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.