A high-level advisory commission says the United States should dramatically overhaul its public relations efforts to deal with what it describes as "shocking levels" of anti-American hostility in the Arab and Muslim world. The panel recommends, among other things, that U.S. public diplomacy activities be coordinated by a cabinet-level presidential adviser.
The 13-member panel of former diplomats, academics, and policy experts did not mince words in its report, saying that the "bottom has fallen out" of support for the United States in the Muslim world and that a "dramatic" increase in funding and attention to the problem is needed to reverse the trend.
Unveiled at a State Department news conference, the report by the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy called for a reorganization of U.S. information efforts, including the creation of a cabinet-rank White House special counselor, backed by an advisory board to coordinate U.S. broadcasting and public outreach.
The panel chairman, retired U.S. diplomat Edward Djerejian, said the United States "let down its guard" on public image-making after the end of the Cold War, and that U.S. efforts to promote and explain its policies abroad are now "absurdly" under-funded.
Mr. Djerejian said the panel report, which declares that the United States was "caught unprepared" for the ideological battle in the Muslim world after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, should be a "wake-up call" for officials in Washington.
"I think it is a wake-up call for the United States to face effectively the challenge for the battle of minds that we have out there," he said. "We are not sufficiently present in that dialogue, discourse, and debate. We need strategic direction from Washington. We need a better organizational structure at home, and we need to give our people in the field the tools, the resources to get this job done."
Mr. Djerejian, a former ambassador to Syria and Israel, downplayed the notion that U.S. policies themselves are behind the decline in America's standing in the Muslim world.
He said the United States is playing a critical role, for example, in efforts to resolve the Middle East conflict, but needs to do a better job of explaining the "content and context" of its efforts.
"The president has called for a two-state solution, a state of Palestine living next to a state of Israel," said Edward Djerejian. "The point of the matter is that the general thrust and direction of American foreign policy, I do not think anyone has to be apologetic for."
There will be a debate on the way we are carrying out that policy, which is part of the whole explanation process and getting the feedback from the region. You know public diplomacy is also a question of getting feedback.
In addition to proposing the cabinet-level coordinator, the panel calls for a dramatic increase in the $600 million budget for U.S. public diplomacy programs, especially funding devoted to outreach in the Arab and Muslim worlds, which was $25 million last year.
The report decried the lack of State Department officials fluent enough in Arabic to defend U.S. policy on Arab television and radio programs. It called for a crash program to increase the number of diplomats with that capability, now just a half dozen or so to 300 within two years, and to 600 by 2008.
On international broadcasting, the commission said the U.S.-funded Arabic station Radio Sawa needs a clearer objective than just building a large audience, and that it must show that it can change the attitudes of Arab listeners toward the United States.
It also said there was skepticism about whether as a U.S. government agency, the planned Middle East Television Network, can be an effective voice in the region. The panel endorsed an alternate idea for an independent corporation that would distribute television program material in the Middle East from commercial U.S. broadcasters.