A Pretty Face for the United States

U.S. propaganda poster, WWII
Leaflet dropped on Germany during World War II.

Last month on the floor of the House of Representatives, Republican Congressman Henry Hyde asked: “How is it that the country that invented Hollywood and Madison Avenue has such trouble promoting a positive image of itself overseas?”

His president and brother-in-arms, George W. Bush, has responded to this question with the creation of the Office of Global Communications (OGC), a beauty salon of sorts through which the ugly image of the-U.S.-as-empire will begin passing this October.

The announcement coincided with the publication of a report by the Council on Foreign Relations, which criticized the White House for its inability to counteract growing resentment toward the United States throughout the world.

The 35 experts (diplomats, university professors, journalists, and politicians) who made up the team noted that many countries, and Arab countries in particular, perceive the United States as “arrogant, self-indulgent, hypocritical, and unwilling or unable to engage in cross-cultural dialogue.” Talk about stating the obvious.

They noted that if this continues, it could end up undermining the president’s efforts to combat terrorism, especially if the United States decides to invade Iraq.

According to its sponsors, the OGC’s strategic goal will be to mitigate alleged disinformation about the United States abroad and to put a friendlier face on the Bush administration’s foreign policies.

The latter, of course, is a necessity, as the administration is well aware. But with regard to the spread of disinformation, how can that be possible, when the United States generates 70 percent of the world’s information and owns a major portion of the 25 transnational corporations that dominate the international media?

The OGC was conceived as a replacement for the Coalition Information Center, the propaganda wing of Operation Enduring Freedom, known among journalists who tried to cover the war in Afghanistan as a veritable disinformation center.

Selected to head the OGC is Charlotte Beers, a reputable publicist known for having successfully imposed certain brands of dog food and rice on the domestic market. Perhaps the experience of knowing what dogs and people eat will help her in her new vocation as an “alchemist.” But she will have to be very careful not to mix up who she classifies as dogs and who as people, or she may end up creating what we refer to in Cuba as the bitter taste of a green guava: a lie.

Beers’ appointment was the idea of Karen Hughes, former head of her friend George W. Bush’s presidential campaign and long-distance adviser from Texas, confirming once more the old adage: “One hand washes the other, and together, they wash the face.” When accepting her post, Beers said the United States should do more to educate and influence foreign audiences, starting with the Arab world.

It will be interesting to see what endearing images the OGC comes up with for those who have killed, abused, and tortured tens of thousands of Arabs and Muslims in the wake of Sept. 11. A similar response to any image change should come from the Palestinians, whose executioner continues to be Israel, the White House’s unconditional ally.

The expert publicist’s staff won’t have to come up with anything new; they can simply recycle the old recipes of Hearst and Goebbels. Only now, they’ll have all the new technologies of the “global village” at their disposal.

The path for them to follow has already been blazed by Harry S. Truman, who launched his Campaign of Truth at the beginning of the Cold War, an embryo of what would later become the now-defunct U.S. Information Agency. Three decades later, Reagan took control of so-called public diplomacy himself, a strategy that has been adopted by George W. Bush. This “makeover project” is backed by a hefty budget, and the generous allotment of U.S. taxpayers’ money will go under the heading of “war costs.” Thus, Charlotte Beers will be in charge of forcing an anti-terrorist crusade with a Colgate smile on the world market, and as one of OGC’s sponsors, the itinerant Colin Powell, has claimed: “We’re selling a product.”

In anticipation, the State Department (with Hollywood’s help, of course) has produced for the Arab market a series of short documentaries on the lives of Muslims in the United States. What they haven’t specified, however, is whether they depict the lives of Muslims in the United States before—or after—Sept. 11.