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us considers its international reputation
correspondents report - sunday, 16 may , 2004
reporter: leigh sales
hamish robertson: the prisoner abuse scandal has had a traumatic effect in the united states. as one us magazine pointed out last week, the crisis has forced americans to consider how their nation looks to the rest of the world, and to realise that that image is not always a flattering one.
and in a rather timely gathering, the centre for strategic and international studies in washington has just held a discussion about america's image abroad and what kind of public diplomacy could help increase understanding and sympathy for the united states and its policies.
this report from our north america correspondent leigh sales.
leigh sales: in an address to congress after september 11, president george w. bush famously asked: "why do they hate us?"
the answers are myriad, but if america's going to ask the question, it has to be prepared to listen to the response, according to nadia bilbasey, the washington correspondent for the arab tv network, al-arabiya.
nadia bilbasey: on my way back from california, when i was covering the election of governor schwarzenegger, i was sitting next to a guy from texas, and when he knew i was an arab journalist, he asked me: why do they hate us?
and before i could explain he already had his answer, and basically he said, well, you know, because they're jealous of us, because they resent us because we are better than anybody else and we don't care, you know.
we don't care about the arabs, we don't care about the french, we don't care about any of these people. and i think in a way some people in the arab world share that image. there is an arrogance of a superpower, and america is perceived as a bully.
leigh sales: understandably, a critique like that would be difficult for any nation to swallow, and the texan on the plane wouldn't be the only american not interested in hearing it.
but the us will only be able to deal with its image problems if it pays attention to what the world says, and then tailors its public diplomacy efforts accordingly, say experts who gathered at the centre for strategic and international studies this week.
public diplomacy is the art of communicating american messages and values to create greater understanding and sympathy for the us abroad. it can involve anything from diplomatic engagement and media strategies to cultural exchange and community involvement by american embassies. in recent years, public diplomacy has slipped as a priority. it's now only three per cent of america's foreign affairs budget.
ambassador robert hutchings is the chairman of the us national intelligence council, and he thinks the failure to focus on public diplomacy reflects a broader problem - america's tendency to force its own views and values on people instead of responding to their ideas.
robert hutchings: if public diplomacy means simply projecting our policies, our interests, our values, on the rest of the world, it'll fail every time. yet in the uproar over the prisoner abuse scandal, we are increasingly focused exactly on our own issues: will secretary rumsfeld stay or go? what will the congress do next? etc.
it's all about us. where's the commensurate concern with those who have been harmed? the victims and their families, many others in the muslim world who feel that they too have been humiliated and violated. why aren't we sending delegations - official and unofficial - to every muslim capital we can find to express our regret and to listen and to learn?
leigh sales: those interested in public diplomacy are always trying to think of fresh ways to win "hearts and minds," as they call it.
keith reinhard is the ceo of the advertising company, ddb worldwide.
when he heard president bush ask, why do they hate us, he had ddb offices in 17 countries do a survey of attitudes to the us.
keith reinhard: and our charge to them was a line from robert burns: "oh would that god the gift might give us to see ourselves as others see us".
leigh sales: while there were positive views and goodwill towards america, he also found four negative perceptions, held consistently across the globe.
firstly, a belief that america exploits - that us companies take more than they give back; secondly, a fear of america's corrupting influence ... that us values are spreading too freely; thirdly, the view that america is insensitive and arrogant and wants the whole world to be just like it, and finally, hyperconsumerism - a belief that american companies care only about making money.
the results were so unsettling to keith reinhard that he started a program called business for diplomatic action.
keith reinhard: we believe that in many ways the private sector is better able than the government to conduct acts of diplomacy, public diplomacy. we believe that business has a more important and more urgent motive to do so, because so much of the revenues of us companies come from international markets, and it is therefore in the long term interests of us corporations to be about acts of public diplomacy.
this opinion is not unique. it's not uniquely ours. professor john quelch at harvard said last year this job, this job of reversing the trend of anti-american sentiment is too big for the government. business needs to activate its foundations, its resources, in a public diplomacy program.
leigh sales: the idea behind public diplomacy isn't to dictate what america has in its foreign policy. instead, it's more a concept of better selling what american wants to do. public diplomacy can only help so much, but it certainly can't hurt.
this is leigh sales in washington for correspondents' report.