Thursday, March 31, 2011

Best of Russia

The Best of Russia 2010 photography contest is showing at the Winzavod Center for Contemporary Art.

A domestic contest showing at a domestic venue, the Best of Russia sneaks its way into my IC blog by dint of its having been lauded in Russia Beyond the Headlines, a print-based tool of Russian propaganda public diplomacy and PD body Russky Mir.

But perhaps it's not fair to equate it with straight-up propaganda, since it's trying so hard to be fair and balanced.

As the RBtH article boasts: "The exhibit is far from an endorsement of the official view of 'the Russian way of life.' There are plenty of pictures among the winning photos that do not reflect mainstream views."

Check it out for yourself. The photos are really excellent.

Monday, March 28, 2011

We're Jamming

"Wherever people long to be free they will find a friend in the United States."

Sitting on the couch with The Dog tonight, and while her rapt attention seems to be devoted to the question of whether or not I'm going to finish that ravioli, mine is on the television, where President Obama is engaging in some monologic diplomacy and demonstrating, once again, that Obama diplomacy is generally public diplomacy.

I'd use the term nation branding, if I had more faith in it, but we'll avoid it right now and just point out how he's framing his argument. American is in Libya because that's Who We Are. We are drawing on a history, a culture, a value system that demands our presence there, "born as we are, out of a revolution, by those who longed to be free...."

He's also drawing some pretty stark contrasts with the previous administration's unilateral actions, pointing out that the current U.S. presence in Libya was both requested and sanctioned by the international community. And of course, the U.S. is not leading the operation, but assisting with aspects like surveillance, search-and-rescue and communications jamming. The last of these is particularly relevant because of its PD potential, or rather, its anti-PD potential. By jamming Ghaddafi's communication, the U.S. and its allies can prevent the spread of the regime's messages and values and, consequently, promote their own.

So, I'm sure the professional pundits will have all sorts of opinions on the highs and lows of the speech, but in strictly PD terms, I thought he did a great job. And now, much to The Dog's disappointment, I am going to finish that ravioli.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Social Power

The Wonk's Target: Auntie Em
Media Matters, the latte-swilling, sushi-eating, leftward-leaning media watchdog, is training liberal wonks in the art of winning hearts and minds in America's heartland -- or at least not getting vaporized on Fox News.

The Washington Post ran a story on it this morning, which I read with my morning coffee--which was not a latte, for the record, but a simple cup of joe (milk, no sugar). Although in the interest of full disclosure I should report that it was made by my British roommate in a french press manufactured by a Swiss-based company because my kitchen may as well be the United Nations, evidently.**

The story grabbed my attention not because of my well documented fondness for lattes and sushi, but because of its focus on using soft power and social power to promote policy objectives. No surprise, as one of the course leaders is Matthew Kohut, former speechwriter for the illustrious Joe Nye.

Granted, this story's focus is a little more domestic than items in this blog tend to be, but I think the message behind it has larger implications. From the article: "The class leaders...projected an image of a middle-aged woman--one of the instructor's aunts, grinning in a kitchen--and then explained that the entire point of the course was to win over swing-voting aunts nationwide. The key, they explained, was to ooze likability and reasonableness, and make their opponents seem otherwise. A talk-show host acts as a proxy for the viewer, they counseled, so it was critical to maintain a good rapport" (emphases mine, of course). A solid message, delivered credibly, makes Auntie Em happy.

It's good advice, regardless of political affiliation. And it's good advice for PD as well, although swing-voting aunts aren't the main target abroad. But while the target and message may change, the keys to success are the same: Do everything within your power to appear more likable and more reasonable than your opponents, and maintain good rapport with gatekeepers and decision-makers.

** The British roommate has asked me to point out that the coffee is Cuban.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Come Together

I'm not exactly cross-posting, but I am lifting liberally from the Occasionally Clever blog today: 

I've been doing a lot of research on Israel's public diplomacy this month, and one thing that's struck me about it is its almost exclusively unidirectional nature. Neal Rosendorf makes a similar observation in a recent blog post, saying that "Israel needs to engage directly with the region's increasingly politically empowered peoples."

As Rosendorf notes, Israel's PD often targets U.S. and European audiences, a focus emphasized in a 2009 study on Israeli public diplomacy led by Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Neaman Institute for National Policy Research. That same study tends to characterize Arab countries not as potential audiences but as creators of counter-messages.

This attitude underscores what I see as the chief drawback of Israel's public diplomacy, namely a heavy focus on message transmission (hasbara, or "explaining"), and an undervaluing of dialogue and collaboration. Rosendorf recommends engaging neighboring communities by promoting the development of Arab civil society and entrepreneurship, and by fostering "a widespread sense of regional interdependence, in which peace and prosperity are embraced by the great majority of citizens as a common good."

My classmates and I are drawing up our own recommendations for Israel's PD for a paper we're presenting next week, and we're still hashing out our ideas. But I think the lack of engagement stems from some underlying flaws in Israel's public diplomacy strategy, so in addition to Rosendorf's suggestions, our preliminary recommendations include the following:

  1. An articulated PD strategy to guide the government's actions and identify their targets, objectives and methods;
  2. Better coordination with private sector, civil society, academia and the media;
  3. More listening, research and dialogue;
  4. More relationship-building and collaboration;
  5. Policies, branding efforts and programs that reflect an awareness of the nation's PD strategy and attention to the information gathered through its listening and research efforts.

Monday, March 7, 2011


According to the New York Times, the United States opened its first cultural center since September 11, 2001 in Jakarta this past December, and the tech-heavy hot spot has attracted thousands of curious students, but its influence on perceptions is unknown.

From the article: "The technology on display — a giant, supercharged version of Google Earth called Liquid Galaxy, scores of iPads that are available to test, interactive monitors explaining Black History Month — thrilled the teenagers. It was unclear whether the center had changed their perceptions of the United States, though."

According to the center's website, "@america is a one-of-a-kind, high-technology cultural center where visitors can explore, experience, and express their interests about the United States in fresh and exciting ways.  In the physical and virtual spaces of @america, you can experience cool and cutting-edge technology, interactive games, and live events designed to generate interest and create communities."

The emphasis on new technology and interaction would no doubt make Ali Fischer happy. But how much are people participating? An online poll center with three poll (open from September 2010 to November 2011) included only 26 votes when this blogger checked it around 11a.m. The reluctance to vote may stem from the fact that voting requires registering--a tall order in a largely Muslim community where many people believe the U.S. is anti-Islam.

However, as the article quotes Ambassador Scot Marciel, "a lot of Indonesians are still a little bit skeptical of the United States, and that’s built up over many years. And our challenge is to steadily chip away at that."

At first blush, @america seems to be well designed, engaging and open. It's not going to revolutionize attitudes about the U.S. overnight, but I hope it may stand as an example of U.S. innovation, technology, openness and information-sharing. But, of course, the best and worst enterprises will be eclipsed by the influences of U.S. policy, so I may do better to hope that domestic and foreign policies demonstrate the country's commitment to those ideals as well.

PD for the Jilted Generation

Cross posted from Occasionally Clever:

Ali Fischer's Music for the Jilted Generation is the reason I got interested in public diplomacy. In it, he makes a great case for the collective action of "bazaar" PD while pointing out the flaws of more traditional, hierarchical models.

Ultimately, he argues, the goal of public diplomacy should not be to persuade somebody to agree with you, but rather to achieve shared goals together, or to convince others to work towards your goals by helping them work towards theirs.

It's not applicable to every situation, of course. Nobody's going to argue that the best way for the U.S. to promote democratization in Iran is to help Iran achieve their goal of becoming a nuclear state. Well, nobody outside of Ahmadinejad's entourage, that is. But I think identifying common ground and compromises is the essence of all diplomacy--public, traditional or otherwise.

Fischer argues for an adaptive, engaging form of diplomacy that emphasizes partnership, both online and on the street, and while I may not believe that setting up a SecondLife embassy is the best way to win hearts and minds, I do think there are valid reasons to both widen the circle of engagement and adapt information and communication technology to diplomatic purposes.

Daryl Copeland's paper made less of an impression on me. His argument that diplomats should be "globalization managers" struck me as too broad and vague to be truly practical. There are so many arguments about what globalization means, and what it means to different audiences, for that term to have significant applications. Nor do I believe that the first duty of diplomacy is to manage discontinuity. The first duty of diplomacy is diplomacy. By all means, conduct diplomacy within the context of globalization. Indeed, it would be almost impossible to do otherwise, but be clear about what that means.

Copeland gets around to the point eventually: build relationships and promote development and security -- but how are these goals different from the goals of traditional diplomacy? And his argument that diplomats should innovate and adapt the theory and practice of transformational PD is once again vague.

In my opinion, the best way to promote transformational diplomacy would be to increase collaborative engagement. Social media would be helpful for this, but I think traditional methods of collaboration and interaction are even more important. Exploit the "last three feet" and create meaningful relationships and partnerships to create a base for cooperation and information exchange.

There's nothing particularly radical about the suggestion. Which is probably why PD practitioners have been making it for decades.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Five Questions for Chris Dufour

Chris Dufour wants to be AWESOME. The outspoken blogger, owner of, and frontman of what might best be described as a rock parody tribute band visited AU last week to shower our class with wisdom. I caught up with him afterwords to pick his brain about public diplomacy:

manIC: You recently said a PD career was the occupational equivalent of a double facepalm, but you're clearly enthusiastic about the subject. What fuels your interest/frustration in PD?

Du4: If there's something we as Americans do particularly well it's create culture that influences. We brought you Mad Men. We brought you Hollywood. We brought you Bob Dylan. PD, for the longest time, seemed to be the only place from which one could, theoretically, coordinate and leverage America's culture of AWESOMENESS into a global influence strategy. You saw elements of this with the old "jazz diplomacy" tours USIA instituted. The problem now is that in a Web 2.0, social world where we are ALL as interconnected as we want to be, EVERYBODY becomes a cultural influencer. US PD and communication agencies are poorly situated to deal with, much less take advantage of this social change.

As an expert in all things AWESOME, what is the most awesome change you've witnessed in USPD over the past decade?

Tough question. Jim Glassman is about as good as it ever got, and how he TOOK OWNERSHIP of the "War of Ideas" as opposed to the photo ops State PD does now. Even then, however, I think there were plenty of problems in the way Glassman executed things.

You're on the Board of citizen diplomacy organization Sister Cities International. What advice do you have for citizen diplomats who aspire to be awesome?

ENGAGE, ENGAGE, ENGAGE. Learn foreign languages. CONNECT with people. Start the easy way: via social media. Find like minded individuals in other countries and start building relationships. Share what YOU think is awesome with THEM and take in what THEY think is awesome. Share THAT back with organizations, corporations, everyone. BUILD something from those relationships that not only contributes to a socially AWESOME goal (free education apps! group buying systems! software dev training plan!) but also makes some money and contributes to a networked economy.

In your blog, you recently predicted that "Funding for [US] PD initiatives will continue to stagnate while implementers will find more creative methods of achieving strategic PD goals, mostly via the private sector tech sector and citizen diplomacy organizations. China and some European countries will continue to lead with non-obvious but concerted national efforts in global influence, the effects of which will remain undiscovered by their targets (i.e., US) for years." To what extent do you believe the U.S. public is influenced by the PD of China and other countries?

I think we are MASSIVELY influenced by other countries and we don't know it. How many products do you own that say "Made in China?" You probably own those because of a concerted manufacturing strategy laid out by Chinese economists 10-20 years ago, a currency valuation plan executed to this day by the Chinese government, and marketing & advertising schemes bought and paid for through American companies with Chinese dollars. I know that sounds reactionary and little paranoid, but all the evidence is there for people to see. It just takes a STRATEGIC eye to see how each continuum of influence (communication, economics, finance, legal, etc) works collectively to achieve a long-term goal. I actually don't think we know to what extent we're being influenced externally, be it by China or others.

How would you describe USPD using only rock lyrics? (Why can't we be friends? I want you to want me? One thing I can tell you is you got to be free?...)

"Little by little, we gave you everything you ever dreamed of.
Little by little, the wheels of your life have slowly fallen off."

-- "Little by Little," Oasis