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Page 2 of 3 -- Iran's ruling mullahs are clearly worried. The regime arrested a number of bloggers last year as part of a crackdown on journalists. The BBC reported Feb. 23 that Arash Sigarchi, who was arrested in January after criticizing the Iranian government on his own Web log, was recently sentenced to 14 years in prison. Another Iranian blogger, Mujtaba Saminejad, is awaiting trial in an Iranian jail.

Although the international blogging phenomenon is in its infancy, Internet trends spread fast, so US foreign policy makers would do well to take notice soon. A chief aim of public diplomacy has always been to foster liberal political culture where authoritarian states are attempting to snuff it out. President Bush clearly believes America's interests are served by the spread of freedom and democracy. To that end, US policy makers should recognize blogging as a perfect tool to promote the proliferation of independent democratic voices.

There is some indication that the US foreign policy establishment is beginning to understand the Internet's potential in this area. The 2004 annual report of the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy recommended that the State Department ''actively look for ways to use emerging software developments to expand its broadcasting reach over the Internet."

Michael Waller, professor of international communication at The Institute of World Politics, says, ''While some in the State Department recognize the power of the Internet for public diplomacy, they are years behind the technology and show little sign of advancing soon." He proposes that the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which runs US-sponsored broadcasting, ''quickly integrate its radio and TV programming with Internet media to facilitate global, interactive networks of independent bloggers in English, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, and other languages, united against Islamist extremism."

To accomplish this, the radio and television stations could feature ''the best and most interesting bloggers" on their programs, Waller says. ''The bloggers, in turn, would find it in their interests to draw listeners and viewers to US-sponsored media."

That approach could do much to popularize political blogging in places where it already exists. At the same time, programs to expand blogging in countries where it has not yet taken root are needed. One organization's effort to expand blogging in the Arab world could provide a model for future government programs.

Spirit of America, a nonprofit group started by a California businessman to fund nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, is developing a blogging tool to give Arabic speakers the same ability to create blogs as users of English software like Google's Blogger. The group says hosting each blog will cost just $12 a year. To make sure the tool is used to promote democratic ideals rather than, say, jihad against the West, each blog created with the tool will display banner ads promoting ''groups, individuals, and news that, in the big picture, advance freedom, democracy, and peace in the region," according to Spirit of America.   Continued...

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