Thank God the Office of Strategic Influence (OIS) was shut down. This office was originally formed by the Pentagon to offer America's version of the news in foreign countries, even if it meant actively spreading disinformation and false news stories. The public outcry against disseminating lies was so loud that the OSI was shut down by President Bush.
Nevertheless, the shutting down of the OIS certainly does not mean that our government has not ended its aggressive worldwide PR offensive. In the May 12 edition of the Chicago Tribune, journalist Steven Hedges reported on the work of PR guru John Rendon, president of the public relations firm The Rendon Group (TRG). For many years now, Mr. Rendon has been employed by the U.S. government to spread propaganda about our worldwide military indicatives. At present, TRG is spreading propaganda about America's war on terrorism. He does good work, his supporters say, but it comes at a hefty price--$100,000 per month. If our government's actions went where its mouth is, however, perhaps we would not have to spend such an exorbitant amount of money to convince the world that we are the good guys.
The principles we say we stand for are noble and laudable: freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Upholding these principles at home and abroad are part of what makes our nation the best, most blessed country on earth. Unfortunately, the problem is that we do not always uphold these principles in our actions. For instance, when Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, a democratically elected leader, was ousted temporarily by a military coup, our government did not rise up in condemnation of the gross violation of democratic principles. We did not slap Venezuela with sanctions, as we have done to other countries where democratically elected rulers have been unjustly ousted. In fact, it almost looked like we were happy to see Chavez go. When he was later reinstated, America tried, unsuccessfully, to save face from a clearly embarrassing situation.
America's newest sweetheart, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, recently held a "national referendum" on his leadership, seeking another five years in office. Not surprisingly, he won by an "overwhelming majority" of votes. Given his recent moves to allot himself the authority to dissolve parliament, many in Pakistan and elsewhere are worried that Musharraf is seeking to consolidate his grip on power and further dimming hopes that democracy will return to that country. But, since he helped us out a great deal in ousting the Taliban from Afghanistan, we looked the other way.
On May 5, two Americans, Dr. Riad Abdelkarim of California and Dallel Mohammed of Texas, were detained in Israel and are currently being held without charge in Tel Aviv. They were in Israel on humanitarian missions, and, in fact, Dr. Abdelkarim had traveled to Israel and back several times without incident. Since May 5, concerned Americans have called the State Department to demand the U.S. pressure Israel for the release of the two American-born citizens. According to most reports, State Department representatives responded, "There is nothing America can do to pressure Israel." Hmm. Our government put tremendous pressure on Afghanistan to release the two Americans who were arrested there while performing humanitarian work. Further, when Dr. Gao Zhan was arrested in China last year, the Bush Administration repeatedly and vocally demanded her immediate release. Eventually, both Abdelkarim and Mohammed were released. Still, why the double standard by the U.S. government?
There are many other instances of America's actions not living up to her words. America rushed to save the Bosnians and Kosovars from massacre by Serb forces, but did not lift a finger to prevent the genocide in Rwanda. America continues to support economic sanctions against Iraq for its violations of U.N. resolutions, starving the Iraqi people, but does nothing about Israeloes nothing about Israel's repeated violations of U.N. resolutions. America speaks about the need for international justice, but, rather than working to address the legitimate objections the U.S. has to the treaty, the Bush Administration completely backed out of the Rome Treaty establishing the International Criminal Court.
No, our country is not perfect. Nevertheless, others around the world judge America by her actions, not her words. Perhaps it was America's inconsistency between her words and actions that led several countries, including American allies, to oust the United States from the U.N. Panel on Human Rights. Actions speak louder than words, and if our leaders consistently lived up to the mandate of our unparalleled constitutional principles, they would not need to spend millions of dollars on a PR firm to improve America's image around the world. The proof would be in the pudding.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a physician and free-lance writer based in Chicago. He writes for the Independent Writers Syndicate.