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October 16, 2004



The first thing I thought of when I read this on Friday was: Team Kerry better hire Spencer Ackerman. He makes their case far, far more lucidly than they do. Fire Jamie Rubin and Susan Rice and put Spencer on the team. I also felt a sense of relief, because there's been too much Scowcroftian realism and not enough liberal internationalism seeping out. Good for Ackerman for packaging it all in a way that they have been unable to do themselves. BTW, you know that Biden *did* originally put Initiative 911 forward in 2001, but it morphed into Radio Sawa and Al Hurra, which is actually run by Maronites.

Jonathan Dresner

Didn't Donald Rumsfeld concede, about a year ago, that we were winning the battles but losing the war because we weren't engaging in any productive discourse that would prevent continued radicalization?


After I finally read it, I was surprised and disheartened by both the piece itself, and by all the serious attention the Bai piece seemed to get. It typified a certain awful style: passive aggressive - that is, covertly snide; studiedly muddled; utterly humorless; simply stupid ("...Americans are frightened -- an emotion that has benefited Bush, and one that he has done little to dissuade" done little to disuade?!); far too long for its actual content; and dry as a popcorn fart.

Thanks for the review and snippet of Ackerman's piece. I kind of hate to do it, but I may no longer be able to avoid subscribing to TNR, dangit.


(sorry, that should've read: "It typifies a certain awful NYT style")

Abu Frank

". . . public diplomacy, obviously a matter about which I care a lot . . ." (Abu Aardvark)

Why? The Islamic world's dislike of US policy is based not on misunderstanding but on right understanding (though that dislike in turn gives rise to paranoid fantasies). There is no really nice way to say, "Sure, we don't mind strangling your economy or invading you to maintain our power in your region."

Positive attitudes to the U.S. are more likely arise from experience of American life, or the example of civil rights and democracy in U.S. domestic practice. Better than public diplomacy would be to reform the INS to better reconcile security and visitor - friendliness.

"We have to preempt the haters. We have to win the war of ideas." (Kerry)

That may be just pandering to U.S. egomania, but it misses the point that the U.S. is not a protagonist in the "war of ideas"; the protagonists are Bin Laden, Ramadan, Qaradawi, etc., etc.. Obviously the U.S. is a stakeholder, but this war isn't the U.S.'s to win or lose, any more than China was.

"Bush's much-heralded initiative was \"hollow\""(Ackerman)

Jackson Diehl had an article on October 11 that suggested the initiative is doing some modest good. Against my priors, but his argument did seem somewhat plausible.

URL: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A23012-2004Oct10.html

"A forceful move to deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict evenhandedly has to be the yardstick by which we measure sincerity." (Saad Eddin Ibrahim)

Then he'll continue to find the U.S. insincere while the Israel lobby holds sway in Washington. But this is unreasonable. The U.S. has a particular attachment that prevents it from dealing with the conflict objectively; letting go of that attachment and sincerely promoting democracy are separate issues.

"There is cynicism about whether the U.S. is sincere [about spreading democracy]." (Saad Eddin Ibrahim)

Rightly so. But it's a mistake to tie this to closely to Israel/Palestine. It's mostly about the convenience of dealing with corrupt pliable autocrats.

"Far from imposing democracy from the top down, Kerry told a Los Angeles audience in February, "We must support human rights groups, independent media, and labor unions dedicated to building a democratic culture from the grassroots up." (Ackerman)

This is tremendously right-headed . . .

". . . winning the war of ideas means "bringing religious leaders together . . ." (Ackerman/Kerry)

. . . but not this, if the means the U.S. bringing religious leaders together.

Best thing the U.S. can do is to listen humbly to the moderates / liberals / democrats and ask how it can help. Sometimes an ancillary role can be cool, like providing air support to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.

Tom Scudder

It may be a mistake for Arabs to tie their perceptions of US intentions to Israel-Palestine, but it is a fact that they do. I myself doubt that any public diplomacy will have much effect without at least symbolic, and likely substantive movement there.

Already, the general consensus from what I hear from Arab friends is that Kerry is not going to be any different.


For those who would resist subscribing to TNR, I subscribe to Salon ($30/year), and you get a lot of goodies on a regular basis, including most recently access to 6 months of TNR in downloadable pdf format.


Here's the article for those interested, you're just missing the pictures.



Thanks, Arash.


Abu Frank makes some good points, but I would advise him to read this [http://nytimes.com/2004/10/19/science/19neuro.html?hp&ex=1098244800&en=48c9d0df43f71fb6&ei=5094&partner=homepage] , which to my Coke-addled mind indicates that better public diplomacy could make at least a small difference.

Abu Frank

Tom Scudder: I agree with your main point (and with the use Ackerman makes of Saad Eddin Ibrahim's comments). When the U.S. supports Israel, Arabs don't think "They sure love Israel, it's just our bad luck to be in Israel's way," they think "They despise us, they have no respect for our rights, they have no regard for our welfare." IOW, they interpret U.S. actions that affect them as an expression of U.S. attitudes toward them. Who'd a thunk?

On whether Kerry would make a difference, of course he will. For starters, we won't hear President Kerry call Prime Minister Sharon "a man of peace". Still, it's fair to ask whether he'll make a difference that makes a difference (to U.S. standing with Arab liberals).

praktike: I agree, public diplomacy "could make at least a little difference"; but that's a weak statement. The main fact is, the shit sandwiches aren't selling, and management is blaming the marketing department rather than admit there's a problem with the recipe.

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