Maps of China
The Declining U.S. Investment
Over the past thirty years, we should have learned many valuable lessons about how to conduct public diplomacy with other nations. An excellent case study for that purpose exists in the work that has been done to develop and maintain a positive relationship with the People's Republic of China. Taking the lead in that effort was the nonprofit organization the National Committee on United States-China Relations (NCUSCR), and it continues to play the major role in sustaining this relationship.
Rather than building on our positive experiences with China, however, we have reduced our efforts in conducting public relations. Unfortunately, the ending of the cold war in the 1990s led the Clinton administration to believe that the need for the diplomatic activities conducted by the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) had lessened to the extent that most of its valuable functions could be discarded. During that administration the libraries and cultural centers, the sophisticated exhibits about American life, the sending of scholars and performing artists overseas, and the speaker programs were wiped out. In addition, the USIA was abolished, with its few remaining activities transferred to the State Department. This was not a good move. The State Departmentís strength and expertise are in conducting diplomacy with foreign governments, not in communicating with the foreign public. The State Department's shortcomings in this area have now become blatantly obvious in our relations with the Islamic world.
A 2002 Gallup survey conducted in nine Muslim countries found that a majority of the people surveyed have a poor opinion of the United States, they donít believe Arabs carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks, and they donít believe the U.S. war in Afghanistan is morally justifiable. These feelings and perceptions may have worsened since the poll was conducted because of the situations and events in Iraq as well as in Palestine and Israel.
How do we improve the Muslim people's opinion of the United States? There is no U.S.ĖIslamic equivalent of the NCUSCR that we can rely on for improving our relations with the Islamic world. There is one organization, the American Muslim Alliance, but its aims and goals do not involve improving American-Islamic relations. In contrast, the NCUSCR is "a nonprofit educational organization that encourages understanding of China and the United States between citizens of both countries."
The present Bush administrationís attempt to open lines of communication with people of the Islamic faith has so far failed badly. In October 2001, Charlotte Beers, a former New York advertising executive who had been very successful in selling products like Uncle Benís Rice, was appointed under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. One of her responsibilities was to oversee the remnants of the former USIA, which had been transferred to the State Department.
Ms. Beers's efforts failed from the beginning. She and her department initiated and designed programs similar to the advertising used to promote Uncle Benís Rice to consumers in the United States. She promoted television spots and ads praising the United States and depicting the United States as tolerant of Islam and depicting Muslims happily integrated in American life. However, awkward facts were omitted. Meanwhile, Al-Jazerra, the Middle Eastís CNN, was featuring nightly footage of civilians killed in the bombings in Afghanistan and the roundup of and violence toward Muslims living in the United States since the attacks on September 11. Beers also set up Radio Sawa with news and American popular music designed to reach the youth of Islam in the Middle East. The station has a wide audience of young listeners, but it remains very doubtful that it has any persuasive influence on opinions concerning the vital issues of the day. Citing health reasons, Charlotte Beers resigned in March 2003, and no replacement has been named. (Continue to page 4.)