Experts discuss the complexities of U.S. foreign policy since Sept. 11


Ten years after Sept. 11, experts are divided over the effectiveness of U.S. diplomacy since the tragic attacks.

As the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, attention is focused not only on the loss of life that occurred that day but on how the event altered U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy. On Thursday, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism hosted a panel of experts who tackled that question.

The panel featured Philip Seib, director of the CPD; Najla al-Awadhi, a former member of the United Arab Emirates Federal National Council and general manager of Dubai Media Inc.; Laurie Brand, a professor of international relations; Ernest J. Wilson III, dean of Annenberg; Jerrold Green, research professor of communication; and Geoffrey Cowan, Annenberg Family Chair in Communication Leadership.

Since Sept. 11, public diplomacy in the Middle East has become more comprehensive, but not necessarily more successful, Seib said.

“The diplomatic issues are complex,” he said. “U.S. public diplomacy in fits and starts has had a lots of good intentions, but the problems are related to policy follow-ups.”

Al-Awadhi described how the Sept. 11 attacks were perceived in the Arab world.

Awadhi explained that the Arab world was shocked and terrified in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and realized that reform was pivotal to ensure security.

“Sept. 11 for us in the Arab world created an acute realization that we have pockets of extremists and individually advocated violence,” Awadhi said. “When we realized this, we sat back and said, ‘We have to change because this poses a threat to other countries, but also our countries.’”

Awadhi noted that the extremist trends in the Middle East stem in part from the Western support of jihadist actions aimed at toppling dictators during the Cold War.

“The ideology of violence [in the Middle East] didn’t come out of a black hole,” Awadhi said. “It was a direct consequence of policies directly advocated during the Cold War and there has been no strategy on how to re-integrate these people into society and so the extremist mindset came back to haunt us.”

Awadhi advocated for U.S. foreign policy that does not just include negotiations between diplomats but conversations between Arab people.

“There is a serious need for greater diplomacy,” Awadhi said. “We want to see more of an engagement with the Arab people — they can’t be left out of the dialogue.”

Laurie Brand, a professor of international relations, agreed U.S. diplomacy needs to abandon the policies it has adhered to during the last two decades and develop new policies that focus on the interest of the working person, specifically in Egypt.

“If the U.S. is interested in truly partnering with the Middle East, we need to listen to the slogans that came out of Tahrir Square and broad sectors of the Egyptian population,” Broad said.

Tiffany Tsa, a senior majoring in archeology and geological sciences, found the panel discussion fruitful, but said she thinks civic interactions such as tourism is an undervalued solution to public diplomacy.

“I studied in Egypt last year and I was shocked how few American tourists were there compared to European tourists,” Tsa said. “I wish they discussed how cross-cultural exchange could be used like tourism.”

David Mandel, a graduate student in the master for public diplomacy program, said he liked that the panel highlighted using Sept. 11 as a stepping-stone for future U.S. public diplomacy.

“The panel emphasized the importance of using Sept. 11 as a tool to move forward, not to stay stuck in the past,” he said.