- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2005

In a recent commentary in The Washington Times (“Sirens of America’s Defeat,” April 7), Michael Scheuer, a disgruntled former CIA analyst, missed the broader implications of a poll of Indonesians cited by Lee Hamilton. By defining “public diplomacy” too narrowly, Mr. Scheuer also failed to appreciate the essential role public diplomacy can play in winning the war on terrorism.

We commissioned the Indonesian poll discussed by Mr. Scheuer. The poll did not suggest that U.S. policies and actions are unimportant. To the contrary, the poll demonstrated that American tsunami relief efforts produced an immediate and dramatic drop in public support for Osama bin Laden in Indonesia, proving that American actions can make a significant and immediate difference in eroding the support base for global terrorists.

It is completely counterintuitive to suggest, as Mr. Scheuer did, that in the long run Indonesians will care more about American policies in distant countries than U.S. efforts to rebuild the homes and lives of their fellow citizens. We intend to continue to track Indonesian public opinion, and we have little doubt that, if the United States sustains its relief and reconstruction efforts as promised, Indonesian appreciation will persist. While Mr. Scheuer may be loath to acknowledge the facts, the truth is that President Bush has achieved a documented breakthrough in the war on terrorism in the world’s largest Muslim country.

The broader point is that Muslim sympathy for anti-American terrorists around the world is based at least in part on widespread misperceptions. Having just returned from Indonesia, conducting both polling and focus groups, the evidence demonstrates that many young people have inaccurate information about America, how Muslims are treated in the United States and the role of bin Laden in terrorist attacks.

We can help combat this misinformation through dialogue with Muslim leaders, student exchanges, scholarships to study in the United States, American visits to Indonesian schools and English-language instruction. These programs are grossly underfunded, and visa restrictions are making it unnecessarily difficult for law-abiding Muslims to come to the United States.

Our research has shown that improved communications and information are vital in reducing extremism. Without effective public relations, foreign publics will remain ignorant of helpful American policies.

One study found that only a small percentage of Egyptians were aware of the magnitude of American assistance, despite the fact that Egypt is the second-largest recipient of U.S. assistance in the world. Meanwhile, 98 percent of Egyptians have a negative view of the United States. In contrast, Indonesians are well aware of U.S. tsunami relief efforts — and that is making a real difference.

Regardless, public diplomacy is not defined exclusively as public relations or “sweet talk,” as Mr. Scheuer contends. Public diplomacy means using all of the tools at our disposal to reduce the public sympathy that empowers, sustains and protects global terrorists.

We have every confidence that Karen Hughes, nominated to become the head of American public diplomacy efforts, will use every weapon in the American arsenal to win the battle of ideas in the Muslim world. Her speedy confirmation by the Senate will bring the kind of unparalleled expertise and leadership we need.

Ken Ballen is president of Terror Free Tomorrow, a D.C.-based nonprofit.

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