Tag Archives: week13

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.