Friday, November 27, 2009


On Improperganda, see my piece in the Huffington Post

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mr. Obama's Unique War

Note: the "final" version of this posting appeared November 27 in The Huffington Post.

President Obama's war in Afghanistan is, from a historical perspective, unique.

That's because what he's saying to the American public about this conflict is a clean break with how the White House has "explained" most past US overseas military engagements.

If we accept the arguments of Professor Susan A. Brewer in her recently published Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq, our 44th Commander in Chief's public handling of our commitment to the Central Asian "graveyard of empires" is an exception to a recurrrent pattern of the past: that US leaders since President McKinley have in fact sold foreign wars to Americans through propaganda -- “the deliberate manipulation of facts, ideas, and lies," as she defines it.

Instead of the crude, obscenely packaged fabrications used by his predecessor to mislead us into the war in Iraq, Obama's deliberations on a military escalation in Afghanistan have been marked by officially announced doubts about why we should engage more soldiers in that part of the world in the first place; by leaks from the principals involved, so many of whom disagree with one another; and, from a narrow PR perspective, by an unwillingness (some would call it a failure) to craft a clear, simple message of "why we should fight" in a little-known land thousands of miles from our shores. Moreover, the USG "public diplomacy" to persuade allies to join the Pentagon's planned additional troop deployment in Afghanistan has, thus far, been minimal.

It will be interesting to see how, after all his months of "dithering" (as former vice president Richard Cheney calls it) about his "war of necessity," Mr. Obama will justify his war (and yes, it is his war now) in the address he'll reportedly make on Tuesday at West Point.

My guess is that he'll continue, intellectual that he is, to avoid surface slogans and simplifications (e.g., Bush-like "us against them" mindless cheerleading) but that, cautious lawyer that he also is, he'll try to persuade us "logically" that the only way for our troops eventually to leave Afghanistan is for more of them to become involved in that 'country's rebuilding' (i.e., get killed for Allah/God/Jehovah knows why).

In other words, the "we-are-getting-in-to-get-out" argument. Let's see how Mr. Obama's Harvard Law School degree will help him justify that sophistic logic.

True, there are many precedents for presidential oxymorons -- take Woodrow Wilson's "the war to end all wars," for example.

But still, the "we-do-it-to-avoid-it" oxymoronic assertion is a hard one to back up, even to us, the "moronic" American public that bought Mr. Bush's Iraq misadventure, after it was marketed as a "product," like a "no-sugar" can of diet Coke, a marketing oxymoron if there ever was one.

But, if you like Mr. Obama's war or not -- and most Americans don't, according to the latest polls -- what is historically unusual about it is how little it has been hyped by lies by America's Chief Executive.

But how I wish such Obama "honesty" meant that what our hopeful (supposedly not "hypeful") -- president is doing -- and been saying up to now -- made any sense at all!

To me, it's sheer madness.

And, all moral considerations aside, we simply can't afford it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Digital, with a Note on Public Diplomacy

Under the gentle prodding of a close friend of mine who likes to watch the Dallas Cowboys beat up on other NFL teams on Sundays, I bought a HDTV television set some time ago, at considerable expense that I really couldn't afford.

But at least I was contributing to "the economy" (however I'm not so sure my overly priced purchase actually helped American workers in any concrete way, as the high-def TV was made in China -- or was it Korea?).

Now that I've gotten rid of my wonderfully unreliable analog TV, some thirty years old, with its grainy, scruffy images, which I willingly put up with, not without satisfaction (as it reflected how imperfect our US political/propaganda system is), to "keep up with the news," I now find myself completely incapable of looking at digitally-created "free" commercial television (I can't afford cable), including the "evening news": its lurid, shockingly bright images, in my opinion, are an assault on my senses (blame my formative teenage years decades ago in Italy, living with the soft, natural colors -- then -- of the Mediterranean).

Who really can endure this on-your-face 21st-century visual digital assault, worthy of the telescreen in Orwell's 1984? (Not to speak of the oh-so-bright ads on the evening news on Erectile Dysfunction, now abbreviated at "ED").

Even "Entertainment Tonight," once my favorite shows to keep up with American popular culture (or simply to be "entertained"), I now simply cannot watch "technologically improved" Tee-Vee. Its announcers and the subjects of their reports look like monsters from God knows where made out of some kind plastic. Which maybe they are. Alien invasion time?

No wonder the defining factor in American life today is that we essentially consider ourselves "zombies" (or maybe "vampires."). That's what "they" -- they who want to define us -- all look like on digital TV (zombies, vampires). So that's who we "digitally" are because that's the way "they" are inside of themselves.

Pardon my sixties paranoia, but that's when I went to college. As Robin Williams said, "if you remember the sixties, you weren't there".

Ironically enough, the new TV technology, meant to "improve" communications, has led this taxpayer to think that the more "unconnected" he is with these "latest" forms of communication (or at least as they -- the new communications -- are used by the commercial powers-that-be) that he, a human being who is privileged to live in natural light, even in Washington, DC, is the better off.

Yep -- here's the cliché: Like so many other Americans, I now increasingly turn to the Internet rather than television for information. I actually read on the Internet. Enough of TV digital non-stop image-bombardment!

Food for thought for persons practicing public diplomacy, the much-needed presentation and representation of the United States abroad by its diplomats. Digital images, no matter how "advanced," and especially as how they appear on television (and on the Internet as well), can never substitute for the reality of our -- we Americans, and others interacting with us Americans -- seeing the human face, under the common light we all live and love in, in all its miraculous imperfections, of sensing the human presence, in all its all-too-human reality.

Having passed on this message -- which, to some, may appear reactionary or do-good-for-the-world liberal naivete -- let me say, on a positive note, that digital is a wonderful vehicle for screening classic Hollywood movies on DVDs, now available at Washington DC libraries. It is stupendous to see "Ninochtka," with its great line about the 1930s Moscow trials: "There are fewer but better Russians."

So it's not all that bad. Why not believe in progress, after all?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Professor Bruce Gregory Public Diplomacy Bibliography #48

Public Diplomacy: Books, Articles, Websites #48‏
November 16, 2009

Intended for teachers of public diplomacy and related courses, here is an update on resources that may be of general interest. Suggestions for future updates are welcome.

Bruce Gregory
Adjunct Professor George Washington University
(202) 994-6350

Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange. The Alliance has launched a redesigned website with new features and links. Includes Under Secretary of State Judith McHale's keynote speech at the Alliance's membership dinner on October 21, 2009.

American Political Science Association Task Force on U.S. Standing in World Affairs, U.S. Standing in the World: Causes, Consequences, and the Future, October 2009. Led by Peter J. Katzenstein (Cornell University, APSA President, 2008-09) and Jeffrey W. Legro, (University of Virginia, Task Force Chair) twenty leading American political scientists explored three questions: "1. What is standing and how has it varied? 2. What causes standing to rise and fall? 3.What impact does standing have on U.S. foreign policy?" The report is available for download online in a short version and a long version. Hard copies are available for purchase. The report includes a dissent by two task force members: Stephen Krasner (Stanford University) and Henry R. Nau (George Washington University).

For a critique of the report, see Robert J. Lieber (Georgetown University), "A Contested Analysis of America's Standing Abroad," The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 1, 2009.

Amelia Arsenault, "Public Diplomacy 2.0," Chapter 7 in Philip Seib, ed., Toward a New Public Diplomacy: Redirecting U.S. Foreign Policy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 135-153. Arsenault (University of Pennsylvania and University of Southern California) adds to a growing literature that is examining and evaluating the implications of social media for public diplomacy practice. Her essay looks at current activities and possible new directions in the context of three trends: "(1) the technological convergence of communication networks, (2) related problems of information delivery and visibility, and (3) an incorporation of participatory and collaborative models of interaction."

John Brown, "What's Happened to anti-Americanism, and to the State Department? The Obama Administration and Public Diplomacy: March to mid-June 2009," Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, Vol. 5, 3, August 2009, 247-252. The author of John Brown's Press and Public Diplomacy Blog finds that, although President Obama has "won over overseas audiences (at least for now)," public diplomacy at "the State Department is broken and in need of serious fixing."

Daryl Copeland, "How Obama's Nobel Can Resurrect Diplomacy," Embassy Magazine, November 11, 2009, 9. Canadian diplomat Daryl Copeland sees the decision of the Nobel committee as a political signal "of support for diplomacy in general and for American presidential diplomacy in particular." The author of Guerrilla Diplomacy argues that diplomacy matters more than ever, but its institutions and practices must be "rethought from the ground up" and transformed through "relentless creativity," "tireless collaboration," and "engagement of cross cutting networks between government and civil society."

Nicholas Cull, Public Diplomacy: Lessons from the Past, CPD Perspectives on Public Diplomacy, (Figueroa Press, 2009). Cull, (Center for Public Diplomacy, University of Southern California) has republished with minor edits a report originally prepared for Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2007. Available in hard copy and on line, the CPD's 61 page publication includes material on definitions of public diplomacy, its evolution as a concept, three taxonomies, cases of successful and unsuccessful public diplomacy, and reflections on "information age" public diplomacy.

Ali Fisher, "An Introduction to Using Network Maps in Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication," Guest post on Matt Armstrong's MountainRunner Blog, October, 8, 2009. Fisher (director of Mappa Mundi Consulting and author of the blog) provides a brief introduction to social network analysis and the application of mapping methods to public diplomacy. Using several network graphics, he provides a basic introduction to network analysis and suggests these tools "can be used to plan, develop and evaluate engagement" and have significant potential in public diplomacy.

Bruce Gregory, "Mapping Smart Power in Multi-stakeholder Public Diplomacy / Strategic Communication," Remarks at a forum on U.S. Global Outreach: Smart Power on the Front Lines of Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication, The Institute for the Public Diplomacy and Global Communication, George Washington University, October 5, 2009. Brief comments and questions on concepts, challenges, and implications for scholars and practitioners.

Craig Hayden, "Public Diplomacy Debates Reflect Bigger IR Questions," Intermap Blog, October 28, 2009. Hayden (American University) reflects on the implications of central issues in international relations for the study and practice of public diplomacy: globalization, today's ICT infrastructure, erosion of traditional domains of nation-state sovereignty, new kinds of international actors, and the need for more global governance. His blog builds on his earlier assessment ("We Regret to Inform You We Don't Know What We're Doing," October 18, 2009) of issues raised in George Washington University's forum on "U.S. Global Outreach: The Implications of Smart Power for Public Diplomacy," Hayden sees a need for a new kind of diplomacy, new venues for communication, greater attention to international opinion, and leadership that "recognizes what kinds of objectives and/or policies are really the domain of public diplomacy." Includes comments by Donna Oglesby (Eckerd College) and Steven R. Corman (Arizona State University).

Sheldon Himelfarb, Tamara Gould, Eric Martin, and Tara Sonenshine, Media as Global Diplomat, Special Report 226, United States Institute of Peace, June 2009. The USIP team summarizes the views of media professionals, diplomats, scholars, and NGO leaders convened at the Media as Global Diplomat Leadership Summit (February 2009) on how the U.S. can best use media in its public diplomacy. The report calls for a multi-directional media model that "promotes a democratic, global conversation," a decentralized approach that "builds on local partnerships that go beyond U.S. governmental broadcasting," and initiatives that "tap the potential of citizen media and citizen networks."

Ellen Huijgh, The Public Diplomacy of Federated Entities: Excavating the Quebec Model, Clingendael Diplomacy Papers No. 23, October 2009, Netherlands Institute of International Relations 'Clingendael.' This paper examines theory and practice issues in the public diplomacy of sub-state entities. Using Quebec as a case study in a tidal wave of "calls for reducing the barriers to entry into public diplomacy," she examines three tracks: (1) promotion of Quebec's cultural identity, (2) institutionalized public diplomacy through a division in the Ministry of International Relations of Quebec, and (3) domestic public diplomacy. Her essay discusses ways in which the activities of entities such as Quebec, Flanders, Catalonia, Scotland, and California are changing the study and conduct of public diplomacy. Ms. Huijgh is a Ph.D candidate pursuing research on domestic public diplomacy and a co-editor of the Clingendael Discussion Papers in Diplomacy.

Richard Ned Lebow, A Cultural Theory of International Relations, (Cambridge University Press, 2009). Lebow (Dartmouth College) in this massive study (762 pp.) offers a new paradigm for the study of politics and international relations. Grounded in classical Greek thought on the fundamental drives of spirit, appetite, and reason, Lebow argues these drives give rise to distinctive "ideal type worlds" and different forms of behavior in cooperation, conflict, and risk taking. His research is broadly multicultural and sweeping in its historical focus. His ideas privilege dialogue, interaction, norms that promote human fulfillment, and power transition within and outside the state system. Public diplomacy scholars and practitioners will find Lebow's project relevant to current thinking on networks, relational models, cultural diplomacy, and a social psychology that links identity, interest, and behavior.

Simon Mark, "A Greater Role for Cultural Diplomacy," Clingendael Discussion Papers in Diplomacy, Netherlands Institute of International Relations, April 2009. Mark (New Zealand Trade and Enterprise) argues that cultural diplomacy, long treated as a subset of public diplomacy "has the potential to become a much more powerful tool for improving a country's image and its relations with other countries" and for "domestic nation-building." His paper explores the "semantic muddle" and core elements of cultural diplomacy, its role in presenting a national image and relationship with nation building, and ways to achieve cultural diplomacy's full potential. Mark defines cultural diplomacy as "the deployment of a state’s culture in support of its foreign policy goals or diplomacy."

Donna Marie Oglesby, "Statecraft at the Crossroads: A New Diplomacy," SAIS Review. Summer/Fall, Vol. 29, No. 2, 2009, 93-106. Oglesby (Eckerd College) argues that new realities and shifting power centers in international politics require a dramatic reassessment of U.S. national security strategy. Using examples (Sri Lanka, Sudan, European Union, Mexico, Afghanistan, Pakistan), she examines challenges at the nexus of foreign policy and politics within and between states. Today's global landscape calls for greater emphasis on politics and a new diplomacy in which public diplomats focus on "the political ground game" and the cultural and political particularities of human plurality.

Constance Philpot, DIME Blog, U.S. Army War College, October 2009. Constance Philpot is a senior U.S. Foreign Service Officer on detail to the Department of Defense at the U.S. Army War College. She posted five blogs on the Dime Blog relating to public diplomacy as DIME's October guest blogger.

-- October 1, 2009: "Public Diplomacy vs. Strategic Communication, Pt. 1"
-- October 7, 2009: "Public Diplomacy Part II"
-- October 15, 2009: "Public Diplomacy III: New Media"
-- October 22, 2009: "Public Diplomacy IV: Twitter Diplomacy"
-- November 2, 2009: "Concluding Thoughts on Public Diplomacy"

Samantha M. Shapiro, "Can the Muppets Make Friends on the West Bank?" The New York Times Magazine, October 4, 2009, pp. 38-43. Shapiro (a contributing writer for the Magazine) describes the challenges facing New York City-based Sesame Street and its Palestinian partners in creating an international co-production for television viewers in the Palestinian territories. Profiles Palestinian writers and contains insights on the political context, Sesame's struggle to balance its core values with the production and cultural values of Palestinian co-producers, the benefits for building a Palestinian television capability, and the singular difficulties of creating a Palestinian-Israeli joint production.

"The State of Public Diplomacy: A Decade after USIA's Demise, What Next?" Foreign Service Journal, October 2009. Current and former public diplomacy practitioners look at the past, present, and future. Includes:

-- The Public Diplomacy Front Line Working Group, "Speaking Out, Public Diplomacy: A View from the Front Line," 14-17. ("We hope to start a conversation about the direction of public diplomacy among current State Department practitioners.")

-- Julie Gianelloni Connor, "PD: A View from the Promotion Panel," 18-21. ("Here are some tips to help public diplomacy officers become truly competitive with other FS cones.")

-- Joe B. Johnson, "The Next Generation," 22-28. ("Leaders of the old USIA and State have sought to adapt public diplomacy to new public expectations and the revolution in global media.")

-- William A. Rugh, "PD Practitioners: Still Second-Class Citizens," 29-34. ("Attitudes within the Foreign Service toward public diplomacy work have not warmed much a decade after State absorbed USIA.")

-- Michael McClellan, "A Holistic Approach," 35-41. ("Instead of bringing back USIA, we should utilize its best practices to restore America's PD capabilities.")

-- Monica O'Keefe and Elizabeth Corwin, "The Last Three Feet: PD as a Career," 42-46. (One reason PD officers don't get their fair share of senior jobs is that they don't compete for them. But that's far from the whole story.")

-- William P. Kiehl, "Addressing the Public Diplomacy Challenge," 47-51. ("A new agency of the Department of State -- the U.S. Public Diplomacy Service -- could ensure both creativity and accountability in PD operations.")

-- Robert McMahon, "Channeling the Cold War: U.S. Overseas Broadcasting," 52-58. ("The need for a clear mission is as applicable today in reaching Muslims around the world as it was with Soviet-bloc audiences.")

Steffen Bay Rasmussen, "Discourse Analysis of EU Public Diplomacy: Messages and Practices," Clingendael Discussion Paper in Diplomacy, Netherlands Institute of International Relations 'Clingendael,' July 2009. Rasmussen (University of the Basque Country) examines the relevance of discourse theory to the practice of public diplomacy and to the challenges facing the EU's public diplomacy and broader diplomatic efforts. He argues that the EU's delegations in third states are its most important actors in EU public diplomacy. Despite problems of coherence, networks are better suited "to current patterns of diplomatic interaction and more effective in the pursuit of EU strategic objectives than a more hierarchical organization able to speak with one voice and act in a more concerted manner."

"Revitalizing Public Diplomacy" The Journal of International Security Affairs, Number 17, Fall 2009. The Journal's fall issue contains six articles by scholars and practitioners.

-- Robert R. Reilly (American Foreign Policy Council), "No Substitute for Substance," 9-17. ("When it comes to how America interacts with the Muslim world, ideas matter.")

-- J. Michael Waller (Institute of World Politics), "Getting Serious About Strategic Influence," 19-27. ("How to move beyond the State Department's legacy of failure.")

-- Helle C. Dale (The Heritage Foundation), "An Inauspicious Start," 29-34. (If early signs are any indication, Mr. Obama is as unserious about public diplomacy as his predecessor.")

-- Ilan Berman (Editor, The Journal of International Security Affairs), "Messaging to the (Muslim) Masses," 35-46. (The Islamic world is our target audience. Here's how to reach it.")

-- Colleen Graffy (Pepperdine University), "The Rise of Public Diplomacy 2.0," 47-53. (The global media environment is changing. Public diplomacy needs to keep up.)

-- Mark Dubowitz (Foundation for Defense of Democracies), "Wanted: A War on Terrorist Media", 55-62. (We should be treating the media outlets of terrorist groups as terrorists themselves.")

Rudolf Rijgersberg, “The U.S. as Keeper of a 'Free' Internet,” Clingendael Diplomatic Studies Program, Netherlands Institute of International Relations 'Clingendael,' September 10, 2009. Rijgersberg (Clingendael Research Fellow) looks at the advantages and disadvantages of the decision to separate the Internet Corporation on Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) from its relationship with the U.S government. He argues that "the current situation [prior to the September 30, 2009 separation decision] with the US as keeper of a relatively free Internet, is to be preferred to a global monopolist created by intergovernmental supervision."

Walter R. Roberts, "The Voice of America: Origins and Reflections," American Diplomacy, October 26, 2009. Roberts (a retired U.S. diplomat and scholar) recalls his experiences at the Voice of America during the early days of U.S. international broadcasting. Part memoir and part historical research, he draws on U.S. archival records, BBC documents, and other sources to assess the origins of the U.S. decision to engage in public international broadcasting. His article includes new information on the date of the first VOA broadcast and analysis of the personalities, technologies, and political issues (domestic and international) that shaped America's approach to shortwave broadcasting prior to World War II.

Mark Rolfe, "Clashing Taboos: Danish Cartoons, the Life of Brian and Public Diplomacy," The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, Vol. 4, No. 3 2009, 261-281. Rolfe (The University of New South Wales) asserts that the Danish cartoons' controversy drove reactions similar to those that followed earlier transnational disputes involving satire such as the movie Life of Brian and the Holocaust cartoons. His article looks critically at the war of ideas narrative, a focus by many on an absolute free speech principle that served the purposes of Islamists uninterested in local variations of Islam, and ways in which global media amplify taboos in such disputes and the problematic statements of political elites. Rolfe uses rhetorical analysis to unpack the complexities of the actors, audiences, and strategies in the cartoons' episode -- complexities with a relevance for public diplomacy, he suggests, that go well beyond the "war on terror" model.

Alec Ross, Technology and 21st Century Diplomacy, The Kojo Namdi Show, National Public Radio, September 22, 2009. In this 52-minute interview, Ross (Senior Advisor on Innovation, Department of State) discusses diplomatic uses of new media (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook) and traditional media (cell phones, radio). Available for listening online. (Courtesy of Ashley Rainey)

Nancy Snow, "The Death of Public Diplomacy is Greatly Exaggerated," Layalina Productions, Vol. 1, Issue 7, November 2009. Snow (Syracuse University) finds much to commend in President Obama's rhetoric and efforts to reshape America's image. There is a downside, however, in overreliance on the "Public Diplomat in Chief" in the White House. Public diplomacy, she asserts, is "best perceived as a symphony, not a one-man band."

U.S. Government Accountability Office, Department of State: Comprehensive Plan Needed to Address Persistent Language Shortfalls, GAO-09-955, September 2009. GAO found significant and persistent shortfalls in the assignment of language qualified Foreign Service Officers to language designated positions overseas. Worldwide, as of October 2008, 31% of State's officers did not meet reading and speaking proficiency requirements. In the Near East and South and Central Asia, the number was 40%. In Arabic and Chinese, the shortfall was 39%. GAO calls for a comprehensive strategy to help State guide its efforts and assess progress in meeting its foreign language requirements.

Gem from the Past

Akira Iriye. Cultural Internationalism and World Order, (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997). This book by the former President of the American Historical Association and Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard remains one of the best studies of the relationship between culture and power. Iriye examines the rise of cultural internationalism during the 19th and 20th centuries. He distinguishes between government sponsored cultural diplomacy and cultural internationalism and argues that both can be appreciated only in the context of world politics. "A lasting and stable world order," he wrote, "cannot rely just on governments and power politics; it also depends upon the open exchange of cultures among peoples in pursuing common intellectual and cultural interests."

For previous compilations of Public Diplomacy: Books, Articles, Websites, visit a wiki kindly maintained by the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy.
# # #

Friday, November 6, 2009

What, perhaps, Voltaire would have advised Judith McHale regarding Public Diplomacy

"Entertaining readers was the key to selling them books and winning their minds: he [Voltaire] didn't want their hearts. But in reality, Voltaire had always been a natural teller of tales. ... As Roger Pearson has acutely observed, Voltaire 'thought narratively', and in the 1740s, he played to his strengths by inventing the conte philosophique and adding it to the weapons in his philosophic armoury. ...

But entertainment was the means, never the end, for 'under the surface of the story, the practiced eye must be able to glimpse some subtle truth which escapes the cruder mind'. To various correspondents he explained what was required. Be brief (short, of course, but more importantly, expeditious), keep the mood jaunty (and casually louche), and above all amuse the reader ... . Every story should have a central idea which intrigues the reader and makes him think. Be as bold as you wish, but root imagination in truth, not in the commonplaces of fiction, and do it with a lightness of touch that makes fantasy, farce, horror and even startling anachronisms chime with the reader's experience and knowledge of the world. Deal in broad types, not individuals, so that the reader is insulated against his feelings and constantly exposed to the idea, which is the point of the exercise. Never lecture, never be merely frivolous, and never triviliaze the idea at the heart of the tale."

--David Coward, "To get the Beast by the tale: Voltaire and especially Candide are still 'infiniment actuel' after 350 years," Times Literary Supplement, October 23, 2009, p. 14

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Culture's Purpose and the Work of Cultural Diplomacy" Conference

From noon to 4:00 pm on November 5 I took part in a conference at American University (AU), Culture's Purpose and the Work of Cultural Diplomacy. The well attended event was held at (AU's) School of International Service.

Glassman Speaks

The keynote address by given by James Glassman, former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the previous administration (the last of four Bush appointees to hold that position).

Stressing policy-making must take culture -- the "mental code" of societies, he called it -- into consideration,

Glassman made the following points:

--It is difficult, if not impossible, for Americans to fully understand cultures other than their own (or indeed parts of their own culture; he cited New Orleans, where he lived for many years, as an example);

--The most effective American public diplomacy is not about "us" -- the United States -- but about "them," other countries;

--US cultural diplomacy, rather than focusing on America and its story, should "expose" countries with repressive regimes to their own, authentic but forbidden culture. He cited the USG-supported Radio Farda as an example of such an initiative;

--Public and cultural diplomacy should be "strategic," with a well-defined direction rather than just day-to-day "tactical" concerns. The State Department, unlike the Defense Department, considers itself "too cool" to worry about long-term goals, and currently has no leadership in strategic communications. Outsiders who try to change Foggy Bottom's muddling-through culture "will be devoured" by its bureaucracy because they are "showing disrespect" for set ways of doing things.

The personable Glassman was articulate, provocative, and oh-so-serious about cultural diplomacy, an activity (in my view) closely connected with the playful side of our humanity (see my below comment, last paragraph), but which for Glassman is essentially just another dimension of "national-security" policy.

I found a slight contradiction in his argument: If the U.S. is unable to understand other cultures, how can it -- the United States, through its government -- possibly be capable of informing authoritarian, closed societies about their own authentic culture?

Also, Mr. Glassman mentioned, as he has in the past, his aspiration that public diplomacy engage in a "grand conversation" with the rest of the world by digital means; but how can one possibly engage in a conversation, digital or not, without understanding, at least in part, one's interlocutor? Mr. Glassman, perhaps, would approve of these verses of Tyutchev,

as translated by Nabokov:

How can a heart expression find?
How should another know your mind?
Will he discern what quickens you?
A thought once uttered is untrue.
Dimmed is the fountainhead when stirred:
drink at the source and speak no word.
Live in your inner self alone
within your soul a world has grown,
the magic of veiled thoughts that might
be blinded by the outer light,
drowned in the noise of day, unheard…
take in their song and speak no word.
Panel Discussions

The panel discussions, consisting of academics, a think-tanker, and current and former diplomats, was filmed for a podcast which (in the words of one of the conference organizers, Professor Robert Albro), "will be hosted both on !Tunes and on the website of the International Communication program" at American University. Clearly the podcast will be the best source to turn as a record of the conference's proceedings.

But let me make some general statements about what the panelists said:

--Cultural diplomacy is an important dimension of international relations;

--It is a government-supported tool of foreign policy (David Firestein, East-West Institute; Kathlenn Brion, President of the Public Diplomacy Alumni Association);

--It can be expanded (and enriched) if it becomes more than just a narrow national-interest instrument, and when it is used to create multi-layered connections between peoples of various nationalities (Robert Kurin, Smithsonian Institution);

--Educational exchanges like the Fulbright Program are a major element in (and a success story of) U.S. cultural diplomacy (Nancy Snow, Syracuse University);

--The historical setting in which American cultural diplomacy was carried out during the Cold War has changed dramatically and cultural diplomacy must adapt to these changes, many of them Internet-driven (Firestein; Helle Dale, Heritage Foundation);

--The cyberspace social media may be creating new ways of carrying out cultural diplomacy, but they are no substitute for real-world human contact (Lawrence Wohlers, Smithsonian);

--The purpose of cultural diplomacy is not necessarily to spread democracy as we know it throughout the world, but establish personal connections between Americans and other countries (Wohler, Brion);

--While it is difficult to measure the results of cultural diplomacy (contended by some panelists), it is still possible to have metrics of what cultural diplomacy has actually accomplished (Frank Hodsoll, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts).

Russian Ruminations of a Culture Vulture

As one of the panelist, I devoted my remarks on my work as Cultural Affairs officer in Moscow, 1998-2001. Based on my experience in the country, I made the following generalizations, noting, however, that Russia is not a static society that it too is being changed by the new social media:

--For Russians, high and even low culture is an important element in their national self-definition (we Americans, in contrast, tend to stress the ideas/ideals of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution as to what "makes us Americans");

--The Russian state, since at least the eighteenth century, has been promoting and indeed creating an official culture far more than the U.S. government ever has or intends to do (in America, we have no Ministry of Culture; as I pointed out in the Q&A, the statement of the Under Secretary of State during the Roosevelt administration Sumner Welles -- that "the concept of an official culture is alien to us" -- is shared my many Americans.)

--Russians see their achievements in literature, music and art as their perhaps most significant contribution to mankind, whereas we Americans are more likely to underscore our economic successes, political system, and popular culture as what makes us no. 1 wordwide.

Regarding Russians' perception of American culture, I noted they:

--Still have a great interest in American culture, but less than when the USSR still existed (at least among the intelligentsia);

--Consider that what was a forbidden fruit in Soviet times -- American culture, both high and low -- can now lead to severe cultural indigestion if consumed (I mentioned the large number of third-rate American movies shown on Russian TV when I was there);

--American culture, as characterized by Hollywood, is imperialistic in nature and wants to "take over" Russia [see the article which just appeared in Newsweek, "Young Russians’ About-Face From the West: When the Berlin Wall fell, young Russians clamored for all things Western. Now they rail against anything that is" by Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova];

--Americans do not "reciprocate" culturally: while Russians feel they are interested in American culture, Americans do not show an equal interest in Russian culture. A sore point is that Russian artists face obstacles in getting visas do go to the U.S.

I stressed that, for my work as Cultural Affairs Officer in Moscow (98-01), there were quite large USG resources for educational exchanges, but only limited ones for cultural presentations. Major State Department exhibits, such as the Andy Warhol Exibit, were rare (for the exhibit as an example of public/cultural diplomacy, see my article, "The Purposes and Cross-Purposes of Public Diplomacy").

Knowing the importance of culture in Russian life -- and the expectation among the Russian intelligentsia that the US government should communicate with it culturally (as did, they often told me, other countries like France and Japan) -- I tried to organize cultural events as often and as best I could, often "piggy-backing" on American artists visiting Russia privately or commercially. The support of the Ambassador for such post-generated (rather than Washington-funded) undertakings was essential, especially by his opening the doors of his sumptuous residence -- Spaso House -- for that purpose.

I also obtained funding for cultural events from the private sector, as was the case for one exhibit, "Propaganda and Dreams," which Washington headquarters was not interested in supporting through "Democracy Commission" funds because it felt the show was not pertinent to democracy-building.
The exhibit, co-sponsored with the Ministry of Culture, first opened at the Corcoran in Washington and consisted of U.S. and Soviet photographs taken in the 1930s.

The Value of Cultural Diplomacy

Regarding the value of cultural diplomacy (which I defined as the government-supported presentation of US culture overseas), I closed my remarks by suggesting that:

--Cultural diplomacy is a way of accessing, of opening up to audiences that can lead to more discussions and exchange of ideas (David Firestein made the same point, mentioning country music as a way of introducing himself and the Embassy to his foreign interlocutors);

--It shows other countries that Americans, through their government, have an interest in them, that we want to share our culture with them;

--It produces a reservoir of good will toward the U.S.: often, cultural presentations (e.g., an exhibit, a concert) are remembered by local audiences more than policy statements. Cultural diplomacy, in other words, creates long-lasting memories about the United States, based upon esthetic experiences that make strong impressions. I cited the VOA jazz programs of Willis Conover (see below image) during the Cold War as an example of this.

In the Q&A session, in response to a question on whether the U.S. was "hardwired" to carry out cultural diplomacy, I answered that it was not, citing historical factors that I have discussed in a lengthy article. I stressed that, in my opinion, the extensive U.S. cultural diplomacy during the early Cold War was an exception, not the rule. In contrast to other industrialized nations, the U.S. neglects the artistic side of cultural diplomacy.

What More Could Have Been Said

In hindsight, I should have made two additional points during my presentation:

--The main trouble with "post-generated" cultural events is quality control: They lack a long vetting process judging them by their artistic merits by cultural specialists, as is supposedly the case with programs first set in motion in Washington;

--All too often discussions (and appreciations) of cultural diplomacy omit one of its key elements: that it's meant to be a joyful and pleasurable activity (but one, however, which can tell us -- Americans and others -- important things about who we are as human beings). In contrast to the more "serious" sides of public diplomacy (e.g., being an arm of national security), cultural diplomacy is at heart a playful, often unpredictable, enterprise, one that appeals to the homo ludens element of our humanity; play being, according to the noted Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, "primary to, and ... a necessary (though not sufficient) condition of the generation of culture." (I am citing Wikipedia; see also my articles, Rejuvenate Public Diplomacy! Bring Culture Back to the White House and Public Diplomacy: Stop the Solemnity!.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Meeting Mr. Panarin

This evening (November 3), at the invitation of the Russian Cultural Center in Washington, I took part in a panel discussion with Dr. Igor Panarin,

former KGB analyst and currently professor at the Moscow State Diplomacy Academy under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Note: In February 2005, Panarin proposed the "creation of a State Commission for Public Diplomacy of Russia (later renamed to a Council for Public Diplomacy)."

The topic of Panarin's discussion at the Center -- billed as a Lecture-Debate -- was his

unique perspective on the future of the United States. Will the world crisis lead to disintegration of the U.S.? What will be the aftermath of the current financial depression for the world's leading economies?
(According to a newspaperman I bumped into on Connectitut Avenue on my way to the Panarin meeting, the Russian community in Washington expected it to have a "circus atmosphere." Good to hear, I thought. I love circuses).

My fellow US panelist was Dr. Edward Hodgman, executive director of Understanding Government, a Washington D.C. think tank and website devoted to improving public understanding of the exectutive bran of government of the United States. The holder of a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Rochester and of a B.A. in Slavic Studies from Harvard College, Hodgman spent a total of more than ten years in Russia, during which time he organized scientific, cultural, and political exchanges, including the first visit by freely-elected Soviet parliamentarians to the U.S. Congress. (I am paraphrasing his bio on the event announcement).

In his opening remarks in Russian, Panarin focused on what he sees as America's current economic decline: its huge federal deficit, increasing foreign debt, unemployment, banking crisis. These will lead to financial and social tensions that will cause the break-up of the USA, he stated. He did not stress -- as factors contributing to this disintegration -- "mass immigration and moral degradation" as he has done, according to the Wall Street Journal, in the past. He did repeat, however, that the U.S. will split up into six different enclaves with foreign powers having influence in them.

Dr. Hodgman made some very perceptive remarks -- tactfully -- about Panarin's contentions. He noted that while Panarin was "charming," his observations left much to be desired from an empirical and conceptual point of view (I am speaking in general terms here, hoping that Hodgman will provide the details of his elucidating remarks on the Internet). Bottom Hodgman line, and I hope I'm not doing injustice to his nuanced remarks: Dr. Panarin, get real -- the U.S., despite its economic situation (which is slowly improving) is not about to collapse and turn into six nations.

Following Dr. Hodgman's remarks I made five points, after praising Panarin for asking "big questions," as opposed to the tendency of much political science research in the U.S. to deal with minor issues and answering them with overly narrow answers.

1) Panarin's "thesis" reflects a conservative world view, which sees change as leading to collapse. In the U.S., we tend to see change -- even a "negative" one such as the current economic downturn -- as an opportunity/challenge to look ahead, to reinvent ourselves for the better -- and not the road to perdition.

2) "Economic stress does not usually lead to the political breakup of democracies," according to the blog Capital Flow Watch. In the Great Depression, Americans stayed united -- if not more so than ever, despite (because of?) economic hardships.

3) In the twentieth-century the U.S. is part of an interdependent world. Other nations, increasingly linked to America by trade, surely don't want the U.S. to fall apart economically, especially the Chinese, who hold so much US debt. If the United States disintegrates and the dollar drastically loses its value, US treasuries held by the Chinese will become worthless -- certainly not in their interest.

4) Panarin's thesis -- especially regarding immigration leading to the end of the U.S. as we know it -- is not that original, and reflects the thoughts of Samuel Huntington's "Who Are We: The Challenges to American Identity" (2004). Fears about the breakup of the U.S. go back a long way in American history (not to speak of the Civil War we actually had).

5) Finally, in a comment -- meant to be humorous -- that got the most reaction from the Russia-savvy audience, I noted that Panarin, in his fanciful predictions, reminded me of Gogol

and his stories, which are full of absurdity (to make my point, not noted in my presentation, even clearer, I perhaps should have said that Gogol jumps from the seemingly "real" to the increasingly "absurb," just as Panarin jumps from the economic crisis in the U.S. to the break-up of the United States).

The Q&A part of the evening was lively and disputatious. Most of the audience did not agree with Panarin's dire predictions, but some did express the view that indeed we are headed for the collapse of the United States, at least financially.

Gallo jug wine was served at the reception following the event -- was it a subtle suggestion by the hospitable Russian Cultural Center that, indeed, the U.S. can hold together, if it can produce wine?

Audio: kindly provided by the Russian Center
VOA Russian account of the event