Office Of Global Communications: A New Departure Or More Of The Same?

After September 11, the Bush administration posed the question, “Why do they hate us?” The answer to this is elusive, the permutations vary in tenor and make-up as one moves along the political spectrum from left to right, or along the geo-economic spectrum from north to south, periphery to core. Some of the reasons are real and legitimate, if the emotions they lead to can be over-zealously expressed. Still more are based on irrationality and xenophobia, often hijacked by demagogues. The OGC, however, is not so much concerned with these grievances, however valid or otherwise they may be. The answer to the question posed, is not, in the eyes of those who frame it, to be found in the hearts and minds of those it wonders about. Rather, the question is rhetorical, and the answer, unfortunately, will be sought by the same minds that set the question to begin with.

This potential new departure in US relations with the outside world would be a more enticing prospect if it concentrated on the answers proffered by those who do apparently hate the US style of foreign policy. In seeking largely to answer its own question, the USA is merely continuing to ignore, at its peril, the grievances both legitimate and unfounded, levelled at it by allies, rivals, enemies and dependencies. There is little or no heed on the dangerous grievances espoused by Venezuelans who see the hand of the USA in the attempted anti-Chavez coup, there is little heed on the failure to take the lead on the debt and AIDS crises ruining much of Africa, there is little heed on the failure to rectify protectionism, which despite the commitment to the WTO and free(r) trade, has played its part in maintaining the anti-developmental viscous circle in much of the non-OECD world. Of course, the USA is not alone in its culpability here – the EU has as much of a role to play in allowing free trade spread evenly and fairly to the benefit of the Lesser Developed Countries.

To begin with, the Office of Global Communications is set up on a wholly false premise, at least if it seeks to improve the relations between the US and others. If this is its real purpose, then it will have to go beyond merely polishing up the existing tenets of US foreign policy. The prevailing idea behind the OGC is that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with American Policy in the Middle East, in the naming of a triangular axis of evil, in derailing the Kyoto Protocol, attempting to derail the ICC and threatening the UN mission in Bosnia. The OGC is merely a timely addendum to these projects at a time when an invasion of Iraq looks imminent, and will likely have a key role in offsetting any criticism of this if, and more likely, when, it occurs. The OGC appears little other than a psyops operation in the battle to convince critical Americans and the apparently misunderstanding world at large of the wisdom of US foreign policy, no matter how clumsily unilateralist some of these steps are.

For something like the OGC to have any real effect, or indeed purpose, beyond spin doctoring, then it would have to be accompanied by real self-criticism in US foreign policy. This means addressing the valid and well-documented grievances that American policies engender elsewhere. The prevailing idea of the Bush administration is that “they hate us because they don’t understand us”, not that “they hate us because we are wrong, at least some of the time”.

Of course, there is plenty of cross-cultural misunderstanding at work in international relations. Not least in the USA’s Arab allies, where popular discontent is siphoned off by official media outlets which spew out anti-American diatribes. This occurs with tacit US consent, it must be added! Having said that, the USA is not as misunderstood as it feels itself to be. Its culture is dominant and marketable, and its foreign policy is far from obscure or garbled. Unfortunately, American lapses in assessing the domestic situations in other states, and the strategic aspects of certain regions, has been far from fallible. There are numerous examples from the Cold War period and since.

What the OGC means is that the consensus on US foreign since 9/11 will continue. Since 9/11, the suspension of habeas corpus for anyone remotely linked with subversion, has been matched by an implicit censorship in media discourse on US relations with the outside world, especially as regards conducting the War On Terror. Criticism is dismissed as left-wing subversion, the domain of traitors and cranks. Some criticism may well be unwarranted and misplaced, but the crucial point is that any criticism is seen as such, no matter how substantial. This is the framework in which the OGC has been established and will, it seems, operate. What is at issue is not the substance of US foreign policy, but its presentation to the critical world. Without any real self-analysis of the tenets of US foreign policy, the OGC will not have any real effect on perceptions of the USA elsewhere. Of course, as the hegemon, the USA will inevitably attract unwarranted criticism as well as envy and resentment. However much of the criticism of US actions is valid. There is ample room for re-formulation of US policy toward many aspects of international affairs, be that in the Middle East, Latin America, trade relations with lesser developed countries or UN missions, to name but a few.

The USA is unequalled in human history for its global influence. To the chagrin of its more left-wing critics, it is also as benign a hegemon as there has been, compared to the indiscretions committed by predecessors in the role. However, it remains to be seen whether it can combine all this with enough insight into its own policies and those of others to wield this power to optimum effect for the rest of the world. If the USA wants to be safe from a repeat of 9/11, it must confront the real reasons why it is hated.

Leave a comment