Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dip Notes

It's a jungle out there.

Let's start today's news roundup with Libya, where Moammar Ghaddafi's refusal to concede power and his decision to open fire on his own citizens from the skies is of a piece with his 41-year authoritarian rule. Protests continue, but Ghaddafi's response seems more Tiananmen than Tahrir.

A few days ago, a friend and co-blogger asked how China could continue to wield soft power when its global credibility--particularly in terms of human rights and free speech--is so low. I think the answer is the same for China and Libya: a combination of hard power resources and an indifference to the pressures of international norms. It's good for the government, but bad news for the public.

For the record, it's worth noting that these protests erupted despite heavy blocks on media and communication technology, which supports my argument yesterday (courtesy of Malcolm Gladwell) that weak ties are best adapted to influencing information and idea flows, but that strong ties are necessary to promote the changes that translate into action--in short, technology has a role to play, but political revolutionary change occurs beyond the digital realm.

And speaking of the digital realm, Egyptian political parties are starting to organize as "the seismic force of the Egyptian revolution has shaken them out of years of [enforced] somnolence." Some of these efforts, according to The Washington Post are relying on Facebook and other social media platforms for organization, which supports Clay Shirky's assertion that the Internet can be used to promote the growth of a vibrant public sphere, which is necessary for the endurance of democracy.

Next up, Pakistan, where scores of citizens took to the streets to applaud the United States for its diplomatic efforts--in a dream Dick Cheney had one time, probably. In real life, the streets are full of anti-USG protesters whose frustration with U.S. activity in the country has been inflamed by the recent revelation that diplomat-turned-robbery-victim-turned-vigilante Raymond Davis is actually a CIA operative. This is a messy case because of all the uncertainty (Is Davis a diplomat or a spook? Is he a victim or a criminal? And what about the two men he shot?) but it's clear that the case has increased tension between the U.S. and the Pakistani public, and that suspicion of U.S. diplomats has grown as a result.

This is a story many of my blogging colleagues have been covering (see here, here and here). As Jacob observes, the U.S. response will require a combination of both traditional and public diplomacy, an option that is only available for states, although "the promise of network diplomacy and public-private partnerships that target diffuse groups should not be ignored."

And it appears that the Voice of America website was hacked on Monday (possibly by Iranian supporters) asking, "Mrs. Clinton Do you want to hear the voice of oppressed nations will from heart of USA?" [sic]. CNN reports that the Iran cyber army has claimed responsibility, in response to what it labeled "interference," espionage, and misinformation from the United States.

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