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9/11 Commission Recommends Renewed Focus on US Public Diplomacy - 2004-08-24


The commission that investigated the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States says, beyond defeating al-Qaida, the United States must defeat a radical strain of Islamist ideology that celebrates death and destruction. The chairman of the September 11th Commission called for an overhaul of U.S. public diplomacy while testifying on Capitol Hill.

Connecticut Republican Representative Christopher Shays says a potent U.S. military is not enough to win the war on terrorism.

"The next generation of potential terrorists can be stopped with books rather than bombs," he said.

Mr. Shays serves as chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Security and International Relations. Testifying before the subcommittee Monday, the chairman of the September 11th Commission, Thomas Kean, said the United States must focus attention on the dreams and aspirations of countless Muslims who may be wary of the United States, but who are not hardened terrorists.

"As much as we worry about [Osama] bin Laden and al-Qaida, and we do worry about them, we should worry far more about the attitudes of tens of millions of young Arabs and hundreds of millions of young Muslims," he said.

Mr. Kean noted that popular opinion of the United States has fallen sharply in the Muslim world, even in nations with governments that maintain close relations with Washington. This, he said, must change and that U.S. public diplomacy has a vital role to play in how America is perceived.

But the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich, struck a cautionary note, saying that no amount of U.S. public diplomacy can succeed if America's actions around the world are unpopular.

"Our public diplomacy fails because it is derived from a failed foreign policy," he said. "Recent polls show that Arab respondents do understand and do respect American values. But they do not see American policy reflecting those values. They saw the horrible pictures of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. They read about the treatment of detained prisoners at Guantanamo Bay [Cuba]. So why are we surprised that there are harsh feeling towards the United States?"

The September 11th Commission was not charged with critiquing current U.S. foreign policy. But Thomas Kean agreed that U.S. actions in the world must be in line with American values. He said the United States must show moral leadership and be an unabashed advocate of democracy and freedom, even when that message is troublesome for friendly non-democratic governments in the Muslim world. Above all, he said, America must inspire hope.

"Our vision of the future should stress individual educational and economic opportunity," Mr. Kean said. "Our vision includes widespread political participation and contempt for indiscriminate violence. It includes respect for the rule of law, openness in discussing differences and tolerance for opposing points of view."

Mr. Kean called for expanding scholarly exchanges between the Untied States and other nations, and for expanding U.S.-funded television and radio broadcasts to Muslim nations.

That message was echoed by Kenneth Tomlinson, Chairman of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors which oversees the Voice of America. Mr. Tomlinson hailed new U.S. broadcasting entities to the Middle East, Al-Hurra television and Radio Sawa.

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