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?

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