Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I write for the Wooster Voice, sometimes news and, as of late, opinion. The following is what I'd to see published this Friday, but the final product may not at all resemble the piece I had originally written, so here it is in full, grammatical errata and all typos untouched.

Last Friday, October 7, commemorated four years of the wonderful War on Terror, which was recently renamed the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism (GSAVE) so as to make it officially unwinnable. And we're making it clear that we have no idea what we're doing.

Did you hear that we have a ‘public diplomat’ for the Arab Street? It's Karen Hughes, formerly in charge of ‘communications’ at the Bush White House, which means being in charge of campaign PR. A proper candidate, then, for propagating half-truths and innuendo to our target audience, which can only be defined by what it isn't: potential jihadis to whom it might be useful for us to dissuade from violence. If there's no negotiating with terrorists, what about those who may be soon suckered into it?

But there's nothing like dispatching a respected loyalist (read: crony) skilled in the art of fine dissembling to send out a marketing brand hoped to improve our image. The New York Times framed the picture askewly but in a way that is mostly accurate. (Steven R. Weisman, "On Mideast 'Listening Tour,' the Question Is Who's Hearing," 30 September 2005, A3) We read of Hughes, a “relentlessly upbeat” lackey, working “to mold public opinion abroad” by, for example, “hugging a child” in the Turkish capital of Istanbul.[*]

Here's the snag, big enough to derail all of the noble intentions we have for the Middle East: we're not even trying. Weisman's story cites “retired diplomat” Edward Djerejian, who “said recently that 80 percent of the hostility derived from American policies” in the Mideast. It takes a fucking genius. So we're going to hit up the other 20 percent with “a sophisticated media strategy that Ms. Hughes should be able to provide.” As long as we're taking care of one out of five needles from the haystack, I sure feel safe. Don't you?

Hughes did “address several policies,” but “in concise sound bites”. Later, allegedly listening to “a Turkish official” from whom we can hear “the perspective of ‘the common Turk.” That's as true as hearing the words of, say, a Pentagon bureaucrat and concluding it to be the voice of “the common American,” who by any account of public opinion polls, for example, is solidly opposed to such high military spending.

Hughes has also proved to be painfully ignorant for the job she's been assigned, a shame considering the ancient dictum to ‘know thy enemy’ — or know who may become thy enemy, if you keep at it with your famed confidence. While in Egypt, Hughes was landed with heavy criticism from journalists there “for not meeting with enough genuine opposition figures.” En route, a reporter asked Hughes if she was planning on meeting with the largest opposition group in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Cairo regime has banned. According to a Los Angeles Times editorial ("Policy before PR," 3 October 2005, B10), the question elicited puzzlement and she “replied simply, ‘We are respectful of Egypt's laws.’”

“Put the shoe on the other foot,” writes Slate magazine contributor Fred Kaplan. “Let’s say some Muslim leader wanted to improve Americans’ image of Islam. It’s doubtful that he would send as his emissary a woman in a black chador who had spent no time in the United States, possessed no knowledge of our history or movies or pop music, and spoke no English beyond a heavily accented ‘Good morning.’”

This is laziness because in no way do we intend to actually change policies that have done so much damage to the American people and the future of the United States in the world. But we're now willing to listen. Care for a brochure?

*In retrospect, that’s not the capital. I believe it’s Ankara.

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