George S. Hishmeh
Gulf News (Opinion)
July 17, 2008 - 3:23pm

The newly appointed US Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, James K. Glassman, who replaced Karen Hughes, a confidant of the US President George W. Bush, is in an unenviable position. For a start his term in office is only for six months unless, of course, Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee wins the national elections in November and decides to hold on to him, or he may still be replaced since the senator may want someone who is closer to his views.

By any measure, the odds are against him and especially that he started on the wrong foot. He, for example, chose to hide his major hurdle - US policy - by burying it under the carpet. As Americans are fond of saying, you don't need rocket science to understand the nosedive that the American image has taken, at home and overseas, under the Bush administration is virtually unprecedented.

Jane Mayer, a staff writer of The New Yorker, argues in her new book titled The Dark Side about how the "war on terror" has bloodied the US Constitution and how the right-wing conspirators controlled the Bush administration. A reviewer says in The Washington Post that Mayer's story, recast as a series of indictments, goes like this:

"Since embarking upon its global war on terror, the United States has blatantly disregarded the Geneva Conventions. It has imprisoned suspects, including US citizens, without charge, holding them indefinitely and denying them due process. It has created an American gulag in which thousands of detainees, including many innocent of any wrongdoing, have been subjected to ritual abuse and humiliation. It has delivered suspected terrorists into the hands of foreign torturers. Under the guise of 'enhanced interrogation techniques,' the Bush administration has succeeded in making torture the official law of the land in all but name."

Andrew J. Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, added in his review that the Bush administration, in Mayer's words, "has done all these things as a direct result of policy decisions made at the highest levels of government". He continued, "To dismiss these as wild, anti-American ravings will not do. These are facts, which Mayer substantiates in persuasive detail."

There are additional blunders elsewhere, at home and abroad, especially in the Middle East. And yet the new undersecretary of state is unable to, or unwilling to acknowledge a connection with these misconceived policies and the low American standing, or more accurately, the unpopularity of the Bush administration.

Surprisingly, Glassman chose to discuss his views at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think-tank led by the dynamic Robert Satloff who received abundant praise from the new undersecretary. "Probably more than any other individual, Rob Satloff has helped shape the views on the war of ideas that I presented, in a form of a Strategic Vision Statement, at my first interagency meeting on June 24 - the launch, or re-launch, of the Policy Coordinating Committee that had met only twice in the preceding 12 months."


War of ideas

The undersecretary said the "war of ideas" - a repugnant term reminiscent of another, the "clash of civilisations" - is as important as military action against the "global war on terror". He said he would not have arrived "where I have arrived without the wisdom and insights expressed by Rob and his colleagues here at The Washington Institute."

Glassman, who was described at his confirmation hearing by his friend Joseph Lieberman, the Democratic senator who has been shepherding the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, as "the supreme allied commander in the war of ideas", seemingly dismissed the policy factor in his uphill battle to win friends and influence people. "I will be concentrating on just that - the war of ideas - because I believe the war of ideas needs urgent attention."

Again Glassman quoted Satloff: "We should focus on identifying, nurturing and supporting anti-Islamist Muslims, from secular liberals to pious believers, who fear the encroachment of radical Islamists and are willing to make a stand."

What Glassman and Satloff seem to miss is that this divisive approach will not eliminate the unpopularity of the Bush administration - not America - in the region. The standing of Al Qaida or its fellow travellers are inversely dependent on Washington's ability to follow an even-handed approach in achieving a Palestinian-Israeli settlement.

Of late, the popularity of Al Qaida and its like-minded groups has dropped immensely, much like other extremist "isms" elsewhere in yesteryears. Glassman seemed to agree when he cited the report of David Pollock, a former senior researcher at the State Department and now a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute. Pollock has reported that the support for suicide bombing throughout the Muslim world has dropped sharply.

"The proportion of Jordanians with 'a lot of confidence in Osama Bin Laden' has fallen from 56 per cent in 2003 to 20 per cent in 2007. In Kuwait, from 20 per cent to 13 per cent."

In other words, there is no need to lump all Arabs or Muslims in one ideological group - the extremists' survival is primarily contingent on US mishandling, and which, by the way, explains the Arab rush for the European hug as evidenced in the recent creation of the French-sponsored Union for the Mediterranean.


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