The Need to Communicate: How to Improve U.S. Public Diplomacy with the Islamic World

The Brookings Institution

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U.S. Policy Towards the Islamic World, Analysis Paper #6, January 2004

Hady Amr, Managing Director, Amr Group

Excerpt from executive summary:

The goal of public diplomacy, as defined by the former U.S. Information Agency, is "to promote the national interest and the national security of the United States through understanding, informing, and influencing foreign publics and broadening dialogue between American citizens and institutions and their counterparts abroad." In doing so, it seeks to explain U.S. policy and values to foreign audiences, so as to improve the context for successful policy. It also seeks to engage in effective dialogue, so as to increase mutual understanding and trust.

Given the increasing power wielded by foreign citizens, consumers, and terrorists alike in this globalizing world, public diplomacy is a central component of U.S. national security. Many, though, point to the present approach to American public diplomacy as a key weakness in the U.S. policy toolkit.

Since the September 11th attacks on America, worldwide favorability towards America has drastically fallen. In particular, polling data shows that since the spring of 2002, there has been a precipitous decline in the favorability towards the United States within the Islamic world—for example a drop from 61 percent to 15 percent in Indonesia and from 25 percent to 1 percent in Jordan. Obviously, public diplomacy is no substitute for good policy, but something is clearly amiss with the way that the United States is communicating with the world.

To be successful, public diplomacy must not only be supported through greater funding towards new and innovative programming, but also be reanchored in a new paradigm of "jointness." American public diplomacy will be most effective and persuasive when it is rooted in a dialogue between American and foreign civil society, planned with inputs from both sides, and conducted in a manner that benefits both sides.

The full paper is available on the Brookings Institution Web site

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Updated: 14 March 2004.
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