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.

32 thoughts on “The Shutdown Diplomacy”

  1. I think that it is fair to say that the United States’ image abroad took a hit due to last year’s shutdown. One of the major consequences of this was President Obama’s sudden cancellation of travel plans to APEC and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). My former boss Ernie Bower wrote about it here:

    That being said, I think there’s a risk that commentators overblow what was predominantly a symbolic embarrassment into a prematurely written narrative of U.S. decline. I don’t think that Southeast Asian leaders were particularly insulted by President Obama’s absence, understanding that the decision was not his to make. But I don’t contest that inadequate presence at these fora present an opportunity for China to dominate import discussions and undermine U.S. political and economic foreign policy objectives.

    It is unlikely, however, that Obama’s absence from the 2013 for a will have a lasting impact on the United States’ image in the region unless this incident repeats itself. It is therefore important that the president continues to make frequent visits to the region- especially to countries like Malaysia and the Philippines. President Obama himself is a key PD asset.

    Ultimately, this is about the United States and China as two actors in Fisher’s bazaar of Public Diplomacy. There is the temptation to exaggerate the degree to which U.S. leadership on political and economic issues is eroding, and also how well a so-called ‘Beijing consensus’ is being received by customers in this marketplace. Face-losing incidents like the one last year add fuel to that temptation.

  2. It is a very knowledgeable article as it gives information about diplomacy and it’s shutdown, keep updating about such topics.
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