The first thing I have noticed about
the US from my first day of arrival at the end of October, 1974 is
that, it is an open political and social play ground for everyone
All you have to do is just show up and play. And if the American
people like your style, then you would win their hearts regardless
of where you come 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. And I have seen photos of the American
billionaire listing 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 speak freely.
Arab officials come to Washington and meet officials and never
think about visiting a college in the American countryside or meet
their fellow American Arabs. And to my amazement, any Arab
official wouldn't 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 new discovery that saves and help humans.
The irony is that the same Arab medical staff would use the
medicine that those 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 are.
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 setting 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
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. And from that day
Benjamin Netanyahu was present in the American media. And during
the invasion of Kuwait, he was part of CNN. And on May, 24, 2011
he was getting more standing ovation than the president of the
United Sates when he was giving his speech to the US Congress. And
my question is, why was he able to overwhelm the Congress? I
think, because he started to study the American mind and he took
advantage of it. He lived in the US and knew how to play their
games. At the same time, there are 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 over
took the helm in the American media. The Arabs couldn't have an
organized public relations with the world. There are a lot of
congressmen and congresswomen who would like to see an Arab figure
to speak to the American Congress, but the figure must have
charisma, language skills and 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: email@example.com