US public diplomacy in the Middle East and the Digital Outreach Team

Abstract

Several studies have been written that provided extensive details on various areas and historical stages of US public diplomacy in the Middle East (Vaughan in: The failure of American and British Propaganda in the Arab Middle East, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2005; Rugh in: American encounters with Arabs: the” soft power” of US public diplomacy in the Middle East, Greenwood Publishing Group, New York, 2006, in: Front line public diplomacy: How US Embassies Communicate with Foreign Publics, Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire, 2014, Cull in: The Cold War and the United States Information Agency: American Propaganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945–1989, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008, in: CPD Perspect Public Dipl 2:19, 2009, in: The Decline and Fall of the United States Information Agency: American Public Diplomacy, 1989–2001, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2012, Seib in: Toward a new public diplomacy, Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire, 2009; Seib in: Real-time diplomacy: politics and power in the social media era, Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire, 2012). After offering a brief survey of the different developments in American public diplomacy efforts in the Middle East, this paper focuses on the US Department of State’s Digital Outreach Team (DOT) and presents an analysis of the social media outlets run by DOT. The paper concludes that the overwhelming responses are negative in nature and suggests that DOT has not achieved its intended goals because a more focused approach is needed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    A news item on the activities of the American Library in Waziriyah in Baghdad was published in a daily Iraqi newspaper in January 1967. The news article mentions the following: “The schedule of the American Library for January includes showing films inside the Library on the following topics: city planning—teaching physics—American archeological sites—US law- machinery and equipment—the American military academy—satellites—rockets—helicopter—radio inventor. Exhibition times: 11:00 A.M. every Friday. Dr. Richard Frye, Professor of Middle Eastern History at Harvard University, is going to visit Iraq from 13 to 20 January 1967. He will deliver some lectures. Friday 20 January 1967—7:00 PM. A lecture at the American Library Hall on the famous American novelist, William Faulkner, delivered by Guy Farrington, a lecturer at the Higher Institute of Languages. Public attendance”.

  2. 2.

    A DOT Facebook post attacking ISIS reads as follows: “Hunger, fear, poverty, unemployment are the reality of life under Deash [ISIS].” First image of the right says: “False propaganda,” while second image states: “Reality.” Retrieved from (https://www.facebook.com/DigitalOutreachTeam/photos/a.10150323285850637.569156.139958610636/10156399164890637/?type=3&theater).

  3. 3.

    Some of the other anti-terrorist campaigns that were sponsored or supported by the US Department of State included ‘Think Again Turn Away’ and ‘Sawab’ (Unite States Department of State 2015b; Global Engagement Center 2016). In relation to the latter campaign, Richard Stengel mentioned that it was launched against ISIS because the “coalition does not communicate well internally and externally” (United States Department of State 2015a, p. 1), while the former campaign released a video called “Welcome to the ‘Islamic State’ land” in English which became popular in 2014 with about 897,138 views as of August 31, 2016 (Global Engagement Center 2014). However, the Arabic version that was posted by DOT did not receive the same audience attention, and the two Arabic and English video versions were later removed from YouTube because they did not seem to create the intended impact.

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Al-Rawi, A. US public diplomacy in the Middle East and the Digital Outreach Team. Place Brand Public Dipl 16, 18–24 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41254-019-00122-w

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Keywords

  • US public diplomacy
  • Middle East
  • Soft power
  • Arab world