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Syria in American Eyes

OpinionsBy Dawood Al Shirian

The Syrian government signed an agreement with New Bridge Strategies to improve its image in the American society, convince President Bush that it seeks good relations with his administration and is willing to be extremely flexible in its cooperation with the White House.

The company was selected specifically because its CEO (Joe Allbaugh) had close ties with Bush. Allbaugh was Bush\'s Chief of Staff and Campaign Manager when Bush was the Governor of Texas. He managed his 2000 campaign and later became Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in charge of coordinating the public services and provide assistance to the victims of natural disasters.

The public relations campaigns that some states resort to in order to improve their image have prove to fail on more than an occasion. The most obvious example is the American government\'s organized campaign in the Arab and Islamic worlds. Not to mention that these campaigns rely on the art of advertising, based on promising; the \"big promise\" as Dr. Samuel Johnson says. At best, advertising is not accurate. In addition, these campaigns target the public, who lacks any power on the political decision-making process. Most importantly, they are based on refuting an image and proving another. In the absence of such an image, ion reality or in part, they lead to opposite results - exactly as it happened in the American campaign. The latter was refuted by the biased U.S. policy in the Middle East. In Syria\'s case, it will not be much different, for the promises that will be pledged by the campaign will be groundless.

It is strange for some Arab regimes to ignore the fact that gaining their peoples\' favor is the easiest way to gain others. New Syria can only improve its image by prevailing over old Syria and be shielded by the people\'s power through radical changes, of no lesser importance than the withdrawal from Lebanon. Damascus does not suffer from a communication breakdown with Washington, or any other western capitals. It suffers from the legacy of a long gone political era. It is true that the \"lobby\" has a role in influencing U.S. policy, and maybe this company was selected accordingly; since its owners are influential in the U.S. However, even the lobby will be useless in the Syrian case, because there are fundamental differences between the two parties. The most prominent divergence being the Syrian stance from Iraq, Damascus\'s relations with Lebanon, and its trifling attitude regarding a complete withdrawal from the Lebanese people\'s life. Not to mention the absence of political reforms, which Washington is using as a pretext to blackmail the region\'s regimes and achieve its interests.

The image improving contract, Syria signed with the U.S. company would cost nothing less than a few billion dollars. The Syrian government should have rather invested this amount within Syria itself. However, it seems that it is impossible to reach such a conviction since the regime believes that its problems are nothing more than a few false impressions of an authentic reality, that its salvation depends on escaping U.S. and international pressures, not fulfilling popular demands and implementing internal reforms, and that it only needs an advertising campaign to promote his image just like any other product on the market!

Rather than resort to political advertising, which was useless for Syria over decades, Syrian politicians should have learned from Turkey, which was able to withstand U.S. demands and pressure during and after the American campaign against Iraq because it was referring to an elected Parliament in the political decisions, not to the ruling party. Turkey was able to deal on a par with Washington in the military facilities issues. Washington did not even think of blackmailing Turks with the democratic reform scarecrow, as it does with opponent Arab countries because theses countries are not close to their people. Syria could protect its stances by following the Turkish model and launch a campaign of real reforms to win over the Syrian street, which in turn, would protect the regime and defend the State\'s international reputation. Else, Damascus would still be an \"axis of evil\" to Washington; even if it spends Midas\'s money on vain advertising campaigns.

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