Friday, August 17, 2007

Condi, Karen and Cal

The Bush administration has never been much for public diplomacy. Its audience is always the American public, and if the rest of the world doesn't respond, then there must be something fundamentally wrong with the rest of the world. But the most recent effort to win the hearts and minds of young Muslims is so surreal that even The Daily Show failed to capture its willful weirdness.

Consider this AP dispatch from Rabat:

U.S. goes online to reach Muslim youth

By JOHN THORNE, Associated Press WriterThu Aug 16, 6:48 PM ET

The U.S. State Department chose a novel way to publicize baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr.'s appointment this week as its special sports envoy. It went on YouTube.

Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes, who appears in the video, said Thursday it was part of her campaign to bring a positive image of the United States to a skeptical global audience — particularly in the Muslim world. Children are a chief target.

"It's important that we reach out to Muslim populations around the world," Hughes said in an interview with The Associated Press. She was in Morocco this week to visit a U.S.-funded summer camp for poor Moroccan children.

The best way to counter widespread Muslim distrust of the U.S. is to expose young people to American values, Hughes said. For that, she is turning to online media like the popular video-posting web site YouTube.com, which attracts the tech-savvy youths she is targeting.

"I know as a mother that by the time kids get to high school, their opinions are pretty hardened," Hughes said. "Children tend to be a lot more open-minded."

As part of the campaign, Arabic speakers on Hughes' staff also log on to the chat forums of Arabic-language blogs to challenge "representations of America that are inaccurate," she said. She said they identify themselves as members of the State Department's outreach team....

Now just take a look at the YouTube offering. For some reason best known to the NSA, I suppose, I couldn't blog it directly, but this link is good, I believe: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LfZ5QHblBE

As Hughes and Condoleeza Rice gush over Ripken, Rice ventures her opinion that he'll appeal to "people who want to be Cal Ripken in Pakistan."

Excuse me. Does anybody know who Cal Ripken is in Pakistan? Does anyone at all play baseball in Pakistan? Or anywhere else in the Muslim world? Is Ripken, perhaps, inclined to take up cricket? What on earth are these people thinking?

Clearly they're not thinking at all. But that shouldn't suprise us. As Rice says in the State Department clip, public diplomacy "isn't really the work of the government," it's the work, in her view, of, well, the public.

Another home run for American policy. - C.D.
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