Washington, D.C. — The United States should enhance public diplomacy efforts in the Arab world to better counter and compete with Iran’s influence in the region, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress.
The Trump administration is counting on economic sanctions, military power, and other hard-power levers to counter Iran, but it overlooks the value of a long-term “soft-power outreach” that can help shape and amplify American narratives in the Middle East, the report says. Such an approach would help counter the disinformation campaigns used by Iran and other actors that mischaracterize the United States, its policies, and its interests in the region.
“Currently, there is no coherent, consistent strategy in place to respond to Iran’s public diplomacy outreach aimed at shaping the information landscape and public opinion of key audiences in the Arab world,” said Sarah Alaoui, the report’s author. “This influence vacuum is further exacerbated by the lack of a clear U.S. Middle East strategy and the downgrading of a values-based approach to diplomacy.”
The report says that the U.S. government can establish a successful public diplomacy strategy in the region by:
- Designating a full-time undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs to oversee all U.S. engagement with foreign publics
- Creating an interagency team as part of the Iran Action Group focused on competing with Iranian public diplomacy in the Middle East and countering anti-American narratives
- Developing a U.S. metanarrative that puts mutual American and Arab interests—including education, economic prosperity, and shared values of pluralism and tolerance—at its core foundation
- Combating Iranian disinformation with factual information
- Redoubling moral and financial support for U.S. public diplomacy practitioners in the Arab world
- Committing to a zero-tolerance policy against Islamophobic and intolerant rhetoric both domestically and abroad
- Resisting sectarian and inflammatory language and encouraging Arab government allies to do the same
- Seizing opportunities to de-escalate conflicts in Syria and Yemen
Read the report: Tired Narratives, Weary Publics: Public Diplomacy’s Role in the Struggle for Influence in the Middle East by Sarah Alaoui
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