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Bush Fails to ‘Sell’ His Foreign Policy To World’s People

An old maxim of military education goes, “If the student fails to learn, the teacher has failed to teach.” By that standard, America’s efforts at public diplomacy are failing abysmally. [IMGCAP(1)]

The United States has just ousted a viciously tyrannical regime in a swift war with minimal casualties, but U.S. prestige — low enough to begin with — has sunk around the world.

Results released last week by the Pew Global Attitudes Project ought to serve as a loud wake-up call to the Bush administration that efforts to explain its policies to the world are failing.

In Congress, the chairmen of both the House International Relations Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are looking at ways to beef up and reform the U.S. public diplomacy apparatus.

A top aide to Foreign Relations Chairman Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) told me, “We’re not only not getting our message across. We’re not doing public diplomacy in a coordinated fashion. There’s no vision to it. It’s not coordinated. It’s willy-nilly.”

While Lugar is planning to hold hearings on how to improve things, International Relations Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), for the second straight year, has produced a wide-ranging set of reforms designed to improve State Department coordination, exchange programs and broadcasting, especially in the Muslim world.

One major upgrade already approved and funded by Congress, an Arab-language satellite television network called the Middle East Broadcast Network, is scheduled to start operating by the end of the year.

The Pew poll shows that MBN has its work cut out for it. In Jordan, supposedly a U.S. ally, an astounding 99 percent of those polled after the Iraq war said they had a negative view of the United States, up from 75 percent in mid-2002.

In Lebanon, 71 percent viewed the United States unfavorably, up from 59 percent a year ago. In Morocco, 67 percent were hostile, and in the Palestinian territories, 98 percent.

Even more disturbingly, terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was rated one of the leaders most likely to “do the right thing” by 55 percent of respondents in Jordan, 49 percent in Morocco and 71 percent in the Palestinian territory.

In the Arab world, the new U.S. network will have to counter unrelievedly negative images broadcast by Al Jazeera, Abu Dabi TV and — worst of all — Al Manar Television, beamed out of Beruit, Lebanon, by the terrorist group Hezbollah.

Avi Jorisch, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has been showing clips from Al Manar to various U.S. officials in which, for instance, the Statue of Liberty is shown as a murderous witch.

America is described in music videos on the station as “the mother of terrorism,” and Iraqis are called upon to greet American troops with “martyrdom.”

One disturbing finding in the Pew poll was that all over the Muslim world, majorities of the population expressed “disappointment” that Saddam Hussein’s army did not put up more resistance against the United States.

That sentiment reached 93 percent in Morocco, 91 percent in Jordan, 82 percent in Lebanon and Turkey, 82 percent in Indonesia and 74 percent in Pakistan. It was at 58 percent in South Korea, 50 percent in Brazil and 45 percent in Russia.

In Europe, disapproval of the United States has eased off slightly since March, just before the Iraq war, but it is still the majority opinion in France (57 percent), Germany (54 percent) and Spain (56 percent).

Asked whether they primarily disapproved of this country or President Bush, the Europeans overwhelmingly blamed Bush.

The image of American policy may improve with Bush’s new initiatives to bring peace to the Middle East and fight AIDS in Africa, but at the moment the world sees U.S. influence as more threatening than benign.

To improve things, Hyde wants to, among other things, increase the U.S. public diplomacy budget from $320 million to $360 million. In 1998, it was $500 million before then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and then-Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) struck a deal to eliminate the U.S. Information Agency.

Hyde calls for giving greater power to the undersecretary of State for public diplomacy, a job recently vacated by former advertising executive Charlotte Beers, who tried to woo Muslims around the world with ads portraying Muslim life in the United States.

Margaret Tutweiler, once a top aide to Secretary of State James Baker in the first Bush administration and now ambassador to Morocco, has been offered the job but is apparently hesitant to take it.

Public diplomacy is so at odds with State Department culture that to be effective, Lugar’s aide said, the undersecretary “would have to have the complete trust of the president and the secretary of State, be wrapped in titanium, be afraid of no one and able to scare the crap out of everyone else.”

Hyde also recommends major new outreach efforts in the Muslim world and reorganizing the various international U.S. broadcasting agencies.

Broadcasting advocates say they simply need more capacity to reach countries such as Iran with more than two hours of television a week.

The good news in the Pew poll was that people in unfree countries all over the world want democracy. The bad news is that they don’t see the Bush administration helping them get it.