Ryan J. Suto's Blog

04 January 2012

Part I: Why conduct public diplomacy in the Middle East and North Africa?


Since 2001 the main public diplomacy strategy of the United States has been to win the “hearts and minds” of the people of the Middle East and North Africa. This was a direct response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, after which Americans were told, “they hate our freedoms”. This has been termed ‘Anti-Americanism’—the idea that foreign peoples, especially those in the Middle East and North Africa, hate what America is and that for which it stands. So in order to decrease this hatred for the U.S., it has been felt that our government should actively engage in building positive relationships with people and governments in Middle East and North Africa, as well as portray the U.S. as a necessary force for positive change in the region. Thus, by selling the idea of America to the people of the Middle East and North Africa, fewer of them would become terrorists, or would tolerate, support, or assist the goals and organizations of terrorism.

However, Anti-Americanism isn’t as simple as that. The negative sentiment toward the U.S. in that region most often comes from strong disagreements with our foreign policy than actual hatred of the American people. For example, since 2001 the U.S. has engaged in military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Moreover, we have placed heavy sanctions on Iraq, Iran, and Syria. The U.S. is elbow deep in the honey jar. However Anti-Americanism is more complicated still: often the U.S. is used as an anti-political device; a distraction from disagreements and problems much closer to home. The details of the image of the U.S. must be known in order to engage in successful public diplomacy in the Middle East and North Africa. Nonetheless, it can be done. Despite the complications of many states, ethnicities, religious groups, and conflicts, the U.S. can conduct a consistent, effective public diplomacy strategy in the Middle East and North Africa.

In order to conduct effective public diplomacy in the Middle East and North Africa, the U.S. must coordinate official rhetoric, funding, hard power (economic trade, sanctions, military intervention, etc.), and messaging. All of these elements are extremely visible to the people of the Middle East and North Africa and must be connected closely with American values and ideals. Through government-funded research and private research the U.S. Department of State must identify the primary values and goals of the next generation of leaders in the Middle East and North Africa. As the population there is notably young and the Arab Spring has swept through the region, the opinions of young adults and new leaders are increasing more important. Increasingly the citizens of the Middle East and North Africa hold political clout with their governments. Thus, the perceptions of the U.S. held by the people in that region will increasingly affect the policy positions governments take, ultimately affecting diplomacy and trade with the U.S.

Thus, to court these groups U.S. foreign policy must make clear the relationship with the effects of U.S. policy seen on the ground in the Middle East and North Africa and the ideal of our founding documents and our legal order. Moreover, our motivations and methods of execution of specific policies must be transparent so as to promote the view of a trustworthy America. Any reputation of transparency and value-based foreign policy the U.S. may have had has been undermined by what was leaked to the world on WikiLeaks and hesitancy of support of revolutions during the Arab Spring. As such, working to build American transparency and consistency is of great importance. Such transparency, consistency of message, and faith to American values will allow the following specific policy proposals the best chance of success.

Part II

Part III

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