In my other blog, Critical Thoughts, I discuss the inherently dishonest nature of public diplomacy efforts targeted at the Middle East. These efforts have been driven by a top-down agenda seeking to "Americanize" the Middle East, with the notion that an Americanized Middle East public would be more favorable toward the US and its agendas. An Americanized Middle East would be more closely aligned with US values,and hence would be favorable toward US security interests and would supply markets for US multinational corporations.
In recent years, the language of dialogue and listening have been incorporated into these public diplomacy efforts although they continue to be driven by one-way agendas of changing the target audience. This outward show of listening serves to hide the top-down agendas of current public diplomacy efforts and makes these top-down communication strategies look more humane and dialogical.
Pointing out the failure of such strategies as they are inherently dishonest, the culture-centered approach suggests the importance of a commitment to listening that is focussed on reflection and transformation. The transformation here is not outwardly directed at the other, but is inwardly directed, based on reflection. Visits such as that of Dr. Rice are likely to be meaningful entry points for dialogue only when they are committed to honesty, transparency, and ultimately to listening that leads to transformation.
If Dr. Rice were to "truly" listen to the voices from the Middle East, one would hope that she would return to the US with questions regarding US strategies in the Middle East and with suggestions for the ways in which US foreign policies can become more humane and responsive to the issues facing the Middle East. If Dr. Rice were to "truly" listen to the people of the Middle East, she would begin by being accountable to the people of the Middle East instead of telling the Middle East what the US plans to do, and by being answerable for the thousands of civilan deaths caused in the Middle East by current US actions in the region.