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June 7, 2011

Why Arabs fail to influence Americans?

By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

Upon my arrival in the United States at the end of October, 1974, the first thing I noticed is that it is an open political and social playground for everyone to play. All you have to do is just show up and play the game. And, if the American people like your style, then you would win their hearts regardless of where you came from, provided that you play against any team without prejudice. They can hire you at NASA and send you to the Moon if you are fit to do it. And you can be a presidential security guard if you can be trusted.  The Israelis knew this, but the Arabs didn't.

I have noticed during my stay, that the American people have the best listening ears. I have seen photos of American billionaires listening to poor sick kids in India and saw top American professors playing tennis with exchange students.

In early 1975, I had a seven-minute chat with former first lady, Lady Bird Johnson. In the US, talking to people is very important public relations for foreign countries and this is something the Arabs never understood. The Israelis took full advantage of it, but the Arabs didn't. Arabs are very suspicious or have no confidence. Maybe we are not used to speaking freely.

Arab officials come to Washington and meet their counterparts, but never think about visiting a college in the American countryside or meet their fellow American Arabs. To my amazement, no Arab official would give a lecture if there is an Israeli official present —even if it is a medical or science conference that talks about new medicine or a new discovery that saves and helps humans. The irony is that the same Arab medical staff would use the medicine that the Israelis have developed. This is bad public relations from the start.

We, the Arabs, didn't know how to handle the strength of the American media and to take advantage of how liberal the media is. Is it because Arab officials care about their personal interest rather their own people? Or is it because some Arab officials are exposed to avenues of corruption and human rights abuse? We never saw an Arab official on meet the press. Can you imagine Muammar Qaddafi sitting next to former Ohio senator and astronaut John Glenn and talk about achievements for the world? What did the Israelis do in the US? They simply talked to the American people first.

I came across the name of the current Israeli prime minister in the ‘70s when I read the story of the Netanyahu operation in Entebbe where Benjamin's brother was killed. From that day, Benjamin Netanyahu was present in the American media. During the invasion of Kuwait, he was part of CNN, and on May 24, 2011, he was getting more standing ovations than the president of the United Sates when he was giving his speech to the US Congress. My question is; why was he able to overwhelm the Congress?

 I think because he started to study the American mind and took advantage of it. He lived in the US and knew how to play their games. At the same time, there were millions of Arabs who lived in the US, but unfortunately, they stood idle and spent days and nights complaining about Jewish organizations such as AIPAC and never thought of integrating into the American life and politics.

Egyptian President Anwar Saddat had an open channel to the American media. He became a very close friend to Walter Cronkite, a very influential media figure. But what did the Egyptians do to their president? They assassinated him. We have 22 Arab states and we complain of why the Israelis overtook the helm in the American media. The Arabs were not able to have organized public relations with the world.

There are a lot of congressmen and congresswomen, who would like to see an Arab figure speak to the American Congress, but the figure must have charisma, language skills and an international track record of achievements and it is important that he has a relationship with his own people back home. The Arabs must be present in the international arena, but they must fix things at home first before talking to the outside world. The world will not listen to a leader who has billions in their vaults while poverty is widespread in his country and the world will not listen to a leader who orders his air force to bomb his own cities.

When Netanyahu went to the playground, he already knew the cheering crowd before he knew the referee. The crowd is the Congress and the referee is Barack Obama. 

Abdulateef Al-Mulhim is commodore (retired), Royal Saudi Navy. He can be reached at: