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Report: U.S. must revamp image in Muslim world

From Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau


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PUBLIC DIPLOMACY
"Engaging, informing, and influencing key international audiences."
-- U.S. State Department
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States must radically transform its public diplomacy to combat increased hostility toward America in the Arab and Muslim world, a U.S. State Department advisory panel report said Wednesday.

The report found that "hostility toward America has reached shocking levels" and called for U.S. public relations efforts, known as public diplomacy, that match "the gravity of our approach to national defense and state-to-state diplomacy."

The State Department defines public diplomacy as "engaging, informing, and influencing key international audiences."

That mission once belonged to the U.S. Information Agency, an independent agency whose functions were rolled into the State Department in 1999.

Edward Djerejian, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria who served as the advisory panel's chairman, released the report at a Wednesday news conference.

"We, the United States, are not in any significant way present in the daily discourse, the debates, the discussions, the conversations that are going on in the Arab Muslim world about us," said Djerejian, who is director of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.

The panel, the Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World, conducted a three-month study before issuing its report, titled "Changing Minds, Winning Peace: A New Strategic Direction for U.S. Public Diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim World."

Researchers spoke with people in Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Senegal, Morocco, Britain and France.

The study was requested by Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Illinois, who chairs the House International Relations Committee, and Rep. Frank Wolfe, R-Virginia, who chairs a subcommittee on the House Appropriations Committee that handles public diplomacy funding.

"What is required is not merely tactical adaptation but strategic, and radical, transformation," the report said.

Fawaz Gerges, professor of international affairs and Middle Eastern studies at Sarah Lawrence College and author of the book "America and Political Islam," agreed with its conclusion.

"The roots of the problem lie with foreign policy rather than in society, civilization or American culture," Gerges told CNN.

"Neither spin nor propaganda will do. And what the studies show is what's needed is a radical transformation of American foreign policy"

Djerejian said public diplomacy activities in the U.S. government are "absurd and dangerously" under-funded in relation to the rising anti-American discourse among Arabs and Muslims.

He called for the creation of a Corporation for Public Diplomacy as a way to fund more programs.

He said the shortfall began when the United States dramatically decreased its public diplomacy activities after the fall of the Soviet Union.

"We have let down our guard," he said. "With the collapse of the Soviet Union we thought that was the end of history. We were wrong."

The report recommends a special White House Cabinet-level council to coordinate public diplomacy among all government agencies, as well as an "advisory board" to judge agency effectiveness.

It also calls for more training in public diplomacy and additional language skills for all foreign service officers with the aim of explaining U.S. values, culture and policies throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

The report found that out of dozens of Arab speakers in the foreign service, only five are able to speak authoritatively about U.S. policies in a capacity representing the U.S. government.

The report was large on initiatives to increase U.S. outreach around the world, but short on specifics of how to deal with what many Arabs and Muslims say is their real problem with the United States -- policies considered hostile to them, such as the action in Iraq or what they see as the United States' tilt toward Israel against the Palestinians.

"We fully acknowledge that public diplomacy is only part of the picture," the report said, citing surveys showing it would "reduce tensions" to resolve various issues. But Djerejian said the panel's mandate was limited to addressing public diplomacy activities.

Several previous reports, including one from the Council on Foreign Relations and a recent GAO study, reached similar conclusions and made similar recommendations.


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