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In November, the House held its first hearings on public diplomacy. According to Beers and the other experts who testified, the problem was that the world did not know or understand America. Thus, the first priority of U. Efforts focused on the Arab and Muslim world. New Arabic, Farsi, Dari, and Pashto-language radio stations were launched, and plans were developed for an Arabic-language television network. The U. Congress and administration similarly intensified their efforts. First the Pentagon, then the White House, established special offices to help reach public diplomacy goals.

With such a concerted effort at the highest levels aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Arabs, Washington officials expected increased support in the Arab and Muslim world. Despite more than a year of intensive public diplomacy aimed specifically at the Muslim and Arab world, study after study from November to December showed U. According to a newly released study by the Pew Charitable Trust, anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world has intensified and spread.

The problem is, it backfired.

Culture, Crisis and America's War on Terror by Stuart Croft

The critical question remains: What went wrong? How did American public diplomacy result in decreased support in the Arab and Muslim world? The immediate explanation for declining Arab support for the U. But the whole purpose of public diplomacy is to garner support for policies, even for unpopular policies and even from skeptical foreign publics. To be effective, public diplomacy must work not only in times of peace but also in times of conflict.

Two other factors loom much larger in explaining the failure of public diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim worlds: credibility and culture. The credibility problem derives from the fact that many in the Middle East perceive a sharp contradiction between the words of U. The other key factor, which typically receives less emphasis, is culture. Not all public diplomacy problems are communication problems, but effective communication can help resolve policy and credibility issues.

Toward a New Foreign Policy

Different cultural styles of communicating often produce opposite and unintended results. Ironically, U. While the American public responded positively to the style, the Arab and Muslim publics, who have a different culture and style entirely, responded negatively or not at all. Several examples stand out.

First, U. The Arab world has a more relationship-centered view of communication. Rather than focusing on one-way message strategies to inform people, the Arab culture tends to use two-way, relationship building strategies to connect people. Second, American public diplomacy relied heavily on the mass media to get the U. In the Arab world, meeting people face to face may not be the most efficient means of communicating, but it is the most effective, and interpersonal channels are preferred. Besides, the Arab media does not have a stellar history of credibility and trust with its public.

Thus, relying on the mass media to communicate with the Arab and Muslim worlds is likely to prove both ineffective and counterproductive. The new administration may dramatically amplify a trend toward retrenchment that was already present in the Obama administration, but was balanced by efforts to strengthen multilateral organizations like the UN and the World Bank.

Such an evolution could also be accompanied by a shift in which values have priority. In China and elsewhere in the region, so-called Asian values are likely to hold sway. Stability and efficiency might gain preeminence over democracy and human rights.

The New Crusade: America’s War on Terrorism

Already, the question is being raised by some as to whether democratic elections are an effective system to select the best leaders, or at least to eliminate unqualified ones. The rest of the world will have to adjust as balances change. These adjustments will create a whole new set of regional and local dynamics. A world that is likely to become more transactional holds many surprises.

Alliances can shift and countries can harden their stances quickly if they believe they cannot rely on the same external reassurance.


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The coming years are therefore likely to see a continuation of the trend toward more—rather than less—conflicts. While old conflicts are increasingly difficult to end, new ones keep being added to an already long list. As the world slips into ever more violence, the danger is that war becomes the new normal rather than an exceptional situation. More dramatic scenarios are possible. The erosion of international norms and institutions combined with less preventive diplomacy will lead to more conflicts, and local grievances combined with international or transnational connections will increase the risks of escalation.

Local actors may gain enough autonomy to generate new conflicts even against the will of more powerful actors, who may find themselves dragged by their web of connections into wars they did not initiate. That phenomenon was a factor in the chain of events that led to World War I. It could be replicated today, with the important qualification that the existence of nuclear weapons introduces more caution and more risk in the present situation. If this survey is gloomy, it is because the world faces daunting times ahead.

Nothing is preordained. Turning this state of affairs around will depend on the capacity of those countries that have benefited from decades of a relatively peaceful and cooperative management of the world to collectively fill the vacuum that could be the result of a more self-centered United States. New leaders may emerge as partners to buttress the global system, perhaps including China or coalitions of regional powers that have understood that a shared basic order benefits all.

President George W. Bush addresses a Joint Congress about the War on Terror

They should be proactively encouraged, not sidelined. Such a coalition, which should include what is left of the European Union as an important actor, would be strong enough to uphold and consolidate a system of norms and values that was born in the West. This may be a best-case scenario, but it is the light that should guide those international policymakers as they seek their way through this dark and dangerous passage.

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Nasty, Brutish and Long: America’s War on Terrorism

Up Next. Fracturing is turning the international community into a mosaic of inward-looking states, some of which are very fragile. Facebook Email. The increased connectivity of conflicts is not accompanied by a parallel strengthening of the agreements and institutions that could serve as the mortar to hold together a fragmenting international community. Yes, I Agree. Much like a top high school student, if it is modest about its abilities and achievements, if it is generous in helping others, it is loved. But if it attempts to dominate others, it is despised.

American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out.


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The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. My administration will recognize that the United States' main fight today does not pit us against the world but pits the world against the terrorists. At the same time, my administration will never surrender any of our sovereignty, which is why I was the first presidential candidate to oppose ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which would endanger both our national security and our economic interests.

A more successful U. Given how Americans have thrived on diversity—religious, ethnic, racial—it takes an enormous leap of imagination to understand what Islamic terrorists are about, that they really do want to kill every last one of us and destroy civilization as we know it. If they are willing to kill their own children by letting them detonate suicide bombs, then they will also be willing to kill our children for their misguided cause.