Reviews are In, and They’re Not Good

by Steven R. Corman

Yesterday MEMRI released two dispatches on Middle East media coverage of President Bush’s just-completed visit. The Egyptian dispatch is mixed, harshly criticizing Bush but reaffirming the strategic importance of the U.S.-Egypt relationship.

But what really caught my eye was the dispatch from Qatar. Qatar is generally considered one of the more moderate Arab states, but you would never know it based on these commentaries. There is obviously great personal animosity toward bush, who columnist Hada Jad called “a liar, cheat, murderer, and, even more than that, an expert in barbaric state terrorism.”

The editorials sounded two other themes on which we have commented repeatedly in this blog. One is vanishing U.S. credibility due to a disconnect between words and deeds. An editorial in Al-Quds Al-Arabi says:

While urging our leaders to respect human rights and democracy, he violates human rights in the most heinous and aggressive manner [imaginable]. The jails and detention camps inside and outside the U.S. are teeming with Arab and Muslim prisoners, and the television screens in the U.S. and the world have witnessed these inhuman crimes.

Another theme is Middle East democracy, which columnist Husam Al-Dhawi writing in Al-Watan points out is unlikely to develop in the way the U.S. envisions:

We acknowledge that the Arab homelands are not sufficiently democratic. But we [also] know that democracy is not a product that can be imported and exported. [Moreover], there is no single model of democracy that should be emulated – [rather, democracy] is the result of internal political, cultural and social development. So it will not be the U.S. that will construct our democracy for us; any talk of this sort is nothing but a game of [empty] slogans. Bush talks a great deal, yet reality remains the same, and nothing changes.

These comments by the press in a supposedly moderate Arab state underscore the poor position of the U.S. in public diplomacy, its inability to influence the conversation other than to reproduce a negative image, and the consequent need to do something that will change the game.