In the battle for hearts and minds in the Arab world, the US government may not have to look any further than Wisteria Lane. That, according to recently disclosed State Department cables which reveal that American television shows like Desperate Housewives and The Late Show with David Letterman have been effective "agents of influence" in the Middle East.
ABC News reported on the cables, which discussed the Saudi government's decision to permit satellite broadcasts of American programming uncensored with American subtitles. "It's still all about the War of Ideas here, and the American programming on [publicly owned] MBC and Rotana is winning over ordinary Saudis in a way that 'Al Hurra' and other U.S. propaganda never could," the wires reportedly say.
The tactic of exporting American culture, interesting as it is, isn't necessarily new. Writing in 2008 for the Counterterrorism Blog, Jeffrey Breinholt called on the government to do just that. While programming provided by Voice of America ensured outlets got important news and policy discussions, Breinholt suggested going one step further: "Let's give them a heavy dose of what we give our own people, and which makes us happy and wanting more. Not the pro-U.S. propaganda like what was produced in World War II. This would be "The Office," "Desperate Housewives," and "Friday Night Lights," without apologies."
"American counterterrorism efforts need to include more than just law enforcement and military tools, to win over youth in the Third World who are indoctrinated from an early age to hate American values," Breinholt explained, referencing comments made by Yonah Alexander at a Capitol Hill event on February 12, 2008. "For many of them, their daily intellectual diet includes Al Manar, the television station of Hizballah."
Breinholt's solution at the time was simple: "Throw lingerie-clad Eva Longoria at regular Arab viewers, and see how long they want to wear a hijab and insist that stoning is the proper punishment for adultery." If the recently released State department documents are to be believed, Breinholt's advice was heeded.