Monday, November 16, 2015

U.S. Public Diplomacy After the Paris Attacks -- Unanswered Questions

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Monday, November 16th 2015
U.S. Public Diplomacy After the Paris Attacks – Unanswered Questions

Donald M. Bishop

The attacks in Paris are already prompting a major rethinking of American strategy in the fight against ISIS, Islamism, and jihad.  The new thinking must soon embrace Public Diplomacy.  The initial State Department and White House meetings might begin with questions posed earlier on the Public Diplomacy Council website.

The first set of ten questions comes from my own July 13, 2015, essay, “Hearts and Minds:  Ten Questions for the President.”  They get down to specifics.

1.  How many people will you add to the State Department’s effort to counter violent extremism?  Tens or hundreds?  How many will have firsthand experience listening to audiences?  How many will have the hard language and cultural skills needed for success? 

2.  Some previous initiatives were long on rhetoric and short on money – “unfunded mandates” that petered out.  How much new money will be provided?

3.  If there is no increase in funding, what programs or functions in Public Diplomacy will be trimmed to free up funds?

4.  How will you shift the State Department’s overall priorities to give more focus to the “values” dimension of the fight against Daesh and violent extremism?

5.  Many development programs administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development advance values.  How will you strengthen the alignment of USAID and Public Diplomacy programs, both in Washington and at American embassies and consulates?

6.  You said the United States will work with partners.  The launching of the Sawab Center in Abu Dhabi as a platform to “support the efforts of governments, religious leaders and scholars, corporate leaders, public figures and individuals to stand up” seems a good start, but it’s just a start.  What’s next?

7.  You said one task is to “counter ISIL’s hateful propaganda, especially online.”  Social media do not reach all the populations influenced by Daesh.  How will you strengthen U.S. international broadcasting, for instance?

8.  In a contest for hearts and minds, will you surge the international education and exchange programs that bring foreign scholars and leaders to the U.S.? 

9.  Will you reverse the downward trend in support for foreign area studies and critical languages in American schools and universities? 

10.  The armed forces – in their information operations, civil affairs, and military information support operations (MISO) functions – have ideas and resources.  How will you improve coordination and alignment of these DOD elements with the State Department’s Public Diplomacy?

Six more searching questions were posed by former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy and Richard Fontaine of the Center for New American Progress in their August, 2015, report, “An intensified Approach to Combating the Islamic State.”  For my gist, click here.  I’ve added numbers to questions drawn from a long paragraph.

1.  Should the United States press Saudi Arabia to stop its export of Wahhabism across the Islamic world?

2.  Should U.S. leaders openly call for the separation of state and religion in the Muslim world?

3.  Should they give greater priority to addressing the failure of states across the Arab world to meet the basic needs and address the grievances of substantial segments of their populations?

4.  Should the United States renew its push for democratic reform in the Arab world, even among friendly autocracies, or count on them to impose stability through repression?

5.  Should Washington press European allies who have failed to integrate Muslim immigrant populations into their societies to take a different approach?
6.  And are American leaders willing to scrutinize their country’s own treatment of U.S. Muslim communities and change course where heavy-handed surveillance has trumped community engagement and alienated the very communities they seek to make resilient to radicalization?

I could elaborate on each question, but for now, we might add a footnote to the first question posed by Michèle Flournoy and Richard Fontaine – referring to the export of Wahhabism.  In his report in The Washington Post on Molenbeek, “The Belgian neighborhood indelibly linked to jihad,” Steve Mufson wrote, “Today, the neighborhood has more than a dozen mosques, many of them tucked into old buildings. In some cases, more hard-line Muslims took over the boards of existing mosques, Benyaich says, and the orientation of some mosques is still in flux.” 

Mufson quoted Bilal Benyaich, senior fellow at the Itinera Institute in Brussels.  “Benyaich says that the Saudi message has played well to the children of immigrants who were suffering an identity crisis. And now the Islamic State has stepped in and caught on.”

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