Monday, January 31, 2011

Sphinx Diplomacy

Regular readers of this blog (or, as I like to call them, my family) know that I'm a big fan of dialogue as public diplomacy, but I recently read a paper that made me rethink that stance. The piece, by Geoffrey Cowan and Amelia Arsenault, argues that PD has three levels, each of which has its own benefits and disadvantages: monologue, dialogue and collaboration.

I'd been in the habit of equating monologue with not listening, but Cowan and Arsenault argue that it can be particularly advantageous in clarifying a government's stance, for example in Kennedy's Berlin address or Reagan's demands that Gorbachev "tear down this wall." So far, so good. But what are we to make of a monologue that adopts a less clear stance? I'm thinking in this case of Hillary Clinton's recent statement that "We are not advocating any specific outcome" in Egypt.

I recognize the difficulty of taking sides in this matter, but I do think there is room to identify specific outcomes without necessarily isolating either the government or the people of Egypt. For example, we advocate an increase in democratic representation, the free flow of information and a swift return to peace. U.S. representatives have made many statements along these lines in recent days--all examples of clear monologic messages.

For the record, I'm not entirely convinced that the United States should advocate for a specific outcome in Egypt as there are clear disadvantages to taking sides. I generally believe that public and traditional diplomacy work best when they work together, but this particular instance may be a case where taking a firmer stance might make for stronger public diplomacy, but less effective diplomacy overall.

I'm sure you can tell that I'm still working out my opinions on this, so I'm open to other ideas. What do you think? Should the U.S. government take a firmer stance?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

British Broadcasting Catastrophe

There's a hackneyed joke about cutting hair that says the cutting is the easy part; what's hard is knowing what to leave on. Somebody should tell William Hague.

The decision of Hague's office to inflict "savage cuts" upon BBC World Service funding has sparked a firestorm of protests in Great Britain. Read the coverage in The Daily Mail here. According to the article, the BBC World Service--widely regarded as one of the country's most influential cultural diplomacy tools--will have to cut about 650 jobs over the next three years, or 25% of its staff. 

"This will make the corporation drop five of its language services, end radio programmes in seven languages affecting major countries such as China and Russia, and reduce broadcasts of most short wave and medium wave radio services."

Politicians of all stripes have criticized the cuts. The Telegraph reports that right wing Tory representatives have suggested moving funding from the budgets for overseas aid or international development. To be fair, aid and development can be used for public diplomacy purposes as well, although their scope and purpose are widely different.

It's not clear is how Hague and his staff will respond to the uproar. Budgeting is difficult in the UK, as it is everywhere, and cuts must be made. But the Foreign Secretary's commitment to public diplomacy and his strategy for promoting it may adopt many different forms. One thing, however is very clear: There's a good deal of truth in the advertising slogan, "One wants one's BBC."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Snow Falling on Senators

We're having a good old fashioned DC-style freak out on account of some wintry weather today. And while snow hysteria tends to make many DC residents grouchy, I've always enjoyed it. Maybe it's different if you're transplanted from a region that actually gets enough snow to justify having fancy equipment to clear it, but as one of the rare breed of Beltway-born, snow and collective hysteria go hand-in-hand for me. It's as much a part of winter as marshmallows in my cocoa.

So nothing academic today! Just best wishes to all my friends and family who are trying to beat the rush hour madness to shelter in place tonight.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Passage to (and from) India

Are India and China's soft power resources growing? One pundit argues that unified national vision is increasing the strength of both nations.

I know I've been throwing a lot of Stewart clips at you this week, but I can't help it! The man keeps talking about public diplomacy. This week, he interviews writer Anand Giridharadas, who discusses the Indian diaspora and changing cultural attitudes. Giridharadas argues that most Americans view India and China as economic threats, but the real challenge in confronting them relates to their national attitudes. In terms of international dominance, national unity and consensual vision are spreading through India and China in a manner that will challenge any nation with serious internal division:

"These countries pose a challenge of culture and spirit.... India and China, for all of the work that lies ahead for them, are starting to create cultures of hope and cultures of creation, where there's a consensus on saying 'How do we create something extraordinary?' And we need to be worried not about an economic threat but the threat of that spirit in about two and a half billion people."

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Anand Giridharadas
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Monday, January 24, 2011


Today's terrorist attack on the busy Domodedovo airport in Russia is a tragedy, and it highlights the challenges states face in protecting their citizens from malicious attacks. 

U.S.-Russian cooperation on counterterrorism in the past decade has included bilateral action, such as the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and multilateral efforts. The nations have much in common, although their counterterrorism strategies are not always in sync.

In combating terrorism, it would behoove both nations to diversify their strategies, employing both hard and soft power resources. New and traditional public diplomacy tools should be directed at counterterrorism efforts. Terrorists have proven to be very savvy at using modern technology to spread negative information about their foes. While military and financial resources are essential components of foreign policy, soft power tools are particularly well suited to fostering dialogue, promoting goodwill and countering misinformation, and should be included in counterterrorism initiatives.

Of course, today's events don't represent the failure of public diplomacy or foreign policy. They are appalling, contemptible, criminal activities and should be treated as such. Stepping up public diplomacy efforts is not a panacea to end violence. It is simply a necessary, if insufficient, step in the right direction.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Propaganda and Prejudice

So, continuing this week's investigation into the overlap between PD and propaganda, I'm linking to this fabulous online exhibit (courtesy of the U.S. National Archives) called Powers of Persuasion

Most of these posters targeted a domestic audience, but they contain a lot of information about U.S. attitudes toward other countries--particularly the Axis powers. The objective of the posters was to increase public support for the war abroad, and the selected images demonstrate different tactics the government employed--including promoting interracial unity, inciting emotional responses and using humor or symbolism.

From the exhibit: "The Government tried to identify the most effective poster style. One government-commissioned study concluded that the best posters were those that made a direct , emotional appeal and presented realistic pictures in photographic detail. The study found that symbolic or humorous posters attracted less attention, made a less favorable impression, and did not inspire enthusiasm. Nevertheless, many symbolic and humorous posters were judged to be outstanding in national poster competitions during the war."

The Rockwell "Four Freedoms" posters were inspired by a Franklin Roosevelt speech on the same topic, a masterful peace of public diplomacy unto itself, as it addressed domestic and international audiences, contrasting the values of the United States with the power struggle ambitions of the Axis countries. 

Of course, the Yankee propaganda machine had an extremely effective Nazi counterpart. (Check out this website for an extensive listing of Nazi propaganda tactics.) The image shown here looks kind of like an advertisement for repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but is actually emphasizing the solidarity of both soldiers and workers.
The use of propaganda by the Nazis and the Soviets, as well as a general belief by the U.S. public that the benefit of our national values should be self-evident (and not, therefore, in need of hard sell tactics) partly explains legislative aversion to funding anything that smacks of propagandistic influence--particularly when it has a domestic focus.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Laughing in the Dark

I'm keeping a blog on public diplomacy for my course, and as I'm not above poaching my own material, I'm reprinting today's entry below:

Thursday night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart interviews Kambiz Hosseini and Saman Arbabi of Parazit, a VOA-sponsored Iranian satirical news show:

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Exclusive - Kambiz Hosseini & Saman Arbabi Extended Interview
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These men have not only exquisite taste in both trousers and blog hosts, but a passion for addressing tyranny and hypocrisy, with humor. In terms of reaching an audience, the men say people either love them or hate them. The people they try to reach are in the first category, and the people in the second category tend to be the subjects of their show.

As a public diplomacy vehicle, VOA is regarded by some as propaganda and by others as legitimate journalism, but by other measure, the men behind Parazit have made major strides over the past two years -- and not just because they get free kebabs at restaurants now. They've attracted a diverse and growing audience and earned a reputation for even-handedness in their coverage of the news. As an August 2010 PBS interview of the duo reported, "When audiences tune in, they understand that no one is beyond the reach of the show's biting wit."

I've frequently expressed dubiousness about the effectiveness of Twitter and other social networking sites in bringing about change, and I don't think these men are going to start a revolution overnight. Still, as Mark Twain wisely noted, "The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that is laughter."


And here's Jon Stewart's take on U.S.-Chinese relations:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Socialist Network
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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hu's on First?

The People's Republic of China has been donning its glad rags and batting its eyes at the international community in a targeted charm offensive, as this blog has noted before (here, here and here).

In honor of President Hu's visit (and, let's be honest, because I will accept the flimsiest excuse to put a panda picture on this blog), manIC takes a look at some recent PD efforts and boils them down to palatable and calorific soundbites and assigns them a grade.

What: Times Square Advertisement
Description: A 60-second spot in Times Square features images of dozens of prominent Chinese people, helpfully labeled for the many viewers who have no idea who they are. I can say nothing about it that Isaac Stone Fish's critique in Newsweek does not say better, so I highly recommend reading it.
Grade: C+.  The ad is bland and the message is unclear. While it does nothing to work against China's interests, it does little in terms of goodwill promotion, policy clarification or cultural education.

What: Panda Diplomacy
Description: No need for Mei Xiang and Tian Tian to hire a real estate agent! Hu extends their stay at the National Zoo for another five years.
Grade: A.  This is a devious arrangement. For a mere $10 million (for conservation research), the U.S. gets the privilege of feeding and sheltering these adorable animals which, as animal critic Jacob Lentz notes, invest so much energy in digesting bamboo that they have little left for non-essential activities such as mating, a situation that "could be Nature kind of hinting around the fact that they should collectively shuffle off this mortal coil." The animals get excellent care, China gets research funding, and the U.S. gets to feast its eyes on this.

What: The Confucius Peace Prize
Description: Shortly after discovering that the Nobel Peace Prize had been bestowed upon human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, a rival emerged: The Confucius Peace Prize. This was one small part of China's cranky overreaction to a symbolic gesture.
Grade: E.  Let's not forget that domestic actions influence PD too. By treating the Nobel Peace Prize like an act of war, China's response made it as petty and over-the-top as a bully on Glee, doing nothing to benefit its international image.


Update: 1/21/11

I had it in my head yesterday that there were four things I should highlight, but when I got through the first three I simply could not remember the fourth. Lucky for me, it happened to come up in class last night, and it's so obvious, I can hardly believe I managed to forget it.

What: The Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games
Description: With percussion that was more reminiscent of the orc battle drums in The Lord of the Rings than your friendly neighborhood drum line and a fantastic display of human coordination, China scared the bejeezus out of Bob Costas and more than a few armchair observers.
Grade: A.  The opening was nearly flawless and China presented an image of a nation united, coordinated, powerful and vaguely menacing.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Peacebuilding

I was kind of mystified by the tone of Aaron C. Davis's article in the Washington Post this morning, which seemed to suggest that American troops, their intellects no longer challenged with the tasks of violence, are overcome with boredom by the dull prospect of peacemaking.

To wit: "Assassinations, bombings and gun attacks have killed scores of Iraqi police, civilians and government officials since the beginning of the year. U.S. forces have not been asked to assist in any of them. Rather, from behind concrete blast walls, in security bubbles that can seem deceptively safe, the end of the Iraq war has for most U.S. soldiers become a monotonous farewell mission of goodwill, a last good deed, impression or chance to set things right." (Emphasis mine.)

Davis dismisses the army's soft power excursions as chats over tea and coffee, and the opportunity to teach Iraqis a "nifty" American-style "trick,"although he does acknowledge that they occasionally have strategic advantages. Perhaps Davis has been influenced by the attitudes of the American troops stationed in Iraq, one of whom he quotes as saying "My job is still needed [in Afghanistan]; my job doesn't exist here anymore."

The U.S. armed forces are well trained and incredibly skilled, but work that does not provide an immediate outlet for those skills should not be dismissed as boring or unnecessary. It is true that members of the U.S. military have unique skills which would be of great value in Afghanistan, but it's not fair to say that troops in Afghanistan are doing more to serve the country than troops in Iraq. They're not fighting a better war, they're fighting a different war, at a different stage, with different tools and objectives. The military has an important role to play in public diplomacy, and in regions like Iraq they are better prepared to play it than many private sector or NGO representatives. There is still work to be done in Iraq, work which could provide challenging opportunities for creative solutions--but only for those who are willing to recognize it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Prop Two

Even more from the Propaganda files:

In commemoration of the Blitz, the London Transport Museum screens newsreels, documentaries and feature film clips used for propagandistic purposes during World War II.

A new art exhibit in Moscow features state-commissioned art from North Korea, but the entries tread a fine line between art and propaganda.

Emerging markets adopt "financial propaganda" to promote their currency.

South Korea dismisses North Korea's offer for unconditional talks as propaganda and not a serious attempt at bilateral dialogue.

And, just because, this link.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


"The educator tries to tell people how to think; the propagandist, what to think." -- Everett Martin.

As graduation and my inevitable return to the real world loom in the future, the only things standing between me and them are my thesis and Craig Hayden's course on public diplomacy. We kicked off our first week with a 2001 reading called "Semantics and Ethics of Propaganda," in which Jay Black discusses, as you might assume, the semantics and ethics of propaganda. Black takes a fairly broad view of the word, listing the following as essential components:
  1. Heavy reliance on authority figures in forming beliefs and opinions;
  2. Greater reliance on unverified abstracts, as opposed to empirical validation, in forming beliefs and opinions;
  3. Division of the world into simplistic binaries;
  4. A tendency to see events in simple cause-and-effect terms, overlooking complicated, multiple causes;
  5. Rigid understanding of time that overlooks time flow;
  6. Emphasis on conflict over cooperation.
Black concludes that "what many call propaganda...becomes part of that open marketplace of ideas," noting that pluralism of views is desirable in democratic societies. But the media environment he describes seems remarkably similar to the one America has embraced in recent years and decried in recent days, as the Tucson shooting has led people to question whether the vitriol of public discourse can exhort people to violence, followed by questions of whether the media is really responsible for the behavior of madmen, followed by questions of whether civil discourse isn't superior to toxic partisanship regardless of whether it contributes to violence or not.

The fact of the matter is that people tend to seek out information that reinforces existing beliefs, and vitriol, while temporarily unpopular, still sells. In terms of international conversations, this underscores the need to listen and determine what beliefs exist in other countries as the United States attempts to start dialogues to further foreign policy goals. But it's important to remember that domestic discourse has international repercussions as well.

Whatever opinions our media and politicians take, it behooves them to do so in a manner that promotes U.S. values: free speech, transparency and open-mindedness. Failure to do so presents an image of the nation as a house divided, closed to the possibility of cooperation and compromise.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

PD in a Nutshell

A PD news roundup from around the world:

Bamboo, Not Bombs
The London Telegraph offers a history of Panda Diplomacy, which manIC readers will recognize as a favorite topic of this blogger.
Sample grab: "In 1991, Ming Ming arrived from China and Bao Bao from Berlin Zoo. However, the couple fought savagely and produced no cubs. They were sent home in 'disgrace' in 1994."

Disaster, Dinner and Diplomacy
From the Washington Post, The Reliable Source discusses the tricky business of providing a political dinner after an appetizer of disaster.
Sample grab: "Even in the wake of a national tragedy, the business of diplomacy goes on."

Ambassador Cosby
From the Huffington Post, Azeem Ibrahim makes the radical suggestion that blending narratives can bridge divides between diverse communities.
Sample grab:  "On both sides of the cultural divide, certain extremist voices have hijacked national tragedies to promote their simplistic, black and white narrative where the other exists only as the enemy and all nuances, color and shades of gray are removed from the storytelling. Amidst these poisonous stereotypes, however, exciting new narratives are emerging from a globalized generation that reflect the messy, complicated but successful co-existence of Muslim and Western cultures."

PD 101
The Hindu highlights major points from a recent conference on public diplomacy featuring Philip Seib and Nicholas Cull, among others.
Sample grab: "The link between public diplomacy and foreign policy formulation is inextricable. If policy is flawed, projection alone cannot help. Therefore, senior public diplomacy officials should have a seat on the policy-making table."

But Can She Stick the Landing?
Today Online reports on PD ambassador Michelle Kwan's visit to Singapore.
Sample grab: "Arms stretched out, left foot bent back and with most of her weight shifted on her right foot for balance, American figure skating queen Michelle Kwan cut a near perfect pose."

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Fair Day's Work

With my winter break drawing to a distressingly rapid close, I've been trying to cram in all the haymaking I can before the academic clouds gather.

One of the nice things about living near D.C. is that there's plenty of free entertainment in the form of museums, including the National Building Museum, which I visited last Friday. The museum is currently running an exhibition called "Designing Tomorrow: America's World's Fairs of the 1930s," and while the exhibit's focus is primarily domestic, it does have some public diplomacy significance.

World's Fairs, as Armand Mattelart has noted, are elaborate metaphors with global symbolic significance. The Fairs of the 1930s, set against the backdrop of the Great Depression and World War II, emphasized the role of science and consumerism for national ascendancy, themes that survived World War II and the Cold War and continue to influence public discourse today.  The exhibit's design is engaging and includes posters, still photographs, models and films--my personal favorite features a Typical American Family marveling at a wisecracking, cigarette-smoking robot named Elektro (portending, evidently, a future in which tobacco products are plentiful and Cs in short supply).

As the exhibit notes, "In the midst of the Great Depression and with Fascism on the rise in Europe, these fairs depicted a world of plenty and freedom--a hopeful vision of modern life in America. Civic leaders and businessmen hoped the fairs would stimulate local economies. Corporations were eager to showcase their products and have them associated with themes of a better future and an American way of life. And federal officials all the way up to President Franklin Roosevelt hoped to restore faith in the nation's economic and political systems."  

A museum blog offers more information about the Fairs' international aspects. World's Fairs and Expos continue to serve as tools of nation branding. However, the U.S. withdrew from the Bureau of International Expositions in June 2001, due to a lack of Congressional funding, and has not rejoined, leaving private enterprise to fill the void. The exhibit runs through mid-July and admission is free.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

PD Grab Bag

The Smithsonian Institute is looking for an Associate Director for its Folklife Festival, a longstanding public diplomacy tool.

The JFK documentary/PD masterpiece Years of Lightning, Day of Drums is screening at the AFI Silver theater in downtown Silver Spring on January 13. Tickets are only $5.

And the Spring 2011 issue of the Journal of International Service (featuring a paper on public broadcasting co-authored by this blogger) is now available online. Other manIC-relevant topics include Venezuelan Oil Diplomacy and the Zapatista's Embrace of Strategic Communication.