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March 05, 2008


seth edenbaum

No mention of the Vanity Fair piece yet?
"After failing to anticipate Hamas’s victory over Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian election, the White House cooked up yet another scandalously covert and self-defeating Middle East debacle: part Iran-contra, part Bay of Pigs. With confidential documents, corroborated by outraged former and current U.S. officials, David Rose reveals how President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever."

This was American public diplomacy in Action. And it's why I have so much contempt for "Poli Sci and IR junkies" and why it's important to make that contempt explicit. Matt Armstrong "returned to University for a second career of contributing to the national security of the United States." But the basic logic of humanism and democracy says that largely the result not the cause. Treating it as a cause is what gets us into these shit holes. I am not and I will never be a "patriot." There is no moral defense of patriotism. Arguments for a focus on "democracy in one country" are a matter of practical politics not a moral imperative.
I'm beginning to think political science programs like business schools should be denied accreditation in the future. They're trades schools. And nationalist tradecraft is about life on the street. I don't listen to Styles P for lectures on morality. I listen to him when the hypocrisy of everything else gets to me. "My life... Is based on, Lighting blunts, loading guns Telling my lawyers to get the case gone. I need the bills that the Presidents got their face on"
Ah.. Sweet honesty.

seth edenbaum

I also listen to him for an honest account of the costs. That's in there too.


Thanks for getting a good discussion going about Public Diplomacy. I have quoted and linked to your post here: http://lifeafterjerusalem.blogspot.com/2008/03/bloggers-discuss-public-diplomacy.html


John Brown presents some sensible ideas, though his proposal to end Washington turf wars over public diplomacy strikes me as more a wish than a proposal.

His suggestion that the Defense Department be dealt out of the public diplomacy picture is impractical. The American military presence around the world is simply too large for American public diplomacy not to take it into account; you can't do that without the military's cooperation, and you can't have cooperation without the participation of military personnel. Moreover the only national institution in several countries is the military, and their relations with the United States will often feature their relations with our uniformed services. I wouldn't blame a career diplomat for feeling frustrated that the Pentagon's role in foreign policy is so much greater relative to the State Department than once it was, but for now public diplomacy will have to deal with that fact of life.

My larger concern with Brown's ideas is that they appear to reflect a more expansive view of what public diplomacy can do than I believe is realistic. If American foreign policy is unpopular in Arab countries or our support for Taiwan is prompting the state-run Chinese media to attack us, public diplomacy won't help us that much in the short run, even if we do everything right. As part of the foundation of a foreign policy designed for the long haul, though, public diplomacy could be as useful to us now as it was during the Cold War. The question we have to answer is, how?

john brown

1. I certainly agree with Zathras' comment that the Pentagon cannot be "wished away" as regards public diplomacy. It is also true that the military can play an important PD role (I recall, in my Foreign Service career, having an excellent rapport with military attaches, who were often willing to take part in PD events and were always sensitive to local public opinion). My main point, however, is not about the military's participation in certain PD activities, but about who decides what the focus and programs of PD should be. This crucial matter, I believe, should be handled not by Pentagon, but by the civilian PD element in the "foreign affairs community," if only because its perspective about the world centers not on waging war (which, as history teaches us, regrettably cannot be avoided in certain situations) but on bilateral communications and mutual understanding.

2. I fully agree with Zathras' other point (as I understand it), that "it's the policy, stupid," and that no amount of PD will "sell" a bad policy. Indeed, I've written quite extensively about the topic at, for example,
I also believe that, even when policies are adequate and well thought out, it cannot be assumed that PD will magically turn the world into a pro-American paradise. There is only so much PD can do, and being aware of its limitations is, I believe, a sine qua non of practicing it effectively.


Good clarification on the first point. I don't know that the military can be excluded from all PD decision making, but it can't be left to go make its own or usurp the role of civilian agencies either.

The idea that public diplomacy cannot compensate for bad policy is a common one, and is not wrong as far as it goes. The idea I was trying to communicate was somewhat different. Individual policy decisions will come and go, and some enduring American policies that serve our interests perfectly well are going to be unpopular with various foreign audiences. I regard public diplomacy less as a tool to make us liked than as a means to ensure that we are not misunderstood.

Obviously this begs several important questions -- how should PD play this role, what activities should we count as PD, how can PD reinforce (or, given our experience in the last several years, recreate) the American government's reputation around the world as a source of reliable information, and to what extent can such a reputation be made consistent with policy advocacy, among others. These questions must all be answered in some way, but the larger question I have after reading what the Obama campaign has to say about PD is whether Obama agrees with what I think has to be PD's primary function.

It rather looks to me as if he sees an urgent need to demonstrate to people in Middle Eastern, primarily Muslim countries -- ignoring the rest of the world, which is the fashion nowadays -- that we approach them with great goodwill (and a different approach from the current administration), and so they should like us. In the first place I am less anxious about being liked; but more relevant to this discussion is that I don't think this is an attainable mission for public diplomacy.


Zathras wrote:

"The American military presence around the world is simply too large for American public diplomacy not to take it into account.....". I,for one, anyway, don't see why this has to be, other than inertia, and vested interests. So cut the damn military presence around the world and tell the American people you are going to spend the money saved (don't over hype the savings)on their health care costs and their kid's schools. See how they will respond to that. It is time, if not to dismantle the Empire, to at least begin talking about dismantling it. It is not as if the "presence" is some immutable law of nature.

Ken 2

Hi Marc - yes that's me - thanks for posting. This is a thought provoking discussion, and Matt Armstrong's piece is top stuff. good luck with your article.

Bob Madden

Please excuse me for butting into your extremely nuanced conversation with a simple question.

In a day, and age where people in the middle east are imprisoned, beaten, tortured, killed, etc for having/holding ideas different from the jihadists, how does this focus on some kind of meaningful discourse help?

Just as a matter of simple logic this discourse can only fall upon ears in one of 2 categories:

Those that can be convinced, and those that can't.

If those that can be convinced are they end up either in prison, or dead. It is another argument as to which of those is more lucky.

And for those that cannot be convinced their discussions with us are merely a tactic that serve no purpose other than to give them time to regroup, retool, etc. To this later group we are nothing more than Kafirs, and not entitled to anything in the way of honesty. As a matter of record the Koran gives them specific authority to lie to us as we are not deserving of anything more.

Just what do we hope to accomplish with this heavy reliance on public diplomacy?

I will freely admit to being quite conservative in my viewpoints, though not at all Christian.

I think I raise a valid question, and quite worthy of discussion, but I fully expect some to completely dismiss the question as having come from a conservative.

I like the old carrot, and stick approach myself, but without the stick you just end up with lots of stolen carrots...

I give fair warning though:

Debating an issue with me is like getting into a mud-wrestling contest with a pig. After a while you realize that the pig enjoys it...

Take Care

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