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Since the events of September 11, 2001 the foreign policy establishment of Washington has exhausted much energy debating America's public diplomacy efforts. I've watched this debate with interest because I work on a contract basis for State Department public diplomacy programs. I have also tried to create private sector public diplomacy projects. I've traveled with foreign journalists, politicians, and other notable figures all over the United States. You might say that I'm a "foot soldier" in the public diplomacy battle.
An article by George Packer in the December 18, 2006 issue of the New Yorker raises some interesting questions for public diplomacy. The article, titled "Knowing the Enemy: Can social scientists redefine the 'War on Terror'?" highlights how insights from counter-insurgency and cultural anthropology studies have revealed that the U.S. conflict with jihadist groups is largely informational.
Much of the discussion on the Public Diplomacy blog dwells on how a nation can persuade others about its image and its policies. The most common observation has been that actions (e.g. a foreign policy) can "speak" louder than any communication campaign. Again and again, this argument is presented: U.S. public diplomacy programs face difficulty because U.S. policy actions so obviously overpower any attempt to persuade publics through international broadcasting, cultural exchanges, and the other components of U.S. public diplomacy.
Egypt this week pulled the plug on al-Zawraa, the controversial channel controlled by Iraq's Sunni insurgency, but it is still available across the Middle East thanks to America's Gulf allies.
The channel broadcasts non-stop footage of attacks on U.S. troops interwoven with verbal attacks on Iran and Shiites, like Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who it accuses of being loyal to Iran. Since its launch in mid-November, al-Zawraa has been distributed by Nilesat, a satellite provider controlled by the Egyptian government.
No matter how small their post, every embassy public affairs officer who ever arranged an exchange, distributed a pamphlet, or in the jargon of contemporary public diplomacy fretted over "moving the needle" of foreign public opinion knows that a U.S. presidential election is an opportunity. Traditionally they have been animated quadrennial civics classes, dramatizing America's democratic process and contrasting starkly with the brutality with which power changes hands or not in too much of the world.
Who is the fairest of them all?
Worldcasting refers to White House presidential aspirants, and where public diplomacy could be headed in the next administration.
I'd like to respond to Simon Anholt's remarks on my previous post about "branding" as a defining discourse for public diplomacy. Anholt seizes on what I feel is a very real and lingering confusion surrounding the term and its relevance for public diplomacy.
Joe Nye reminds us that soft power is the power to get others to want what we want. By that definition, soft power advocates haven’t done so well. Ironically, they have failed to use soft power to get others to want what they want – that is, more soft power.
It’s easy to beat up on the current administration for failing to understand and deploy "soft power" and public diplomacy in their toolkit of foreign policy. Bush, Cheney and the gang prefer coercion, i.e. hard power.
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