The United States and the Middle East: A Search for New Perspectives

By Hooshang Amirahmadi | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
Media, Public Discourse, and U.S.
Policy Toward the Middle East

William A. Dorman

For a society with such high self-regard for its openness, the United States since World War II has held remarkably few public debates on foreign policy issues. When these debates do occur, such as with the Vietnam war, they usually come far too late in the day, that is to say long after official Washington has committed the nation to a frequently disastrous course of action. And of all the policy concerns facing the United States today none has been less frequently or vigorously debated than those regarding the troubled Middle East.

Why public discourse on vital foreign policy issues and in particular those concerning the Middle East should be so circumscribed has much to do with the nature of contemporary American mass media, which after all is the modern forum for public debate. Like so many other segments of society, ranging from the academy and science to commerce and industry, however, the media—both entertainment and information—have been transformed by the Cold War and its implicit requirement that civil society subordinate its usual interests in the name of national security. Such a subordination on the part of the media is of particular concern if for no other reason than they provide most Americans with their generalized day-to-day sense of the world and how the United States is faring in it.

To the degree that public opinion matters in the foreign policy process, and I will argue that it matters a great deal, this sense of

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