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
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