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November 2007
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US State Deptartment Resorts To “Lets Talk” Diplomacy

State Dept. Tries Blog Diplomacy

The State Department, departing from traditional public diplomacy techniques, has what it calls a three-person, “digital outreach team” posting entries in Arabic on “influential” Arabic blogs to challenge misrepresentations of the United States and promote moderate views among Islamic youths in the hopes of steering them from terrorism.

The department’s bloggers “speak the language and idiom of the region, know the culture reference points and are often able to converse informally and frankly, rather than adopt the usually more formal persona of a U.S. government spokesperson,” Duncan MacInnes, of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs, told the House Armed Services subcommittee on terrorism and unconventional threats on Thursday.

“Because blogging tends to be a very informal, chatty way of working,” MacInnes said, “it is actually very dangerous to blog.” So State has a senior experienced officer, who served in Iraq, acting as supervisor and discussing each posting before it goes up. “We do not make policy,” MacInnes added.

The State Department team’s approach is to join a blog’s conversation, often when it turns to the motivation for U.S. policy toward Iraq, and when others are claiming that the U.S. occupation is meant to help Israel or to secure oil. “Our job is to address that motivation issue and show them that that’s not the motivation,” MacInnes said.

“You can’t just say, ‘Well, here’s our policy,’ and drop it into the blog. You have to have what I call a bridge,” MacInnes said. He then described using a sporting or current event or even poetry that would “allow one to get to be in a conversational mode with people.”

Even though the State Department employees were not going into hard-core terrorist sites, the worry, MacInnes said, was that after identifying themselves and using their own names, “we would be, in the parlance of the Internet, ‘flamed’ when we come on” — meaning their entries would be subjected to intense attacks.

Toning down the inflammatory rhetoric at this stage is kind of moot.

“When we say ‘Islamo-fascism,’ whether the term has a meaning or not, what they hear is ‘war on Islam,’ okay — ‘attacking my religion,’ ” MacInnes said.

He described the phrase as “a verbal equivalent of poking a stick in somebody’s eye . . . and [Osama] bin Laden has been very good at taking our words and turning them around to his advantage by saying, ‘See, they’re actually at war with Islam.’ ”

President Bush has not used the phrase recently.

What a concept. Talk to the “other side”. Listen to their complaints and try to address their concerns and anger. Whether their anger is real or taught, many “new” terrorists are revenge motivated for death or injury to their families. After the wildfire is out of control, the State Department locks and loads its squirt guns. I really hope this effort is successful. But, common sense tells me that the curtain has already been pulled back on the Wizard. All I hear is, “ignore that man behind the curtain”.

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