Diplomacy and Foreign Policy: where are the Arab Americans in this?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sat Feb 7 16:19:22 UTC 2009

Diplomacy and Foreign Policy: where are the Arab Americans in this?
February 6, 12:51 AM

by Aimee Kligman, NY Foreign Policy Examiner

  One of the shameful points we have always had with our ambassadors
and diplomats is the utter lack of direct communication in the
language of the country and or region we are addressing. This is most
apparent in our dealings with Arab countries around the world.
One of the key issues of our new foreign policy paradigms is 'smart
power' as described by Hillary Clinton. So if we're going to be so
smart, our Iraqi envoy, Christopher Hill needs to learn Arabic. If he
doesn't, then replace him. If we are truly going to change, and
present an unbiased front to the world, we stand to learn from our
experience in Iraq. When they finally engaged with translators who
were able to tell the Iraqi people of our intentions, the familiarity
of the language broke some of the tensions. Why wait till war breaks
to learn it?

There are some Arab Americans that I have been watching for quite
sometime now, who would make excellent ambassadors or special envoys
to certain regions, because...they were native of these countries at
one time.  Of course, there is no guarantee that they would accept the
assignments, but let's throw it out there for argument's sake. For
instance, Arab-American psychiatrist Wafa Sultan, who resides in
California, has made several appearances on Arab TV and has debated
the extremists. She had them fumbling for words. Her Syrian background
would make her an excellent choice to sit across the table from
President Assad; she'd be able to understand every single word in
Arabic, even if she were to address him in English.

Then we have a gentleman like Fareed Zakaria, who hails from Mumbai,
and returned there shortly after the terrorist attacks took place in
the city. He diplays an extraordinary mastery over the facts in the
region, and I am willing to bet that he would be an asset to the Obama
presidency as a special envoy for the India/Pakistan friction. The
Economic Times of India, in an open letter to President Obama last
November, requested that he consider appointing Zakaria as his
Secretary of State.

Another name that comes to mind is James Zogby who currently heads the
Arab-American Institute in Washington DC, which he founded in 1985. He
is a scholar and is also a member of the Executive Committee of the
United States Democratic National Committee. In addition, he does host
Viewpoint with James Zogby on Abu Dhabi TV which can be viewed in the
US on Link TV. He came from Lebanon, and imagine what we could do
there if we had him representing us.

And for Ahmadinejad, why not grace him with the presence of Christiane
Amanpour? In addition to fluent French and English, she also speaks
Farsi. How fortuitous. Her credentials are cited here.

You may be familiar with these names but not realize that they are
Arab Americans: John Sununu, Ralph Nader and Darrell Issa. They have
all been involved in our government.

George Mitchell was chosen for his extraordinary negotiating skills to
bring peace to the Middle East, but rest assured that his Lebanese
background has played an enormous part in the Arab world's acceptance
of the man to lead this peace process. It is indispensable to
understand the language of your "opponent" as there are nuances in
speech and tonalities that get lost in translation. Since the Arab
world has a very dim view of the U.S. at the moment, it might behoove
us to look into the pool of qualified Arab Americans to represent us
in that part of the world.

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