The White House will set up a new office to try to salvage America's plummeting image abroad, it was announced yesterday as an independent taskforce reported that even the country's allies saw the US as "arrogant", "hypocritical" and "self-absorbed".
This autumn, an office of global communications will take over the job of selling "Brand America" from the state department, which the White House believes has failed to do the job effectively.
Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said yesterday that "in recognition of the fact that we are involved in a global war on terror, the president sees a need for a White House role in global communications".
Weeks after September 11, a public diplomacy office was set up in the state department, under the leadership of former advertising executive Charlotte Beers, but it has been unable to stem a tide of hostility towards US policies.
The scale of the problem facing the new office was illustrated by a strongly
worded report published yesterday by a 35-strong taskforce on America's image,
made up of government officials, advertising and media executives commissioned
by a respected non-partisan think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations.
The report, handed to the White House eight weeks ago, looked at international opinion polls and concluded that: "Around the world, from western Europe to the far east, many see the United States as arrogant, hypocritical, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, and contemptuous of others."
David Morey, one of the taskforce's chairmen, welcomed the creation of the office as "a good first step". Mr Morey, who runs a New York public relations company, DMG, told the Guardian that the US spent only $5m (£3.2m) a year on public diplomacy, "less than half what [Michael] Bloomberg spent to get elected mayor of New York", and that new ambassadors were only given one hour's coaching on the subject before being dispatched abroad.
But he argued that Washington itself had done a lot to undermine America's standing by its rejection of international treaties on the environment, the international criminal court and the global arms race.
The new office will grow out of the coalition information center, set up with
the help of Tony Blair's media mastermind, Alastair Campbell, to promote Washington
and London's point of view during the Afghan war.
"We basically restored order to their house," a British official said. "We helped them look ahead to anticipate problems that are going to happen - set pieces like civilian casualties."
The office is said to be the brainchild of Karen Hughes, a Bush adviser who resigned this month to return to family life in Texas. An ex-colleague said she would contribute "big picture ideas" but would not be involved in the office's day-to-day running.
A former CIC official said the president's advisers "don't think state is doing a good enough job, so they're going to take it on... Nobody is that impressed with Charlotte Beers and what she's done. She listens to people. She's done a lot of listening, but you need to go further than that."
A state department official said Ms Beers' office had only been "enlightened"
about the initiative yesterday and it was still unclear what the division of labor
would be. But she suggested the takeover might give the marketing effort more
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002