CNN and Al Jazeera Help Win Hearts and Minds in the Middle East


Sep 14, 2004

US State Department diplomat, Alberto Fernandez,
being humble and brilliant, winning hearts and minds
in the Middle East. Way to go Al!

Diplomat: U.S. Arrogant, Stupid in Iraq

(CNN) -- A senior U.S. State Department diplomat told Arab satellite network Al Jazeera that there is a strong possibility history will show the United States displayed "arrogance" and "stupidity" in its handling of the Iraq war.

Alberto Fernandez, director of the Office of Press and Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of Near East Affairs, made his comments on Saturday to the Qatar-based network.

"History will decide what role the United States played," he told Al Jazeera in Arabic, based on CNN translations. "And God willing, we tried to do our best in Iraq."

"But I think there is a big possibility ... for extreme criticism and because undoubtedly there was arrogance and stupidity from the United States in Iraq," the diplomat told Al Jazeera. Did this nitwit forget to take his medication? It's not that there are Islamic lunatic gangs of killers roaming the streets. It’s not that CNN collaborates with the enemy, as with the sniper video. No. It's because America is "arrogant" and "stupid." I am typing this before breakfast on Sunday. Could someone please go into the State Department and fire this asshole before lunch? We've got a lot to do today and it will probably take longer than we expect because we're so "stupid."

My God, what a complete idiot!

I'd recommend more than firing the bumbling idiot, I'd bring him up on charges. Starting with, conduct unbecoming, I'm sure they have codes of conduct, just as we do in the military.

I hope his mouth has hastened his departure from the State Department.

I'll be e-mailing the State Department TODAY.
A bit on that 'diplomat' from Newsweek:

Voice of America
In the Arab world, Alberto Fernandez has emerged as the best-known—and unexpectedly sassy—face of U.S. diplomacy
By Zvika Krieger

Updated: 11:58 a.m. CT Aug 29, 2006

Aug. 28, 2006 - Alberto Fernandez says he can't keep his mouth shut. "I'm Cuban," he says. "We can't close our big mouths. Cubans love to talk, love to argue, love to engage in repartee." His garrulousness might be a liability for an ordinary diplomat—but Fernandez is anything but ordinary. As one of the few genuinely fluent Arabic speakers at the U.S. State Department, Fernandez has become a one-man public diplomacy machine, appearing in Arabic media on almost a daily basis. Although most Americans have never heard of him, his rare linguistic skill, together with his trademark blend of compassion and sass, have made him the face of the United States in the Middle East.

On paper, at least, Fernandez's job is basically that of a high-powered booker, coordinating appearances of high-level State Department officials on Arab media. But in reality, he's the main act. According to his own conservative estimates, he has done about 200 interviews with Arabic media in the past year—with almost 60 media appearances in July alone. "As far as I am aware, he is the only Arabic speaker from the U.S. government who appears on Al-Jazeera says Abderrahim Foukara, managing editor at the network's Washington offices. "Sometimes we'll even have him on three or four days in a row."

More than being one of the few people qualified for the job, Fernandez is one of the few who are willing to take it on. After 9/11, most high-level U.S. leaders preferred not to spend time speaking directly to an Arab public they felt was hopelessly anti-American. Even among those who saw a value in public diplomacy, like Bush and Condoleezza Rice, many refused to appear on Al-Jazeera—despite it being the No. 1 satellite channel in the Arab world—in protest at what they deemed to be its biased coverage.

Fernandez isn't merely the only one who is doing it: he's doing it well, a dramatic change from U.S. government officials who usually have to limp along with a translator or fumble through prewritten talking points. "Alberto is good at going into heated, lively discussions, thinking on his feet," says Marc Lynch, a professor at Williams College and author of "Voices of the New Arab Public," a just-published book about Al-Jazeera. "He's not afraid to get emotional, he'll even lose his temper a bit, which is good on these types of programs."

By breaking from the stilted style of traditional U.S. diplomats, Fernandez is able to connect with his Arab audiences and at the same time to deliver a strong line on foreign policy. "If you are going to have a conversation for more than two minutes, you're going to run out of boiler-plate material from the morning telegram, so you have to go beyond the exact word of what the secretary of State said the day before," says William Rugh, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. "Alberto can do that in spades. He can personalize it, maybe throw in a quote from the Qur'an, use a lot more creativity in explaining American policy and attitudes."

Fernandez also isn't afraid to be blunt; in a recent interview on an Al-Jazeera talk show, Fernandez praised the "glorious history" of the Arab world—and in the same breath referred to Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi and Mullah Omar as "mentally retarded." Fernandez sees clear differences between what he does and the job of State Department spokesmen like Sean McCormack. "They present policy, they are the oracles," Fernandez says. "My job is to engage audiences, to debate—the cut and thrust of intelligent discourse. 'How can you support such a stupid policy?' 'How can you live with yourself?' McCormack doesn't get asked those kinds of questions."

Arab audiences are responding well to Fernandez's human touch. "We hear it from people over and over again," Foukara says. "If someone addresses them in their native language, it resonates with them, because the person is making the statement, 'Hey guys, I respect you so much that I have bothered to learn your language'." But even beyond that, Foukara adds, "Alberto's personable nature is agreeable to people who sit back in the Arab world and watch him. And if you accept the person, you accept the message that that person is relaying to a certain extent."

Fernandez got his first taste of Arabic in the Army, but fell in love with the language as an undergraduate at the University of Arizona, where he studied Arabic literature—"a sea whose depths you will never fully plumb," he says. To him, the late Syrian poet Mohammad al-Maghout was the "model of rebelliousness and truculent intelligence, much greater than any Syrian ruler. While we talk about democracy in the Middle East, he lived it in his bones."

After graduation, Fernandez enlisted in the Foreign Service. He was thrust into the spotlight in Nicaragua, where he was stationed as the embassy's press attaché from 1986 to 1988. "I was known enough to be attacked in the media. It was intoxicating," Fernandez said. Those were the peak years of the Sandinista regime, and Fernandez quickly learnt how to deal with a hostile audience. Playing on a derogatory slang word used for Cuban-Americans, the official Sandinista press would refer to him as "the maggot" whenever he was quoted. "After that, nothing in the Arab world that people could say could get to me."

At every posting, Fernandez has tried to build cultural bridges. He fondly recalls the job of organizing a Native American dance performance for an audience of 5,000 Syrians in the Allepo citadel. "I had to run into the souk and hire a herd of 40 donkeys to transport the props, including the sound equipment and a giant Native American totem pole," he says. In Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion, he initiated a "mullah exchange program," bringing local Islamic religious leaders to the United States to learn about American culture. The first group included the head of the revered Ulema Council, described by Fernandez as "a 7-foot-tall Pashtun guy who looked like Santa Claus." One particularly painful assignment, though, was his 2004 stint in Baghdad. "My time there was terrible because I wasn't with Iraqis," he says. "I was a prisoner in the Green Zone." So when he took over as director for public diplomacy for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs a year ago, he was itching for contact with the Arab people—and got more than he ever imagined.

Fernandez cherishes the freedom that goes with appearances on Arab media. The language barrier mostly protects him from partisan U.S. commentators and bloggers eager to pounce on every unguarded word from a Bush administration official. He's still surprised how minor comments get amplified when he does grant a rare English interview. Take the way right-wing pundits singled out one response from a 50-question live forum he did on the English-language Web site Islam Online. Fernandez referred to revivalist Sunni Muslim scholar Yusuf al Qaradawi—the founder of Islam Online—as "a respected scholar and religious leader worthy of the deepest respect." The National Review denounced Fernandez for being a "chic-sensitive" apologist "gushing over Qaradawi," who is banned from U.S. soil for his alleged links to terrorist groups. "It was just some BS answer, just to be polite, and they picked up on that one thing," says Fernandez.

Still, Fernandez gets praise from practically every other quarter. "Mr. Fernandez speaks to [Arabs] in their own language and tells them the truth," says former Israeli intelligence officer Yigal Carmon, who runs the Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors and translates Arabic media. "[The State Department is] lucky to have him—I haven't seen anyone like him in the past." James Zogby, founder and director of the Arab-American Institute, is equally impressed. "Alberto is one of those people who really cares—cares about the Arab world, cares about the relationships that he personally develops," says Zogby, who has hosted Fernandez on his Arab satellite television show "View Point" multiple times. "I don't hold him in anything but the highest regard." Still, the job can be tough—especially for someone as independent-minded as Fernandez. "I try to be faithful to the policy, I try to be faithful to myself, which is not always easy to do," he says. "There is an element of hypocrisy in any spokesperson's job. But you can be a parrot, or you can aim to be more than that." Though his candor may get him in trouble with some right-wing critics, he believes that honest interactions with the Arab public are the only way to start improving America's image abroad. "Maybe [my critics] are ideological automatons, but I'm not," Fernandez said. "All I have to say is, thank God they don't speak Arabic."
Come on, Al. Resign. Al-Jazerra probably has some openings.

US Official Retracts Iraq Remarks

The US state department official who said that the US had shown "arrogance and stupidity" in Iraq has apologised for his comments.

Alberto Fernandez, who made the remarks during an interview with Arabic TV station al-Jazeera, said that he had "seriously misspoke".

His comments did not represent the views of the state department, he said.

His remarks came at a time of intense scrutiny of White House Iraq policy, with mid-term elections due next month.

Mr Fernandez is an Arabic speaker who is director of public diplomacy in the state department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

On Saturday, he told the Qatar-based broadcaster that the world was "witnessing failure in Iraq".

Upon reading the transcript of my appearance on Al-Jazeera, I realised that I seriously misspoke.

"That's not the failure of the United States alone, but it is a disaster for the region," he said.

"I think there is great room for strong criticism, because without doubt, there was arrogance and stupidity by the United States in Iraq."

State department spokesman Sean McCormack initially said that Mr Fernandez had been quoted incorrectly and rejected his comments.

And in a statement posted on the state department's website, Mr Fernandez retracted his remarks.

"Upon reading the transcript of my appearance on al-Jazeera, I realised that I seriously misspoke by using the phrase: 'There has been arrogance and stupidity' by the US in Iraq," he said.

"This represents neither my views nor those of the state department. I apologise."
Fernandez's single remark conveyed both the Arabs' ("arrogant") and the Democrats' ("stupid") views on the U.S. in Iraq.

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