Saturday, January 29, 2011

“Electrification and counter-revolution”: Public Diplomacy Implications

Regarding the Middle East events and the role of the latest media in them, here's this early Soviet-era poster on “Electrification [the Internet?] and counter-revolution [The ME regimes?]” Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose ...

A new world disorder
A new world disorder Can Western liberal capitalism learn to coexist with other styles, like those of China, India and Brazil's swiftly developing economies? It can -- and it must.
By Timothy Garton Ash

January 28, 2011

Three Davos summits on from the West's Great Crash, we begin to see where we are. This is not the total collapse of liberal democratic capitalism that some had feared at the dramatic World Economic Forum meeting here in early 2009, but nor is it the great reform of Western capitalism, then the devout hope of Davos.

Western capitalism survives, but limping, wounded and carrying a heavy load of debt, inequality, demography, neglected infrastructure, social discontent and unrealistic expectations.

Meanwhile, other variants of capitalism — Chinese, Indian, Russian, Brazilian — are surging ahead, exploiting the advantages of backwardness, and their economic dynamism is rapidly being translated into political power.

The result? Not a unipolar world, converging on a single model of liberal democratic capitalism, but a no-polar world, diverging toward many different national versions of often illiberal capitalism. Not a new world order but a new world disorder — fractured, overheated, pregnant with future conflicts.

It was not meant to be like this. Remember the liberal triumphalism of the 1990s, when the West's old adversaries all seemed to have been vanquished? Even Russia and China were turning to capitalism, and that must, in time, surely bring them to democracy.

Remember this? "The great struggles of the 20th century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom — and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy and free enterprise. In the 21st century, only nations that share a commitment to protecting basic human rights and guaranteeing political and economic freedom will be able to unleash the potential of their people and assure their future prosperity."

Those were the opening words of the U.S. National Security Strategy adopted under President George W. Bush in 2002.

Maybe in the long run these words will prove to be right — that national prosperity and power cannot be divorced from respect for human rights and political freedom. I hope so. But it does not look that way in 2011.

On the one side, this is because the West has squandered its late 20th century victory. As so often in history, hubris was followed by nemesis. For all the soaring rhetoric of President Obama's State of the Union address this week, the difficulties of pushing the reforms he proposes through America's dysfunctional political system are daunting.

To be more optimistic about the prospects of reform in Europe, you would have to be Dr. Pangloss on steroids.

On the other side, nations beyond the historic West have discovered combinations undreamed of in the liberal triumphalist philosophy of the 1990s. They combine the dynamism of market economies with rule by one party or one family, state or hybrid ownership of companies, massive corruption and contempt for the rule of law.

A purist of liberal capitalism will say "but that is not capitalism" much as a liberal Muslim might say "but what Al Qaeda preaches is not Islam!" Yet Islam has something to do with it after all, and capitalism has something to do with the awesome rates of economic growth and capital accumulation that make China an emerging superpower.

This is a big part of the "new reality," which is the theme for this year's meeting of the World Economic Forum. Its program optimistically proclaims "Shared Norms for the New Reality." If only.

But Yan Xuetong, a bracing Chinese analyst of international relations, argues that emerging powers naturally bring to the table their own norms and attempt to spread them as best they can. He has a point. Are China and Russia, or even India and Brazil, more or less ready to adopt Western norms than they were 10 years ago? Less. Are countries in the global south more or less torn between Western and Chinese norms than they were 10 years ago? More.

We should still try to work toward those "shared norms." But let's start by acknowledging that one of the defining features of the new reality is, in fact, that there are divergent norms. China's rulers, for example, would probably be quite happy with a world in which the Americans, the Chinese and the Europeans each conducted their affairs after their own fashion within their own borders, and to some extent — here is where things get fuzzy and dangerous — within their spheres of influence.

The shared norms would then be limited to a fairly minimal set of rules for international order, trade, air traffic and so forth, with a strong presumption of respect for national sovereignty. So one of the fundamental divergences of our time is precisely about how many or how few shared norms we need.

What follows from this for people in countries that do have more-or-less liberal, more-or-less democratic versions of capitalism? Two things above all.

First, we in the West must put our own houses in order. Physician, heal thyself. The most important steps we can take for our influence abroad are those we take at home. We have lived for decades with a paradigm of progress, in which each generation would be better off than the last. Now we'll be hard put to ensure that our children are not less prosperous, less secure and less free than we were.

Second, we probably have to scale down — at least for now — our expectations for those shared norms. This means making hard choices. Do we put the preservation of peace, in the minimal sense of the absence of major war, before all else? Or reversing global warming? Or keeping open the pathways of international trade and finance? Or speaking up for basic human rights? Of course we want all these good things. But we have to cut our coat to suit our cloth.

Let me offer a silver lining. Both the hopes and fears of Davos two years ago already look unrealistic. Those of Davos 10 years ago seem like they are from a different world; of 25 years ago, almost from a different universe. History is full of surprises, and no one is more surprised by them than historians.

Timothy Garton Ash, a contributing editor to Opinion, is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and professor of European studies at Oxford University. He is the author, most recently, of "Facts Are Subversive."

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

Art of Soviet Propaganda

Art Of Soviet Propaganda at English Russia, from which the above is taken, contains fascinating samples of posters.
. Image from original article

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Soft Power and Public Diplomacy

If "soft power" is, as I understand it (perhaps mistakenly) essentially an entity's power to attract other entities for what it is, then why does such an entity (call it a nation like the USA) require "public diplomacy" to attract other nations? If we Americans seduce others because of who we are, then why need we "sell" ourselves to others through PD? Indeed, countries that use public diplomacy, it could be argued, have a deficit of "attractive power" and thus feel compelled to make up for it through government-supported programs that present and represent them overseas "positively." Take the USSR, with its vulgar propaganda, during the Cold War -- or China seeking to display itself favorably to Americans with a promotional video on six huge screens in Times Square.

Is not, conceivably, "soft power" an argument against the very notion of "public diplomacy"?

The below reflects my speculations better than I ever could:

"Soft power is, after all, like sex appeal on a national scale: it is more a reflection of who you are than how you talk about yourself, and if you say you have it, you probably don’t."

--Blogger David Wolf; image from

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Twitterers Take Note: Plato on Writing

Plato on writing; from Mumblings of a Platonist

“[Writing] will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on their own. You have not discovered a potion for remembering, but for reminding; you provide your students with the appearance of wisdom, not with its reality. Your invention will enable them to hear many things without being properly taught, and they will imagine that they have came to know much while for the most part they will know nothing. And they will be difficult to get along with, since they will merely appear to be wise instead of really being so.” (Phaedrus 275a-b)


“You know, Phaedrus, writing shares a strange feature with painting. The offsprings of painting stand there as if they are alive, but if anyone asks them anything, they remain most solemnly silent. The same is true of written words. You’d think they were speaking as if they had some understanding, but if you question anything that has been said because you want to learn more, it continues to signify just that very same thing forever. When it has once been written down, every discourse roams about everywhere, reaching indiscriminately those with understanding no less than those who have no business with it, and it doesn’t know to whom it should speak and to whom it should not. And when it is faulted and attacked unfairly, it always needs its father’s support; alone, it can neither defend itself nor come to its own support.” (Phaedrus 275d-e)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Public Diplomacy Note: No Smith-Mundt Act in India

"Public diplomacy is a web of mechanisms through which a country's foreign policy positions are transmitted to its target audiences. The term was first used by U.S. diplomat and scholar Edmund Guillion in 1965. He saw it as 'dimensions of international relations beyond traditional diplomacy, the cultivation by governments of public opinion in other countries …' Indian diplomats, however, rightly maintain that public diplomacy has to do with both foreign and domestic audiences [my emphasis]. When you put out a story on television, blog or YouTube today, it is consumed by a university student in Bhopal as much as by a financial analyst in Toronto." On Smith-Mundt, see.

--Public diplomacy — the tasks ahead - Rajiv Bhatia, The Hindu [an excellent analysis of India and PD]

Monday, January 10, 2011

From ugly to just plain American

From ugly to just plain American: Diversity stateside, the weak dollar and the rise of other global powers have changed how U.S. visitors act overseas and how Europeans see them - Gregory Rodriguez,

January 10, 2011

The ugly American — the stereotypically brutish, ethnocentric, bumbling traveler abroad — is dead. He's gone the way of global U.S. hegemony, the strong dollar and mid-20th century American naivete.

Thirty years ago, the streets of major European capitals were awash with wide-eyed, culturally entitled, middle-class American tourists who were members of the first generation to take advantage of foreign travel. Once the exclusive province of the elite, the Grand Tour (albeit scaled down) suddenly became available to the average suburbanite, supported by modern transportation technology, a strong U.S. currency and America's unparalleled international status.

But if global dominance produced a certain type of traveler, it makes sense that what Fareed Zakaria has dubbed the post-American era would produce another.

I've spent the past three weeks in Britain, Germany and here in Spain, and I've been struck by how unexceptional the American has become in Europe, as well as how the perception of us as a people is shifting.

Far from projecting an image of narrow-minded superiority, Americans abroad today are more reflective of the country's expanding diversity and cultural sophistication. They come from a broader array of backgrounds and traditions. Many still have strong ties to homelands around the globe.

That diversity partly explains why one recent survey of hoteliers found that of all Western travelers, Americans were most likely to speak the local language.

Linn Peterson, a Vermont native who has lived in Spain since 1977, says that 30 years ago, American tourists and expatriates were mostly interested in replicating the comforts of home abroad. "The people who come now," he says, "are looking for something other than America."

It also stands to reason that we are less "ugly" abroad because more of us confront and negotiate all sorts of cultural differences in our lives stateside. From small-town Indiana to suburban Atlanta, Americans are bumping shoulders with people from many backgrounds and negotiating cultural difference every day.

This cultural openness also comes at a time when the U.S. dollar is losing its dominance. That fact alone could easily be behind the change in attitude.

"Americans were more rude when the dollar was strong," said a longtime waiter at Madrid's landmark Cerveceria Alemana bar. Today, he told me, they are más suave — more mellow.

This more diverse, culturally fluent and easygoing American tourist also meets a world that knows a lot more about the United States than it did a generation ago — and it can better match the new tourist to the new image.

No more cowboys and Indians, for example. "Spaniards no longer ask how big our ranch is back home," Peterson says. "Thirty years ago, most of their knowledge of us came from movies and TV shows."

Not only is the world getting smaller, but changes in the United States also have given foreigners more opportunities to identify with us. The historic election of President Obama two years ago is the example that many Europeans point to.

Jeff Dayton-Johnson, a California-born economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, tells the story of giving a speech the day after Obama's election to a largely African-born French audience.

"People were crying," he said, "and thanking me as if I had personally delivered the White House to Obama. The election really gave people a bigger sense of our population's diversity. I don't think they see us as a people so vastly different from everyone else anymore."

And we aren't. In the 1980s, I lived in Madrid for a year, and I can attest to the fact that since then the cultural distance between Spain and the U.S. has clearly narrowed. The Spanish are more like us and we are more like them — in the clothes we wear, the way we spend our leisure time and the size of the cars we drive.

A week ago Sunday, for example, much to the chagrin of this country's ardent smokers, a public smoking ban almost as strict as California's went into effect. Likewise, the global rise of English and the mass-media-fueled international youth culture has made it a lot harder to tell who is or isn't an American at restaurants, clubs and bars.

The end of the exceptional American suggests that we're not only more invisible, but we're less of a target of outsize hope or disdain.

Just a decade ago, in the days after 9/11, I was in Berlin, where I was easily picked out as an American, and strangers on the street offered me their condolences. Not long afterward, a fellow diner at a restaurant in Rome recognized me and my friends as Americans and started yelling anti-U.S. slogans at us. Admittedly, in 2011, the timing is less fraught, but no one picked me out as if I were wearing the Stars and Stripes, or made me a stand-in for U.S. politics.

I suspect that America's post-imperial angst and the rise of other global powers will have the world projecting less and less powerful feelings on the U.S. and its casual ambassadors abroad. For better or worse, we're just not so special anymore.

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

Friday, January 7, 2011

Dangerous Warning?

U.S. Sends Warning to People Named in Cable Leaks

"WASHINGTON — The State Department is warning hundreds of human rights activists, foreign government officials and businesspeople identified in leaked diplomatic cables of potential threats to their safety and has moved a handful of them to safer locations, administration officials said Thursday.

The operation, which involves a team of 30 in Washington and embassies from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, reflects the administration’s fear that the disclosure of cables obtained by the organization WikiLeaks has damaged American interests by exposing foreigners who supply valuable information to the United States. ..." :

Comment: I wonder how the State Department is going about "warning" these people. By "warning" them -- and thereby, conceivably, attracting the attention of unfriendly/hostile groups/governments -- is the Department putting such "confidential" sources in even greater danger than before the WikiLeaks?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Toppling of the Saddam Statue -- 2003 article

In connection with the recent article that appeared in The New Yorker on the toppling of the Saddam Statue as a form of military propaganda, below an article I wrote in April, 2003 for CounterPunch:

"They Got It Down": The Toppling of the Saddam Statue

"They got it down!"

George W. Bush, as he caught television coverage of a toppled statue of Saddam Hussein. [Washington Post, April 9]

For supporters of our adventure in Iraq, the culmination of military victory over Saddam Hussein is the toppling of his 40-foot bronze statue in central Baghdad's al-Firdos (Paradise) Square, outside of the Palestine Hotel frequented by western journalists. This ideal-for-reality-TV episode was further evidence to war cheerleaders on both sides of the Atlantic that the Iraqi people have at last fulfilled their hopes for liberation. "This joyous moment recalls the deposition of scores of statues of Lenin all over eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War," says Britain's Daily Telegraph (April 10). '[L]ike newly freed Russians pulling down the statue of the hated secret police chief in Dzerzinsky Square, the newly freed Iraqis toppled the figure of their tyrant and ground their shoes into the face of Saddam Hussein," writes William Safire in the New York Times (April 10).

Not so fast, please.

Yes, Hussein was a brutal dictator. Yes, many in Iraq and in the Arab world feared him and are welcoming his demise. But to compare the toppling of Saddam's statue to the removal of Lenin stone/metal look-alikes throughout Eastern Europe is to draw false analogies.

As I watched the event on Fox news, with its rah-rah go-go-America commentary that poses as "fair" reporting, I quickly realized that I wasn't watching a replay of the end of communism in Soviet-occupied countries, no matter what was being said on the most jingoistic channel on the tube. There are several reasons:

* The gathering of hundreds of people around Saddam's statue was not the culmination of previous domestic demonstrations against the regime (which, of course, made sure they didn't happen).

* Local inhabitants failed to take down Saddam's 65th-birthday gift to himself, despite looping and pulling a rope around its neck and hacking its marble plinth with sledgehammers. At one decisive point, U.S. Marines took over the pull-down-Saddam operation, at the request of Iraqis, according to media. In contrast, no foreign troops helped Eastern Europeans destroy their morbid Lenin memorials.

* An eager Marine, 23-year-old Corporal Edward Chin, of Brooklyn, N.Y., draped a U.S. flag over Saddam's head, "a gesture that drew a muted reaction from the crowd, gasps in the Pentagon briefing room and anger from a commentator on the Arab news network Al Arabiya" (). No stars and stripes ever covered the visage the Great Leader of the Proletarian Revolution when the Soviet gulag-paradise collapsed.

* A pre-1991 Gulf War Iraqi flag was placed around Saddam's neck (it looked like a door-to-door salesman's cut-price tie!) by a Marine after the diplomatically awkward U.S. flag draped on the dictator's metal face was whisked away. No way a patriotic Czech, Hungarian, Pole or Russian would have approved of his or her national flag being handled by a foreign army (no matter how welcomed) in this condescending and dismissive way.

* The statue was finally (and literally) yanked down (sans Iraqi flag) by a U.S. armored vehicle with a crane pulling a heavy cable. In the pre-preemptive days of containment, the people of Eastern Europe got rid of their occupiers (domestic and foreign) without depending on American soldiers on their soil.

In Eastern Europe Lenin's lapidary sneer of cold command was a symbol of foreign domination. Saddam's domineering figure, for all the fear it invoked, did not represent to the local population occupation by outside troops. In Russia, the eradication of Lenin statues (and not all of them are gone) symbolized the collapse from within of a vast Eurasian empire. In Iraq, in contrast, Saddam's sinister bronze presence would still be seen reigning over Paradise Square today had it not been for the direct military intervention of the United States.

The one lesson of history is that it doesn't repeat itself, no matter how much those who try to remake it according to grand schemes believe.


John Brown served in the U.S. Foreign Service from 1981 until March 10, 2003, when he resigned to protest the Bush administration's war plans. He has served in Prague, Krakow, Kiev, Belgrade and Moscow.

The American Perspective on Hard and Soft Power

The American Perspective on Hard and Soft Power - Paul Pillar, The National Interest

January 4, 2011

On Tuesday I spoke to a conference, organized by the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, with the theme of "The Future of U.S. Foreign Policy: The Revival of Soft Power and Cultural Diplomacy?" What follows are my remarks to the conference.

Americans bring some distinctively American perspectives to the employment of different instruments of power, hard and soft. My subject is how some of the relevant perspectives grow out of the history, geography, and other circumstances of the United States, and out of the political culture that those circumstances have nurtured. We see those perspectives manifested in particular policies of particular administrations, but those policies have deeper roots. By “perspectives” I mean not only preferences for using some instruments of national power rather than other ones, but also related perceptions, including difficulties and consequences associated with such use.

Consider two major aspects, one bad and one good, of the place of the United States in the world. One is anti-Americanism, which is an all-too-prevalent theme in public discourse in many parts of the world, reflected to varying degrees in the rhetoric and sometimes the policies of governments in those parts of the world. The theme is particularly apparent in much of the Muslim world and especially the Middle East and parts of South Asia. The other aspect is how attractive the United States is as a place to live, among those who do not live here but would love to do so if given the chance. These two aspects, the positive and the negative, often co-exist in the same parts of the world. Sometimes they even co-exist in the hearts, minds, and mouths of the same individuals in those parts of the world—individuals who have critical things to say about the United States but would still welcome a chance to live there.

The positive side of this—the things that make it attractive to live in America—is certainly one of the biggest elements of soft power enjoyed by the United States. It is this country's image as, based on the reality of, a land of prosperity and freedom. The negative side, the anti-Americanism, has a combination of causes, the relative importance of which tends to get debated when the subject is what leads people to become so extremely anti-American that they engage in violence, especially terrorist violence. Some of the causes have to do with the United States's status as the sole superpower. It is able to do, more than any other country can, more things that more people around the globe perceive, rightly or wrongly, as threatening or destructive. The causes also have to do with particular U.S. policies—policies that make use of that ability to do many things around the globe that can be perceived as threatening or destructive. Some of America's global influence that becomes a source of resentment could be labeled as soft power—specifically, the export of popular culture and consumerism that some people abroad resent as “cultural imperialism”. But to a much greater degree the causes of the resentment and even anger that underlie the anti-Americanism have to do with the exercise of hard power, and particularly that quintessential form of hard power, military force.

How do most Americans perceive all of this? The attractive side of the United States, as it positively affects the perceptions of foreigners, is something that most Americans take for granted. Of course, they would say, America is a land of prosperity and freedom. Moreover, it is a land of immigrants. Just as it has been a magnet for generations of previous immigrants, it should hardly be news that it continues to be a magnet for many present-day would-be immigrants. Whether or not this is regarded as a form of soft power—and outside the intellectual elite few Americans would ever have heard of that term—it is not a form of power that seems to require the United States to do anything. The United States just is. To the extent that Americans talk about having to do something related to the attractiveness of their country to foreigners who would like to live there, the talk is focused on controlling the movement of such people—that is, on policing illegal immigration.

Most Americans have difficulty perceiving and understanding the negative side: the resentment and even anger among foreigners that stems from the United States exercising its power, especially hard power. They see their own motives as pure, and they have a hard time understanding the perceptual side-effects and negative consequences of using hard power. They focus instead in a direct, straightforward way, on the direct effects of what the use of military force or other hard power can accomplish.

Several attributes of the history and circumstances of the United States contribute to these perceptual habits and shortcomings.

One is that the United States has never been threatened by the power of someone much more powerful than itself. The protective advantage of two ocean moats has been one of the biggest shapers of American attitudes about the exercise of power. When the republic was young and not yet powerful, the country that was then most able to project power—Britain with its Royal Navy—tended to do so in ways that contributed to, rather than threatened, the young North American republic's prosperity and growth. When a more mature United States finally began flexing its own global muscle around the turn of the twentieth century, it was already a match for anyone else. The most serious physical threat to the United States was the USSR of the Cold War and the nuclear age, but it was never more than a co-equal second superpower, and even at that one that would prove to be inferior to the United States in a race, declared most clearly by Ronald Reagan, to convert economic power into military power.

Because of these happy circumstances, Americans tend to be insensitive to how those not similarly blessed will be attuned to the threatening side of the exercise of power by those more powerful than themselves, and how such exercise may be resented or hated. The United States is the antithesis of a Belgium or a Poland or countless other countries that have been so attuned because matters of national survival are at stake. Because Americans have not been put in a similar position, they are slow to perceive and understand how others may perceive the exercise of U.S. power as threatening.

The United States also has not had the experience, as did the European powers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, of engaging in a form of balance-of-power politics in which for the most part the motives of the players were similar ones of acquiring or securing territory, resources, and still more power. When the United States finally stepped onto that playing field in World War I, it was with the declared mission of ending that balance-of-power game rather than indulging in it. So Americans find it easy to see their country as the city on a hill, as something fundamentally different from other powers and acting out of motives more noble than the others. This is the basis for many aspects of American exceptionalism. For our current purposes, the point is that it is also a basis for Americans finding it difficult to understand how foreigners could perceive as less than noble America's motives in exercising its power, and specifically hard power. It does not naturally occur to Americans that the use of military force in the Muslim world would be perceived, however incorrectly, by many in that world as undertaken to kill Muslims, capture their territory, and plunder their resources.

Most of the adversaries the United States faced in its greatest applications of hard power in the twentieth century—the two world wars, especially World War II, and the Cold War—were certifiably bad in the sense that they are generally perceived today as representing ideologies or political systems that it was right to oppose forcefully. This history has bolstered Americans' sense of their own motives in applying military force as being of a higher order than those of others who have applied it.

Americans have not had to overcome—or more precisely, believe they have not had to overcome—episodes in their own history similar to those our German and Japanese friends have had to overcome regarding the regimes in their countries before and during World War II, and the way those regimes applied hard power to the detriment of others. Even a recent U.S.-instigated war of aggression—the one launched against Iraq in 2003—is not seen in anything near the same terms, despite plenty of disagreement among Americans today as to how that particular use of military power ought to be seen and judged.

The United States has had one of the longest continuous histories in the world of more or less stable political life based on a firmly entrenched and broadly shared set of values, the ones embodied in a constitution and bill of rights written in the eighteenth century. Whatever soft power is embodied in that constitution and those values, it is not something that Americans have had to work at, or at least believe they have had to work at. It is another part of the American experience that has come naturally to them. Even the one big and bloody interruption to that history—the American Civil War, fought over the disagreeable issue of slavery—is seen today as a reaffirmation of the order and the values, given that the anti-slavery side won and the union was preserved. So again most Americans see the soft power involved as a matter less of doing than merely of being. There are those, whom Walter Russell Mead would label Jeffersonians, who believe that this aspect of American soft power does require work to make sure that it is not lost. They believe the political order and values embedded in it are more fragile than may appear. But these people are in the minority in the United States.

A final relevant aspect of American history and the habits of thought it has nurtured about the application of power is how successful the United States has been in so many of the endeavors it has undertaken, from winning world wars to putting a man on the moon. This experience has nurtured an American confidence that with enough dedication, resources, and know-how, the United States can accomplish just about anything. Setbacks are taken not as a lesson not to try the same sort of thing again, but instead as a stimulus to fix whatever needs to be fixed before undertaking the same sort of endeavor. This outlook characterizes attitudes toward the use of military force. We see it today with the expedition in Afghanistan, and in the comparisons drawn with the costly misadventure in Iraq. Marc Lynch of George Washington University, as quoted in a piece in the most recent Economist about America and the Middle East, describes the prevailing American outlook this way: “The lesson we seem to have learned from Iraq is not, 'Disaster, don't do it again', but rather, 'Now we know how to do counterinsurgency.' ” Much of the debate over policy toward Afghanistan is an engineer's type of discussion over what strategy, tactics, resources, and people are required to stabilize the country rather than over more fundamental questions about the purposes and application of power. And there has been little examination of the roles and relative strengths and weaknesses of hard and soft forms of power as applied to the original purpose of the expedition, having to do with counterterrorism.

The characteristically American engineer's outlook as applied to soft power tends to focus more on messaging than on underlying substance. We see this in the perpetual hand-wringing in Washington over public diplomacy. For years it has been seen as broken and in need of fixing, although there is much disagreement over how to fix it. Hands are wrung because of the disconnect between the basic goodness that Americans see in their own country and the anti-Americanism that exists overseas. Many who disagree over the best techniques to employ in public diplomacy in effect agree on the idea that if we can just do a better job of getting our message across, the sentiment overseas is bound to change. Fewer people engaged in the debate point out that messaging can only do so much, and that whether you are selling toothpaste or foreign policy, the substance and quality of the product matter at least as much as the advertising.

American attitudes toward soft and hard power can be summarized as follows.

Soft power is seen as an asset—but exactly that: as an asset, more than as a policy instrument. It is seen as flowing out of America's essential goodness rather than out of any concerted effort, apart from messaging, to shape whatever it is that gives rise to the soft power in the first place and can be used as a tool of influence. It is, in short, taken for granted more than it is seen as something in need of nurturing and shaping. An implication is that the United States probably does not gain as much influence from its soft power as it could with more concentrated attention to the subject.

The United States exhibits an overall bias toward the instruments of hard power, and especially military power. This is not because Americans are militarist; they are not. They see this particular tool as one that they have necessarily unsheathed from time to time to do battle with foreign threats that raise their heads, after which they resheathe it. The bias exists first because of the insufficient appreciation of the role of soft power. Second, because of the signal successes, such as winning World War II, that have come directly from using this hard power tool. Third, because of enough confidence in America's ability to accomplish what it sets out to accomplish overseas that Americans are not permanently discouraged by lack of success, such as in the Vietnam War. And fourth, because of insufficient ability, for the reasons I have mentioned, to perceive and understand the broader side-effects of the U.S. use of military force, particularly on the perceptions and affinities of foreign populations. A greater understanding of those side-effects would represent one of the most significant ways in which discourse about U.S. foreign policy could be improved.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hope springs e-ternal

Updated: Sun., Jan. 2, 2011, 4:18 AM
Hope springs e-ternal By EVGENY MOROZOV, New York Post

Last Updated: 4:18 AM, January 2, 2011

Posted: 11:21 PM, January 1, 2011

When, on a 2009 trip to China, Barack Obama proclaimed that “the more freely information flows, the stronger the society,” he was only echoing Ronald Reagan’s pronouncement (made in 1989) that “information is the oxygen of the modern age.” Most American politicians spent the two decades in between these statements — right until they hit the WikiLeaks iceberg — under the mysterious spell of information technology and its power to spread democracy.

This is hardly surprising, given that so many in the West still believe that it was Radio Free Europe and Voice of America, along with technology smuggled into the Soviet Union, that destroyed communism. Such triumphalism views about the Cold War’s end have survived well into the new millennium; as late as 2005, Thomas Friedman, the cheerleader-in-chief of liberation technology, wrote that “totalitarian systems depend on a monopoly of information and force, and too much information started to slip through the Iron Curtain, thanks to the spread of fax machines, telephones, and other modern tools of communication.”

However, such cyber-utopianism alone cannot explain the wild enthusiasm with which America’s ruling elites greeted the arrival of the Internet. Their other crucial assumption was, and, to a certain degree, still is, that the whole of humanity shares a democracy gene. If only the Iranians or the Chinese had the tools to act, they would long overthrow their dictators! The Internet, such logic goes, would allow America to promote democracy without having to send in the Marines.

Sadly, the vast majority of those oppressed by authoritarianism have pragmatically reasoned that their iPads would be far better employed to play Angry Birds or watch Lady Gaga videos than to download reports from Amnesty International or edit Wikipedia entry on “human rights.” Globalization has boosted the fortunes of the middle classes even in authoritarian states; thus, the Internet, once thought to be the chief tool of dissent, has become the chief tool of consumerism. (In this, modern Russians, Iranians and Chinese hardly differ from Americans and Western Europeans.)

Those few cyber rebels inevitably discover that their governments also are aggressively using the Internet to track and suppress dissent. Secret police routinely go through social networking profiles of suspicious activists, noting down any previously unknown connections between activists and their foreign supporters. A few weeks after the protests began in Tehran, the Iranian secret police began intimidating Iranians abroad, analyzing their online activity during the so-called Twitter Revolution. Those who left a pro-Green Movement digital trail somewhere on the Internet were advised to stop — or see their relatives back in Iran in trouble.

In China, Internet surveillance has already become a profitable industry. In fact, a growing number of private firms eagerly assist the local police by aggregating this data and presenting it in easy-to-browse formats, allowing humans to pursue more analytical tasks.

Of course, the fact that Big Brother is so active online does not stop some brave Internet activists from taking the risks and organizing online campaigns, using Facebook and Twitter as their virtual offices. There is no denying the fact that many of these campaigns — especially those dedicated to social rather than political causes — achieve their goals.

However, to be truly effective on a political level such digital campaigns need to be integrated with mainstream opposition movements in these countries; otherwise, they risk sucking in the very brave young people who may be fighting more important fights offline. Anyone who believes that “Twitter revolutionaries” would be able to topple the regimes in Tehran or Beijing on their own are only playing in the hands of the dictators, many of whom are quite content to see their troublesome youths to protest in virtual — rather than real — town squares. The Internet is more helpful in allowing the dissatisfied to blow off their steam rather than in orchestrating the next revolution.

Most Washington insiders, however, pay no attention to such subtleties, still operating inside Ronald Reagan’s “technology = democracy” bubble. And blogs and tweets seem to have replaced fax machines and photocopiers as America’s leading democracy exports: In January 2010, Hillary Clinton announced that “Internet freedom” — a concept as utopian as it is ambiguous — would become a new pillar of American foreign policy.

One year in, the subject of “Internet freedom” has allowed many State Department officials to embark on lengthy speeches about China and Iran, while deflecting attention from America’s own culpability. Doesn’t Facebook have a rather spotty record on respecting user privacy and freedom of expression? Doesn’t Amazon boot clients off its cloud storage service without waiting for a court order? Doesn’t Cisco build and export technology that authoritarian governments use to censor the Internet?

Most importantly, isn’t it American politicians who demand a kill-switch button for the Internet and want to re-engineer it to make it easier to eavesdrop on online conversations? Shouldn’t America’s fight for Internet freedom start at home for it to be taken seriously by the rest of the world? The least we can do is to make it harder for dictators to use the Web to suppress their own citizens; this would help the causes of Internet freedom far more than Hillary Clinton’s bombastic speeches about “the information curtain.”

Evgeny Morozov is the author of “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom” (PublicAffairs).