The Foreign Service Journal, December 2006

Truth Meets the Message No public-diplomacy related news item received more coverage in blogs and the media in recent months than State Department official Alberto Fernandez’ statement in an Oct. 21 interview with Al-Jazeera that U.S. policy in Iraq has displayed “arro- gance” and “stupidity” ( http://uscpu sroom/johnbrown_detail/061023_ pdpbr/ ). The front pages of newspa- pers throughout the Middle East cele- brated this unusual candor from a U.S. spokesman, while conservative commentators back here called for his head. The Bush administration first as- serted the quote was mistranslated, but dropped that claim when the BBC and NPR verified the text. Fernandez, a member of the Sen- ior Foreign Service, is director of the Office of Press and Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of Near East Affairs and a fluent Arabic speaker. He has been described as “one of America’s most potent public diplomacy weapons in the region” ( 2006/1024/p10s01-woiq.html ). A profile in the Aug. 29 Newsweek explained: “By breaking from the stilt- ed style of traditional U.S. diplomats, Fernandez is able to connect with his Arab audiences and at the same time deliver a strong line on foreign poli- cy” ( 60221/site/newsweek/ ). As the Oct. 21 interview transcript shows ( 2006/10/22/africa/ME_GEN_Iraq_ Insurgent_Negotiations_Text.php ). Fernandez’ candor was part of an impassioned plea to Arabs to engage constructively in solving the region’s problems. Indeed, as he himself explained, he was defending Ameri- can policy in a region where everyone dislikes the U.S., and he was doing so in an aggressive way. “I know what the policy is and what the red lines are, and nothing I said hasn’t been said before by senior officials,” Fernandez told CNN. Secretary Rice herself had acknowledged publicly in March that the U.S. had made “thou- sands” of mistakes in Iraq. Yet the following morning the State Department publicized Fernan- dez’ formal recantation: “I seriously misspoke by using the phrase ‘there has been arrogance and stupidity’ by the U.S. in Iraq. This represents nei- ther my views nor those of the State Department. I apologize.” The apology apparently gave Under Secretary Karen Hughes the chance to assure everyone of her sup- port for Fernandez in spite of his ‘mis- taken choice of words.’ Hughes did not, however, go on the record with an official statement, but conveyed her ‘support’ through an assistant (see Item D at http://uscpublicdiplom nbrown_detail/061027_pdpbr/ ). Whether this is enough to prevent a further erosion of enthusiasm in PD ranks, as officers absorb the implica- tions of getting the tiniest bit “off- message,” remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the view circulating in the Middle East that America can never admit a mistake has a new life. — Susan Maitra, Senior Editor Polls Find Americans Unhappy with U.S. Foreign Policy Two recent polls indicating that a majority of Americans are unhappy with U.S. foreign policy proved to be accurate gauges of public sentiment going into the Nov. 7 election. Accor- ding to both reports, Americans believe that the world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place and that Washington’s current involvements abroad are only making the situation worse. In October, New York-based re- search organization Public Agenda released its third “Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index” in collaboration with Foreign Affairs , drawing on the responses of 1,001 adults to over 100 questions regarding current U.S. for- eign policy. The Fall 2006 Index fea- tured the first-ever Anxiety Indicator, a tool that “will track the public’s over- all outlook on world affairs much as the Consumer Confidence Index fol- lows its view of the economy” ( www. C YBERNOTES 12 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / D E C E M B E R 2 0 0 6 W e have lost international support not because foreigners hate our values but because they believe we are repudiating them and behaving contrary to them. — Amb. Chas W. Freeman, Jr., Oct. 4, remarks to USIA Alumni Association, http://www.public