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A billion-dollar-plus spending spree has failed to influence opinions about the United States in the Arab and Muslim world. In fact, the image of America has precipitously declined despite a concerted government effort to create radio pals, teen zines, "Shared Values," and a yet-unseen TV network. What should we do? Spend more money, of course:

The committee found that the State Department spent about $600 million last year on its programs to advocate American policies, and $540 million more for the Voice of America and other broadcast networks.

If the $100 million to expand economic aid in the Middle East is included, the report notes, the total is about three-tenths of a percent of the Defense Department budget.

Senior State Department officials said that they were very pleased with the report and that they hoped it would pave the way for increased financing for these activities.

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  1. In his piece, Cavanaugh states:

    When Charlotte Beers, the short-lived undersecretary of State for public diplomacy, sketched her “Shared Values” campaign in 2001, she noted that the “people we need to talk to do not even know the basics about us. They are taught to distrust our every motive.” While the second half of that statement is true, the first is wildly wrong: Arab teenagers of the well-read classes have a disturbingly complete command of detailed, specific information about American life and culture. There is nothing, not a single thing, Hi magazine can tell them about American life that they don’t already know.

    The writer offers no proof of this statement. Perhaps the moneyed classes can get access to a variety of (often banned) media, like CNN and other satellite stations. But do they really get a balanced picture of life in the US?

    And what about the masses who have little idea of the US aside from the half-truths they receive in their censored media?

    A friend from Indonesia (a country supposedly now democratic) says that many of his friends get all their ideas about the US from American action movies and TV shows. This is hardly a balanced picture.

    I don’t dispute that “hi” may be a lousy effort, but I’d like to hear some other suggestions.

  2. In his piece, Cavanaugh states:

    When Charlotte Beers, the short-lived undersecretary of State for public diplomacy, sketched her “Shared Values” campaign in 2001, she noted that the “people we need to talk to do not even know the basics about us. They are taught to distrust our every motive.” While the second half of that statement is true, the first is wildly wrong: Arab teenagers of the well-read classes have a disturbingly complete command of detailed, specific information about American life and culture. There is nothing, not a single thing, Hi magazine can tell them about American life that they don’t already know.

    The writer offers no proof of this statement. Perhaps the moneyed classes can get access to a variety of (often banned) media, like CNN and other satellite stations. But do they really get a balanced picture of life in the US?

    And what about the masses who have little idea of the US aside from the half-truths they receive in their censored media?

    A friend from Indonesia (a country supposedly now democratic) says that many of his friends get all their ideas about the US from American action movies and TV shows. This is hardly a balanced picture.

    I don’t dispute that “hi” may be a lousy effort, but I’d like to hear some other suggestions.

  3. “his friends get all their ideas about the US from American action movies and TV shows.”

    That would mean they are not from the “well-read” classes.

  4. Well, to be frank, most foreigners know the US via its media; as a child I remember my view of the US was highly colored by the TV show Dallas for example. Only when you visit a country can you tell whether such media portrayals are accurate or not; and they definately are not – American streets are not lined with gold, as the old saw goes.

  5. There’s also a lot of Americans who only know the US via its media. Or worse, through its politicians.

  6. now those indonesians are on par with the american public. poor fucking bastards.

    in all seriousness, i have a suggestion – scrap all this bullshit. scrap it. it’s embarassing and ineffective and is so goddamn condescending that i’m offended on the arab-speaking world’s behalf.

  7. Oderint Dum Metuant
    “Let them hate us so long as they fear us.”

  8. The writer offers no proof of this statement. Perhaps the moneyed classes can get access to a variety of (often banned) media, like CNN and other satellite stations. But do they really get a balanced picture of life in the US?

    That’s a fair question. I don’t have any statistical proof, though I’d bet my bottom dollar that side-by-side polling to determine how many Syrians, Jordanians, Egyptians can name the President of the US vs. how many Americans can name the respective leaders of their countries (or for that matter, how many members of congress don’t even know the difference between Syria and Lebanon) would be a romp for the Arabs.

    The claim comes mainly from personal experience and so you can dismiss it if you wish. But I may even have been overstating when I said “well-read classes,” because the people I know in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, etc. (with the exception of Michael Young) would rather be set on fire than read a book, yet they are well conversant in details about American life–and conversant in English, which I think is in itself a crucially important point wrt knowing something about American life. Two weeks ago, I spent a couple hours talking with some Druze kids (real Druze–wearing the pants and everything) about the California recall, the “road map,” The Rock (whose career they knew more about than I did), Wesley Clark, and other all-American stuff. I hate to pull a Thomas Friedman and act like my personal anecdote tells you everything you need to know about the world, but that was a typical enough experience that I’m condident in saying again that Charlotte Beers had no clue what she was talking about.

    Where Arabs, in my experience, do have a distorted view of the United States is on Middle East policy stuff. I know because (despite all the commenters who seem to think I’m Benedict al-Arnold) I spend much of my conversational time over here defending (or at least trying to clarify) American policy to skeptical interlocutors. And whenever, for example, you bring up the possibility that American sympathy for Israel might be at least partly driven by the repeated spectacle of bloody suicide attacks on civilians, the response you get is inevitably one of puzzled incredulity, as if you just changed the subject to some completely unrelated topic, like astrophysics or professional darts. On that plane, yes, America is severely misunderstood. But since American Middle East policy is the one thing the State Department seems determined not to discuss, I repeat my claim: Sawa, Hi and the like are useless.

    As for Jean Bart’s platitude about how you can’t know everything about a country by its media, so what? You can learn what kind of media that country produces, consumes and enjoys, which is a lot more than you’ll learn from the State Department’s claptrap. Which is why I say Hear, Hear to dhex. The private sector not only would do a better job of getting America across to the Arabs; it’s already doing a better job.

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