The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

CFR report on American image

The Council on Foreign Relations still thinks that "Better communication efforts can significantly improve America's image in the Muslim world:"
Rather than trying--and failing--to persuade Muslims to support American policies in Iraq or Palestine, the report says that the United States should publicize its significant development aid to their lands, which, despite soaring aid budgets, is almost invisible to them. When focus group members learned of U.S. aid efforts--via media reports on tsunami relief in Indonesia or support for women's rights in Morocco--it significantly improved their attitudes toward the United States. "It makes a real difference to Muslims' views of America when they learn of U.S. aid in areas that matter to them," the report finds.
Among the report's recommendations:

Focus on partnerships in support of local Muslim initiatives, without presenting the United States as the motor of change.

Agree to disagree on contentious issues involving other countries, such as Iraq or Israel and Palestine.

Engage local and regional media via press releases, interviews, Op-Eds, press conferences, and site visits.

Launch an advertising campaign on U.S. aid and support for reform in local and regional media, and acknowledge the U.S. government as the source.

Improve coverage of aid programs, particularly those concerning economic, education, and health aid, in U.S. government media.

Tap credible spokespeople who speak local languages, such as aid recipients, exchange program participants, local executives of U.S firms, and Americans from relevant diasporas.

Challenge stereotypes on U.S. foreign policy and alleged Jewish influence through non-governmental efforts, such as academic dialogues, videoconferences, and documentaries.

This all sounds eerily reminiscent of Steven Cook's Foreign Affairs article, mentioned here before, on how the solution is giving Arab allies more money.

Here's a quote from an early part of the report [pdf], written in the usual smug way suggesting that deep inside all Muslims really want to love America:

Perceptions matter: most Muslims do not hate America for “who we are” or
“what we do.” This study shows that they are angry at what they perceive America
to do. Many of the focus group members once admired America and regret that
their feelings have soured. They do not hate America’s freedom and wealth; they
envy them. They do not project repressed rage at their governments onto ours; their
views of America have worsened while their attitudes toward their own rulers have
improved and their societies have grown freer. It is more accurate to say they hate
America for what the country has done, but it is most accurate to say they are
hostile to American policies as they perceive them. They are angered by what they
have heard about Iraq, the war on terror, Palestine, and post–September 11
American views of Muslims, filtered by largely hostile television stations and print
media. They are ignorant of U.S. aid programs that address national priorities they
hold dear, despite massive increases in such aid in recent years. Ironically, when
asked what they want from America, they request respect and aid—things America
can provide.

Meanwhile, in the reality-based world, the New York Times leads with this:

Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.
The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.
Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.
"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"
At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.
"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.
Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

Maybe those Afghan rioters will be soothed by an ad about all the good the US is doing them.

Update: Media expert Abu Aardvark is also not impressed. And Praktike caught this early. Frankly, personally, I stick with my opinion that I don't really care about people from different parts of the world liking each other. This kind of report makes Americans seem like needy tyrants who can't stand it that they're not loved, from the Arab perspective at least. American foreign policy makers should not worry about being liked, they should worry about being respected. And that's not going to happen until the policies change, particularly towards Israel.