Arab Agenda

Marc Lynch has been keeping track of the major agenda items at the wide circulation Arab media — specifically, “al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya programs (since they are the two most-viewed TV stations with a region-wide audience) and the content of major Arab op-ed pages” — for several years in an effort to track anti-Americanism and the extent of fragmentation among the players.

He has two interesting findings:

  • “American public diplomacy is often better served by standing back, rather than doing more and inserting itself in every issue”
  • “[T]he more that a unifying frame takes hold, placing the various regional crises into a single grand narrative, the more likely that it will trigger anti-American attitudes and popular hostility to American foreign policy – even if a sizable portion of the analysis is anti-Hamas, anti-Hezbollah, and sympathetic to American policy.”

So, when they’re really unified in concern about something they reflexively direct their anger at the United States even when they blame internal actors. If that’s the case, it would seem that there’s not a hell of a lot we can do to alter Arab public opinion any time soon.

FILED UNDER: General, Middle East, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. ken says:

    So, when they’re really unified in concern about something they reflexively direct their anger at the United States even when they blame internal actors. If that’s the case, it would seem that there’s not a hell of a lot we can do to alter Arab public opinion any time soon.

    You learned the wrong lesson here. Marc Lynch is only looking at the worsening diplomatic effort of the Bush administration.

    To conclude from that that WE cannot do a lot to alter Arab public opinion is false and defeatist. We can, after we get a Democratic administration, begin to repair the damage wrought by the Republicans . It will not be easy and it will take a while to have any effect. But it is possible.




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  2. G.A.Phillips says:

    Ken please tell us how? because the tactic that you use, as in blaming Bush and the Republicans don’t work, because if it did there would not be any more problems in the whole wide world again for ever from the determination of your zealous efforts in using this solution.




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  3. John Burgess says:

    Ken: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

    You mean like all the wonderful progress we made under 8 years of Clinton?

    One thing I’ll give Clinton: his promotion of civil society in the ME. That that same project didn’t work out so well for Bush is another matter that’s going to be analyzed for the next 25 years.

    The problem is that there is a narrative, set in stone, that started in 1947 (unless you’re going for an earlier date, like the Sykes-Picot agreement; or maybe the Crusades).

    Facts no longer play much of a part in the way Arabs view what’s happening in the region. Memories and the stories they tell each other and themselves are far more important in forming and locking-in opinion. That is why standing on the sidelines is sometimes the more fruitful action.




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  4. Dave Schuler says:

    The underlying problem we face is not Arab opinion, it’s superempowerment, a fancy word meaning that a rather small number of people can do a heckuva lot of harm. As John notes, Arab opinion has been anti-Western for a long, long time. It’s only recently that it’s become important.

    The question is how we cope with reality of this superempowerment given a narrative set 60 or 100 or 1,000 years ago without a great deal of change (and one we probably can’t influence in other than geological time). I don’t find any of the alternatives particularly appealing.

    Bush’s answer was viral democracy. Unfortunately, without the other accoutrements of liberal democracy (rule of law, rights of minorities, individual rights, etc.) it doesn’t solve the problem and, unless Iraq gets a lot better fairly quickly, it’s discredited.

    So, what’s left? The only benign solution I can come up with is economic development (something we’ve historically been pretty good at) but I’m not hopeful given the constraints of the societies we’re dealing with. And there’s still the superempowerment.




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  5. Dave Schuler says:

    And in support of John’s final point, ken, you might want to take a look at the 7 Rules of the Arab Parallel Universe, written by an Egyptian.




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