Friday, January 22, 2010

The Complex U.S.-Pakistani Relationship -- Distrust Can Be Very Expensive

The public diplomacy dimension of U.S.-Pakistani relations will assuredly continue to be part of our class discussions in SMPA 150.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is usually very deft in conveying a public message and in striking a constructive and collaborative tone in engaging the Pentagon's foreign partners. During his visit to Pakistan this week, the challenge -- and the stakes -- were particularly high. Almost every bilateral contretemps and bureaucratic hiccup of late seems to have inflamed public sentiment there against the United States -- despite the fact that there are fewer higher priorities for the Obama Administration than to forge a successful relationship with Islamabad.

Recognizing that the Pakistani public's misgivings about U.S. aims in the region are a key obstacle to strengthening defense cooperation between the two countries, Secretary Gates undertook a series of interviews and public appearances that were designed to reassure Pakistanis about U.S. goals, as reported in this Los Angeles Times piece as well as in a Wall Street Journal news analysis. As we discussed in class on Thursday, this negative view of the U.S. role in Pakistan and American efforts at outreach to the Pakistani public was laid out in a recent op-ed piece by former Pakistani foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmad entitled "Where is US public diplomacy?"

In a January 22 speech at the Pakistan National Defense University, Gates acknowledged that relations between the two countries had been soured by "a very real, and very understandable, trust deficit -- one that has made it more difficult for us to work together to confront the common threat of extremism." In particular, he cited as the root causes of the distrust the U.S. decisions to disengage from the region following the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989 and to distance itself from the Pakistani military in the early nineties. Gates cited these decisions as "a grave strategic mistake." In contrast, he stressed, the U.S. today was determined to build "a stable, long-term, enduring friendship with Pakistan -- based on common interests and mutual respect that will continue to expand and deepen in future years."

How successful was Gates in promoting a more positive view among Pakistanis of U.S.-Pakistani cooperation -- or at least in responding to the more outlandish conspiracy theories in Pakistan about U.S. actions and intentions? Time will tell. Some commentators have suggested the Pakistani army chiefs had already signaled -- embarrassingly, on the very eve of the Secretary's arrival -- that they had no plans to ramp up Pakistan's military efforts along its border with Afghanistan for at least the next six months.

That may well not be the last word. But as Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Distrust is very expensive," and that certainly holds just as true in international relations as in anything else.

Effective Public Diplomacy - A Parisian Panel Discussion

As I mentioned in class, here's a positive example of public diplomacy in a prominent setting -- at a bilingual CNN-sponsored panel discussion on U.S.-French relations one year after President Obama's inauguration. Among the featured speakers are U.S. Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin (who hosted the event at his official residence in Paris), former French FM Hubert Vedrine and French secretary of state for European Affairs Pierre Lellouche.

On the question of humanitarian relief to Haiti in the wake of last week's devastating earthquake, Rivkin stated that the U.S. and France were "working hand-in-hand," while Lellouche emphasized that it was "absurd to introduce the idea of competition between the U.S. and Europe" into the common international challenge of helping Haiti. This appears to be an effective riposte to comments earlier in the week by the French minister for international cooperation, who had called for a U.N. inquiry into the U.S. role in Haiti and asked rhetorically whether Washington's efforts were aimed at "helping Haiti or occupying it?" (According to press reports, several French aid flights were initially prevented from landing at Port-au-Prince's overstretched airport.)

There will be more public affairs challenges for governments and NGOs alike in the Haitian relief effort...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Two Officials, Two Visions of Public Diplomacy -- And The Israeli-Turkish On-Camera Dust-up

Per our class discussion this morning, here are the links to remarks by Jim Glassman and Judith McHale that illustrate their different strategic visions for U.S. public diplomacy. Glassman's speech to an April 2009 conference of military information operations professionals is here; McHale, the current Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, spoke at Harvard last September.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister's misadventure in publicly scolding Turkey's ambassador to Israel, in front of a bank of TV cameras, is covered in this wire service piece.
A classic example of overplaying one's hand...! Thanks to Joe for having spotted this item.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sesno, Shirky, Khrushcheva, Lynch, Sigal, Clack and Conner Discuss Role of New Media in Public Diplomacy

Here's one of the more interesting and worthwhile discussions ever of the role of new media in public diplomacy, from GWU's Face-off to Facebook conference on July 23, 2009.

Panelists included NYU's Clay Shirky, the New School's Nina Khrushcheva, Global Voices executive director Ivan Sigal, former State Department official George Clack, Facebook's Adam Conner along with GW's own Frank Sesno and Marc Lynch.

Jack Masey Recreates the 1959 Sokolniki Park Exhibition

Jack Masey's superb presentation recreating the 1959 American Exhibition in Moscow's Sokolniki Park at the July 23 "Face-off to Facebook" conference is here.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Welcome Back -- PD Class in Session!

...And we're back!

The Spring semester is here, and so this blog jumps back into action. In particular, I'd like to greet the thirty or so GW undergraduates who have signed up for my Public Diplomacy course, SMPA 150. I am looking forward to the semester, and having a chance to explore with you the most dynamic aspect of diplomacy and international relations today -- namely, the public dimension.

When it comes to capturing the flavor of the workaday practice of public diplomacy, a picture generally is not worth a thousand words. How compelling can a photo of a book donation, for instance, or a teacher training seminar, ever be? The "action" would have to be captured in the proverbial hearts and minds of interlocutors rather than via a camera lens. Still, by way of introduction, here's a short bio and a few photographs of my own modest efforts at public diplomacy at my last overseas posting in Romania.

Remarks on 125th Anniversary of U.S.-Romanian relations

Delivering relief to flood-damaged town

Visiting a USAID-supported wheelchair factory

At an anti-racism youth soccer event