Sunday, July 31, 2005


Ramez Maluf has some advice for Karen Hughes on how to improve the U.S.'s image in the Arab world.
There exists in some minds the notion that the United States can improve its image by somehow “winning the argument” over U.S. policy. Don’t buy it. Defending American policy will always be an important element of your work, but if your office confines its activities to justifying U.S. policies, its success will be limited and you’ll burn out in no time. This head–on approach actually restricts dialogue and cements the existing counterproductive imagery. Instead, your work must focus on issues over which you have some control, and where U.S. policy can do the least harm.

Don’t waste your time disputing the stereotype. Move the argument elsewhere and introduce other images. The United States needs to change its “brand” in the Arab world, and the focus should be on images relevant to Arabs in their own context.


Most Arabs live in societies where popular expression, other than in support of the government’s agenda, is almost nonexistent. The Arab world generally sees only the results of American political debates in the form of U.S. government policy. But Arabs love to watch Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, or hear actor Sean Penn rail against the war in Iraq, or read that a senator or congressperson argued in favor of a more equitable policy in the Middle East. This dynamic, and its electoral and social complexities, is not sufficiently advertised outside the United States. Try a hard–hitting documentary on the 2004 U.S. election. Odd as it may seem, your office should take pride in making opposition to its policies known. It’s one of the beauties of the American system.

It would be interesting to see Hughes trumpeting the existence of political dissent in the U.S. while abroad at the same time her boss and his party are vilifying those dissenters here at home.

I remain extremely skeptical of Hughes' fitness for this position. She's proven very skilled at selling Bush to the folks, but as far as I know she has shown no particular interest or knowledge of Arab or Islamic culture. Her "I'm jes' a girl from Texas" cornpone schtick may make Tim Russert tremble with glee, but I suspect it will go over in Arab media about as well as one of those Acme anvils that always seemed to be falling on Wile E. Coyote.

On the other hand, as a campaign flack, Hughes was able to convince a substantial number of American voters that the layabout rich kid George W. Bush was a reg'lar ole hardworking Texas guy, so maybe she can work miracles for the U.S.'s image in the region. We'll see.

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