Tag Archives: week 13

Transforming US-Cuban relationships through interaction


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

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?



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.