April 18, 2005

Whither Diplomacy?

The Washington Post also reports that our "renewed" efforts at public diplomacy in the Middle East are stumbling out of the gate. Karen Hughes, the new point-person on Islamic outreach... won't start until the fall. Dina Powell... won't start for another two months (though I'm still posting a picture of her, for, uh, national security reasons). Oh, and there are very, very few Muslims in the State Department. It's too early to call the whole thing a clown show, but when you see a bunch of red rubber noses lying around, you start to wonder.

Well, okay. Frankly, I don't much care, because I'm deeply skeptical of this whole "we need better public diplomacy" approach. Certainly, there's room to improve around the margins—for instance, it would be great if more State Department officials could get on Al-Jazeerah and debate and defend (in Arabic) U.S. policies. But that's hard to do so long as many U.S. policies are all but indefensible in the Muslim world. American support for Israel, for instance, is going to piss people in the Middle East off, and there's no way to sugarcoat this. Likewise, if the U.S. really is building long-term bases in Iraq, then it's going to be awfully hard to get State Department folks on TV and convince everyone that no, no, we have no long-term designs on Iraq. And no one's going to believe that the U.S. is sincere about democracy-promotion unless the Bush administration actually does stuff, like speaking out about King Abdullah's crackdowns in Jordan.

Arabs aren't dumb. Thanks to the miracles of satellite TV they can see through the sugarcoating. I think it was Daniel Byman who recently recalled the time, a few years back, when Dick Cheney defended Israel's assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin on "Meet the Press" or some such thing. Obviously the statement was intended for an American audience, but it spread far and wide 'round the Middle East pretty quickly, something that never would have happened a decade ago. Of course, that said, there's more to life than Israel. If the U.S. were to intervene in Sudan, for instance, a bit of quality diplomacy could
-- Brad Plumer 1:14 AM || ||