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US Public Diplomacy: The Middle East and China

In the US House of Representatives, the international relations committee is headed by Henry Hyde (R) and Tom Lantos (D). The two are sponsoring a bill on public diplomacy, which Henry Hyde described in a long address to the Council on Foreign Relations. He is one of the most admirable members of Congress, but his well-prepared address made me uneasy. There was the usual boasting about US democracy; the US was described as the only country with a global diplomacy. While Hyde stressed the need for telling the truth, he spoke of "blowing our own horn", and of "selling the US". He spoke admiringly of the qualifications of the head of the office of Public Diplomacy in the State Department. In fact, she is a business executive, whose knowledge of international affairs, notably of the Middle East, is very limited. Hyde spoke of the Arab countries as "theocracies" which have not seen the light of democracy. He revealed not the slightest desire to try to understand the Arab countries. His co-chairman Tom Lantos is the most uncompromising supporter of Israel. While the two wish to sell the US to Arab countries, their approach will mostly be dismissed as propaganda and will enrage the Arabs. Even more surprising was the hostile approach to China, the shortcomings of whose system Hyde stressed. The whole thing seems like an exercise to incite the people of the Arab world and of China against their governments. It seems like bad psychology. If a foreign government spoke in a similar tone of the government of the US, would the American people be persuaded? If the aim is simply to bring accurate information about the US to those benighted regions, it can only be praised.

Ronald Hilton - 6/21/02