Remarks by Walid Maalouf
Director, Public Diplomacy for Middle Eastern & MEPI Affairs

University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)
Los Angeles, California
Thursday, May 25, 2006

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I am extremely delighted to be with you this afternoon to talk about the U.S. foreign assistance and public diplomacy efforts in the Broader Middle East and North Africa . I want to thank the Center for Near Eastern Studies and the Lebanese Social Club at UCLA for inviting me. These are historic times in the Middle East as change is taking place in several countries.

Recently, and particularly after September 11, 2001, U.S. public diplomacy has become a subject of much discussion and debate in America and abroad, especially in the Middle East. The Secretary of State established an Advisory Group to look into Public Diplomacy.

The new strategic direction for US public diplomacy in the Arab & Muslim world, “Changing Minds Winning Peace”, was compiled and reported by the Advisory Group on October 1, 2003. Several other independent reports on Public Diplomacy were published such as the research study done by the Heritage Foundation titled "Improving US Public Diplomacy Toward the Middle East" and "Strengthening U.S. Public Diplomacy Requires Organization, Coordination, and Strategy". This debate is ongoing and I believe it will remain so for quite a long time.

But public diplomacy is not something that is engraved in stone. Public diplomacy is diverse, dynamic, communicating, engaging, discussing, influencing, and increasing understanding for American values, policies and initiatives and also for us to increase our understanding of the priorities values and concerns of the people in that region. It is a long-term investment in both the broader Middle East and the United State.

President George W. Bush's policy strives to bring together private sector businesses, non-governmental organizations, civil society groups and government officials to develop and promote innovative reform policies in the greater Middle East. Its focus is on democracy, economic and political reform, social and cultural change and education for all, with full opportunities for women.

At the same time we want our U.S. foreign assistance to promote peace and security; improve governance and democratic participation; promote investments in people; and engender economic growth for developing countries around the world. This new foreign assistance framework and new operational plans set up by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ambassador Randall Tobias in his capacity as Director of Foreign Assistance will improve accountability by allowing stakeholders, such as Congress, to track progress against invested funds across countries, programs and partners based on a defined set of goals and indicators.

There are several vehicles for public diplomacy at the Department of State and other agencies of the United States government:

  • The Bureau for Educational and Cultural Affairs at the Department of State.
  • The Middle East Partnership Initiatives at the Bureau of Near East and Asian Affairs at the Department of State and its offices in Tunis and UAE.
  • The 9 Missions of the U.S. Agency for International Development in the broader Middle East and North Africa, I will name them later and the two MEPI offices.
  • The Office of Press and Public Diplomacy in the Near East Bureau at the Department of State and the 18 Public Affairs Sections at the U.S. Embassies in the region.
  • The Bureau of International Information Programs at the Department of State, which has great websites and produces several printed materials in Arabic and English for the region.
  • The Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Radio Sawa, al-Hurra TV, and on the other hand we have the Voice of America. Also the Broadcasting Board oversees Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Liberty directed toward Europe and Afghanistan, Radio Farda directed toward Iran and Radio Marti directed toward Cuba.
  • The daily press briefings and public outreach by our missions in the broader Middle East and around the world and many - many of our public diplomacy officers on the ground in the region.
  • The Arabic websites we established in all our agencies and missions around the world.
  • The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government corporation designed to work with some of the most promising developing countries in the world, is based on the principle that aid is most effective when it reinforces good governance, economic freedom, and investments in people that promote economic growth and elimination of extreme poverty. 

The American people have long been active in establishing educational, social and business relationships in this region and around the world. Let me list few of those, such as the American University of Beirut, the American Community School in Beirut. In Cairo, the American University of Cairo and many others in the region. On social issues, many American non-governmental organizations are working in the region such as AmidEast, YMCA, World Vision, Coalition for Citizen Diplomacy and many others. Countless American business companies are in the broader Middle East and North Africa, from the banking industry to the oil industries providing jobs and economic growth. I must add the private-public initiatives that took place in establishing sister cities program between Iraq & the U.S. and with the Wheelchair Foundation to provide wheelchairs in Morocco, Jordan, Oman and other Arab countries.

Now let me give you some dollar figures of our commitment to the Arab and Muslim world at the U.S. Agency for International Development and other agencies of the US Government:

•  USAID 2006 budget for the broader Middle East and North Africa is $2.13 billion. Breaking it down by countries, Afghanistan $618 million, Egypt $490 million, Iraq $145 million, Jordan $248 million, Lebanon $40 million, Morocco $19 million, Pakistan $409 million, West Bank & Gaza $149 million and Yemen $8 million.

•  Over the last four years MEPI budget at almost $300 million emphasizing political, economical and educational reforms.

•  Education & Cultural Affairs budget at more than $100 million for the international visiting program, the Humphrey fellow, the exchange programs, the Fulbright Scholarship program, and many others.

•  Department of Defense is engaged in significant strategic communications activities to which $500 million is being dedicated in 2006.

But with all of these vehicles and programs from the Department of State to the Department of Defense and USAID here are some of the important changes that are taking place:

1. Wider authority given to Under Secretary Karen Hughes. President Bush recently appointed her to lead America's Public Diplomacy effort. Her job is to coordinate these vehicles and programs, identify strategies and fill in the missing links, in order to increase effectiveness of these efforts.

2. There is a genuine effort to have Americans of Middle Eastern descent with fluency in the local languages, a strong understanding of the region, and experiential knowledge of the political, social and religious implications to help in these endeavors.

3. Place Arab-speaking official Americans on television and radio to defend our policies in the region and around the world.

This is what Secretary Rice said at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service: "In the Middle East, for example, as you well know, a vast majority of people get their news from a regional media network like Al Jazeera, not from local newspaper. So our diplomats must tell America's story not just in translated op-eds, but live on TV in Arabic for a regional audience. To make this happen, we are creating a regional public diplomacy center. We are forward deploying our best Arabic-speaking diplomats and we are broadly coordinating our public strategy both for the region and from the region."

4. And to be more effective in our foreign assistance our new boss whose title is U.S. Director of Foreign Assistance and USAID Administrator is vigorously implementing the Transformational Diplomacy and Development initiative that Secretary Rice announced few months ago, where our resources will be aligned with our strategic priorities.

We are committed to improving knowledge of American political values in the greater Middle East and promoting a better understanding of the policy goals of Presidential Initiatives and President George W. Bush's forward strategy, which is designed to encourage freedom and reform in the broader Middle East & North Africa.

We are deeply engaged in the implementation of the President's goals across the greater Middle East and is working to enhance communication and understanding of the policy and programs of the United States.

I appreciate the opportunity you have given me to discuss U.S. foreign Assistance and public diplomacy efforts in the Broader Middle East and North Africa with you, and I look forward to your questions.