When is it like the Cold War and when is it not

We know that Rice is stuck in a Cold War mind set not based on Kennan’s original concept of containment. We also know that Karen Hughes lacks the skill, leadership, and general acumen in her public diplomacy post.

The combination of lack of insight and political strength to direct the BBG smartly or even strategically lead interagency processes is behind what Amr Hamzawi, writing in an Egyptian weekly, latches onto in his article below. The failure of Rice and Hughes to know when the current struggle is and is not like the all hands struggle of the pre-detente Cold War created a failed media outreach strategy, a lame national strategy on public diplomacy, and not surprisingly fostered conferences sponsored by groups in the Defense community filling the void left by State’s lack of leadership. This isn’t to say State doesn’t have qualified individuals. It’s filled with them, they just can’t do their job. Big thanks to Meatball One for sending this article.

In large part this failure of public diplomacy is the product of an inappropriately designed approach, based almost exclusively as it was on the concept that governed Washington’s media and propaganda campaign targeting the socialist bloc during the Cold War. Whether out of naivetĂ© or pure ignorance, the architects of this project ignored the fundamental difference between the people of Eastern Europe, the majority of whom were fascinated by the Western way of life and who would tune into Radio Free Europe and seize whatever opportunities they could to read American and Western European publications, in spite of the considerable risks they faced in their police states, and the people of the Arab world who, when thinking about America, are concerned above all about American policies towards the Middle East and who regard these policies as hostile to Arab rights and causes and relentlessly biased in favour of Israel. Any media directed towards Arab audiences that could not address this concern, simply because it could not alter the facts, was doomed to lack credibility.

But the architects of policies that gave rise to Al-Hurra TV and Sawa Radio overlooked a more glaring difference between socialist Eastern Europe and the Arab world. In Poland and East Germany in the 1970s and 1980s, people had only the choice between their own state-run media and the more enticing state-run media from the West. Arab audiences at the beginning of the 21st century are inundated with choices, not only from land-based broadcasting stations in Cairo, Riyadh and Amman, but also from satellite networks. Al-Hurra and Sawa could not even begin to compete on the open airwaves with such much more attractive and sophisticated stations as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya.

But there is also a technical reason for this failure. As though it was not a difficult enough task to improve the image of the US in the Arab world at a time when this superpower has forces occupying an Arab country that is undergoing horrifying tensions and upheavals, and at a time when it encouraged its Israeli ally to go on the offensive against another Arab country in the hope of altering the map of regional alliances, the American media targeting the Arab world was consistently poorly managed. Programming and the substance of programmes never went beyond the blatantly propagandistic campaign to vindicate American policies. How could it possibly succeed?

The Bush administration lost the battle to win Arab hearts and minds. It is difficult to foresee any reversal of US fortunes any time in the near future.