplomacy programs. In the aftermath of September 11th, there has been renewed interest in foreign attitudes and in ways of entering into dialogue with foreigners and foreign opinion-makers. And new resources may well be on the horizon, and that's a good thing.