Monday, August 28, 2006

One of my close friends, Bakr, is an Egyptian-born doctor, now an American citizen who came to this country as an adult and now serves as a Colonel in the Air Force. I have spent many hours arguing and discussing the situation in the Middle East with him, and if you are looking for a well-educated and erudite presentation of the Arab position on the issues, you can't do better than asking him. It can be frustrating, but he does give you a perspective that you don't often hear from our government and media.

But Bakr is very even-handed, too, and recognizes that the Arabs are often their own worst enemy. He has often shaken his head and moaned that "We (the Arabs) are so stupid!" And while I generally agree with that assessment, I must also admit that we Americans are equally stupid, albeit for different reasons.

As a country, we are staggeringly inept at presenting to the world our values and our position on vital international issues, and almost unbelievably hard-headed about making the changes that are necessary in a new world of instantaneous, 24-hour news reporting and the Internet.

Consider this: insurgents in Iraq often send out video crews to film the murder of American soldiers by roadside bombs or ambushes, and then within days - if not hours - are distributing professionally-made DVDs with music and narration crowing about what they've done. But when the US government (in an admittedly clumsy effort) tried to pay Iraqi media outlets to run stories showing some of the good news efforts in that unhappy country, the howls of outrage from the American media could probably be heard on the moon.

Consider this, too: whenever disaster strikes, anywhere in the world, the first country on the spot with millions of dollars in emergency aid, is the United States. The rest of the world ignores this, focusing instead resolutely on our real and perceived evils. Why is the US government not vigorously presenting our side of the story? Why are we not flooding foreign media outlets with good news stories, and offering government officials for interviews - in the local language - with the foreign media to present the American side of the issues?

There are many reasons, and I'll discuss what they are, and what we ought to do about them, in the next few posts. In the meantime, ask yourself why the Ugly American is so inept at improving his image...and you might agree with some of my comments.

More discussion of this issue tomorrow. For now, have a good day and a good week.


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