Considering U.S. Public Diplomacy in the Changing Context of Diplomacy around the World

This semester we have traversed the main concepts, debates, strengths, weaknesses, and challenges of public diplomacy. We have discussed the “new” PD, amid the various kinds of political power, from hard to social to soft to power of the people. We have compared PD approaches of small, middle, and large powers, amid the tensions of domestic, intermestic, and transnational politics and identity.

As Bruce Gregory wrote in 2011 (“American public diplomacy: Enduring characteristics, elusive transformation,” Hague Journal of Diplomacy 6) and in February, 2014 (http://www.gwu.edu/~ipdgc/assets/docs/IPDGC_FinalReport_PD_Rise&Demise.pdf ), diplomacy is going increasingly public because of the growing public nature of political power. At the same time, the U.S. government is still a preeminent power. Gregory (2011) argues that American public diplomacy should change with these times, but that an internal transformation of U.S. PD is elusive. His argument suggests to me that U.S. public diplomacy must go beyond a mindset and practice of ‘adapt or die’ to an approach of ‘transform, institutionally, or lose relevance, if not sovereignty.’

Of course, the present and future of U.S. PD have implications for other governments’ PD. James Pamment returned from the International Studies Association convention last month and blogged — http://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/blog/reflections-international-studies-association-conference-2014 — about some of the ideas, debates, and challenges explored in Toronto about PD in the US and around the world.

I’m looking forward in our penultimate class session to hearing your perspectives on current U.S. public diplomacy, in the context of PD and politics around the world. About the 2011 Gregory piece in particular, I am also curious: what postscript might you add to the article’s assessment of the first two years of the Obama administration’s diplomatic engagement?

Transforming US-Cuban relationships through interaction

cuba

In his article “The Relational Paradigm and Sustained Dialogue,” Harold Saunders speaks of the importance of “continuous interaction” in transforming the United States’ relationships with even “distant hostile” countries. His “relational paradigm” assumes that politics are based on open-ended, cumulative, and multi-level interactions between the “body politic” of two countries (including citizens in and out of official institutions). An example of how the United States’ relationship with one officially very “hostile” neighbor is being transformed through these sorts of “continuous interactions” is described in this Boston Globe article about recent US-Cuba relations:http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2014/04/20/cuba-and-united-states-are-warily-slowly-thawing-relations/LDEqbKk2hkk4cVn22PuYDO/story.html

The article discusses how, through the “US interests section” in Havana, US and Cuban diplomats and experts are working quietly behind the scenesto cooperate on a range of issues, including combatting human trafficking, improving airline safety, and working on joint public health and environmental efforts. At the same time, American visits to Cuba have increased rapidly, and Americans are now the second largest nationality to visit the island, after Canadians.  Nearly 500,000 Cuban Americans visited last year (thanks to relaxed restrictions on their travel in 2009), as well as another 100,000 visitors on State Department sponsored cultural and educational exchanges. And a surprise announcement by the Cuban government last year that its citizens will now be allowed to apply to travel outside their country means that this exchange could become a two-way street. Despite the continued official hardline of the State Department on Cuba, these sorts of exchanges and cooperation are giving hope to many that relations are experiencing a thaw.

Wishful Thinking. . . US Rhetoric on Egypt

Tahrir Square

Amy Hawthorne, of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, posted a piece about the Obama Administration’s messaging on the current situation in Egypt.

She states:

“A review of key statements [by the Obama Administration] on Egypt during the past month shows the wishful thinking shaping the discourse as the United States struggles to reconcile its declared support for democracy with the reality unfolding on the ground.”

On March 24, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf while discussing the situation in Egypt described politically motivated arrests, detentions, and convictions as “pretty significant bumps in the road here as we’ve tried to work with Egypt to move its democratic transition forward.” In the same statement, she referred twice to a “democratic transition” and to “a country that’s moving toward democracy.”

Sequentially, on March 28, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said in remarks to the New York Times the United States was concerned about the “shockingly large” numbers of people sentenced to death, but continued to believe that stability in Egypt would come through “sticking to a democratic road map.”

Hawthrone’s article continues with multiple examples of mixed messaging by the Obama Administration, expressing disdain for acts of the current authority in Egypt, while simultaneously expressing hope for a democratic government.

These statements lead me to one major observation; that the current relationship between the US and Egypt – which can most eloquently be summed up by the Facebook status: “it’s complicated” – is in fact complicated. The US is conflicted by the need to protect US national interests and the desire to fly the banner of democracy for all to emulate. This confusion is the reason for the convoluted PD strategy and indicative of the weak foreign policy in the MENA region.

Public diplomacy scholars Edward Comor and Hamilton Bean state that, “ethical public diplomacy should be pursued, i.e., a public diplomacy that embraces genuine (rather than contrived) dialogue.” You cannot persuade anti-American Muslims by engaging in rhetoric that is not evident in diplomatic practice. By advocating for democracy and simultaneously supporting autocratic regimes, that violate the principles of which you promote, you lose all credibility.

If the current Administration wants to avoid making the same mistakes of the Bush Administration in the Middle East the United States will need to reorient its policy. Until then, the current rhetoric of the US will fail to resonate with strategic audiences, and the legitimacy of the USG will be as muddled as the situation in Egypt.

Wishful Thinking: The Obama Administration’s Rhetoric on Democracy and Human Rights in Egypt

A Culture of Understanding

For my final post for this class, I decided to write about an idea that I’ve always thought of as beneficial in improving public diplomacy. The idea is not new by any means, nor is it provocative. Bruce Gregory discussed the development of a culture of understanding in his article, “American Public Diplomacy: Enduring Characteristics, Elusive Transformation.” The simple concept that governmental departments should collaborate more among themselves internally and enlist the help of thinkers in the NGO and private sector is a great idea in theory, but we have yet to master it in practice.  I decided to write my final paper on public private partnership because there has been a recent shift towards these partnerships and I believe that they can mean only good things for U.S. public diplomacy goals.

Gregory mentions that the knowledge and expertise needed for effective diplomacy does not necessarily lie within the walls of the government. It is the voices outside of the government and some quietly within that hold the key to building a culture of understanding. Archaic government practices and engagement ideas are not strong enough to stand up against the rapid changes occurring on the international stage. While the State Department has made notable strides to keep up with the changing landscape, more work needs to be done to “leverage civil society’s knowledge, skills and creativity through a networked capacity intended to enable government instruments–not to duplicate or compete with them.”

Organizations such as Booz Allen Hamilton, the Aspen Institute and Coca-Cola are increasingly becoming involved in public diplomacy and partnerships with the State Department. Although some may question the motives of these organizations, it is my opinion that the partnerships provide a two way benefit. The companies or organizations get good PR and are able to secure big government contracts and the State Department is able to get funding for programs their shrinking budget is struggling to support.  The brain power and extra dollars that private partnerships bring to the public sector seem to help rather than harm public diplomacy efforts.

 

The Shutdown Diplomacy

The current US government shutdown isn’t unique: there have been eighteen shutdowns since fiscal year (FY) 1977. Under President Clinton the most recent shutdown took place. In 1995/1996 federal employees had to deal with two shutdowns, one for a period of five days, the other took 21 days. After the closure ended in January, political stability didn’t return immediately: in the first four months of the year, government was dependent on eight continuing resolutions (CRs) to keep agencies going. A CR is what Congress passes when they can’t pass appropriation bills. The CRs started to become pretty common during the 2000s. In FY2001 Congress passed about 20 CRs!

This week I’ll focus my efforts on two articles that addressed public diplomatic efforts during last year’s U.S. government shutdown. Earlier in the semester we read an article that framed the U.S. government shutdown as favorable to diplomatic efforts in China. Some of the bloggers in China viewed the U.S. shutdown as government transparency and the result of a free and democratic society controlling the government instead of vice versa. Here’s the post if you’re interesting in reading more. 

However, Max Fisher, a journalist for the Washington Post, had a different take on how Asia and China viewed the fallout of the shutdown. Fisher viewed it as just another setback in America’s proposed Pivot to the Pacific. Since Obama was embroiled in congressional molasses, he wasn’t able to give his full attention to wooing Asian partners. Thus, many Asian countries are being pulled closer and closer to China’s orbit believing that America can’t be counted on for the long haul.

This has been a problem in America’s foreign policy toward eastern cultures for a long time. U.S. diplomats often entice the East with promises of capitalism, free-trade and economic benefits if they align themselves with the West. However, business propositions never trump relationships in this part of the world. Foolishly, Americans believe good business savvy trumps relationship building worldwide. Slowly, America is beginning to recognize that China’s regional influence is a combination of proximity, relationship building and economic stimulus.

The article by Rausch and Murtaugh, illustrates the importance of building relationships in politics. Though the U.S. Institute for Peace workers were in Libya working on Justice and Security while the U.S. government was being shutdown, they found similarities between the two countries. Every citizen wants the feeling of ownership during the diplomatic process. How can the U.S. stress the importance of citizens participating in government when their own government shuts down? Well, the USIP workers found common ground to create a useful dialogue about the realities of democracy.

In these two articles, there were two different takeaways from the fallout of the government shutdown. Overall, however, the shutdown didn’t help U.S. foreign policy and created a hurdle for U.S. public diplomacy efforts. We’ll see if we can recover or if our competitors truly gained an advantage.

Can the US government genuinely engage with foreign public?

Comor&Bean state that the American government’s embrace of engagement in PD is delusional because it is virtually an “effort at manipulation” to get foreign audience empathize with American policies, rather than “genuine dialogue.” They suggest the government revise this to “a rhetorical approach based on ethical communication,” which gives people “the right and prospective ability to obtain and judge messages and make decisions that affect them.”

 

This reminds of an interview I had with Dr. Curtis Sandberg, Senior VP for the Arts at Meridian International Center. He emphasized he always makes sure to deliver programs in the way audience can make their own decision, and tries not to tell audience to think in a certain way.

 

Moreover, last semester, for my “Cultural Leadership” class, I conducted interviews with leaders in intercultural field. One of the interviewees was Ms. Aimee Fullman. Ms. Fullman mentioned, when she wants to motivate people, she believes it is always important to ask questions, trying to figure out the significance of what they are doing together, in light of “where does this fit into their journey?” Although this interview itself was not about PD, I think her approach is very close to “genuine dialogue” Comor&Bean suggesting, rather than trying to manipulate others to agree with own value.

 

Comor&Bean say this approach is difficult to achieve since it is “a direct challenge to entrenched US foreign policy norms,” which implies it will take quite a long time for the government to make the shift.

 

Dr. Sandberg stated one of their advantages over the government is their flexibility. I’m now wondering whether the government really needs to apply this approach by itself? It might be better (or easier) to have more partnerships with non-governmental actors, which can operate with flexibility and independence in carrying out the initiatives?

 

-Emi

The J-Wave

 

This week I had the pleasure of leading a class discussion on Anne Allison’s piece, “Attractions of the J-Wave for American Youth.” I have to admit that this article did resonate with me personally because I myself am fascinated with Japanese pop culture. My brother has been a fan of anime since before I can remember. My interest stemmed from stories and pictures that family members living in Japan shared with me. I began collecting everything Hello Kitty, researched geisha history and even visited Japan myself where I was able to see Harajuku first hand where I came across young women dressed similar to the ones in the photo above.

I have to agree with Allison when she states that the attraction to Japanese pop culture products is stemmed from attractions to what is different. Harajuku fashion, anime and geisha are something of a fantasy and it’s something about the unknown that always seems to draw you in.

These new models of global imagination do carry a lot of attractive power. My interest in Japan lead me to visit the country myself. I loved my experience! I was able to visit and see firsthand all of the magical places I had read about or seen on T.V. I do not mean to romanticize an entire country–but I do think that Japan is very fascinating. However, the author of the article suggests that their cultural products aren’t necessarily translating into soft power. Allison proposed in her article that soft power should be re-imagined. She thinks that it should be assessed not just in terms of interests it has for the producing country, but on how their cultural products are imagined. What do you think?

Making Cultural Cooperation Popular

As we discuss different approaches and practices for successful public diplomacy, Japan’s concept of ‘cultural co-operation’ seems particularly interesting and underestimated in its power.

Described by Ogoura for the Journal of the East Asia Foundation, cultural co-operation implies “activities as helping developing countries to stage theatrical performances, providing them with lighting or recording equipment, furnishing showcases for museums and giving them technical assistance in arts management”. As Ogoura points out, in Japan’s case, this type of public diplomacy proved especially effective, positioning it as a strong international player on the stage of cultural diplomacy. The highlight of this strategy was the establishment of a special fund within UNESCO, dedicated to preservation of cultural heritage in developing countries.

It seems that the concept of cultural co-operation is particularly powerful and does not get enough attention in discussion about public diplomacy. Usually, when cultural diplomacy is discussed, the context implies use of a nation’s culture to attract attention and leverage the public image and the soft power of that nation on the international stage. However from a ‘giving is receiving’ perspective, it is a brilliant strategic move to invest in other nations’ cultures.

As we discussed in class, culture is an inherent and usually very emotional part of every national identity, that influences values, perceptions and behaviors on individual as well as on collective level. Therefore encouraging and strengthening cultural diversity is likely to buy a country powerful positive image and support from publics, as well as spark an interest towards that country’s culture in an indirect, subtle fashion.

Does the U.S. have something to learn from Japanese PD in the M.E.?

Tonight I lead the class discussion on Tadashi Ogawa’s article, “Origin and Development of Japan’s Public Diplomacy.” While most of the chapter was a historic overview of Public Diplomacy in Japan from the 1860’s to present day, there were some nuances that I pointed out which I would like to reiterate.

While reading the chapter, I couldn’t help but think about the significance of the fact that global publics mistrusted Japan the more the nation excelled in and promoted its hard power (in their case in reference to economic power). Because of this criticism and misunderstanding, Ogawa explained that Japan ramped up their public diplomacy efforts, creating the Japan Foundation (which operated under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to foster cultural exchanges and Japanese language studies.

I also found Japan’s approach to PD in the Middle East to be quite fascinating. Ogawa explains that the Japanese approach advocates for allowing a period of healing for the countries in the M.E. in order for them to regain their dignity as a group of citizens. The Japanese believe that only then can you begin to guide the M.E. with culturally appropriate PD programs (especially in cases when these programs are being lead by nations strong in hard power).

Another thing I thought was worthy of note was Japan’s program to educate the Japanese people on the homeland about the cultures of the M.E. I thought this showed a lot of cultural sensitivity and was a good long-term way to foster connections and respect between the two cultures.

We had a very good discussion in class on the question I posed of whether or not we can draw comparisons to between Japan’s PD and the future of U.S. PD in relation to what we have done in the middle east. The responses were a bit divided, but I would love to continue the discussion here. So what do you think? Do we have something to learn from the Japanese approach, once we have had a chance to look back and access, and move forward with PD programs?