Should a Muslim Be Put in Charge of Public Diplomacy?

Obama sees public diplomacy as a top priority, but he hasn't appointed a senior official to lead it.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Talking to the State Department this week about President Obama's intense public diplomacy efforts during his visit to Turkey, I was reminded that Obama has yet to appoint an undersecretary for public diplomacy. That's the official charged with burnishing America's image abroad, particularly in the Muslim world, where approval ratings for the United States hover around 15 percent. Earlier this year, rumor had it that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wanted to tap big-time Democratic donor and former Discovery Communications President Judith McHale for the post, but nearly three months later that still hasn't been made official.

Given that the president's public diplomacy has been aimed so squarely at the Muslim world—aides say he still plans to give a "Muslim speech" from a Muslim-majority country in his first 100 days as president—I wonder if Obama is considering a Muslim for the job.

Wouldn't a Muslim, with the requisite background in diplomacy and messaging, be best suited to change Muslim minds about the United States?

A similar case—for a Muslim to be included in the president's cabinet—was made during the '08 campaign season by Mansoor Ijaz, an American financier and political commentator:

Imagine how a qualified American Muslim FBI director, sensitized to the genuine concerns among Arab and Muslim communities about civil rights violations, would be able to ensure that FBI actions and policies target the real bad guys, not communities as a whole. Imagine how an American Muslim CIA director or defense secretary whose understanding of cultural differences in places that breed Islamist violence would ensure that intelligence was not biased by bigotry or lack of understanding and that defense strategies were constructed on data acquired from authentic sources....

Candidates for the presidency from both political parties should actively begin searching for American Muslims and Arab Americans who can serve in primary decisionmaking cabinet level posts. To do otherwise is to risk promulgating policies that once again put the U.S. straight in the sights of the terrorists who seek to bring America down.

George W. Bush went through four public diplomacy undersecretaries—Charlotte Beers, Margaret Tutwiler, Karen Hughes, and James Glassman—who also focused on improving America's image in the Muslim world. None succeeded. Some failed spectacularly. Could it be time for a Muslim in that slot?