THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
Deconstructing the uproar over a controversial Al-Jazeera interview,
the author offers insight into the challenges of public diplomacy.
BY ALBERTO M . F ERNANDEZ
Alberto Miguel Fernandez spent 32 years as a public
diplomacy officer in the Foreign Service, both with the U.S.
Information Agency and the Department of State. He served
as chief of mission in Sudan and Equatorial Guinea, in
addition to tours in Afghanistan, Jordan, Guatemala, Syria, Nicaragua,
Kuwait, the Dominican Republic and the United Arab Emirates. His
last assignment before retiring from the Foreign Service in 2015 was as
coordinator of the interagency Center for Strategic Counterterrorism
Communications. He is a recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award for
Excellence in Public Diplomacy.
lenn Beck once called me an
“enemy of the state,” and “not a
patriot.” He did this on CNN during
prime time, before his descent into
the fringes of apocalyptic Internet
television, in reference to a single
phrase from a 30-minute inter-
view I did on Al-Jazeera (in Arabic)
in October 2006. My concession
that “there was U.S. arrogance and stupidity in Iraq” briefly but
intensely caught the attention of the media and blogosphere.
Beck was joined in his outrage by Michelle Malkin, the
and assorted bloggers, all participants
in what Middle East scholar Marc Lynch called “the Fernandez
Stupidstorm.” Lynch, one of the fewWesterners who actually
watched and understood the entire interview, was an informed
defender, as was Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for
Near East Policy, writing in the
. My hometown
, also came to my defense.
I received a dozen calls from total strangers telling me that I
“should go back to Mexico (or Venezuela or Mecca or Tehran)” or
congratulating me for “coming out against the war/sticking it to
the Man.” Some good came out of the notoriety, too: I reconnected
with an old Army buddy and with a good friend from high school.
And a leading Egyptian magazine,
, produced a puff
piece on “The Fate of the Man Who Told the Truth.”
Yet except for a few foreign policy cognoscenti and Middle
East scholars, almost no one knew actually what they were talking
about. Both the right and the left were wrong. I had neither come