Egypt says the same

Similar insights come from the writing on Egypt. Simply put, “Much of the hostility toward America is driven by opposition to American foreign policy.” In Egypt, U.S. actions are interpreted as “interfering in domestic politics.” And more: “An 80 per cent of the Arabs surveyed responded that their attitudes toward the United States were based more on American policy than American values.” The answer to the question “Why do they hate us?” is rather obvious, yet not for the domestic political consumer within the U.S. who is told it is their values.

U.S. values are generally fine in a freedom, peace-loving, democratic, rhetorical sense. It is the application of supreme military dominance and all the contradictions that go along with a highly militarized society that makes the world antagonistic to the U.S. — again the refrain, what you do speaks so loud….

The way forward for this author is to counter claims that “The United States is engaging in a crusade against Islam.” This obviously will be a supremely difficult task: from the instance of George Bush’s claim about a “Crusade;” to the ongoing occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan by sometimes overtly Christian occupiers; and the faithful support that the U.S. Congress, backed by many right wing fundamentalist Christian groups, and coerced by the powerful AIPAC lobby have given to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Image, again and again and over and over ad nauseum….

These writers just don’t get it. As per the author on Egypt in his closing remarks, “True progress on improving the image of the United States will only occur when the substantive issues that have angered Egyptians and other Middle East public are recognized as legitimate….” Once again it all comes back to image, although here admittedly it is related to “substantive issues” being recognized…but nowhere, here or in any of the other essays, is there a demand to pull/recall the U.S. military, to recognize U.S. corporate influence in globalization and its tie-ins to the military and political realms of U.S. culture and governance. Until the military goes home, until the U.S. sorts its own internal issues, until the U.S. can stand up to domestic Israeli influence, only then will any true substantive changes be made in the way the world perceives the U.S.

Where to?

The final section of Public Diplomacy tries to indicate where that diplomacy should be going in the future. Written just as Obama was arriving at the White House, the messages are all relatively positive. Unfortunately, again, the way forward is less about reality than about image, and the writers, not surprisingly share a particular U.S. optimism that it is their country that can safely lead the world forward.


The first section deals with “Privatized Public Diplomacy,” which is really about privatizing the image making ideas through Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and Silicon Valley…where the most advanced communications tactics are developed.” If that does not speak for image over reality, not much else will. As for privatization, the evidence from the private militaries that are operating in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (and more than likely in many other parts of the world) and the overall thrust of privatization within the U.S. economy (health care as an example) should give ample warning against the success of any privatization of public diplomacy. Having said that, public diplomacy, the ultimate soft power, the ultimate image, is already ‘directed’ by the personnel of Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and Silicon Valley.

A strange surprise is mentioned in this essay – the Smith-Mundt Act, “enacted in 1948, which prohibits the domestic dissemination of American public diplomacy materials, virtually guaranteeing U.S. citizens would be ignorant of their government’s efforts to influence foreign public opinion….” The act guarantees confusion, and guarantees some questions, the most obvious being “Why? What are you trying to hide from us?”

Cultural diplomacy

A bit too much U.S. hubris enters directly into the discussion “A Cultural Public Diplomacy Strategy,” as “There will be the unavoidable jealousies that come with being the global economic, military, and cultural colossus.” Jealous? Of an economy in decline, of an economy supported by massive government social assistance to banks and finance institutions, of an economy that operates on credit consumption that has created huge unimaginable debt loads that will probably never be paid off except for a period of hyperinflation? Jealous? Of a military that threatens to destroy the planet, that consumes huge economic resources adding greatly to the deficit and debt of the country, that kills civilians in order to win their hearts and minds…

…there, how is this image making process going so far…

…that has purportedly quit Iraq leaving ‘only’ 50,000 “non-combat” troops behind (now there is an image hard to work around), that has tortured detainees and citizens without juridical oversight of any kind, that fails to control countries even with overwhelming firepower? Jealous? Of a culture that is all about consumption and glitter and glitz and the shallow pursuit of self-interest at the expense of others, that will not heal the sick nor care for the poor? Okay, maybe a bit jealous of the influence of the Black culture and the Hispanic culture that has provided some amazing music synthesis.

The author follows with the statement, “the [U.S.] is on balance a strong force for good in the world.” Yes, its words and rhetoric about freedom and peace and justice and the goodwill of men are all just fine sounding, but the reality put into practice is largely underwhelming.

Other highly arguable statements enter the discussion, the most egregious stating, “There is no serious philosophical or ideological competitor to the model of liberal democracy that embraces some variant of capitalism,” followed by a comment indicating that this somehow “rehabilitates” Francis Fukuyama’s “poorly understood ‘End of History’ thesis.” Somehow, the author does not seem to see the perhaps too subtle contradiction for himself when he says later, “Money talks, and what currently tells the world is that America is a militarized democracy.” If it’s militarized, is it a liberal democracy? Is it even a democracy? Is militarism a variant of capitalism? Okay, I can answer that one with a yes, all the way from Thomas Friedman’s hidden fist thesis, right through to the not very subtle and rather exposed capitalism that seeks out the oil of Iraq and Saudi Arabia (good democratic states) and on into the strategic requirements of the geopolitical sphere in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, and elsewhere.

We are nowhere near the end of history, liberal democracy is a nice sounding essentially unused sound-bite, and capitalism and democracy have very little in common — only an ‘image’ distilled through arrogance and ignorance. The author’s final statement about the “remaking of America’s image cannot be done without cultural diplomacy” sinks the whole argument. In a lesser way because the world is not ignorant of U.S. culture, it is already widespread and obvious, especially the part that you “do” as compared to the part that you “say.” Which leads to the greater way because it is still all about image, and again, the world is not as stupid as U.S. arrogance and ignorance deem it to be (pardon the repetition here, but it does fit) but is quite capable of seeing the contrast between ideals and actions.