In case you missed the news: Your government, specifically the Bush administration, has just created a White House office for global propaganda. They are not calling it that, of course. They are calling it the Office of Global Communications. Its purpose: to explain and promote U.S. policies and actions to the rest of the world. Or, as White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, the new office will put out the word about ``what America is all about and why America does what it does.''
Call it what they will, it's propaganda, at least in my book, a well-worn edition of the college edition of the Webster's New World Dictionary of the American language. According to this source, the word propaganda comes from a standing committee of cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. By extension, its current meaning is ''any organization or movement working for the propagation of particular ideas, doctrines, practices, etc.,'' as well as ``the ideas, doctrines, practices, etc., spread in this way.''
Using the euphemism ''communications'' instead of propaganda is good public relations on the part of the administration. Propaganda is a word with a bad image. Propaganda is a one-way street, top-down, Big Brother. Communications, on the other hand, has a warm, fuzzy ring, implying mutuality, receiving as well as sending, listening as well as speaking.
The purpose of the Office of Global Communications lies more in the propagation of the American faith as seen through the lense of the Bush White House than in an international exchange of information and opinions. Call it, perhaps, the ``Office of Global One-Way Communications.''
That, indeed, is how some members of the international audience the office is meant to influence are reading the new initiative. Meant to sway mostly hostile Muslim and Third World publics, the Office of Global Communications is being met with skepticism even by the media of countries friendly to the United States. U.S. ad campaign asks world to buy American policies, read a headline in the Canadian Globe and Mail. The story goes on to say that the new office amounts to ``an apparent effort to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.''
Beyond the issue of whether such a transparent campaign will work, the question is why we need a new global propaganda agency. Don't we already have the State Department, its Office of Global Diplomacy, as well as other public and private organizations to put out the good word?
The reason is that all these efforts have not prevented many people around the world, and not just in the Arab countries or the less-developed regions, from detesting the policies of the current U.S. government.
As a recent report of the Council on Foreign Relations concluded, the United States has a serious and global image problem. ''There is little doubt that stereotypes of the United States as arrogant, self-indulgent, hypocritical, inattentive and unwilling or unable to engage in cross-cultural dialogue are pervasive and deeply rooted,'' the report read.
But is an office of global propaganda a good way to win hearts and minds, or will it exacerbate the feeling that this country is out to control the world in its own interest?
A better approach would be to show what the Declaration of Independence calls ''a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind'' by creating an Office for Global Dialogue to listen to the world and maybe learn something we can use to implement policies that don't meet with universal rejection.
Copyright 2002 Miami Herald