What is the U.S. doing to counter its increasingly negative public image abroad?

A couple of weeks ago in this space, I wrote about a Pew Research Center poll showing that the popularity of the United States is dipping around the world. Our popularity in Europe has declined so much that France didn't even get us a Christmas gift this year. And Germany re-gifted us with the same bottle of white Zinfandel they got from Hungary last year.

C'mon guys, I know you don't like us, but don't you think saving you from Communism is worth at least a Chia Pet? How about the Chia Herb Garden then?

Nowhere is our popularity lower right now than in Muslim countries, particularly those in the Mideast. To a large degree, hatred of us in the Middle East is borne of ignorance and narrow-minded funda-mentalism. Some people hate us for the very things we love about us (secular democracy, freedom of expression, women's rights, free enterprise, strip clubs, etc.).

But there is also a sincere and largely justifiable displeasure with us that results from our foreign policy. We're seen as anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and hypocrites about supporting democracy. Arabs wonder, if we're willing to go to war with Iraq to make them comply with U.N. resolutions, why we won't pressure Israel to do the same. If democracy is so important in Iraq, then why not demand it of our friends in Egypt and Saudi Arabia? And even though all the characters in the Disney movie Aladdin were Arab, how come only the bad guys have accents?

In lieu of actual soul-searching followed by a change in policy, President Bush thinks that to improve our image abroad we need better advertising. To help, he's hired super-successful ad exec Charlotte Beers essentially to head the U.S. advertising department. Beers helmed ad campaigns for American Express, IBM and Uncle Ben's Rice. So next time you're tuned to Al-Jazeera TV and you hear a jingle that goes, "When only the best will do, say uncle, Uncle Sam," you'll know from where it came.

We won't be able to watch Beers in action because our laws limit how foreign-aimed U.S. government propaganda can be shared domestically. Among the efforts so far, though, is a Persian-language TV show directed at young Iranians via satellite called "Next Chapter." The New York Times describes it as a "hip" and "MTV-style" show about youth culture. No word on whether the "MTV-style" means that the show is taped in a hot tub with balloon-breasted Cristal-sipping women. Ayatollah Rock and Rollah in the house, y'all!

Another Beersy effort is an anthology of essays about being a writer in America called, appropriately enough, "Writers In America." You can actually read the essays online at www.usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/writers/, although you're not really supposed to know that. The ones I read are perfectly interesting, but they ultimately miss the point. How does learning about writers in America make anyone less resentful of political policies they see as hurtful? This whole makeover campaign is a lot like polishing a turd. You might be able to get it real shiny, but at the end of the day, it's still a turd.

But if the U.S. insists on this makeover nonsense though, I wanna help, because I have hot ideas. First of all, we need a national anthem that's cooler and easier to sing. Let's get Nelly on the job. Second, we need some new colors. Red, white and blue is so Hilfiger, and Hilfiger is so last millennium. I wanna see some earth tones. Charlotte, babe, I've got tons of ideas. Put me in touch with the people in creative. Or better yet, let's do lunch. I'm here for you.


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