Is America the 'good guy'? Many now say, 'No.'
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Welch hears a lot of complaints about America's disdain for Palestinian aspirations and its support for Israel. He points out that Bush has outlined his vision of a Palestinian state, and adds that critics "should recognize ... Americans do not like the murder of innocent people in the name of a political cause and they particularly cannot abide it after Sept. 11," he says. "So the association of the Palestinian cause with terrorism has come at great expense to their public support in the US. That is a fact. It doesn't take a diplomat to explain it to people. But they need to hear it."Skip to next paragraph
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The world can expect to hear more from America in the coming months, as the administration boosts its public diplomacy efforts in the wake of Sept. 11. Bush will soon announce the creation of a global communications office as a permanent White House fixture. Last year the State Department tapped J. Walter Thompson chairwoman Charlotte Beers to be the new undersecretary for public diplomacy, with the mission of rebranding America around the world.
"We learned that when you don't communicate, you are still communicating a lack of interest, a lack of caring," says Tucker Eskew, deputy assistant to the president in the White House global communications unit.
Among the first fruits of the new policy is Radio Sawa, an Arabic-language station that replaced the Voice of America in the Middle East last April, offering Arabic and Western pop songs along with about 10 minutes of news each hour. It certainly reaches a wider audience it seems as if every taxi driver in Amman, Jordan, tunes in but critics wonder how good a job it does of explaining American policy, given its softer format.
And even the best public diplomacy efforts eventually run up against the reality of often unpopular policies. There was no disguising Bush's description of the Israeli prime minister as "a man of peace," even as his troops reoccupied the West Bank, points out Shibley Telhami, a Middle East expert at the University of Maryland.
"A single word from the president outweighs the millions we can spend on influencing hearts and minds," he says.
Christopher Ross, an American diplomat with long Middle East experience, was brought out of retirement to help Ms. Beers, and has been on two trips to the region to listen to ordinary people's gripes. "My impression is that the effort was very much appreciated," he recalls, "but then came their question: 'We are telling you all these things what impact will it have?' I told them that I would report their views, but that policymaking is based on many things, not solely on what the foreign reaction is."
In the end, America may just have to resign itself to being unloved, conclude some officials at home and abroad. Its power, its wealth, its recurrent urges to make the world over in its image are bound to generate envy and resentment.
But the current administration's apparent readiness to come across as the "bad guy" doing what it thinks is necessary now to defend America is alienating the very friends and allies it needs to fight the war on terror, warns John Ikenberry, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington.
"If history is a guide, it will trigger antagonism and resistance that will leave America in a more hostile and divided world," he argues in the current issue of Foreign Affairs.
If the international debate over whether to invade Iraq is any measure, America is walking a lonely path. Twice in the 20th century, Americans decided that standing alone made the world a more dangerous place for them to live in. Will the new worldwide "war on terror" teach the same lesson?
Reported by staff writers Cameron W. Barr in Cairo; Scott Peterson in Moscow; Ilene R. Prusher in Istanbul and Tokyo; Howard LaFranchi in Washington; Danna Harman in Nairobi, Kenya, and Johannesburg, South Africa; Robert Marquand in Beijing and Seoul; Peter Ford in Paris and London; and by special correspondents Arie Farnam in Prague, Czech Republic; Dan Murphy in Jakarta, Indonesia; David Buchbinder in Kabul, Afghanistan; Abby Tan in Manila; and Kirk Semple in Bogotá, Colombia.