Accessibility links

Interview with Ambassdor William Rugh - 2003-03-13


Just back from the Middle East, Ambassador William Rugh shares his insights about the feelings of people there to the United States. He believes increased dialogue can overcome the anger and confusion over American foreign policy and build upon a general fondness for the American way of life.

MR. BORGIDA:
Now joining us, Ambassador William Rugh, President of America-Mideast Educational and Training Services. It's a private, nonprofit organization that promotes understanding between Americans and the people of the Middle East.

Ambassador, thanks so much for joining us today.

AMBASSADOR RUGH:
Thank you.

MR. BORGIDA:
You have just come back from a trip to the Gulf. If you would, as a man with vast experience there diplomatically, give us a sense of public opinion in the Gulf as this very complicated period, the Iraqi crisis, looms.

AMBASSADOR RUGH:
Well, most of the people in the Gulf are very positively oriented towards the United States in general. They like America. They trade with America. They like to send their children to study in America and they have good feelings about the United States in general. But they, from time to time, have complaints about our foreign policy. Over the years, the complaint has been focused on the Israel-Palestine area; now it's focused on Iraq. They are confused. They are puzzled that we have, in the United States, put Iraq at the top of the agenda, when they think there are other issues that are more important, at least to them, that are more urgent, such as the ongoing conflict that is going on between the Israelis and the Palestinians right now.

There are people dying every day and they see that on al-Jazeera Television and other television and hear about it and read about it in the newspapers, which, in America, we don't see that much about what's going on in Palestine, but they do. That's an issue that they are very concerned about and worried about. So, they are puzzled that we are putting Iraq at the top of the agenda, because they don't think Iraq is a threat.

MR. BORGIDA:
Ambassador, you say puzzled, but we've been reading a lot of reports here in the United States that it is not puzzlement, it's anger. Is it anger or confusion, or a combination?

AMBASSADOR RUGH:
It is both. But I would say it is anger in the sense that friends of ours are angry that we're not focusing on the most important issue. But it is not hate. If you will, it's anger and puzzlement, which I consider to be a temporary transitional feeling and attitude, and I think it can be overcome.

MR. BORGIDA:
How? What can the United States do to overcome it?

AMBASSADOR RUGH:
In the short term, they are very apprehensive about what might happen in Iraq. They see the President of the United States moving toward war, and they watch American television and know about what's going on in the United States and the U.N. discussion. So, they are very apprehensive. They hope that if we do go to war in Iraq, that it's over quickly and with minimal casualties not only to Americans but to Iraqis. They are very sympathetic to the Iraqi people, who have suffered all these years not only under Saddam, but they blame us, to some extent, for the embargo and for the restrictions that we have imposed through the U.N.

MR. BORGIDA:
Now, the U.S. Congress has held hearings on the subject of the U.S. communicating, and of course the Voice of America is part of the International Broadcasting Bureau. You have worked in diplomacy for quite some time. What would you recommend that the United States and, indeed, the West, do to improve its image to people in the Middle East?

AMBASSADOR RUGH:
Well, a very simple principle is that public diplomacy works best if you have a dialogue and a discussion. I think we are giving the impression -- falsely I believe -- that we have a unilateralist policy and that we are on “transmit” and not “receive.” We are not listening. That we are not listening to their complaints and their concerns. After 9/11, they were very sympathetic to the United States, and there was a lot of support for America. And that carried over into Afghanistan and they were supportive of our action there. But then, when we turned to the axis of evil and confronting Saddam, we sort of lost our friends.

MR. BORGIDA:
We'll do a better job, we hope. Ambassador William Rugh, President of America-Mideast Educational and Training Services, thanks so much for your insight today. We appreciate it.

AMBASSADOR RUGH:
Thank you.

XS
SM
MD
LG