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March 03, 2008

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Nick

I like your utilization of Eminem and Jay-Z in your political analysis.

Craig

What exactly are your credentials to be commenting on this? Your sympathy for the "Muslim" point of view is well known, but what evidence is there that you care at all about American sensibilities? I think your voice is one that doesn't need to be heard on this matter. At all.

Zathras

It was during the Clinton administration that America's Cold War public diplomacy infrastructure was largely dismantled. You know how the Clintons, like the Bushes, are about admitting mistakes.

McCain is proposing to undo what was done during the 1990s, which is a fine idea as long as it isn't considered primarily in the context of relations with predominantly Islamic countries. In the first place, public diplomacy is not a reliable tool for working on urgent problems; its value is that over time, as the United States regains its former reputation for distributing information that is reliable, fewer people are likely to become upset over mistaken descriptions of American policy or intentions heard elsewhere. Secondly there are real grievances against American policy in some parts of the world, most of which better public diplomacy will not address and some of which must remain grievances.

Obama proposes a traditionally American response to anti-American attitudes, which is to invest in strenuous demonstrations of American goodwill (laced with attacks on human rights abuses, of which nearly every Arab government is guilty in one form or other). While I'm not opposed in principle to some such demonstrations, their impact is liable to be overestimated. American foreign policy suffers from a seriously degraded infrastructure outside of the Defense Department, and a crippling lack of proportion that has led most of the current administration's attention to be focused on one part of the Arab Middle East. I'm not actually convinced that any of the candidates left in the race really grasps this, or understands how vital it is that these failings be corrected.

Ken

Nick writes: "What exactly are your credentials to be commenting on this?"

Seriously? You need credentials to comment on subjects now? I must have missed some very important clause of the first amendment. Or maybe it is Nick who has missed the meaning of that amendment. The sentence I quote above is the most wrong headed and anti American sentiment imaginable, and I am embarrassed that someone would express that opinion while claiming to care about "American sensabilities".

That being said, please continue posting your ignorant rants Nick. Unlike your stated sentiments I will defend your right to write anti American dunderheaded points just like the one you posted at the top of this thread.

Nick

Eh, that was Craig being an idiot, not me.

bb

Also worth mentioning to give some context to AAS's ruminations is that according to the latest Pew poll, support for suicide bombings has PLUMMETED among Muslims since 2002. On top of this the extremeist Islamic parties continue to do very badly in elections, most recently in Pakistan, and the only Islamist parties who do well are those who present themselves as moderate, social reformers, eg Hamas.

Does this not indicate that the Bush policy has either (a) been stunningly successful in turning Muslim opinion around or (b) at the very least has not provoked a backlash of Muslim opinion in favour of the extremeists?

This aspect surely has to be taken into account in any discussion of the policies that might be pursued by any of the presidential candidates? Do they pursue the Bush policies? Or do they reverse them? And if the latter, do they risk allowing the extremeists to gain traction again among the wider Sunni Arab muslim polity as happened in the 1990s, culminating in the 9/11 attack?

Ken

My sincere apologies Nick... All of the above comment pertains to Craig, not Nick everybody!

Ken 2

Different Ken... though in agreement on the Craig front...

Marc, it's a frequent contention that PD hasn't worked because it's effectively an effort to lipstick a pig - with foreign policy the pig, of course.

Pew polls certainly bear out the failure of PD under the Bush admin - but is that really a PD failure? Is there analytically any need to separate out PD from policymaking? PD amplifies policy choices, but a bigger, more free media does that anyway - you can't block Al Jaz, or BBC Arabic. And internet usage in the ME is exploding.

I suspect the audiences American PD reached knew all about its ambition for democratization, and they knew all about the contradictions that stopped much traction in achieving that.

Would you agree though that IO - information operations - a broader term; has had some success is in communicating promises that the US can keep - at a local scale in Anbar, for example....?

As for PD marketing American values, liberalism, individualism etc etc - doesn't the soft power of the private sector take care of that? Starbucks plus Hollywood does more for America than Al Hurra...

aardvark

Ken2 - I agree quite a lot about the critique of PD, and in fact that's the reason I was researching the topic in the first place. The PD vs IO distinction needs a lot more thought than it's been getting. I actually agree with part of bb's point too - my argument for years now has been that it is possible to delegitimize al-Qaeda without improving US favorable ratings... those are two different issues, best approached in different ways. Where I disagree with bb, is that I don't think this has much to do with Bush's policies - it has more to do with the internal battles going on in the Muslim world. Which is why we need to look at those actual debates closely, as Obama's comments I quoted suggest he's doing. But it's a serious debate worth having, and I'll have more on that later.

Everybody, just ignore Craig - he's been coming here to leave useless, abusive comments for years. I don't know why, either.

Ken 2

Thanks Marc. You write:

>my argument for years now has been that it is possible to delegitimize al-Qaeda without improving US favorable ratings

I think that's really interesting - the goals of PD are often left a little fuzzy, is it about spreading a warm glow about the US, or isolating AQ from the broader stream of opinion favouring a greater political role for Islam? If that latter, then I agree it can be productive - Marc, have you seen the UK effort to do precisely that, via RICU, a Home Office communications team? The Guardian here got hold of their communications guidance notes for ministers, and it makes interesting reading...

jr786

If Obama is sincere about talking to Muslims all for the better. However, if this is just a euphemism for summits with so-called Arab leaders than it won't amount to anything and the US will lose even more stature with Muslims than it already has, if that's possible.
The principal political goal of what people call 'Islamists' is for Muslims to make their Muslimness the center of their political consciousness. Bush helped here a lot since it is very difficult for average Muslims to understand the supposed nuances of a foreign policy that looks absolutely like a war against Islam. Only Muslims can convince other Muslims that it is not, if that actually is the case.
If he is sincere, Obama will also have to hear the voices of the most conservative and religious Muslims, not just the cultural amphibians that populated the academic community or the editorial pages of the Arab press. He, like a lot of other people, will have to understand the subaltern status of the religious Muslim who, even when he speaks, is never listened to.
An initial act of good faith would be to lift the banning of Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim who speaks for many of us who do not think that the historical destiny of Islam should be to become what Western academics and political scientists - present company excluded - think it ought to be.

anon

Here is your Obama for you. He is totally full of sh#t. He acts like he is willing to talk to people, but he bends to the Israel lobby to ignore Hamas (who is less stringent than Iran on all the reasons he sites as reasons not to talk to Hamas). Basically, i think you are cowardly for not point this out. It doesn't take much strength to give a standing ovation to the most popular politician in America. But you seem to be afraid to criticize him. This is an obvious point that you would criticize him if you indeed had "never been afraid to talk about anything..." The problem is, obviously, the zionist side has monopolized the conversation and people like you have not been willing to confront Obama on exactly these issues.

http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSN03459104

stateMachine

"Does this not indicate that the Bush policy has either (a) been stunningly successful in turning Muslim opinion around or (b) at the very least has not provoked a backlash of Muslim opinion in favour of the extremeists?"

no it means muslims are now the most frequent victim of suicide bombers. Ah, the wonders of thought. Try it sometime.

dmo

Marc,
This may be taking your call for comment too seriously. But, I have been thinking about this puzzle for a while and offer these thoughts.

Clinton's failure to address public diplomacy does not surprise me. Her husband's administration did not value it and indeed downgraded it by eliminating USIA.

The Clintons, it seems to me, ascribe to what Michael Waltzer calls the emancipation model at the level of international society. (Politics and Passion: Toward a More Egalitarian Liberalism) Their concern is with powerless and vulnerable people as individuals. They do not see group (national, ethnic) cultural identity as enduring difference requiring a modus vivendi among ways of life that will always be different.

Certainly, during the Clinton administration, the liberal internationalist assumption that formation of a universal civilization was well underway informed their policies and their politics. Why would you need international dialog between the United States and other cultures that are destined to disappear into the evolving cosmopolitan norm? They assumed a convergence of values that in the rapidly globalizing post cold war era appeared fast approaching.

Moving public diplomacy into the State department was their way of downgrading regional and national considerations about policies and increasing attention to “global issues.” An earlier Clinton effort to completely reorganize the State Department around issues – led by Jessica Mathews – had failed. Injecting public diplomacy into State was intended to expand the pie as a way of realigning the institutional focus.

It would appear that Obama is that second kind of liberal. He does not seem to believe that a universal civilization is coming and therefore he is willing to think afresh about coexistence in a pluralistic world. John Grey in his Two Faces of Liberalism calls for this particular variant of the liberal tradition to be strengthened. “…this means shedding the illusion that theories of justice and rights can deliver us from the ironies and tragedies of politics.” Attention to public diplomacy makes complete sense for this kind of liberal. Cultures do differ both in values they have in common and in values they recognize. Dialog can lead to toleration.

McCain appears less interested in public diplomacy than in what we used to call advocacy and is now called strategic communication. His interest is in the “war of ideas” and advancing American objectives in the global information battle-space.

aardvark

dmo, I was very serious - so thanks

CKR

Response from Patricia Kushlis here.

bb

dmo's analysis was illuminating and caused me to go back and read Marc's post again.

A couple of comments.

dmo: "Certainly, during the Clinton administration, the liberal internationalist assumption that formation of a universal civilization was well underway informed their policies and their politics. Why would you need international dialog between the United States and other cultures that are destined to disappear into the evolving cosmopolitan norm? They assumed a convergence of values that in the rapidly globalizing post cold war era appeared fast approaching."

George W Bush's "universal freedom" has more than a few echoes of "Universal civilisation"? Am I right in thinking this is a neo con construct?

AA: "But Hillary Clinton.... nothing."

Is this surprising to Americans? As an Australian, I've been trying to get up to speed recently by reading up on the Clintons. Seems clear Hillary simply does not think intuitively or in "big picture" terms like Bill does. Hill's approach seems mechanistic, if I am using the right term? I don't mean this perjoratively, it's just the way she is.

dmo: "It would appear that Obama is that second kind of liberal. He does not seem to believe that a universal civilization is coming and therefore he is willing to think afresh about coexistence in a pluralistic world. John Grey ...... “…this means shedding the illusion that theories of justice and rights can deliver us from the ironies and tragedies of politics.” Attention to public diplomacy makes complete sense for this kind of liberal. Cultures do differ both in values they have in common and in values they recognize. Dialog can lead to toleration."

If this is a fair representation of Obama, it comes across as a version of Kissinger realism but in a Leftist optimistic not cynical guise. Should I be surprised? The isolationist moveon.org Left and the isolationist paleo cons have made common cause for many years now haven't they?

AA: "John McCain, for his part, talks about creating a "single, independent public diplomacy agency" to reverse our "unilateral disarmament in the war of ideas" (a phrase I seem to recall from the Kerry campaign). He calls understanding foreign cultures a "strategic necessity", and advocates helping moderate Muslims against extremists. While I think that his vision of public diplomacy is overly militarized, really more about strategic information operations than about dialogue or public diplomacy, at least he's got well-developed ideas about the subject. We disagree, but there's something there to have an argument about. "

dmo: "McCain appears less interested in public diplomacy than in what we used to call advocacy and is now called strategic communication. His interest is in the “war of ideas” and advancing American objectives in the global information battle-space."

I feel dmo is not getting the nuances about McCain as AA has. I don't think McCain is as gungho and neo as dmo seems to be suggesting.

btw Marc and all you Americans: wouldn't the perfect solution for the US in 2009 be a John McCain presidency for 4 years with Obama as vice president and understudy?

Given that unity governments are the current solutions du jour being imposed on recalcitrant subjects around the world by your State Dept, why can't a UG be good for the gander as well the geese?

greg

Curious that someone who posts as "anon" would accuse others of being cowardly.

dmo, I think you're giving the Clintons way too much credit for thinking these things through. They downgraded public diplomacy for the same reason they kept their healthcare plan a closely-guarded secret. Other people's opinions are simply not important to them, and to the extent they differ from their own, could not possibly be valid. Bill's idea of public diplomacy was to be photographed in front of an adoring crowd.

john brown

Some Thoughts about Public Diplomacy

Thank you, Marc and Pat, for your enlightening comments on public diplomacy and the presidential candidates.

As for the present and future role of PD, allow me to make several rather unoriginal points, based on my twenty-plus years in the Foreign Service.

1. Make PD central in the formulation of policy. Take foreign public opinion into serious consideration at the beginning, not at the end, of the policy-making process. "If they want me in on the crash landings, I better d___ well be in on the take-offs." So said Edward R. Murrow, United States Information Agency (USIA) Director during the Kennedy administration.

2. End the turf wars among Washington bureaucracies on who is in charge of public diplomacy. Take the Pentagon out of the PD business.

3. Get over the nostalgia for the USIA (abolished in 1999) and America’s PD “triumphs” during the Cold War. Instead, give serious thought about how PD should be organized in our new century.

3. Stop the blah-blah-blah about “American values” being “our main message to the world.” Instead, present America in all its complexity with a variety of messages that are relevant to local audiences. Drop the nonsense term “war on terror.”

4. Abandon the Karen Hughes phrase, “diplomacy of deeds,” reminiscent of the anarchists’ “propaganda of the deed.” PD is about dialogue; words, not just action, are important. More on this at http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/04/09/411/

5. Empower PD diplomats in the field, giving them sufficient resources to make an impact in the countries where they serve. To cite Murrow again: "It has always seemed to me the real art in this business is not so much moving information or guidance or policy five or 10,000 miles. That is an electronic problem. The real art is to move it the last three feet in face to face conversation."

6. Make foreign language instruction a true priority in the training of PD officers. Too few of our diplomats really speak local languages.

PS. My memo to Karen Hughes at
http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0424-20.htm

dmo

Thanks to CKR for the clarifying view from Australia. I'd like to respond to a few of CKR’s helpful insights and questions.

CKR: George W Bush's "universal freedom" has more than a few echoes of "Universal civilisation"? Am I right in thinking this is a neo con construct?

The concept of "universal freedom" or universal principles more broadly is a liberal one, predating neo-conservatism. It sees the evolution of the international system as inevitably moving toward capitalism and democracy. The Clinton Administration assumed that trajectory had been accelerated by the end of the cold-war and with the intensified economic interdependence of globalization. They were far more committed to multi-lateral institutions as a consequence. An institution like USIA seemed very American nationalist to them—“Telling America’s Story To The World.” The predominantly regional organization of State seemed very old world too. Realigning American foreign affairs agencies around global issues and working in a multi-lateral rather than bilateral context flowed from their assumptions. In public diplomacy, this finds its expression in individual global civil society action rather than governmental public diplomacy.

I think neo-conservatism is a variant of the same broad liberal internationalism without the procedural reliance on multi-national institutions. Rather than assume the unfolding of history in a liberal direction, neo-cons wanted to help it along by using American power as a kind of booster rocket. By putting the emphasis on the “American” set of values, and the use of American power, their idealism became ideology and took up the sharp point of military force. They were not assuming history; they wanted to “make” it. Their identity is certainly not cosmopolitan; it is American dominion.

CKR: I feel dmo is not getting the nuances about McCain as AA has. I don't think McCain is as gungho and neo as dmo seems to be suggesting.

I don’t see McCain as a neo-conservative at all. I am sorry if I left that impression. I do believe him to be an American nationalist who does want to “Tell America’s Story To The World” because he believes in American exceptionalism. I don’t think he wants to make the world into America or believes it is even remotely possible. There is little difference between what McCain says and what Secretary of Defense Gates says about public diplomacy. Both I would assume to be realist in their orientation. To me, “advocacy” means arguing an American policy perspective abroad. It is a traditional part of public diplomacy. Leading public opinion is something realists are quite comfortable doing. They understand the power of ideology and nationalism. They prefer achieving objectives without resorting to force if possible. A strategic communication concept fits right into their statecraft toolbox.

CKR: If this is a fair representation of Obama, it comes across as a version of Kissinger realism but in a Leftist optimistic not cynical guise. Should I be surprised? The isolationist moveon.org Left and the isolationist paleo cons have made common cause for many years now haven't they?

Isolationism goes too far in terms of Obama, I believe. But I recognize you are correct about many of his supporters on the left who would prefer a disengagement from the world’s problems to focus on our own. I would expect some strategic restraint from an Obama administration. I would not expect a Kissingerian balance of power strategy. I would, however, expect, as you say, a more realist, pragmatic orientation toward the world. I do think Obama and McCain have more in common than Obama and Clinton. Odd isn’t it? There are some interesting political reorientations under way.

Zathras

It's a real mistake to consider candidate's policy positions without reference to the campaign. People who devote their professional lives to the study of one or another aspect of foreign policy make this mistake again and again, at a time in our history when it is more consequential than it has been before.

Sen. Clinton is not silent on public diplomacy because she exemplifies the liberal internationalist view that we are headed for a global culture; she is silent because she recognizes that directly contradicting the record of her husband's administration would be politically risky for her. Obama is not similarly constrained, and as he is running as the candidate of change can hardly fail to provide some ideas about a policy area in which the incumbent Republican administration has failed so badly.

That's it. That is the whole explanation as far as the candidates are concerned. Some of their actual advisers, or the people who see themselves as future members of a Clinton or Obama administration, may indeed have considered this subject on its own merits. John McCain, of course, who unlike Clinton and Obama has a long record of work in the foreign policy area, presents a somewhat different case. But with Clinton in particular, it must be remembered that the subject is a woman who was a full participant in election campaigns her husband ran every two years when he was governor of Arkansas beginning in 1978, again in 1992 for almost two years, in 1996, in 2000 for her own race (which was also a good two years in the making), and ever since then preparing for the race she is running this year. She is a creature of the permanent campaign, is running as one, and would govern as one.

We can guess what a second Clinton administration would do about public diplomacy once the political awkwardness of contradicting a policy of the first Clinton administration has dissipated, but that's all we can do.

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