If you’re the kind of person who watches the Democratic debates for the quick camera shots of Dennis Kucinich’s wife, yesterday you were out of luck. When National Public Radio hosted a Democratic debate on Tuesday, it obstructed from view the best case for Kucinich’s sanity. Yet for everything the debate lacked in attractive political spouses, it more than compensated for with ineffectual approaches to confronting America’s public diplomacy challenge in the Muslim world.
The extent to which the Democratic candidates simply have no vision for improving America’s standing is astounding. The most bizarre public diplomacy program came from John Edwards, who seemed confused by the distinction between appealing to voters in Concord and people in Cairo. His plan for resuscitating our image abroad? Fighting poverty:
Now, as to the Muslim community, I think that the most important thing for America to do is to demonstrate that we have a responsibility not just to ourselves but to humanity, and to help make education available to fight global poverty. We need to take serious steps to demonstrate that America’s actually worthy of leadership.
Barack Obama similarly spoke in terms that might sell liberal voters in Iowa Falls, but alienate liberals in Isfahan. His strategy for courting moderate Muslims? Dialogue with their least moderate leaders:
… the reason for [advocating dialogue with Iran’s leaders] was not necessarily because we’re going to change Ahmadinejad’s mind. It’s because we’re going to change the minds of people inside Iran, moderate forces inside Iran, as well as our Muslim allies around the region, that we are willing to listen to them and try to engage in finding ways to resolve conflicts cooperatively.
And then there was Kucinich. Prepare yourself for a non sequitur. What’s his strategy for appealing to Muslim publics? He voted against the Iraq war:
… As the one up here who not only voted against, but voted 100 percent of the time against funding the war in Iraq, the war in Iraq was used to create a wedge between the United States and Islam.
Perhaps the most disappointing public diplomacy outlook, however, came from self-anointed Foreign Policy Maven Joe Biden, who seemed to think that public diplomacy meant changing our strategic objectives, rather than better explaining those objectives. Biden’s strategy? Only pursuing those wars that are broadly agreeable within the Muslim world:
…When we went into Afghanistan, the word was, the Arab street would rise up. We did it the right way. The Arab street knew that Arabs, the Muslims in al Qaeda were bad guys. They supported us. When we do things that don’t sound rational to them, it undercuts our legitimacy. We have no legitimacy.
In this line of argument, Biden seems to have his campaign strategy entirely backwards. Apparently, he hopes that what is agreeable in Sana’a will sway voters in Cedar Rapids.