The Public Diplomacy of Deeds Writ Small

by Steven R. Corman

Yesterday the Washington Times released video excerpts of an interview with  Hussain Haqqani, Pakistani ambassador to the United States.  While the Times featured statements about coming FATA operations in its print story, I was intrigued by a couple of comments he made about U.S. performance in the war of ideas.

On one count, Haqqani faulted U.S. officials for not spending enough quality time with the foreign media, allowing the Bad Guys to fill the gap:

U.S. officials are not always available to people for briefings.  Like it’s more important for them to talk to the American media than it is to talk to the Arab media or the Persian language media or to Urdu language media.  And so, supporters of Osama bin Laden in the meantime are very active.  So basically, in psychological warfare, bin Laden has made more gains than he should have been allowed to make, and that is the reason why there is confusion.

On another count, he said that what might seem like small incidents here can add up to big stories back home:

Every time a significant, respectable Pakistani is humiliated at an American airport despite having a valid visa, the story doesn’t even make it in your papers but it’s the big story in Pakistan.  They say, alright, these American’s won’t even respect our diplomat, they won’t respect some significant political leader.

Again, he says the extremists exploit such stories for their own propaganda purposes.

I don’t know if it’s true that U.S. officials are not available enough to the foreign press, or whether airport security incidents make big stories in Pakistan “every time.”  But it at least seems plausible that when we think of the “diplomacy of deeds” we think too big, overlooking the impact of small things like foreign press interviews and U.S. airport encounters.

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