Friday, December 17, 2010

Inaction: Loud and Clear

This is not even remotely funny, but I think that's his point. Last night, Daily Show host Jon Stewart lambasted Republican Senators for filibustering a bill that would provide health benefits for 9/11 first responders. As Stewart notes, "The party that turned 9/11 into a catch phrase, are now moving suspiciously into a convenient pre-9/11 mentality when it comes to this bill." Stewart also ripped the media for providing minimal to no coverage of the bill's troubles, noting that Al Jazeera had provided more information than many of the U.S.'s major networks:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

This bill--which would provide medial benefits for the firefighters, police officers and other personnel that responded to the 9/11 attacks--has been mired in a political bog for months. The U.S. systems of checks and balances is one of its greatest strengths, but it can also be a significant weakness. And this particular situation, where petty partisan differences have trumped domestic values, is a perfect example of why. The Senate's failure to pass this bill shows divisive leadership, narrow-minded politics and a refusal to actively support frequently professed values. An often overlooked element of public diplomacy is the way that domestic policies are perceived by foreign publics, and it's hard to regard this particular policy in a way that reflects positively on U.S. leadership.

That American comedians and foreign-owned news stations are the most prominent advocates for 9/11 first responders suggests a breakdown within the nation's political and media systems. In this case, inaction speaks louder than words.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Un-American Books

Greetings, manICateers. No doubt there's much been rending of garments and wailing and gnashing of teeth due to my extended absence from the blogosphere, for which I apologize. A combination of a hellacious virus and an equally grueling finals season have kept me away from the blog for a while, but I'm hoping to pick up again over the winter break.

Today's topic comes courtesy of the New York Times, thanks to alert reader (and fellow blogger) Jaxiecracks. The article discusses the crusade of foreign cultural institutes and publishers to get American readers to pick up books from their countries.
Hoping to increase their minuscule share of the American book market — about 3 percent — foreign governments and foundations, especially those on the margins of Europe, are taking matters into their own hands and plunging into the publishing fray in the United States. Increasingly, that campaign is no longer limited to widely spoken languages like French and German. From Romania to Catalonia to Iceland, cultural institutes and agencies are subsidizing publication of books in English, underwriting the training of translators, encouraging their writers to tour in the United States, submitting to American marketing and promotional techniques they may have previously shunned and exploiting existing niches in the publishing industry.

This isn't simply a marketing gimmick, but a cultural diplomacy strategy, one that underscores a major difference between U.S. diplomacy and that of other countries--namely, the U.S. tendency to overlook culture in general. As John Brown argues in "Arts Diplomacy: The Neglected Aspects of Cultural Diplomacy," the United States does not promote its high culture abroad the way other countries do. This could be a result of national psychology--a remnant of puritanical heritage that sees art as an indulgence--but the end result is that USPD tends to emphasize education over culture, which is why the CIA had to conduct covert high culture ops during the Cold War. U.S. pop culture has the strength of the market behind it, but high culture--like foreign literature--lacks that support.

As a recovering English major whose foreign literature collection takes up significantly more than 3 percent of her shelves, I support this push for literature diplomacy. Some things will inevitably be lost in translation, but I think there's a lot more to be found.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Dilution Diplomacy

Run a quick google search on "diplomacy" (go ahead, I'll wait), and you'll see that journalists and bloggers are finding plenty of new applications for the term. Alongside traditional and public diplomacy, we see evidence of "ballet" diplomacy, "cupcake" diplomacy, "wedding" diplomacy, even "designer" dress diplomacy.

For many, it seems, "diplomacy" refers not to international negotiations or even "the art of letting someone have your way," so much as to a friendly gesture between two parties. While some of these diplomatic efforts are targeted to generate goodwill between countries, I don't think anybody expects the Indians to be so dazzled by Michelle Obama's new shoes that they'll rush to blindly sign every form President Obama throws in front of them.

There are limits to all forms of diplomacy.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The New Wave

Some of you may remember that I wrote a paper last year on free information flows and attitudes toward the United States. I was trying to find a relationship between information freedom and successful public diplomacy, but the most influential factor in how countries viewed the United States seemed to be the president. Attitudes about the United States shifted dramatically when Obama replaced Bush.

Chalk it up to frustration with Bush or optimism about Obama--many pundits have. But it's fair to say that opinions of Obama (both foreign and domestic) have also changed over the past two years. Early this week I wondered what effect Republican domination of the House would have on foreign attitudes. While that's not yet clear, it is fair to say that the political shift is already affecting how Obama presents various political issues.

Today the Washington Post reports that Obama is recasting environmental policy to emphasize its economic benefits, and the New York Times notes that Obama's trip to Asia is being reframed to emphasize jobs creation. Both efforts appear to be aimed to appease the new politicians and the constituents who voted them into power, but it's worth noting that no president ever exclusively addresses a domestic or a foreign audience, particularly in the age of international cable, mobile technology and high-speed Internet.

The new M.O. for American politics seems to be domestic growth, but it will be interesting to see how this message plays abroad.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Time to Dance

A number of news organizations are reporting the first performance of the American Ballet Theatre in Cuba since 1960.

ABC News: "Call it ballet diplomacy. Last night, 35 American dancers performed pirouettes and leaped across a stage in a theater in Cuba named for Karl Marx, bridging a political divide that hadn't been crossed in half a century."

Reuters: "This visit is the latest attempt at cultural  diplomacy between the two ideological foes as they search for common ground after five decades of hostility."

Hmmm... Seems a little enthusiastic to me. I'm all for mixing tutus and diplomacy, but I think the BBC News' take was a little more realistic: "While relations between the US and Cuba are showing signs of thawing, the US administration has yet to signal an end to their lengthy trade embargo of the island."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

IraQVC : Oversell Edition

The AP questions the limits of U.S. traditional diplomacy, asking: "Is US overselling diplomacy in Iraq?"

The article cites a State Department audio concluding that the Obama administration may be overstating the impact of U.S. diplomats there, and that diplomatic work may be harder to pull off without military backing or protection. It quotes Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations saying, "Normally, stabilizing a situation like this requires peacekeepers ... Peacekeepers are soldiers. That doesn't say there aren't important and valuable things that government civilians can do. But ... security protection is important in this environment, and that's not something State Department civilians do."

The concerns highlight one of many differences between the U.S. approach in Iraq and Afghanistan, where, as this blog recently reported, the U.S. is trying to mix military action and political dialogue. There is, after all, great wisdom in the infamous Will Rogers quote: "Diplomacy is the art of saying "Nice doggie" until you can find a rock." That is to say, words carry more weight when backed by strength.

Iraq may not be the "graveyard of empires," but with a relentless stream of scandals--from Abu Ghraib and Blackwater to mismanaged funds and the UN's oil-for-food scandal--Iraq has presented itself as a formidable public diplomacy challenge, a situation that has not been aided by the ambiguity of what, exactly, the U.S. was trying to communicate there. Was it an anti-WMD message? A pro-democracy message? A demonstration of force against terrorism? A show of solidarity with Arabs?

Traditional and public diplomats alike are going to struggle to communicate in the years ahead. It's unclear how much the presence of the military would help, but it's certain that their absence will add one more challenge to an already difficult task.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rock the Vote!

I watched the 2004 returns in Prague, at a restaurant so packed with expatriates that the servers could hardly squeeze between the tables. The majority of my American friends (fulfilling stereotypes about young Americans who spend a year or two in Prague) had voted for Kerry, but were almost universally confident that Bush would to win. My foreign friends and students had obviously not voted, but were surprised by the results, and I spent a good part of the next week trying to answer the question: How had Bush been re-elected? None of the people who asked were experts on U.S. domestic policy--and neither was I, for that matter. But I did my best to explain. Mostly, I was surprised by their passionate response to the election.

The fact is, the rest of the world pays far more attention to U.S. politics than U.S. citizens pay to politics in any other country. I've been thinking about that today as the U.S. seems poised to elect a body of inward-focusing politicians. Novelty--and its implication of purity--and domestic growth have been major themes in many campaigns, which means that experience in foreign policy isn't exactly at the top of the agenda for many candidates.

The Economist, like many papers and pundits, argues that Americans are voting in anger. U.S. voters are hardly alone in their disappointment with President Obama. The Right thinks he's done too much. The Left thinks he's done too little. And just about everybody has observed his failure to match rhetorical strength with action. Politico claims that U.S. voters are sending a message to the President with their ballots today. But their message will travel beyond the White House and even beyond the U.S. border. But until the ballots are tallied and the new political line-up is revealed, it's unclear what that message will be.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cultural Diplomacy as a Listening Project

One week left before the cultural diplomacy conference at American University's School of International Service.

The one-day conference, co-sponsored by the Public Diplomacy Council and the MountainRunner Institute, focuses on one of my favorite themes: listening as an act of diplomacy.It will be held on November 8, 2010, 12:00-4:30pm in the SIS Building's Founder's Room on the AU campus. (directions).

The conference will address three major areas within the greater subject of Cultural Diplomacy:
  • New Social Media and Public Diplomacy 2.0
  • Educational, Cultural Exchanges
  • Cultural Intelligence: Does it include listening?
Speakers will include:
  • Nicholas Cull, Professor of Public Diplomacy, USC
  • Rick A. Ruth, Director of the Office of Policy and Evaluation, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State
  • Edward O’Connell, President, Alternative Strategies Institute, Inc.
  • Sherry Mueller, President, National Council for International Visitors
  • Andrew Kneale, Cultural Relations Project Manager, British Council USA
  • Ben Connable, former head, Marine Corps Cultural Intelligence Program
  • J.P. Singh, Associate Professor of Communication, Technology and Culture, Georgetown University
From the event description:
This one-day event will build upon last year’s successful conference, “Culture’s Purpose and the Work of Cultural Diplomacy.” Our previous meeting provided an opportunity for productive exchange among central stakeholders in the future of cultural diplomacy. It encouraged them to address the question of the efficacy of the concept of culture – how culture works – in the context of cultural diplomacy efforts, as at once: an expressive tool, representative of particular “values,” a vehicle of communication, carrying out creatively transformative effects upon international relationships, or a variety of soft power, among others. While representing diverse starting points and conceiving the role of culture in multiple ways, a notable emergent consensus among the participants in last year’s conference was the urgent need to better understand the cultures of the people with whom we are engaged rather than to continue to promote the virtues of our own culture.... We might summarize the diverse concerns expressed during our previous conference as convergent calls for better “listening,” that is, the need to become better participants in a cultural diplomacy more thoroughly conceived as dialogue. Indeed, we might suggest that, regardless of how culture is understood to be relevant for diplomacy – conceived as a constituent element of public diplomacy, strategic communication, cultural exchange, nation branding, or as initiatives in culture and the arts – a persistent failing of cultural diplomacy as a dimension of public diplomacy has been its radically underdeveloped appreciation for the process of communication as a meaningful cultural act. We propose the need for greater attention to the relationship between culture and communication in diplomacy.

If you wish to attend, please contact my fabulous and only mildly chaotic colleague Yelena.
Want to know more? Click here or e-mail one of the conference organizers: Robert Albro, Craig Hayden or Anthony Quainton.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sanity and Discourse

I may not agree with everything Jon Stewart said yesterday at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, but it was free, it was fun and it was close to my house. And, as regular readers of this blog know, I'm a big fan of civil discourse.

Stewart's closing remarks were addressed to a domestic audience, but I think some of his advice could be applied to international discourse as well--specifically his recognition of the importance of working together, even when our views are different, and his conviction that it can be done: "...we know, instinctively, as a people, that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light, we have to work together. And the truth is there will always be darkness, and sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn't the promised land. Sometimes, it's just New Jersey."

And while Stewart directed most of his ire at the toxic media sources that dish up fear and hyperbole, I think he could have been a little harder on his audience. Because civil discourse isn't quite enough. We need to be able to listen--with discernment and patience and respect--and that's something most people struggle with on a daily basis.

But I don't want to get too deep here. It's a weekend after all, and I've got plenty of thesis left to write. So I'll close here with some of my favorite photos from the rally. Enjoy!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pambassadors in the Post

Flipping through the Washington Post this morning, I came across this, a news supplement "prepared by China Daily, People's Republic of China," in the style of Russia Today.

The front page of this six-page pull-out had an environmental focus, with an article on bilateral clean energy ties between China and the United States and an op-ed entitled "Spare a thought for efforts in conservation." The inside was economy-focused, with more articles on green energy, job growth, exporter debt, white collar burnout and the plight of the local factory. The back page even included a story on the nation's new pambassadors.

Of particular interest to this blogger was an article entitled "Military coexistence in new era," which argued that "a review of China-U.S. military relations in recent years reveals two basic facts: First, the two countries and their military leaderships have more than once emphasized their desire to develop bilateral military ties and strengthen communication. Second, the two militaries are dedicated to promoting and stabilizing a friendly relationship between the two countries." A little clunky, but the message is fairly clear: Chinese military power is no cause for alarm, folks; think of us as allies, please.

The presence of the supplement was no surprise. This blog has reported on China's expanding PD efforts before. According to the website, China Daily's U.S. edition was launched in 2009 and "its circulation includes the United Nations Headquarters, government agencies of the United States and Canada, universities, think tanks, major financial institutions and many high-tech companies."

But I have to wonder how effective these supplements actually are. The writing is about as subtle as an episode of Jackass, and it's hard to read stories about the stresses of white collar capitalism without the word "propaganda" popping into your head. And who, exactly, are these supplements targeting? As I understand it, the Washington Post's print subscribers essentially consist of me and a few dozen Luddites scattered around the city. I attempted to call the China Daily offices in D.C. and New York for more information, but went to voice mail both times. China is nothing if not consistent.


Update! 12:35pm  When I called the Washington Bureau of China Daily using the number listed in the Washington Post supplement, I reached (as mentioned) a generic answering machine, and hung up without leaving a message. Moments ago I received a reply from that number from somebody who saw my number listed as a "missed call." When I asked if I was speaking to the China Daily office, I was informed that I had a wrong number. Surely the China Daily office will want to correct this immediately.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Listen Up!

Video courtesy of the Washington Post.

File this under Less Than Shocking: Today's Washington Post reports that an Iraqi television show that empowers citizens to share their concerns about life in Baghdad is popular. The program, called Baghdadia and the People, invites Iraqis to contribute to the public discourse.

As Ali Jumaa, an unemployed man, waited his turn to speak, he explained the appeal of Suheil's show. "This is the people's voice to the government," he said. "He goes everywhere and they see the suffering, not like others who try to pretend everything is fine."

The idea that Iraqis -- or anyone, for that matter -- would appreciate having an opportunity to address their leaders and help shape the narrative of their day-to-day lives, is hardly surprising. What is surprising is how little U.S. public diplomacy does to contribute to initiatives like this, particularly in the realm of broadcasting.

I co-wrote a paper last year discussing this lacuna in U.S. public broadcasting efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. While some aspects of U.S. engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan are collaborative, U.S. radio broadcasts are often not. As the almost exclusive generator of messages in this context, the United States reinforces existing power dynamics, treating radio audiences, for the most part, as passive recipients of information and not co-creators.

Over the past two decades, new Arab media sources have created an environment in which the public has greater agency in framing and interpreting the news. Programs like Baghdadia and the People and the analytical offerings of Al Jazeera and its imitators create a space for people to frame issues in the public sphere. The United States has been trying to navigate this environment in the post-9/11 world with broadcasts that more closely resembled the unreliable state media programs of the mid-twentieth century than their more popular, populist successors.

It's a shame, really, because there is clearly still a need for bottom-up broadcasting in Iraq.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

$#*! My Prof Says

Here's another one for the cross-cultural collaboration files:

A while back I quoted one of my professors on the evolution of US foreign policy -- essentially saying that Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson laid the foundation on which subsequent presidents built. We've covered a lot of ground over the past few weeks, most of which was covered in a harrowing midterm that spanned two centuries of foreign policy from seven different countries, and now we're focusing on major international issues. This week: globalization.

Among our readings, Prof. Pastor has included one of his own pieces, a 2008 article for Foreign Affairs. In it, Pastor addresses a few assumptions about U.S. security and economy and argues that Mexico and Canada have a greater impact on both than any other country. Casting aspersions on NAFTA and immigration (both popular whipping boys during campaign season) does little to improve goodwill in the neighborhood. Pastor advocates for tripartite dialogue, conducted on equal footing (or as equal as possible) between Canada, Mexico and the United States to create "a sense of community and a common approach to continental problems."

Hard power standards like economic collaboration, customs unions, and an investment fund to reduce the income gap between Mexico and its neighbors are part of this strategy. But it also relies on soft power as well, namely in the form of generating goodwill and a Donnesque spirit of common purpose: "A North American approach needs a vision based on the simple premise that each country benefits from its neighbors' success and each is diminished by their problems or setbacks."

It's like that scene in A Beautiful Mind where Russell Crowe deduces that he and his buddies are going to have to collaborate if they want to get lucky, because blind pursuit of personal interests will inevitably lead to going home alone--only slightly less crass and significantly more international. The proposal involves moving away from bureaucratic haggling and towards collaborative solutions. One suggestion involves sponsoring centers for North American studies in each country, to promote regional solidarity. Ultimately, it relies on the assumption that by working together, we stop being part of the problem and start contributing to the solution.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chuck Norris Diplomacy

Over at the Washington Post, David Ignatius reports that General David Petraeus is "supplementing his primary mission as military commander [in Afghanistan] with the 'warrior-statesman' role he had in Iraq, where he was able to fuse the political and military elements of the campaign."

In other words, Petraeus is mixing coffee talk with special ops, combining military and diplomatic efforts to increase pressure on the Taliban while facilitating dialogue between the terrorist organization and the Afghan government.

According to Ignatius, "With Petraeus in the political-military driver's seat, he can steer a process to push the disparate Taliban groups toward a political settlement. The diplomatic side of this game depends on Petraeus's ability to pound those who resist -- with devastating firepower."

Teddy Roosevelt would certainly approve of this speak-softly-and-beat-your-enemies-with-a-big-stick approach. But does military aggression supplement or undermine diplomatic outreach? No doubt the results depend on the circumstances, and in Afghanistan there's not enough evidence to say one way or the other. Hopefully this "diplomacy with a punch" will ultimately prove to be a successful strategy.

Monday, October 18, 2010

It's a Brand New Day...

The Moscow Times reports that Russian President Dmitri Medvedev is using video blogs to promote his international agenda.

According to the Times, "This strategy has the advantage of publicly identifying laudable foreign policy objectives. It provides a direct channel of communication with broad audiences in the target states and Russia... [Medvedev] is rallying international and domestic support behind his positions— and thus campaigning for leadership at home and abroad, boosting his self-esteem. But there is a downside to the video-blog diplomacy. It could turn out to be a high-stakes bet, front-loaded with risks of failure, especially when taping a video blog predates strategy development."

The Times fails to comment on the negative potential of social media oversharing--recently made clear to Russia by the explosive Wormgate story--to say nothing of the crushing embarrassment of being less popular than exploitative tripe like David after Dentist.

But let's focus on that last sentence for just a second, and substitute just about any sort of hard power or soft power effort for the phrase "taping a video blog." Surely every attempt at promoting foreign policy is destined to fail when it preempts strategy--a lesson some US foreign policy strategists could stand to remember as well.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Beefing Up Sri Lanka's Image

Not satisfied with traditional diplomacy methods, Sri Lanka is reportedly pumping up its image with the aid of PR Firms.

Sri Lanka's Sunday Times reports that the government is paying UK firm Bell Pottinger about 30,000USD per month to promote Sri Lanka in the United States and about 20,000USD to another firm in India. Sri Lankan papers question whether the money is well spent and whether it's necessary to outsource such a domestic service. But there's little information about the ends, means and impacts of the effort.

And (without attempting to malign the efforts of Don Draper and his colleagues) how effective can a PR campaign be when a nation's domestic turmoil is attracting negative attention from the United Nations and the United States--one of the countries targeted by this campaign?

So, pop stars and PR aren't exactly working out. Maybe it really is time to give peace a chance?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Peace and Conflict

I realize I was just patting China on the back a few days ago for clever public diplomacy, but I think they've botched it up this time. Clearly, China's response to the receipt, by Liu Xiaobo, of the first Nobel Peace Prize to be won by a Chinese national has exposed an underlying conflict within the country.

On the one hand, the award is an honor. But Liu Xiaobo is a poster child for human rights and pro-democracy dissent in China, and the award draws negative attention to human rights abuses in China. The government's initial response was to repress the news, with a major media and Internet censorship campaign, which merely served to highlight the nation's lack of free speech. Underlying this entire response is a disconnect between China's belief in national sovereignty and its desire to gain prestige within the international system by adhering to international norms (such as those laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which China is a signatory).

China has shown itself to be adept at resisting international pressure in the past. As China is a non-democratic government, its leaders are not subjected to electoral accountability. Dissidents are prevented from voicing their views. And the nation's geopolitical and economic significance make it immune to some of the external pressures that might influence less influential countries. Despite China's adherence to communist politics, the nation is economically tied to many capitalist countries and corporations, and has a thriving economy. Its economic strength hinders trade partners from applying much pressure to the country, as was the case when the Clinton administration attempted to link trade and human rights conditions.

It's long been acknowledged that China's human rights track record doesn't exactly mesh with the UDHR philosophy, and this new prize is the latest situation to bring that problem into the harsh glare of an international spotlight. China has resisted international pressure in the past, but schisms between words and action can impede public diplomacy and soft power in general by undermining a nation's credibility. It's unlikely that the Peace Prize will create a radical shift in China's domestic human rights policy--but the government's response thus far hasn't done it any favors. Even a small shift, for example, not suppressing media reports of the prize, would go a long way towards improving China's human rights image.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tweeting for Peace

Like many people, I've been concerned about negative and pessimistic reports from the current round of Middle East Peace Talks. I spent a good chunk of the weekend reading up on the Middle East for class, and one of the themes I took away from the reading is that interpersonal relationships are critically important at the highest levels of international negotiations.

In fact, to hear Jimmy Carter tell it, the story of the Camp David Accords is impossible to understand without appreciating the luncheons and presents and friendly conversations that built their foundation.

So you can imagine my relief when I saw this article. Yes, my favorite Tweeter is in the Middle East! And People magazine reports that a reliable source ... or, you know, a source ... says he and his wife are speaking at a conference there. Now, I've expressed suspicion of Kutcher's ability to tweet the world's heartache away in the past, but I'll say it again. If it comes down to the charisma of the star of Dude, Where's My Car or the persuasive power of luncheons and chats, I'm putting my money on luncheons and chats.

I'm not opposed to celebrity-policy mash-ups. Far from it. But I do think Ashton may be in over his head on this one....

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lights, Camera, Culture!

In Three Days of the Condor, he ran from the government. In All the President's Men, he brought down the government. And in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, well, the government brought him down.

Now Robert Redford is working with the government, as his Sundance Institute partners with the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and other federal cultural organizations to promote cross-cultural dialogue via independent film.

From the Institute's press release:

Film Forward: Advancing Cultural Dialogue chooses a carefully curated group of 10 contemporary independent films, five American and five international, and invites the filmmakers to present their works in selected locations in both the United States and at American embassies and other venues abroad. Master classes, discussion panels, Q&As and other engagements between filmmaker and audience are programmed around the screenings in all locations, cultivating engaged dialogue, fostering appreciation of other viewpoints and developing new audiences for independent film.

It's eerie how many of my favorite topics are united in this story--cultural diplomacy, indie films and cross-cultural dialogue--as if it had been created for me in an experimental government lab. I like this idea, and not just because I'm and independent film junkie. This is a really savvy cultural diplomacy move--uniting a government objective to increase cross-cultural dialogue, a globally respected private organization and Robert Redford. What's not to love?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Panda Politics

Ken Layne stirs the pot over at Wonkette, insisting that China's government is forcing middle-aged Americans to clean up panda poop -- an exercise in transnational humiliation.

Layne argues that the scatological expedition (which, for those keeping score, was arranged by the scoopers themselves) is like China's decision to recall Tai Shan from the National Zoo and efforts to undervalue its currency: a deliberate attempt to gain the upper hand in the Sino-American relationship.

Like most satire, Layne's piece has a grain of truth to it. There has certainly been evidence of Chinese muscle-flexing in recent months. And why shouldn't China want the upper hand? Nobody actually prefers riding the bench to being starting quarterback.

Now I like a good panda poop joke as much as the next girl. But let's focus for a moment on what a smart PD move this is. The women who traveled across the Pacific to collect Tai Shan's scat actually paid for the privilege, volunteering through the Bifenxia panda research center. According to the Washington Post, "The program was designed to give foreign donors a hands-on look at the center, but has since been opened up to all tourists."

The program (private sector take note!) takes advantage of the panda's cache to attract donor-tourist-volunteers, garnering funding, cheap labor and fabulous PR. Innovation! Conservation! Goodwill generation! This program has it all.

Further capitalizing on the panda's popularity, China recently announced the names of six winners of its search for "Pambassadors" to spread the good word about the adorable bamboo-guzzlers. The Wall Street Journal reports that the winners were selected from the U.S., France, Sweden, Taiwan, China and Japan. Guess they think the odds of ambassadorial pandacide are slim.

China's working hard to protect the panda and promote its image at home and abroad. Whether it translates into positive foreign attitudes or not remains to be seen. As always, it's important to remember the role of foreign and domestic policy in shaping public opinion abroad. To that end, a little currency revaluation could go a long way.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Public diplomacy enthusiasts spend a lot of time focusing on the need to drum up foreign support for foreign policy, but it's important to remember that domestic support is equally important.

Over at Foreign Policy, Stephen Biddle commends President Obama for taking domestic considerations into account when developing war strategy:

Waging war requires resources -- money, troops, and equipment -- and in a democracy, resources require public support. In the United States, the people's representatives in Congress control public spending. If a majority of lawmakers vote against the war, it will be defunded, and this means failure every bit as much as if U.S. soldiers were outfought on the battlefield. A necessary part of any sound strategy is thus its ability to sustain the political majority needed to keep it funded, and it's the president's job to ensure that any strategy the country adopts can meet this requirement. Of course, war should not be used to advance partisan aims at the expense of the national interest; the role of politics in strategy is not unlimited. But a military strategy that cannot succeed at home will fail abroad, and this means that politics and strategy have to be connected by the commander in chief.

Biddle is focusing primarily on military strategy, but what about out aspects of security--specifically communication? Is the United States capable of developing and sustaining a cohesive foreign policy strategy without the support of the public?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Shanghai Noon -- Showdown Near Senkaku

Japan has done a lot to improve traditional and public diplomacy in Asia, as I've written in the past. From pop culture cache and technological supremacy to cultural exchanges and language education, Japan has attempted to broaden its soft power resources.

But it looks as if Japan's diplomatic efforts could use a Pikachu-powered jolt of energy as diplomatic relations with China have been suspended this week, the latest development in a standoff following a maritime fender bender near the Senkaku islands.

Over at Foreign Policy, Dan Twining argues that the tension "is part of a larger pattern of Chinese assertiveness towards its neighbors over the past few years," an observation in keeping with China's growing military and economic power. With economic and technological strength, an advantageous geographical position, a close relationship with the United States and diplomatic cache, Japan is in many ways well situated to counter China's rising power.

China, of course, is no stranger to the PD game itself--from panda politics to Olympian spectacle to extravagant Expos to the establishment of the nation's first PD research center, China has demonstrated an adept appreciation of soft power politics.

Ultimately, the question of Chinese v. Japanese regional influence may be determined less by soft power and public diplomacy strategies than by hard power politics. But even if that were the case, it can only be disadvantageous to suspend diplomatic relations and open channels of communication as the nations try to resolve their differences in a (presumably) peaceful manner.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


More from the U.S. foreign policy files: In American Foreign Policy Since World War II, John Spanier and Steven W. Hook argue that U.S. foreign policy is largely couched in moral terms. That makes the nation generally averse to fight, but when pressed to, the fights must be framed in terms of U.S. values: protecting liberty, democracy and freedom at home and abroad.

However, this "moralistic attitude also militated against the use of diplomacy in its classical sense: to compromise interests, to conciliate differences, and to moderate and isolate conflicts."

America's deep suspicion of diplomacy meant the nation was slow to create a permanent diplomatic corps. Hook and Spanier argue that this attitude has also made it difficult for the United States to compromise, because any compromise is not simply political but moral, which means a weakening of American values.

Their observations are in keeping with the U.S. trend of increasing traditional and public diplomacy resources during times of war and crisis and decreasing them during times of relative peace. The U.S. has always been a champion of democracy, but has this led the country away from compromise toward violence?

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Middle Ground

And last night, Jon Stewart called on the rational middle ground to gather in D.C. to appeal for moderation:

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Pragmatists

Last night I was thumbing through AU professor (and sometime consultant, advisor, director, fellow and diplomat) Robert Pastor's chapter on U.S. foreign policy in A Century's Journey. Full disclosure: This wasn't casual bedtime reading. I'm in his class.

Pastor argues that U.S. foreign policy is characterized by a sort of divided vision. Team Teddy leans toward strength, independence and unilateralism. Team Woody leans toward international institutions, universal norms and multilateralism. However, most U.S. foreign policy decisions have been decided by a third, pragmatic camp: Team Undecided, which tends to be swayed and directed by current events.

I haven't gotten far into the reading (although I will soon, as I'm co-leading a discussion on it), but thus far it seems that Pastor's emphasizing hard power (that is, economic and military) action. But how does this bi-/tri-polar foreign policy system influence soft power activities in the United States? After all, foreign policy is one of the most crucial factors in shaping foreign opinions about the United States--a major PD goal. So what does this mean for soft power?

For some reason, it's put a Kaiser Chief's song in my head: We are the angry mob. We read the papers every day. We like who we like, we hate who we hate, but we're also easily swayed.

Pastor suggests that the United States has frequently been more committed to Wilsonian rhetoric than Wilsonian action, an inconsistency that could undermine PD efforts abroad. In fact, the entire system, with its reliance on the pragmatic but variable Undecideds seems geared toward inconsistency in general. And that's a problem for an enterprise that relies on consistency.

Of course, I'm only a few pages in and I could be totally off-base on my assessment. Stay tuned for an update when I finish my reading!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Social Media: Two Views

Two views on social media. The first, courtesy of Scott Adams, below:

and the second is available here, from mashable.

Essentially, the article argues that in the future, social media will cease to be a media phenomenon--not because it's going to disappear, but because it's going to be integrated. ("All media as we know it today will become social, and feature a social component to one extent or another.") Author Vadim Lavrusik claims that social media is already becoming integrated into online journalism, via such trends as collaborative reporting and social media beat-mining.

Seeing as how PD involves elements of both marketing and journalism, what does this mean for the noble field of public diplomacy? Less message content control (bad) but more active engagement with potential audience (good). The problem is that most PD bodies seem to be a little slow to capitalize on social media technology. There's a desperate need to better align objectives with technological capabilities--not the government's strongest suit.

It's not that I think the State Department shouldn't be on Twitter--but there's a reason they have fewer followers than your average sirloin-clad pop starlet.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

...and counting

More news from the China files. The government is evidently thinking about easing its one-child per family rule, according to Time.

In place for over three decades, the law was initially passed after population growth was blamed for fatal food shortages.

The domestic fall-out of a policy shift is likely to have both positive and negative aspects, and the consequences for China's role on the world stage are not yet clear.

Policy wonks specializing on territorial disputes, however, are united in agreeing that the back seats of the nation's minivans are likely to become increasingly contentious spaces in the years ahead.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fighting Fire with Fire

It's no secret that China's leaders have succeeded in expanding the nation's global influence over the past century. Today, its military, economic and political strength is considerable--and growing. But while this has obvious benefits for China, it also has the opposite effect. Namely, China's growing strength has attracted negative attention abroad.

In The Washington Post, Andrew Higgins cites China's growth as one instigator of violence against Chinese expatriates in Kyrgyzstan: "As China pushes beyond its borders in search of markets, jobs and a bigger voice in world affairs, a nation that once boasted of 'having friends everywhere' increasingly confronts a problem long faced by the United States: Its wealth and clout might inspire awe and wary respect, but they also generate envy and, at times, violent hostility."

China's growth, inevitably, has caught the attention of its neighbors, and not always in a good way. The AP reports that Japan, also a significant regional power, and China have recently clashed over a fishing boat collision. The resultant diplomatic tension is not unusual for the two countries, whose relationship has frequently been marred by territorial disputes.

China is aware of the importance of smooth international relations. The New York Times today reports that Chinese officials are making overtures to improve dialogue between Washington and Beijing, quoting a Chinese state official saying, "Strategic trust is the basis of China-U.S. cooperation."

Powerful countries (particularly those rich in hard power) incite suspicion. Disregarding the difficulties of entering the Chinese embassy, it's clear that China recognizes the role of soft power in balancing some of the negative consequences of hard power acquisition. The People's Daily Online recently reported the opening of China's first public diplomacy research center at Beijing Foreign Studies University: "This is China's first institution to specialize in public diplomacy research and its establishment will promote China's public diplomacy research to provide intellectual support for the practice of the government's public diplomacy and a platform for the public to participate in public diplomacy."

It's worth noting that the PDO announcement describes the center's purpose as improving China's public diplomacy and thereby helping the nation to expand its foreign influence. That's hardly surprising. Expanding foreign influence is, after all, one of PD's major objectives. But if China truly wants to maintain and improve its foreign relations, it needs to ensure that increases in power--hard or soft--don't increase wariness or suspicion abroad. To that end, its actions will speak louder than its words.

Monday, September 6, 2010

PD Grab Bag

From the Fars News Agency, Tehran University Dean Mohammad Reza Koushki argues that public diplomacy can strengthen ties between Iran and Azerbaijan, saying: "In addition to formal and official diplomatic activities, an unofficial public diplomacy is the best way to pave the ground for the expansion of deep cultural, religious and ideological relations."

In India, the Foreign Ministry is getting a PD 2.0 update, according to the Hindustan Times, expanding its presence on social networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube. The Ministry of External Affairs hopes to take advantage of PD 2.0's interactive capabilities--although the article notes that the ministry is aware of potential drawbacks, as tweeting has already had negative repercussions for some politicians in the country.

And from UNC's American Diplomacy, Egyptian diplomat Abeer Bassiouny Arafa Ali Radwan argues that public diplomacy is an increasingly important tool for international relations. Granted, she uses a broader definition of the term that this blog generally employs, but raises a lot of interesting points about the advantages and disadvantages of PD, including its long-term limitations. And in a quote that made this communication student smile, she notes that "culture and communication are the keys not only to technological progress and economic prosperity, but also to social cohesion and sustainable development."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tell Me When It's Over

Just days after the U.S. withdrew its final combat troops from Iraq and more than seven years after Bush declared the U.S. mission there "accomplished," President Obama tells the troops the nation's work there is not yet done.

In an age where hard power and soft power are increasingly combined in foreign policy, it's worthwhile to note that the effects and objectives of power are often equally muddled. After all, the differences between the war in Iraq, the subsequent seven years of non-war combat, and the post-combat troop era we're entering now are minuscule.

Hard-line realists would argue that the first priority of states is to ensure their own security, and they do so by exercising power--mostly hard power, but also soft power resources like traditional and public diplomacy. But the lines between war and peace aren't entirely clear cut, and neither are the potential benefits for security. The ultimate objectives of public diplomacy in Iraq have remained fairly constant over the past decade, although the philosophy and methods behind them have not.

It is worth questioning, at the beginning of this new period of ongoing conflict, exactly what's been accomplished and what remains to be done. And for those who have faith in the ability of PD to bridge cultural divides, improve mutual understanding and generate goodwill, it's worth asking how PD can help to wage peace in Iraq.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Is This Thing On?

Last week's Economist reports that international broadcasters are losing purchase on the developing world newscape, creating a need for more targeted broadcasts:

Now technology is cutting costs and stoking competition, eroding the Westerners’ advantages (see article).... As the old signals fade, rival outfits are crowding the airwaves. Iran and Russia have both launched 24-hour English television-news channels. China added a second one last month.... The right response to such challenges is not for Western countries to bin their broadcasts, but to target them better.

It's no secret that international broadcasters like the BBC and VOA are operating in an increasingly competitive environment. And the Economist notes wryly that the situation is an unavoidable consequence of succeeding in another goal--namely the spread of free expression around the world.

But as more voices join the fray, the need for good reporting becomes increasingly important, even as the job becomes exponentially harder. If only there were a correlation between need and funding for international broadcasters. But funding's not the only possible response, of course. Restructuring, outsourcing to/collaborating with local news sources, developing more reciprocal programs and targeting specific audiences have all been proposed as potential solutions to the challenges PD broadcasters face abroad.

The article raises important issues, but -- and as an international communication student, I hesitate to admit this -- the message and the media are only part of the equation. Beyond the basic acts of sending and receiving messages, there's a world of factors influencing how ideas form, gain momentum and are converted into action. Which is fortunate for me, or I'd run out of blog subjects pretty quickly.

Monday, August 23, 2010

How Tweet It Is

This week in public diplomacy: North Korea starts tweeting! Which is fascinating, except, of course, that North Korea denies tweeting.

Which means that in terms of accurately representing the views of the DPRK, Twitter source @uriminzok may not be any more authentic than parodic spin-off Fake_Uriminzok (whose recent posts include "the dear leader has decided to challenge US devil-leader #Barack Obama to a game of 1-1 basketball at his palace in Pyongyang," and "when asked 'who blew their torpedo in the #cheonan's hull?,' the dear leader affirmed the multilateral findings that 'that's what she said.'")

Just more confirmation that nations that fail to capitalize on social media to spread their messages will generally find themselves cleaning up after those who assume the responsibility for them.

Oh, what a tangled Interwebs we weave...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

All in a muddle

I had a mid-degree crisis this week that involved a lot of panicked and serious reflection on my courses, my thesis and my projected career path. It also involved a lot of stress eating and at least one phone call to my mother.

Emerging from the tail end, I've got a better grasp on what I want to do with my final year of grad school, my thesis and my life in general--for the time being, at least. But it seemed like a good time to reflect on blunders and muddled thinking, a good time to post this article, which appeared in today's Post, by Aaron David Miller.

Miller's subject is the proposed Ground Zero mosque and his perspective is that of the former advisor on Arab-Israeli relations who proposed inviting PLO chair Yasser Arafat to visit the Holocaust museum on a visit to D.C. The proposed visit never happened, as it whipped up a storm of controversy and disapproval in the press. Looking back, Miller argues that his proposal was plagued by the same problems troubling the mosque proponents today: a poisonous mixture of memory and symbolism that stifles the original impulse and its intent.

"Is it wise," Miller asks, "to risk tying a cause to these kinds of memories when the outcome wounds or polarizes, instead of healing or unifying?"

It's a fair question, but I'm not entirely persuaded by Miller's analogy. He refers to the Arafat invitation as "one of the dumbest ideas in the annals of U.S. foreign policy," arguing that "the potential conflict and misunderstanding overwhelmed any opportunity for dialogue and understanding," and there's reason to believe that that may be happening here.

But it's worth noting that a lot of the current controversy arises from the misappropriation of two powerful symbols. The "ground zero mosque" is not a mosque and it's not located at ground zero. It's a cultural center about two blocks away. And the cultural center's proponents are in no way affiliated with the radical fundamentalists responsible for the September 11 attacks.

But that's the trouble with (and the beauty of) symbols; they're so open to interpretation. Symbolism is an important element of PD, but can be dangerous because they're so easy to misappropriate. Which is why actions--like domestic and foreign policies--carry so much weight in forming public opinions. The controversy surrounding the proposed cultural center says much more about prevailing national attitudes towards religious tolerance in general and Islam in particular than any symbolic gesture could.

Radio Sawa can broadcast as many pop songs as it wants; it won't drown out the clamor of fear and intolerance.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How to Win Friends and Influence People

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less...

John Donne knew a thing or two about communalism, and even though he lived many years before globalization he appreciated the interdependence of humans and countries. Tragedy affects groups, not individuals. Some may suffer more than others, but nobody suffers in isolation. No man is an island offers insight not just into the human condition, but into modern international politics as well.

Fortunately, for the optimists in the crowd, there's a flip side to the coin. Catastrophes have repercussions beyond the communities they affect -- but rapid and effective solutions also have a ripple effect. Today's Washington Post reports on Pakistan's devastating monsoon floods, and a $55 billion U.S. assistance package:

While the ultimate impact on Pakistani public opinion is unknown, the United States has earned rare and almost universal praise here for acting quickly to speed aid to those hit hardest.

Rapid, visible and effective aid has gained immediate approval from a desperate nation. However -- as the article points out -- "that feeling is unlikely to translate into any immediate improvement in underlying Pakistani attitudes toward the United States." Here again is one of the major themes underlying discussions of effective PD: Even effective campaigns are unlikely to overturn opinions rooted in cultural differences and attitudes about foreign policy. The solution to this problem may lie not in the method of outreach, but in its underlying ideology and in policies grounded in a respectful collaboration towards mutual goals.

The catch, of course, comes in situations where two countries must work together without sharing the same objectives. In such cases, it may be helpful to come back to Donne and remember that no man -- or woman, or country for that matter -- is an island. It's overly simplistic to imagine that such a solution is universally applicable. Some people and nations have irreconcilable goals. Faith and trust may not be automatic solutions, but they are essential components of successful public diplomacy (and foreign policy) campaigns.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The blogger returns

This is my last week in Oaxaca, and on Saturday I'll return to the United States after two months abroad. I'm about to get academic here, so if you're looking for humorous reflections on crustacean-infested hotel rooms, grasshopper snacks, pinata abuse and generic cross-cultural shenanigans, I suggest you check out the AU Oaxaca blog, conveniently located here.

It's been a great trip and I've learned a lot about Mexico and indigenous rights and development. I'm currently working on an independent research project focusing on the Guelaguetza, a two-week festival of cultural heritage held every year in Oaxaca.

On the surface, the Guelaguetza looks a little odd to some tourists--men dancing with turkeys, women hurling pineapples at spectators, etc.--but the festival is a mixture of pre-colonial, colonial and contemporary influences. Representatives from Oaxaca's indigenous regions, wearing traditional clothing, perform folk dances from their region while a band plays folk music behind them. At the end of the performance they distribute the "Guelaguetza" (reciprocal gift), which is generally something representative of their region (hence the pineapple projectiles, courtesy of the ladies of Papaloapan).

My research focuses on the Guelaguetza's dual role (increasingly emphasized in recent years) as both a cultural celebration and a tourist attraction. Are the roles in conflict? How do tourists and locals view the event--and one another?

My interest in the subject is based on the assumption that tourism represents a unique space where representatives of different cultures interact in unique ways. Tourism can effect perceptions of culture, power and diplomacy. I've discussed the question of deliberate v. unintentional representation on this blog before, and I think it's fair to say that national representation isn't the primary goal of most tourists--but it ends up being a function they perform.

Without totally scooping myself, I'll say that my research showed that cultural authenticity was important to most of the tourists attending the official Guelaguetza, although few of them could articulate what constituted "authentic" indigenous culture in any detail. The event emphasizes cultural differences, but in a positive way. And while it offers an opportunity to witness the different clothing, music and dances of various regions, it doesn't provide much information on other cultural differences (such as customs, challenges, history, etc.) So the Guelaguetza is pretty successful in terms of entertainment, but less so in terms of education or cultural interaction.

From a public diplomacy perspective, this seems to be a missed opportunity, as tourism is one of the Mexican government's most effective PD tools. Then again, the majority of tourists attending the Guelaguetza are domestic, not foreign, so the opportunity may not be particularly significant. Like a good grad student, I'll conclude by saying that more research is needed to clarify the issues, but I definitely enjoyed putting in the groundwork. Below is a brief clip from the unofficial ("popular") Guelaguetza. Enjoy!

Monday, June 21, 2010


I'm living about nine blocks from the stadium of Oaxaca's triple-A team, the Guerreros. This weekend, my classmates and I decided to catch a game there. As an academic tourist studying the intersection of tourism and cross-cultural interaction, there was something very meta about being American tourists at a Mexican stadium watching a baseball game. And it got significantly more meta when our group switched from spectators to spectacles.

You can read two detailed, and less academic accounts, of the fiasco here or here, but the quick version is this: Our group was approached by one of the team's cheerleaders, requesting eight of us to participate in a mysterious activity. The stadium was fairly empty, and if we weren't the only gringos in the stadium, we were definitely the most conspicuous, so the fact that we'd be singled out for potential humiliation was on all of our minds, but most of us took a life-is-for-living attitude and joined her in the dugout.

It turned out to be a typical ballpark game--put your forehead on a bat, spin until your dizzy, then try to run in a straight line. It was silly and embarassing, and at least one of us keeled over, but it was all in good fun.

Then we had to walk back to our seats, past the majority of the stadium. While many of the spectators whistled or hollered supportive comments, a few of us heard cries of "Arizona! Arizona!" There actually are a few people from Arizona in our program, and I was initially impressed by the crowd's ability to determine our states of origins, until more savvy students pointed out that they were probably expressing their disapproval of Arizona's new legislature, which I've blogged about before.

This was slightly disconcerting, as there's not a person in our program who approves of the law. But as American citizens abroad, we are representatives of the nation, and that means we represent its policies--even the ones we don't approve of. It was another reminder that foreign policy is an incredibly influential part of public diplomacy.

The sight of six dizzy students in jeans and tee-shirts lurching across a field doesn't exactly reinforce the imagery of a hemispheric hegemon imposing its policies and attitudes on its neighbors, but for some members of the crowd, our physical appearance was enough to mark us as Americans, and our nationality was enough to inspire disapproval.

Obviously some US (and state) policies are going to be unpopular abroad. You can't please everybody all the time. But I think this situation makes a good case for the inclusion of PD professionals in policy formation.

I'm tough enough to take a little cat-calling, but it occurred to me that in a different setting, under different circumstances, US policies could inspire more than a few whistles and jeers. The purpose of public diplomacy isn't simply to promote US foreign policy abroad, but to inspire goodwill towards the nation and its inhabitants. As an American abroad in a friendly state, I'd recommend holding off on the "Mission Accomplished" banner for this task.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Wish You Were Here...

Greetings from Oaxaca! I arrived last week and have since been making myself comfortable as a citizen diplomat (and despite my failure to produce a perfect definition for that term, I think I can apply it to myself, as I'm participating in both study abroad and home stay programs).

I'm currently staying in the home of an incredibly generous woman in Oaxaca, who has hosted some 70 American and Canadian students in the past. Like many participants in the citizen diplomacy process, I'm not sure she would choose to describe herself that way. She seems less concerned with representing Mexico or Oaxaca than in being a gracious host (a task at which she excels).

To be honest, if it weren't for my interest in public and cultural diplomacy, I doubt I'd describe myself that way either. Trying to think of myself as a representative of my country reminds me of elementary school field trips and teachers ominously warning us that were "representatives of our school" who would be disappointing our entire community should we prove incapable of behaving respectfully at the Kennedy Center.

The fact of the matter is that our relationship is both social, cultural and economic, and the primary way in which we define that relationship is as host and guest. But maybe that's one of the reasons citizen diplomacy is so successful. If it has as its objective the improvement of international relations, its motives are less obvious and therefore less suspicious. That objective becomes secondary to successful interpersonal interactions -- the last three feet.