Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Interview on Public Diplomacy with a Dubrovnik mass medium (Dubrovacki list)

Below the English-language version of the Dubrovkacki list interview with your blogger (John Brown) that appeared in print (in Croatian), Wednesday November 28:

1. In 1981 you joined the US Foreign Service and served as a diplomat for 22 years. Has your opinion on diplomacy and its effects changed since 1981? How did you feel in 1981 regarding the importance of diplomacy and what are your thoughts today?

I joined the US Foreign Service, in the early 1980s, in search of gainful employment and out of a certain sense of idealism to promote peace at a time when our small planet was arguably “bipolar” (U.S. vs. USSR) and threatened by a nuclear holocaust.

During the period -- Cold War and immediate post-Cold War -- the social media were not omnipresent. I felt there was a need to depict America to foreign audiences as honestly as possible in a communications-limited world, not only behind the “Iron Curtain,” but in other parts of Europe.

Of course now times have changed, and diplomats must adapt to change.

But no one – including diplomats – should live under the illusion that, in our multipolar 21st century world, the social media are omnipotent. Indeed, the need to understand cultures beyond “interacting” on the internet is more important than ever.

Facebook-to-Facebook “communications,” while creating professionally useful cyber-networks, will never replace face-to-face discussion/negotiations -- which ultimately is what diplomacy is all about.

That is why, as a former diplomat in the “public diplomacy” field, I feel so privileged to share ideas with the bright and energetic students at DIU [Dubronik International University], here in the “Libertas” city of Dubrovnik, with its marvelous bells -- reminding me, every quarter of an hour, that there is no minute in our human lives, when shared with others in the real world, that is not a miracle.

2. You got your Ph.D. in Russian History, but you also spent almost whole your career in Eastern Europe, in the countries of Warsaw Pact, including former Yugoslavia. What do you think, is that old West-East/NATO-Warsaw division from the Cold War era of any importance in today [']s diplomacy?

The division of Europe along East-West lines is a legacy of the Cold War. Europe, diverse and unique, is one Europe, just as diverse mankind is, ultimately, one mankind. To be sure, cultural differences among nations/regions have been interpreted by some as an example of immutable civilizational tensions that inevitably lead to conflict. But as an American living in a multiethnic society facing “diversity” issues on a continual basis, I think that we human beings can all get along if we recognize that, although we may not be all the same, we still all aspire to better lives.

3. During your stay in Dubrovnik you are holding classes on DIU  [Dubrovnik International University -- JB]. Through[out] its history, Dubrovnik was best known for its skillful diplomacy, which helped the city/state keep its independence for centuries. Why is diplomacy so important for a life of a certain country? 

Diplomacy can be important because it can, let us hope, solve problems without violence. Sir Harold Nicolson suggested in his classic work on the subject that diplomacy began when parties involved in a conflict realized it was not in anyone’s interest to eat visiting envoys for dinner.

4. Can we notice public diplomacy making effect on our lives? How does it differ from cultural diplomacy?

To some, public diplomacy deals with fast-media, getting hard-hitting headlines to brand a country positively, moving the “needle” of foreign public opinion to promote national interests.

Cultural diplomatist enthusiasts argue that they deal with long-term processes -- e.g., educational exchanges – that will eventually bring universal harmony.

Having been a US public diplomacy practitioner for over two decades, I believe that this craft is an often uneasy mixture of both these points of view.

5. Dubrovnik suffered a lot in the early 1990’s during the Serb-Montenegrin siege. One of the most important fronts in that time was war propaganda, an instrument of war, in Dubrovnik case created in Serbia and Montenegro. Why is propaganda so effective and how it sells a war?

Propaganda and war have a sad symbiotic relationship. Propaganda at its worst inflames atavistic emotions that bring out the worst in human beings – e.g., exterminate the demon-outsider. Public diplomacy, at its best, reflects the memorable words of the US Declaration of Independence, which states: “All men are created equal” and notes that it is inspired by “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”

These are powerful words, no matter how little they actually reflected the reality of late-eighteenth-century America – when blacks, women, and native Americans were not considered “equal” by the white property owners (many of whom had slaves) who signed the Declaration.

6. In March 2003 you resigned from the State Department to protest the Bush administration’s war plans against Iraq. What was the ‘trigger’ moment that made you do it after 22 years in service?

May I immodestly cite my e-mail (to which I never received an answer) to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell:

March 10, 2003
Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am joining my colleague John Brady Kiesling in submitting my resignation from the Foreign Service (effective immediately) because I cannot in good conscience support President Bush's war plans against Iraq.

The president has failed:
--To explain clearly why our brave men and women in uniform should be ready to sacrifice their lives in a war on Iraq at this time;
--To lay out the full ramifications of this war, including the extent of innocent civilian casualties;
--To specify the economic costs of the war for ordinary Americans;
--To clarify how the war would help rid the world of terror;
--To take international public opinion against the war into serious consideration.

Throughout the globe the United States is becoming associated with the unjustified use of force. The president's disregard for views in other nations, borne out by his neglect of public diplomacy, is giving birth to an anti-American century.

I joined the Foreign Service because I love our country. Respectfully, Mr. Secretary, I am now bringing this calling to a close, with a heavy heart but for the same reason that I embraced it.

John H. Brown
Foreign Service Officer

7. How did US Government ‘use’ propaganda on its own citizens during war in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Too much, and too stupidly.

8. What are your thoughts on US foreign policy today? For example, how does Croatia stand in the eyes of President Obama and his administration?

Regrettably, most Americans know all too little about Croatia. In many ways, we are a provincial nation, despite our immense access to vast sources of information. Our two biggest neighbors are two oceans -- the Atlantic and the Pacific – so we tend to disregard the outside world. So it will be an honor to tell my fellow citizens more about Croatia and its wonders when I get back to the USA. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you.


Jonathan said...

Bravo, John. Despite having resigned from the Foreign Service, you remain one of America's most articulate and passionately engaged ambassadors.

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