Wednesday, February 17, 2010

U.S. to Iran: "Nice Doggy..."

Few things can derail public diplomacy efforts as effectively as inconsistency. For those of us who believe diplomacy is more than the art of saying "nice doggy" until you can find a rock, headlines like this can be disheartening. Tuesday's Washington Post reports that U.S. diplomats have been working both sides of their mouths while talking to Iran this month:
Obama administration officials still ritually say they are interested in engaging with Iran. But as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton completed her tour of the Persian Gulf region on Tuesday, it seemed clear that the bow to doing so is a mere formality and that criticism of Iran is the standard practice.

A day after Clinton repeatedly warned that Iran is turning into a "military dictatorship," officials in Tehran lashed out at the United States, with Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki denouncing her comments as "a new trick" and "fake words" intended "to divert public opinion in the region."

Perhaps one reason people remain skeptical about the efficacy of PD is that it's so easily undermined by inconsistent words and actions. Last year in American Behavioral Scientist, Philip Seib argued that adopting journalistic ethical standards could help protect public diplomacy from charges of propagandizing. Objectivity was the chief virtue in question, but I'd argue that consistency is equally valuable. This is a situation where a little coordination could go a long way--but coordination has never been the defining characteristic of U.S. public diplomacy.

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