Exchanges most effective public diplomacy efforts in Middle East, says former ambassador to Kuwait

Shifting current attitudes in the Middle East away from fear and towards trust-building is best accomplished through people-to-people exchange programs, according to Richard LeBaron, a retired U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait. LeBaron suggests that in order to counter terrorism, we need only look at the decade long studies of the roots of radicalization coupled with serious consideration of exchanges as strategic tools rather than “a nice thing to do.” 

LeBaron’s observations are a part of the Atlantic Counsel’s blog series, MENA Source, aimed at following the transitions of the Arab Spring. 

Critical of the military actions often undertaken by governments, LeBaron asserts that exchanges “are the most effective tools in actually building constructive views of each other’s societies”:

“It’s not advertising campaigns, not speeches by politicians, not crafting our messages more cleverly… but people interacting that shows exchanges are the most effective tools in actually building constructive views of each other’s societies.”

The former ambassador offered several suggestions to augment this effort, including doubling the resources going to exchange programs in the Middle East. With an increased focus on exchanges, Lebaron emphasized the awareness of greater depths in the U.S. relationship with the Middle East:

“We will demonstrate that with vastly expanded people-to-people exchanges involving students, professionals, civic leaders, and all the other people that do not fit into the elite category with which we conduct routine foreign relations… a richer more diverse set of contacts will form the basis of healthier political relationships over time, beginning to dig us out of the deep hole that we have helped dig in the region.”