A New Approach: Engaging the Muslim World through Public Diplomacy
Barron, Owen, Harvard International Review
One does not have to be a pollster or a political scientist to recognize that the current public impression of the United States in the Muslim world is dismal and unlikely to improve substantially without a drastic change in the political climate of the Middle East. The United States' image suffers from ongoing violence in Iraq, allegations of torture in Guantanamo Bay, US backing of autocratic rulers in the Middle East, and support for perceived Israeli offenses in the Holy Land, as well as the decades-old perception of the United States as a corrupt imperialist power. Recent surveys, moreover, demonstrate that positive Muslim opinion of the United States has plummeted since 9/11, and particularly since the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The decline in image, however, is only partially due to US policies in the Middle East. An essential component of all foreign policy strategies is public diplomacy--the manner in which governments communicate to citizens in other societies. The United States can cultivate a more positive impression abroad by courting foreign publics through media, educational, and cultural venues. Unfortunately, such a plan is only now beginning to materialize.
The United States developed a public relations strategy for the Cold War in an attempt to counter negative impressions of the West during that monumental ideological struggle. Yet five years after 9/11, the government has yet to develop a comprehensive plan for diplomacy in the Muslim world. Now the Bush administration, in an attempt to make up for lost time, is moving to aggressively overhaul a defunct public relations and communication bureaucracy and reinvigorate a once-dynamic public diplomacy machine. The change is vital to US foreign policy in the Middle East as an often-overlooked facet of the US campaign for democracy in the Muslim world. Its effectiveness will depend, however, upon the nature and commitment of the diplomacy effort. Can the Bush administration tread the delicate line between sincere promotion of ideals and blatant propaganda? The United States must attempt, within a comprehensive public diplomacy framework, to reframe or reshape its policies toward greater compatibility with its foreign audience. An eager US marketing campaign coupled with contradictory foreign policy would further alienate Muslims from goodwill toward the United States and more severely hinder collaboration between the two cultures.
An Obsolete Legacy
The current quandary over the state of public diplomacy, and correspondingly, US image marketing, derives in part from the communication vacuum …
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Publication information: Article title: A New Approach: Engaging the Muslim World through Public Diplomacy. Contributors: Barron, Owen - Author. Journal title: Harvard International Review. Volume: 28. Issue: 4 Publication date: Winter 2007. Page number: 30+. © 1999 Harvard International Relations Council, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group.
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