I'm just back from Boston and feeling awful. But fortunately, there's some excellent analysis and commentary on the question of the public diplomacy proposals of the Presidential candidates continues to appear in response to last week's post. Recent highlights of the second round include:
Steve Corman, a leading scholar of public diplomacy and strategic communications at Arizona State:
Earlier this week Marc Lynch did a nice post (that had been on my impossibly long to-do list for some time) critiquing the presidential candidates’ positions on post-Bush public diplomacy. As Lynch points out, Clinton avoids the subject except for a vague assertion that we have to restore our moral authority, a position that comes with no attached plan of action. His assessment is that McCain has got a well-developed set of ideas on the subject, albeit ones that are over-militarized and more oriented toward information operations than diplomacy. Lynch saw a lot to like in Obama’s statements, and I agree it comes close to the right thinking. Obama sees our public diplomacy efforts as disastrously ineffective and notes the need to “speak to that broader Muslim world in a way that says we will consistently support human rights, women’s rights.”
Where all of these positions, including Obama’s, fall short is in their failure to accurately assess our shortcomings. They all seem to assume that the problem is in the way we have been designing, organizing and/or deploying messages, and that if we just correct that we will start winning the “war of ideas.” But the problem goes much deeper than that: As study after study has shown, the international credibility of the U.S. is in the basement, if not underground.
Without credibility, we simply have no hope of persuading anyone of anything. When Obama says that we need to speak to Muslims and tell them that we will work for the good, he assumes that when we say that we will be believed. When McCain says we need to help moderate Muslims against the extremists, he assumes that they will believe we are there to help. But because of a consistent failure to align words with actions they will not believe us.
To talk about alternative messaging strategies in these circumstances is to miss the point. The real challenge is getting the U.S. back into a position where our public diplomacy efforts have a chance of working.
Corman then offers a series of specific recommendations.
Our information systems suffer from inflexibility and internal resistance rooted in a misunderstanding of Smith-Mundt that requires updating to conform to a reality that makes separating audiences by geography both impractical and undesirable. This will not be a conflict over hearts and passions, but a psychological struggle over minds and wills. We must stop telling foreign publics what we want our own people to hear. Unless we get our information house in order, the United States will remain virtually unarmed in the battles that shape our future.
And much, much more - not a fan of Smith-Mundt (neither am I, really)...