Shell Smith spoke at an event entitled "Dousing the flames: Public diplomacy in action" at the University of Delaware. She was said to "literally be the face of the United States in the Middle East" as she assumes her new position as the media liaison for the U.S. State Department. She will be the select few U.S. officials who will appear regularly on Arab television, radio and regional newspapers to present the U.S. point of view on key Middle East issues. The three ways that, she said, the U.S. can be more effective in its public diplomacy efforts in the Middle East are: 1. Policy changes, although outside the control of the public diplomacy office, will have the greatest change on overseas opinions. 2. Listening to these opinions and not just talk over them or ignore them. 3. Speaking their language will show them the respect we have for them.
Pretty basic and widely agreed upon things she said but the fact that she speaks Arabic stands out. There are very few American officials who speak Arabic and who are high up in the hierarchy to have significant weight. Shell Smith will be an asset because not only will she be able to communicate in Arabic but also have the discretion to stray from the official line enough depending on where and who she is speaking to. In the past, high level officials who don't speak Arabic have been disregarded as ignorant Americans by the local population and lower level officials who do speak Arabic have not been seriously heard. I think that this is a step in the right direction to appoint Arabic speakers in influential positions not only so that they can craft their message better but also because they have the authority to adjust their message better.