Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Not that You Asked, But ...

People are just about tripping over themselves to advise Obama on How to Address the Arab World in the Wake of Osama bin Laden's Death / The Arab Spring / The Exposure of the Colonel's Secret Sauce on Wikileaks, etc.

Helle Dale enters the fray with a piece in which she argues that the U.S. government should capitalize on the death of bin Laden to reassert its global leadership. With Randian confidence, Dale recommends that Obama "[reassert] U.S. leadership on the world stage rather than, as is his wont, bowing to global sentiments about American decline."

She offers four suggestions for the White House's public diplomacy outreach to the Arab World:
  • "Declare unequivocal support for the democratic evolution in the Arab countries as well as for the economic freedom that will advance critically needed growth and opportunity."
  • Advocate for oppressed dissidents.
  • Assert U.S. leadership without apology.
  • Use VOA as the message medium.
Dale is definitely focusing on a message-centric form of public diplomacy, in contrast with Seib's advice that the U.S. should move away from monologic messaging towards service activities. I've got a feeling Dale wouldn't be a huge fan of that proposal, but I'll save my conjectures for another day and focus on the actual text of her message.

The first two points seem like givens. In fact, they're so likely to feature in Obama's upcoming message that I'm surprised she thought them worth mentioning. Support for democracy, economic openness and human rights have long been pillars of the nation's identity as well as its foreign policy and it would be highly unlikely for the government to step away from them now.

The third bullet point gives me pause. As regular readers of this blog (also known as my parents) know, I prefer public and traditional diplomacy that promotes multilateralism, partnership, cooperation and mutual respect. While I recognize that the United States is clearly a global leader in some things, I am equally confident that the United States is not a global leader in all things, so I balk at any attempt to assert U.S. leadership without qualification.By all means, let us celebrate the nation's strengths -- but let's do so in a manner that is nuanced and accurate.

Finally, I like Dale's support for VOA. As I noted earlier this week, the BBG has impressed me with its attention to audience reach and effectiveness, although I'm not sure it should be the exclusive medium for message promotion. Actually -- hold that thought. I take it back. Let's make the VOA The Exclusive Medium for Obama's message, then stand back and watch the fun as all the major U.S. networks discover that Smith-Mundt prevents them from disseminating VOA content produced for foreign audiences.

That ought to jump start some serious dialogue on Smith-Mundt's effect (and effectiveness) in the modern media environment. 

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