Pubdate: Mon, 29 Aug 2005
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2005 News World Communications, Inc.
Author: Robert Charles
Note: Robert Charles, former assistant secretary of state for international 
narcotics and law enforcement, 2003-2005, is president of the Charles 
Group, Gaithersburg, Md.
Bookmark: (Heroin)


In Frank Capra's legendary movie, "It's a Wonderful Life," George Bailey's 
guardian angel is a lovable old fellow named Clarence. Bailey, played by 
Jimmy Stewart, was in a heap of trouble, and Clarence was heaven's public 

Clarence's mission was to save George Bailey from hopelessness. He had the 
power to change facts, but only George Bailey could change his own attitude 
- -- the one that kept him in the Valley of Darkness. Clarence got the 
Stewart character's attention, altered conditions around him and left him 
to re-evaluate his attitude toward Clarence and the future.

Enter today's overriding dilemma in public diplomacy. How do we -- as 
eternally optimistic Americans with a can-do attitude toward virtually any 
obstacle -- convey the real promise of democracy to parts of the world that 
do not want to hear us, much less look beyond their own miserable 
condition? Especially when their lives can be plagued by hard-bitten 
poverty, intergenerational hate, blood vendettas, religious extremism and 

We need to pull a "Clarence." We need to get their attention, even when 
they don't believe in us, have no interest in our vision and no faith in 
our ability to brighten the future. We need to be creative and change the 
conditions around them.

For starters, this does not mean offering self-congratulatory hand-outs to 
ungrateful and indignant detractors, but rather tailoring and tying 
specific types of foreign aid to prospects for real attitude change among 
particular populations.

Frontal approaches to public diplomacy, including our public support for 
democracy, individual liberty, religious tolerance and human rights, are 
necessary but are not sufficient. Not in a world that threatens to destroy 
itself one leap at a time.

A more culturally aligned effort is needed that borrows directly from 
another old-timer, Socrates. With more of an "ask the question and let them 
answer" approach -- especially to teaching the values democracy embodies -- 
we stand a better chance of getting meaningful messages to target 
populations from the lips of persuasive messengers.

Example: As Afghanistan staggers under a heroin trade that could end 
democracy, why not go to the heart of the problem and find common ground? 
Why not build on the absolute moral overlap between Sharia Law's opposition 
to heroin and our own moral opposition to drugs and drug-funded terrorism?

Last month, more than 500 Afghan religious leaders -- that society's real 
force -- met in Kabul to discuss drug addiction. They affirmed at least 
that they do not want the heroin trade in their communities. It is changing 
their society and taking their kids' future with it.

So, why not build on a common love for kids? Why not help these Afghan 
mullahs with an all-out, tailor-made, anti-drug education program? Why not 
beat this source of hopelessness?Since addiction also threatens Indonesia 
(the world's largest Muslim country) Pakistan, the Philippines, Malaysia, 
Thailand, Turkey, and even Iraq, why not support mullahs there too? The 
message: Americans share your moral outrage and care about your kids.

To highlight democracy's effect on equality, especially for women, why not 
encourage female leaders from democratic countries with Muslim populations 
to showcase the "how to" and "here's why"... for themselves. America could 
spur the multilateral forum. Participants might come from Indonesia, Sri 
Lanka, Pakistan, India, Turkey and the Philippines. Side message: This 
democracy stuff works.

Public dialogue among nonviolent Islamic leaders is badly needed. Why not 
encourage multilateral forums where nonviolent leaders condemn religious 
violence? These voices in some ways are more powerful than ours. Yet, like 
Clarence, we can create conditions that foster new attitudes.

Finally, new initiatives need to be unapologetically intergenerational: 
tightly focused on the young. Democracy's benefits -- when they come -- 
will flow chiefly to those generations still figuring out just what they 
believe and why. We can help that process with all-out offers of cultural 
exchange, education, economic growth and, in a word, options. If democracy 
presents options, democracy wins.

Whether we build on the common outrage about drugs, spur public dialogue on 
equality, trigger wider Islamic condemnation of extremist violence or 
expand options for the young, we can dispel hopelessness. Like Clarence, we 
can focus attention and alter conditions that shape attitudes. A tall 
order, but a universal message: With the rule of law, individual rights and 
economic options, the ingredients exist for a wonderful life.
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MAP posted-by: Elizabeth Wehrman