Tag Archives: SIS 628

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

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.

Princess Sheikha Mozah: Qatar’s Untapped Soft Power?

Sheikha Mozah

Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, the wife of the former emir of Qatar, is a woman below the radar of many mainstream Westerners; but on full display to fashion world. So is such a fashionista that, Vogue Italia once labeled her their “Obsession of the Day.”

However, her notoriety does not extend far from the runway. Sheikha Moza has failed to become a well-known name or royal “brand,” the way Diana once was, and the Duchess of Cambridge and Queen Rania have become. Which begs the question, why?

Sheikha Mozah, like her counterparts, is not only a fashion trendsetter but: highly educated, beautiful and a philanthropist. She uses her public stature to promote education, science, and community development. She executes her royal duties just as well – if not better- as any other royal.

The Daily Beast attributes Sheikha Mozah’s lack of fame due to her conservative dress and religious observance. She the second wife of three, never seen in public bare-legged, and always wears a hijab. The Daily Beast goes on to suggest that this makes it hard for Western women to relate to her and her culture.

I however see her distinct style as a way to communicate to the world who she is and what her country and religion are all about. With a good communications team, she could revamp her image and propel herself onto the international stage. Brand her, not as another woman oppressed by her religion, but a woman empowered by her religion.

She could use her stature to demystify Islam and open the door for cultural exchanges with the undertone that Muslim women are not trapped by their religion, but choose practice their faith. To have a woman with her education, wealth and influence change the tone about what it means to be a Muslim woman others will begin to gain a better understanding of the religion and its culture. Increased understanding of the Muslim world would do a lot to build partnerships, increase prosperity and maintain security in all regions of the world.

Why You’ve Never Heard of the World’s Best-Dressed Royal

Cherry Blossoms and Botanical Diplomacy

Yesterday, I took a walk near the tidal basin to enjoy the sight of the blooming cherry blossoms. The history of the trees reminded me of this week’s readings about Japanese soft power and public diplomacy. Not only does the blossoming represent the start of spring in DC, but also the lasting relationship between Japan and the United States.

Cherry Blossoms in DCThis diplomatic initiative began before the first trees were planted. Through much opposition and several setbacks, the initiative began to bloom. Over 100 years ago, in March 1912, the mayor of Tokyo gifted the United States capitol a thousand Japanese cherry trees, where they remain today. A sign along the tidal basin path describes the goodwill nature of both countries. Forty years after the first trees were planted, the U.S. shipped budwood back to Japan to help restore the original cherry blossom grove. Japan shipped more trees back shortly after to help expand the capital’s current trees.

Every year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place to foster “a growing understanding and appreciation of each nation’s culture.” Japanese and American artists present their work and perform for the festival. Tourists from around the world come to DC to visit these iconic trees and partake in the celebrations. Its success blends Japanese culture with American history and the joint public diplomacy is truly inspiring.

Also, through my research, I came across a neat NPR interview regarding the DC cherry blossoms, if anyone is interested: http://www.npr.org/2012/03/26/149394945/cherry-blossoms-as-botanical-diplomacy 

What is “neutrality”? How does it play in cultural diplomacy context?


Last month, I participated a symposium organized by arts management students’ group, and attended a break-out session “Arts&Diplomacy.” During the session, the panel speakers from Meridian International Center and CompanyE, both non-governmental/non-profit organizations that create cultural exchange/diplomacy programs, emphasized “neutrality” as one of their strengths. I’ve become interested in this word and what it exactly means.

In fact, the website of Meridian uses this word several times:

Meridian stands at a neutral intersection of the public, private and diplomatic sectors, giving our public programs and events a depth and scope that is unique.

Provide a neutral forum for international collaboration across sectors

…by creating neutral environments where people can appreciate each other at all levels of society.

I found this study by Zatepilina, which also talks about NGOs’ “neutrality” in PD but questions it:

 A few participants questioned NGOs ’neutrality or perceived neutrality. Regardless of whether or not an NGO receives government funding, once in a host country it cannot completely separate itself from its government, argued some interviewees. […] As a result, NGOs are not always seen as ‘good guys’ – that is, as independent and impartial – rather they are seen as actors in the power struggle.

That is, even if NGOs think themselves as “neutral”, that does not mean their foreign counterparts perceive in the same way, or in a favorable meaning. Rather, “neutrality” might be seen negatively, or convey the fuzziness of their position.

This reminds me of Pamment’s words: “these audiences are now considered active, and greater emphasis is placed on how they make meaning.”

“Neutrality” is much more complex than I’d thought. Since Zatepilina  does not include any arts organization in his study, I wonder how “neutrality” plays differently/similarly, in cultural diplomacy context especially where they engage people through arts?


Buying Hearts and Minds?

This week I came across an interesting article by Professor Philip Selb for the Huffington Post. The article discusses the power of economy in public diplomacy and specifically various economic initiatives conducted by the US in the Middle East and their public diplomacy value.

Selb’s argument states that there is no better way for winning hearts and minds than “buying hearts and minds”. Selb is convinced that successful public diplomacy is based on fulfilling the needs of various foreign audiences and therefore developing a positive attitude towards the donating country. Specifically in the Middle East, various initiatives that provide jobs have proved to be extremely successful in creating stability and establishing partnerships with foreign publics.

This is an interesting perspective on how to craft public diplomacy. Creative initiatives could be born by mapping the needs of various societies and looking at the competitive advantage of a specific country with regards to those needs. Relevant organizations or governmental agencies within the ‘giving’ country can then address these needs through initiatives that provide jobs, healthcare, agricultural assistance, etc. The ‘giving countries’ can benefit not only from positive PD outcomes such as good image, stability and favorable public opinion among foreign audiences, but also from clear economic benefits of new partnerships and networks.

I might be wrong but I sense that today we have a certain ‘pool’ of public diplomacy activities such as academic exchanges, informational tours, exhibitions, etc. and the new initiatives are created within that pool.  As discussed in class, China’s investment in Africa is somewhat different and serves as a good example of Selb’s suggestion. The “needs paradigm” could be an interesting shift in the way foreign ministries and organizations begin their thinking about public diplomacy.





Historical Diplomacy: “It’s hard out here for a Hessian”

With this week’s readings focused on China, part of my country profile topic, it was hard not to respond solely to that subject. However, I had an unanticipated encounter today with a stranger that inspired me to write about something entirely different. (and possibly more domestically centered?) Anyways, I was walking down Wisconsin Ave, when I spot this guy:photoNo one else seemed to notice or stop and ask him what he was doing, thus being the kind of individual I am, I approached him. After I was unable to identify what army he belonged to he informed me he was dressed as  Hessian soldier and had been visiting schools to teach children about the Revolutionary War. Why a Hessian? and not an American solider? He specifically wanted to “undo the ‘scary/sleepy hollow’ image of the Hessians’ and show the positive aspects and contributions in the role this particular military group played in our nation’s history so long ago. I said to him that this reminded me a lot about what we had learned in class about cultural diplomacy, but perhaps on a very small and isolated scale. He agreed entirely, stating that it was important to reintroduce the history of a culture through different lenses in order to see the true spirit of a nation. He made this argument using the example of  how the Holocaust has, does, and will continue to impact the overall national image of Germany, usually overriding all the other major contributions of German scientists, philosophers, etc. throughout history.

This chance meeting inspired me to consider further the role national history plays in culture and the perception of a nation and its people by foreign powers. I rarely think of how non-Americans interpret our national history and the characteristics they assign to us because of our past. We’ve spoken in class of cultural diplomacy, which I feel has present and future time-oriented contest and goal, although based on longstanding traditions and values. I loved this idea, of taking back history in a way that allows outsiders and insiders both to rethink historical events, past organizations, and social groups. I’m not saying it’s the best idea to send a bunch of dressed up Abraham Lincolns abroad to roam the streets and schools…but I appreciate the sentiment that various perceptions of a nation’s history do exist, and if addressed properly through cultural diplomacy, could be effective in enriching a national reputation.

Setting conditions for cultural exchange?

I found this article by Seiichi Kondo, the former Commissioner of the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan, about his view about cultural diplomacy.

He was the first diplomat who turned into the commissioner, and had also worked as the first Director-General at Department of Public Diplomacy in Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Kondo states that the government should “create an environment that enables and encourages the free development of culture, while removing obstacles to the exchange with other cultures” but “should not intervene in cultural affairs nor set conditions for cultural exchange.” He also says “Cultural activities take on diplomatic meaning in consequence as they spread; no culture is and should be designed for diplomacy from the beginning” and that “it is a good thing that culture results in promoting national interests, and there is no problem in the government encouraging this.”

This resonates with Gienow-Hecht’s view about the characteristic of successful cultural diplomacy: distance between the agent of a cultural diplomacy program and a political agenda.

Yet, Kondo believes “the most effective way to disseminate Japanese culture is to invite talented artists rather than sending art works and artists abroad.”

In fact, the Agency is now providing a grant for international artists-in-residence program in Japan. Its guideline specifies that it should be used to cover the cost for foreign artists to stay in Japanese arts residencies but not for that of Japanese artists.

The foreign artists would have opportunities to interact with Japanese people during their stay and it is mutually beneficial. Still,  I think this is rather one-way and more about telling than listening.

As Deos, and many other authors of our reading says, successful diplomacy requires two-way or “bi-directional communication of listening.”

I think the grant should fund the cost for Japanese artists as well.



“Check” The State Department Makes its Move

The New York Times article, How the Kremlin Harnesses the Internet, is a piece over how the Russian government stealthily patrols the internet, by not explicitly censoring, but rather, by “targeted so-called denial-of-service attacks, with most of the site’s visitors receiving a “page cannot be found” message in their browsers.”

The Kremlin has been a great player in working with the internet to accomplish its mission both in blocking communication and in disseminating information. The United States struggling to keep up, has recently decided to step up its game . Recently, the Broadcasting Board of Governors published a piece this week about the Department of State’s (DoS) use of social media to respond to Putin’s propaganda machine. While the article focused heavily on The Obama Administration’s lack of financial support to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) it was an interesting piece highlighting the change underway at the DoS.

An excerpt from the article reads, “BBG Watch has learned that the Obama Administration is taking about half a million dollars in emergency extra funding to the BBG. . . It is needed to effectively counter Putin’s propaganda through multimedia outreach.” The article goes on to state that, “The State Department and the National Security Council have surprised many observers by their quick response to the crisis in Ukraine” and that “Susan Rice and Richard Stengel deserve credit not only for realizing early on that President Putin was engaged in what Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt has called “a massive propaganda war,” but also for mobilizing the NSC and the State Department staff and resources to provide quick responses to false and misleading claims pushed by the Kremlin.

The BBG’s praise of recent State Department tactics, bring to mind public diplomacy scholar Pammant’s arguments for the usage of new media platforms as a way to “exert influence and develop resources.” Pammant states that if an If the State Department is able to use social media tools as a way to advance policy goals in a way that is authentic it will need a network of relevant actors as part of their communication effort.

It is a big leap for the State Department to become more responsive in providing news and information from the United States to Russia, Ukraine, and many other nations in the region. But this is just a first step, many more will need to follow in order to keep the Department of State a relevant player in the game.

UN Launches New Campaign Targeting American Audience

This week I stumbled upon an new campaign effort by the United Nations- The Better World Campaign. Interestingly, it seems to reflect the exact suggestions made by O.C. del Collado (2013) on the CPD blog, which we have discussed during week 7.

Just a quick reminder- Collado argued that: “A less interested American public makes some U.N. agencies more vulnerable to Congressional budget cuts.”  Collado pointed out to the lack of public diplomacy efforts on the side of the United Nations, leading the organization to unstable financial position and decreasing legitimacy and centrality. Since the US remains the most significant financial contributor to the UN system, Collado suggested that it has to target American audiences by putting an emphasis on issues that have direct impact on Americans. Only than will the American public raise its voice in favor of UN funding and prevent Congress from further financial cuts of its support.

And just as someone in the UN read Collado’s post, the Better World Campaign is “Dedicated to a Strong US-UN Relationship”. The campaign is focused on US’ funding of the UN peacekeeping,  pledging American citizens to force the Congress into supporting President’s Obama budget request for funding the organisation’s peacekeeping missions in several African countries. The bottom line of the campaign states: “Sending UN peacekeepers to fulfill these dangerous missions – the missions we’ve asked for – is one-eighth the cost of the U.S. going it alone.”  In times of growing unpopularity of direct military  interventions among the American public, this seems like a brilliant message.

Of course we shall wait and see if Americans are convinced. But whether this move was really inspired by Collado’s blog or not, it sure should encourage people to offer policy solutions via blogging!