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As the U.S. faces increasingly negative attitudes around the world, the previously arcane subject of public diplomacy has become a serious issue in the Bush Administration, Congress, universities, think-tanks and with ordinary citizens.

"Why do they hate us? " is being asked in more places and by more kinds of Americans than ever before.

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As widely reported, repeated polls by reputable opinion organizations such as the Pew Research Center and Zogby International have shown that negative overseas perceptions of the U.S. are largely a product of American policies, especially its policies in the Arab and Muslim world.

Particularly incendiary among Arabs and other Muslims are the invasion of Iraq, the alleged U.S. abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and what many foreigners see as America 's one-sided support of Israel.

The importance the Bush Administration places on finding new ways to counter these negative perceptions has been underlined by the President 's nomination of his close confidante and advisor, Karen Hughes, to be Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, and former White House personnel chief, Egypt-born Dina Habib Powell to be her deputy.

But neither of these high-profile individuals have had any formal training in crafting and communicating messages that will resonate with foreign audiences who represent widely varying cultural, social, political and economic backgrounds.

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That should not come as a surprise: most of the people who actually work in the public diplomacy field today have learned their craft largely from on-the-job experience. They are diplomats, educators, foreign policy experts, political scientists, and men and women who have made their fortunes in journalism or commercial broadcasting, and have sought to adapt these backgrounds to the complex task of winning friends for America.

Until now.

Next month, the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles will begin teaching courses in a new program that will offer a Master 's Degree in Public Diplomacy -- the first of its kind anywhere in the world.

The two-year program will be offered jointly by USC 's Annenberg School for Communication and the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences' School of International Relations. The degree program will officially launch in fall 2006.

Just appointed to head the new program is one of the best-known names in the public diplomacy field -- Professor Nicholas J. Cull. Cull is Director of the Centre for American Studies at Leicester University in the United Kingdom. He specializes in US foreign policy, the history of propaganda and the politics of popular culture, and is the author of numerous books on the subject.

His first book, "Selling War ", was a study of British information work in the United States before Pearl Harbor. Since then he has published numerous articles on the theme of propaganda, public diplomacy, politics and foreign policy. He is also an active film historian who has been part of the movement to include film and other media within the mainstream of historical sources.

While the new program 's curriculum will be global, media attention predictably focuses on U.S. efforts to 'win hearts and minds ' among Arabs and other Muslims, especially in the Middle East.

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Prof. Cull addressed Middle East issues in an interview. "There is a problem underpinning all U.S. public diplomacy in the Middle East and that is the extent to which Arabs actually understand the U.S. rather well and have reasons for disliking American actions based on U.S. policy. A good public diplomacy response would be to show more of the debate within the U.S. so the Arab world understands there are plenty of people of disapprove of much of American-Israeli policy, and conversely that there are reasons why the U.S. behaves the way that it does."

In the Middle East, he said, "We are dealing with a different culture and cannot assume that a message will be received with the intent with which it was transmitted. What hope is there for Bush to say 'sorry' to the Arab world when he doesn't seem to understand that no Arab takes an apology seriously unless the person apologizing adds 'and I ask you to forgive me'."

The Master 's Program was conceived by USC Annenberg Dean Geoffrey Cowan, who served as director of the Voice of America radio service during the
1990s, and USC College Dean Joseph Aoun.

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William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)

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