Two posts ago, I began a discussion of how inept we as a nation are at presenting ourselves to the rest of the world. Every brain-dead jihadi with a videocamera and a PC is cranking out CDs and DVDs glorifying the murder of Americans, and morons like Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad spend hours ranting to their audiences that everything wrong with the world is the fault of America.
What, one might ask, is the US government doing about this?
I don't think it's inaccurate to say that our government does an abysmal job of presenting our face to the world. There appears to be no efficient and effective office in the State Department (or anywhere else in the government) that works around the clock to explain US values and policies in clear and understandable words to a skeptical world fed a continuous diet of anti-American venom. After all, Mr Bush himself is utterly unable to present a clear, consistent and convincing explanation of his decisions on Iraq to his own people, much less to the rest of the world.
In 1999, the government closed down the US Information Agency, the organization charged with "public diplomacy," or presenting information about the United States to the rest of the world. Many cynics, including those who have written about the USIA in Wikipedia (see the entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Information_Agency) believe "public diplomacy" to be nothing more than a kinder, gentler version of the politically-charged term "propaganda," but it's more than that - public diplomacy attempts to present a positive image of the United States to foreign audiences who have plenty of opportunities to hear the negative image presented without challenge. We are defaulting in the game of public relations...allowing our enemies to bombard the world with relentlessly negative stereotypes of our nation and to blame us for every real and perceived problem without challenge. I have never flinched from agreeing that we should admit our mistakes and move forward while trying to do better. But if we allow every would-be religious fanatic or political demagogue to increase his (or her) popularity and avoid censure for his (or her) policies by blaming everything on the evil machinations of the United States, we allow a blind and unreasoning hatred of America to develop unchallenged.
We must do better than this. We must, as a nation, realize that what the rest of the world hears and thinks and believes matters to us in our quiet suburban homes. We must stop reflexively allowing the political demagogues and religious fanatics to set the agenda and claim ownership of the media. The cost of doing so in dollars will be negligible compared to the cost of keeping our heads firmly buried in the sand.
Bring back the USIA and take the fight for hearts and minds to the rest of the world. Don't allow our feckless media to shout down attempts at positive public diplomacy. It's time to start acting like what America could be - the beacon of hope for a world in deep trouble.
Tomorrow, specific ideas for what to do. Until then, have a good day...and don't be afraid to stand up for the honor and dignity of your country.