Wednesday, December 29, 2004

NY Times: Learn English, Says Chile, Thinking Upwardly Global

Well, at least someone is interested in learning English, even if the French and Brazilians really aren't. Chile, seeing where its future lies, wants to get all its citizens speaking at least basic English in little more than a decade (it took the Swedes 40 years). Bravo for knowing which side your bread is buttered on. Still, according to Times writer Larry Rohter, one anti-globalization Chilean makes a breathtakingly out-of-touch statement about world politics:

"We're quite worried about this because it takes an economic hegemony and translates it into a cultural hegemony," said Sara Larraín, a leader of the Chilean Social Forum, a coalition opposed to corporate-led globalization. "Chile's insertion ought to be into the world at large, not into the U.S. empire. These are not Roman times, when Latin was the universal language."

Really, Ms. Larraín? These are extraordinarily Roman times—and besides, what other language would she have Chileans learn?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Beacon No. 17: What's Good for MTV Is Good for America?


TV-industry newsletter Cynthia Turner's Cynopsis says MTV will launch MTV World, a sub-network consisting of

Three new US customized MTV channels specifically designed to fulfill the programming needs of those people with an affiliation to a home country or culture that is not catered to by American mainstream media. These new channels will feature music and other programming from MTV's international channels and original programming, promos and packaging created in the US. Launching first will be MTV Desi, which will serve audiences with roots in the Indian sub-continent living in the US. MTV Desi will be followed by MTV China and MTV Korea in 2005, with additional channels to follow.

Why are there MTV-size numbers of well-off Chinese-, Indian- and Korean Americans? Standard INS-lottery immigration, to be sure; but U.S. pre-eminence in graduate-level education—particularly in technical fields like engineering, chemistry and physics—attracts overseas students like crazy. Seeing the benefits of living in the States, these huddled masses yearn to breathe degrees and stay on after graduation, enhancing U.S. competitiveness vs. their home countries.

So it seems like MTV is making a safe bet on rising numbers of well-educated, well-off Asian Americans. (Also in the works is American Desi, an MTV Desi competitor that will offer a slightly broader mix of news, entertainment and professional cricket.)

But along comes Tuesday's New York Times to spoil the fun in "U.S. Slips in Status as Hub of Higher Education":

Foreign students contribute $13 billion to the American economy annually. But this year brought clear signs that the United States' overwhelming dominance of international higher education may be ending. [There has been] a sharp plunge in the number of students from India and China who had taken the most recent administration of the Graduate Record Exam, a requirement for applying to most graduate schools; it had dropped by half.

Foreign applications to American graduate schools declined 28 percent this year. Actual foreign graduate student enrollments dropped 6 percent. Enrollments of all foreign students, in undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral programs, fell for the first time in three decades in an annual census released this fall. Meanwhile, university enrollments have been surging in England, Germany and other countries.

Culprits? Onerous visa requirements and Iraq-driven unpopularity, plus aggressive efforts by other English-speaking countries to ramp up their degree programs and attract other countries' bright young things. And China, finally tiring of watching some of its best talent head West, has reportedly made it a national priority to transform 100 of its universities into world-class research institutions.

Regular readers of Beacon know will see where I'm going: The numbers of overseas students taking the GRE is a leading indicator of where U.S. competitiveness and to some extent soft power will be 10-20 years from now, when today's undergrads are in the most productive phase of their professional lives. The U.S. should make it a national priority to get the number of GRE-takers up and help overseas students get here and stay here, now.

I'd expect to see MTV, whose revenues now rely on a steady supply of newly minted Americans, to help out. Although I hate to say it, what's good for MTV World is good for America.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Beacon No. 16: Hold the Smallpox, I'll Take the Flu


Hard power is the application of military force. No other nation dares resist the U.S. in a stand-up fight, everyone says, for fear of bringing destruction down on their own heads. For terrorists, large-scale sabotage will backfire, too: It was simple for U.S. investigators to trace the September 11 hijackers back to Al-Qa'ida, Usama bin Ladin and Afghanistan, and quickly destroy the Taliban regime. So this leaves terrorists, so far denied weapons of mass destruction, to issue tape recordings from caves and perpetrate one-off bombings. Doesn't it?

About 25 years ago, science-fiction author Frederik Pohl wrote about intermediate steps between combat and influence in The Cool War. In it, a Unitarian minister named Hornswell "Horny" Hake is shanghaied into helping a CIA successor called The Team to conduct something with elements of sabotage and propaganda, but smaller than war. Here, a Team member tells Hake how the world really works:

"There are two ways to win a race, Hake. One is to beat your opponent by sheer force. The other is to trip him up. They're playing trip-him-up with us. Why do you think we're so short of energy in this country?"

"Well, because the world is running out of—"

"Because they manipulate our balance of payments, Hake. The mark is up to three dollars, did you know that? And what about crime?"


"You've heard of crime, haven't you? It's not safe to walk the streets of any city in America today. Even our highways aren't safe, there are bus robbers in every state. Do you know why you can't get an avocado for love or money? Because somebody—somebody!—deliberately brought in insect pests that wiped out the crop."

Horny said, "I think you jumped over something about crime. I didn't quite get that part."

"It's plain, Hake! Somebody's encouraging this lawlessness. Cheap Spanish and Algerian porno flicks that show muggers and highwaymen doing it to all the girls. They look crude. But, oh, how carefully engineered! War is not all bombs and missiles, my boy. It's hurting the other fellow any way you can. And if you can hurt him so he can't prove it's happening, why, that's one for your side. And that's what they're doing to us, Hake. Here, have a look at this tape." And she threaded a cassette into a viewer.

Horny stared at it, bemused. It started way back, back before the Big Wars entirely. The peace-loving British had pioneered in this immoral equivalent for war as far back as the nineteenth century: they found a good way to discourage resistance in subject populations by encouraging them to trip out on opium. America itself had exported cigarettes and Coca-Cola around the world. Now, according to the tape, it was becoming state policy, and William James was turning in his grave. China flooded the Soviet Union with Comecon vodka at half the market price. It was not a weapon. No one died. But twenty percent of the steelworkers in Magnitogorsk were absent with hangovers on the average working day. Tokyo flooded the Marianas with cheap, high-quality sukiyaki noodles, reminding the voters of their ancestry just before the referendum that rejoined the islands to Japan. During the London water shortage just before the completion of the Rape of Scotland waterworks, Irish nationalists went around turning on hydrants and covert sympathizers left their taps running. It worked so well that Palestinian refugees, circumcised and trained for the occasion, repeated the process in Haifa to such an extent that two hundred thousand acres of orange groves died for lack of irrigation.

By now such tactics had become well institutionalized, and wholly secret. Everybody did it. Nobody talked about it.

Pohl's plot follows the reluctant Hake through his transformation into a not-so-glamorous international saboteur. For example, he chaperones a group of schoolchildren on their European goodwill tour, dispensing gifts of paired marmosets everywhere they go. The marmosets carry a disease that gives everyone recurring diarrhea—and not incidentally cuts European factory production. Meanwhile, others plot to use deniable, seemingly random events like labor strikes, messianic cults and cheap PCP to slow down their competitors.

In this world, cutting other people's efficiencies is a job for professionals employed by roughly symmetric competitors. (In The Cool War, the low cost of "tripping people up" lets countries like Spain and Argentina compete successfully with the U.S.) It grinds people down, creating chronic strikes, power outages, mild epidemics that harass or sideline workers.

It's a wonder it doesn't occur more frequently in our world, particularly in asymmetric warfare. If al-Qa'ida weren't so obsessed with annihilating infidels, it might do better to give them really bad colds or flood the U.S. market with cheap heroin—technically simpler solutions that are harder to trace to terrorists or their backers.

But then, the U.S., Iran and several other countries are all about to receive lots of quality narcotics from Afghanistan. It's just that the cheap smack about to wash up on U.S. shores is gang-sponsored, rather than government-sponsored, and market-driven rather than policy-driven.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

USC's New Center on Public Diplomacy


The University of Southern California has created a new Center on Public Diplomacy headed by executive director Joshua Fouts, "a cross-disciplinary research, teaching and training institution run jointly by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and the School of International Relations in the USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences.

"'U.S. society needs to understand and to be more aware of the fact that the world sees us in a dramatically different light than we see the world seeing us, or for that matter, than we see ourselves,' says Fouts. 'Enabling this process is a critical mission of our project.'"

USC plans to have the first public diplomacy master's-degree program in the U.S. Read the full interview with Fouts and more about the CPD here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Beacon No. 15: Mugabe Cracks Down on NGO "Plots"


About the only people who aren't being cracked-down on in Zimbabwe these days are foreigners working for NGOs. Whoops! I spoke too soon. In the December 10 New York Times, Michael Wines writes that the Mugabe government is banning domestic groups from accepting outside money or other aid:

The Nongovernmental Organizations Bill, passed by a 48-to-28 vote [in Zimbabwe's Parliament], bars domestic civic groups and other organizations from accepting foreign money or other support to promote human rights or "issues of governance." Domestic groups are deemed to have foreign support if any member is a foreigner or a Zimbabwean living abroad.

That cuts out just about everybody, including Zimbabwean churches and the approximately 3 million Zimbabweans who live outside the country and may want to support Mugabe opponents. What's so threatening about NGOs? Apparently they're part of 'Western plots to restore colonial rule,' as though Zimbabwe was still an African crown jewel rather than a civil-war-in-waiting. The law also requires each NGO to "disclose its financing, budgets and supporters," setting NGO members up like bowling pins for an easy strike.

Mugabe seems determined to cut Zimbabwe off from Africa and the rest of the world, steadily weeding out soft-power influences from at home and abroad. Watch for a satellite-dish ban as the final indication that Mugabe would rather rule a pile of rubble in the Gap than embrace the rules and rewards of the Core.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Beacon No. 14: The Zakat Racket


The December 3 Wall Street Journal featured an article on a recent uptick in the Islamic world's donations to Western charities. This is remarkable because before 9/11, Muslims had given this zakat—donations to the poor that are one of the pillars of Islam—primarily to Muslim charities:

As humanitarian crises multiply across the globe, straining Western contributions, relief organizations are moving in on a source of money that has eluded them in recent years: the Islamic world. Muslim governments and individuals have long been generous donors to charity, heeding the Islamic obligation to give a portion of annual savings to the poor. Most of their giving has flowed through Islamic charities that fund their own projects, or directly from one government to another. Relatively little has gone to the international organizations that do the bulk of the feeding, housing and healing in crises around the world.

Last year, the World Food Program, a United Nations agency that's the world's largest humanitarian organization, fed 1044 million people. A full 57 million of those were in Organization of the Islamic Conference, or OIC, countries. Yet less than 2% of the WFP's $2.6 billion came from these countries. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the leading agency caring for displaced people, received less than $4 million from Arab donors in a budget of nearly $1 billion. Of the $3.1 billion raised since 1988 by the global coalition to eradicate polio, less than $3 million has come from OIC states, even though most remaining cases of polio occur in predominantly Muslim countries.

Here's where 9/11, and the inability of Muslim charities to handle all the big problems, comes in:

Now, these organizations' appeals are getting a better reception in the Islamic world, and they cite three main reasons. Investigations into terrorist financing after the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. have brought more scrutiny on donations to Islamic charities. In response, donors are looking for more globally respected recipients. Arab governments believe that greater contributions to multinational humanitarian efforts can improve their image in the West. And they see that their charities alone can't relieve the massive humanitarian crises in their own regions, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, the Palestinian territories and West Africa.

Transparency in Muslim charities has long been a concern among those wanting assurances that their money does good, as well as governments wanting to keep tabs on cash flows to terrorists. The article quotes a Dubai-based businessman who began donating to the WFP out of transparency concerns: "After 9/11, people are scared to give because they don't know where the money goes. … But if you give to the WFP, you're protected. You know where the money went. I saw it for myself," the businessman said, citing firsthand experience with food-distribution drives in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

So recently, the Journal says, Malaysia coughs up $1 million for polio eradication, a Saudi group kicks in $6.3 million for WFP feeding programs in the West Bank, a UAE foundation gives UNHCR $200,000 to supply clean water for Sudanese refugees, and so on.

With donations like these increasing, the Muslim world's hard power—a direct voice in the spending decisions Western charities make—will multiply, while their donations' new visibility outside the Muslim world will add to Muslim soft power.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Correction: "Voices" DOES Have Distribution

Voices of Iraq's Martin Kunert writes to say that contrary to what I wrote a few days ago, the documentary does have distribution through Magnolia Pictures, which will show it in Landmark Theatres beginning (sigh) in October 2005. Meanwhile, readers are highly advised to take the Netflix route and watch the DVD.

Beacon No. 13: "Local Knowledge" and "Catastrophic Success"


This week I heard about a great ad campaign by HSBC, the London-based bank with offices in 76 countries: "Never underestimate the importance of local knowledge." The campaign emphasizes that although HSBC is a globe-spanning institution, its employees are well-versed in local customs and, by implication, won't do anything embarrassing with you or your hard-earned pounds, rupees or ringgit.

One "Local Knowledge" television commercial is available on HSBC's site, and it makes the bank's point nicely: Where in U.S. golf you buy all your partners drinks after making a hole-in-one, in Japan the cost can be a bit steeper. It's a fun look at the unintended consequences of catastrophic success.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Beacon No. 12: Iraq Talks Back Real Soon, Part 2


Producers Archie Drury, Eric Manes and Martin Kunert have made a film called Voices of Iraq. They start by transporting 150 camcorders to Iraq and give them out to Iraqis:

The producers of Voices of Iraq distributed over 150 DIGITAL VIDEO CAMERAS across the entire country to enable everyday people - mothers, children, teachers, sheiks and even insurgents - to document their lives and their hopes amidst the upheaval of a nation being born.

Beginning amidst the Falluja uprising in April, going through the marshlands in the South, the Kurdish communities in the North and ending in September of this year, thousands of ordinary Iraqis became filmmakers to reveal the richness, complexity and emotion of their lives.

Voices of Iraq is an unprecedented film. This new documentary genre offers a unique window into what is happening in Iraq. Voices of Iraq has allowed Iraqis to tell their own story.

Martin Kunert told me that practically all the cameras were returned, giving the producers 400 hours of footage to stuff into a documentary. Since the footage was date-stamped, they could overlay it with Western newspaper headlines from the same day, highlighting disconnections between image and coverage.

You should view the trailer at the Voices of Iraq site for a taste. Basically, a Humvee gets torched and just sits there burning—until the media arrive. A crowd magically materializes and starts throwing rocks at the burning vehicle, an insurgent testifies for the cameras, and God is undoubtedly found to be great. Then the journos leave—and the crowd disperses. Although I haven't seen the film yet, there are likely important lessons here in the soft and hard power of Middle Eastern crowds.

Kunert says he, Drury and Manes are looking for a distributor. Until then it's available on Netflix, though, so interested people can get the Voices of Iraq DVD delivered.

Beacon No. 11: Iraq Talks Back Real Soon


I was just in D.C. and wound up at a reception for two visiting Iraqi bloggers—dentists in their day jobs, shades of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer—who do the English-language blog Iraq the Model.

They're helping a Los Angeles-based NGO called Spirit of America to develop an Arabic-language blogging tool. It's in beta right now but I saw some screenshots and it looks really cool, very much like the Blogger composing tool's interface (push-button support for bold, ital., links, bulleting etc.). It's the first free public tool I know of that's custom-designed for composition in Arabic.

Spirit of America will provide free hosting so I suspect Arabic-native blogging will spread like wildfire once they get it locked and released. Citizen-to-citizen contacts in the Arab world—who would have thought?

Iraqis and other Arabs have already been talking to us in English—but now Arabic speakers will be able to talk with one another at length and compare notes.

See here for more.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Beacon Reads "Strategic Communication"

One particularly action-packed paragraph caught my eye while reading the Defense Science Board's new 111-page report, Strategic Communication (which you can download from here).

On pages 26-27 the DSB task force throws in a laundry list of what the U.S. is doing or failing to do in the field of opinion and media research:

U.S. strategic communication is limited by insufficient and decentralized research capabilities. The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) engages in foreign opinion polling and provides daily reports on foreign media editorials and commentary. Its small annual budget has long been stable at approximately $6 million ($3 million for polling, $3 million for analysis). Opinion research is appreciated in the Bureau, but more for its contribution to all-source intelligence products than for strategic communication.

Other government and private organizations also conduct opinion and media studies. The Foreign Broadcast Information Services collects and analyzes foreign print, radio, TV, web-based, and gray literature publications, including assessments of Al Jazeera and other Arab/Muslim satellite TV broadcasting. The Broadcasting Board of Governors engages in audience and media research through contracts with Intermedia, a private research organization. Foreign opinion and attitude assessments are available also from U.S. embassies, the DOD, U.S. combatant commands, the CIA, non-governmental organizations, and commercial polling organizations.

Each of these activities has merit, but overall U.S. government opinion and media research faces a number of challenges. Research findings are not used sufficiently in policy formulation and policy advocacy. Policymakers, diplomats and military leaders often do not appreciate that “listening” and influence analysis are critical prerequisites to effective communications strategies. Funding is woefully inadequate. Collection often outstrips analysis. Data bases are stovepiped; “the U.S. often doesn’t know what it knows.” Users often do not task for product; providers often are late in delivering product. Media trends research and media framing analysis have low priority relative to polling and strategic communication requirements.

The gist of all this is that listening to foreign opinions is important, underfunded and frequently ignored—none of which is news. But what does stand out here is that the State Dept., armed services, CIA, NGOs, and private polling organizations all assemble information on what citizens in other nations think.

Perhaps an intelligence reform bill—dead for the time being but sure to be resurrected in the 109th Congress—could include a way to collate all this data to help improve the picture civilian policymakers get about other nations, masking each bit's agency origin to keep anyone from having to be responsible for an individual poll's conclusions.

Just a thought for the weekend. I'm going to get back to reading. ...

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Beacon No. 10: Ambassadors Without Portfolio


Recent stories by the Associated Press, Washington Post and New York Times covered the debut of Israel's Ambassador (or Hashagrir in Hebrew), a reality TV show that seems loosely based on The Apprentice. In it, 14 twentysomething contestants (seven male, seven female) vie to be chosen as an informal Israeli public-diplomacy ambassador under the auspices of a New York-based organization, Israel at Heart, which promotes Israel and its policies in the U.S., Canada, South America and Europe.

The newspapers' stories all describe the contestants' first outing, when they field questions at Cambridge University Union in England, a notoriously difficult environment that's home to one of the world's most storied debating societies. Mistakes are made by at least one contestant, whose clumsy answer to a Cambridge student's question ("Let me make it clear that Israel has not taken anything from anyone") quickly eliminates her.

(Incidentally, the show got a withering review in Ha'aretz.)

Ambassador generates a high irony quotient. It parries worldwide stereotypes of reality TV as populated only by the greedy and gullible, since its contestants compete fiercely for a thankless job.

But three things make it entertainment rather than public diplomacy. First, the show assumes that the key to public diplomacy is having the "right" messenger, which de-emphasizes consideration of having the "right" policy, whatever that may be.

Second, Ambassador's judges are all Israelis. Granted, it is an Israeli show, and it's enough that the contestants have to run a gamut of hostile crowds—pity the contestants, France is next. But if the show's producers really wanted to help Israel, they'd supplement their three judges—a political reporter and, remarkably, an ex-army spokesman and a former Shin Bet security chief—with some prominent Israeli Arabs (the only Arabs who could safely appear on such a show). That way, Israelis could learn more about how its would-be defenders can best carry the country's message. As it stands, the show's judge panel indirectly says, "Arab opinion doesn't count."

Third, the candidates are vying to become "ambassadors" not for a nation but for Israel at Heart, an NGO that already exports 21- to 27-year-old Israelis as living billboards for Israel's cause. But just as the show has no Arab judges, Israel at Heart's site provides "About Us" pages in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Hebrew and Italian—but none in the one language an observer might think crucial to public diplomacy: Arabic.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Defense Science Board Report Is Available.

A Beacon reader writes to say that, contrary to the New York Times story on which I based Beacon No. 9, the Defense Science Board's paper on strategic communications is available for download in all its 111-page, 1.8MB glory by clicking here. Grab a cup of coffee and read!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Beacon No. 9: Problems with Both Talk and Walk


U.S. Fails to Explain Policies to Muslim World, Panel Says

The New York Times today reports on a Defense Science Board report that signals debates in the Defense Department about two facets of U.S. public diplomacy. The first centers on how a story is told:

The debate centers on how far the United States can and should go in managing, even manipulating, information to deter enemies and persuade allies or neutral nations.

... There is great concern among public affairs officials in the military at proposals for regional or even global information operations, especially if those efforts include falsehoods.

The rub is that in an environment of 24-hour news and the Internet, overseas information operations easily become known to the American people, and any specific government-sponsored information campaign not based on fact risks damaging the nation's overall credibility.

To no one's surprise, lies blow back much more quickly and severely now than ever before.

The second problem centers on what is being told. The DSB paper reportedly warns that an oversimplified, Cold War-style message of democratic liberation to Muslim populations clashes with U.S. support for undemocratic or simply irreligious Middle Eastern regimes:

"Today we reflexively compare Muslim 'masses' to those oppressed under Soviet rule," the report adds. "This is a strategic mistake. There is no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-U.S. groundswell among Muslim societies - except to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the U.S. so determinedly promotes and defends."

The report says that "Muslims do not 'hate our freedom,' but rather they hate our policies," adding that "when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy."

True, the Arab world's press has not exactly trumpeted the relatively successful, remarkably peaceful elections that recently took place in Afghanistan. But there is a Cold War parallel here. The U.S. preached democratic liberation to the citizens of Soviet satellite nations for decades. It did so while opposing the Soviet Union in nearly every other arena, leading to long-term soft power for the U.S. among those satellites' peoples when they became independent nations.

The U.S. could follow this example of consistency to its eventual profit, even if the short-term costs of alienating some undemocratic regimes are high. What non-military measures can the U.S. take to promote democracy in undemocratic Middle Eastern countries?

Although this is traditionally State Department turf, perhaps the DoD can devise ways to improve U.S. friendships with the ruled instead of the rulers. Befriending states may be easier and quicker, but befriending populations may pay off more in the long run, particularly when hostile non-state actors are a major defense concern.

Monday, November 22, 2004

"Rock Music, They Were Not Able to Stop Across the Borders."


From reading Beacon No. 8, readers might have gotten the idea—from all my putting-down of MTV—that I don't value rock music's role in projecting American values abroad.

Far from spending my nights listening to the Cleveland Philharmonic, I value rock and roll's contribution to spreading subversive ideas like free speech and individualism. To prove it I refer you to the following story, which aired this past Saturday on National Public Radio:

Tommy Ramone, Rocking the Hungarian Embassy

Give it a listen. It's a 4:47-long bit about Tommy Ramone, a.k.a. Thomas Erdelyi of Budapest, the only surviving member of the original Ramones and a refugee from the Soviet crackdown in Hungary in 1956. Tommy talks about being a kid in Hungary and seeing a propaganda film putting down rock as degenerate. He thought, That sounds kind of cool, and eventually joined up with the Ramones in New York.

In the NPR piece Ramone joins the Hungarian ambassador, Andras Simonyi, in a punk-rock jam at the Hungarian Embassy in D.C. While Tommy was helping create punk in New York, Simonyi was playing in Hungary in really underground rock bands. Today he's one of the top diplomats for a country that's gone out of its way as a U.S. ally—and he says he's a big fan of soft power:

"Rock music, they were not able to stop across the borders."

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Beacon No. 8: The Contextualizers


More than one observer has remarked that when foreign-born Muslims visit the United States, they are startled by number of churches and worshippers they encounter. Churches (and synagogues and mosques, it seems) simply don't show up in America's myriad exports of TV shows, movies, video games and recorded music.

Also, the world's Muslim cities don't have many Catholic or Protestant church steeples among the minarets, so few people there get to see American tourists—their shirts tucked in for once—attending Sunday services in, say, downtown Amman.

On the other hand, early Muslims had extensive contact with Christians since Islam began (sociologically speaking) as a reform movement in a corrupt Arabian Christianity. Christians and Jews were early Muslims' friends and neighbors—people who hadn't quite grokked Muhammad's revelation yet, but still deserving of tolerance and protection.

This familiarity found its way into the Qur'an in several suras discussing "people of the Book" (ahl al-kitaab), members of the other Abrahamic faiths who were specifically to be tolerated by Muslims. (See in particular Harun Yahya for an optimistic look at ahl al-kitaab, and thanks to the endlessly useful Wikipedia).

But the ongoing Arab-Israeli struggle has forced practically all Jews to leave for Israel or even further abroad. Similarly, the few Christians left in the Muslim world today are exceedingly low-key, except perhaps in Lebanon and among Egypt's vociferous Coptic population.

A similar problem exists with the presence of Americans in the Muslim world: There ain't any. This means images of Americans and other Westerners come from our entertainment programming, which is much more available and easily understood than news programming that might indicate a more serious side to our public life.

Considering the ubiquity of sex and violence in U.S. pop-culture exports, Muslims couldn't be blamed if their impression of America was of a 3,000-mile, rap-soundtracked semi-nude car chase.

Westerners know that MTV and Vice City: San Andreas aren't emblematic of the West in general, because they live here; but the Muslim world has no such check. This leaves the playing field clear for local figures to turn the horror Muslims naturally feel toward a culture that exports Baywatch into hostility toward Westerners as godless infidels.

Tennis great Arthur Ashe once said that being black in America was like having a second full-time job, such was the pressure he felt to be a role model. The U.S. now needs to find exceptional people of every race to take up where Ashe left off in the world at large and particularly in the Muslim world.

Sending a steady flow of exceptional Americans abroad is the key to contextualizing the U.S. for foreign audiences, rounding out the picture foreign audiences get.

Who are these young ambassadors? Adventurous travelers, scholars, scientists and diplomats are already out there. The U.S. government should augment their numbers, though, providing programs and funding so that many more Americans can journey overseas to do what they do at home: act, sing, study, lecture, play music and generally give Muslim audiences a look at American focus, individualism and achievement.

You say there's no market for a group like the Cleveland Philharmonic to play Mozart in downtown Damascus?

That's not the point. Foreign audiences can and do turn out in large numbers to see American groups' performances or lectures wherever they go, as was the case during the Cold War. Individuals and families in Muslim countries would be exposed to serious, dedicated, perfection-minded Americans at the top of their professional game.

With a little forethought and an infusion of cash, symphony halls, theaters and auditoriums around the world can become the new secular "churches" that allow Muslim audiences to see a side of the West that MTV doesn't provide: the up close and personal side.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Beacon No. 7: No Foreign Service Officer Left Behind


In "Compromise Sought on Intelligence Legislation," the Post's Charles Babington and Walter Pincus report on what may or may not wind up in the intelligence-reform bill that's pending in the lame-duck 108th Congress. Surprisingly, though, the story's major focus is on public diplomacy and how the bill may change the State Department's soft-power approach from top to bottom:

The intelligence reform legislation would vastly increase spending and activities in international broadcasting, expand educational and cultural exchanges in the Muslim world, and boost the stature of public diplomacy not only in the State Department but throughout government as well.

The House bill contains a requirement that the secretary of state provide an annual assessment of public diplomacy's impacts on target audiences in the previous year and an outline of goals for the coming year. It would also increase foreign service training in that field and would require foreign service officers to have one tour involving public diplomacy as a prerequisite for promotion.

This is not the usual tossing of money at the problem, but potentially a structural change in how State handles public diplomacy. First, if these provisions survive the conference-committee sausage grinder and become law, pending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will have to produce an annual document that may get the same fanfare as reports certifying 'allies in the war on drugs' or 'nations that support terrorism.' The report—and the process of preparing it—will make headlines and cause the State Department to account for how it promotes U.S. soft power abroad.

Second, foreign service officers would suddenly need to get a public-diplomacy ticket punched. Every serious officer's career track would suddenly include helping present the U.S. to a worldwide audience. The result is more people in government with a stake in aiding the development (or recovery) of U.S. soft power—and a decreased reliance on Madison Avenue.

Basically, these measures mean new energy and new accountability for public diplomacy. One can only hope that the Congress fully funds the bill's mandates when it does eventually pass.

Babington and Pincus mention a Defense Department examination of public diplomacy as well:

The Defense Department is taking a closer look at what it could be doing, at the suggestion of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. A recent Defense Science Board study of public diplomacy, prompted by Rumsfeld's questions after the Pentagon's initial attempts to run a media network in Iraq failed, called for expanding media and other cultural exchange programs across the government.

I haven't seen the report but would love to hear what lessons the DoD learned from the Iraq experiment—and how they can be generalized to improving U.S. soft-power efforts overall.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Beacon No. 6: Soft Power Isn't "Everything Except Killing People"


This morning's New York Times brings a "Week in Review" story headlined, "Putin Uses Soft Power to Restore the Russian Empire." It seems the Kremlin leader is aggressively courting former Soviet republics to keep them in Moscow's orbit.

Writer Steven Lee Myers discusses how Putin offers ex-Soviet nations discounted oil and gas, places troops to counter American forces stationed in post-9/11 Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, refuses to withdraw others in Moldova and Georgia, and promises new rail and ferry links with Ukraine while campaigning there for a pro-Russian presidential candidate.

The problem is that only a few of these tactics involve soft power in Joseph Nye's sense of the term (attraction rather than coercion). Instead they involve bribery (cheap fuels) and thinly veiled threats of force (troops added or left in place).

Not until the twelfth paragraph does Myers hit on why President Putin's hard-power efforts might succeed in countries wary of the Russian bear: soft power.

Russia has the advantage of proximity and old ties, as well as linguistic bonds, because Russian remains the language of commerce and diplomacy throughout the region.

The cultural ties between Russia and Ukraine are especially deep since Kiev is the birthplace of the Russian state, and the Russian Orthodox Church was founded in Ukraine, Myers explains.

Putin does use soft power in the Nyesian sense. His charisma, even if he can rarely be said to smile, will affect the Ukrainian presidential runoff, particularly among the country's large ethnic Russian population. Also, the building of rail and ferry links has soft-power as well as economic effects, promoting tourism, pilgrimage and other kinds of information exchange between the two nations as well as trade.

But the main thrusts of Myers' story are access to Russian mineral resources and incremental increases in Russian military power, not on soft power per se. Does this indicate a watering-down of how the term is being used?

I hope not. It would be a shame to see Myers and other writers start using it to mean "everything except killing people."

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Beacon No. 5: Hard Power and Soft Power (I)


Several people have asked for sharper definitions of hard and soft power.

Hard power is easy: Do what we want. If you don't, we will inflict unacceptable damage on your person, citizenry, economy, security forces, crops, well water, et cetera.

Soft power is much trickier, so defining it and delineating how it differs from hard power can occupy hours of conversation. Joseph Nye's definition in Soft Power is:

The ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country's culture, political ideals, and policies.

When our policies are seen as legitimate in the eyes of others, our soft power is enhanced. … When you can get others to admire your ideals and to want what you want, you do not have to spend as much on sticks and carrots to move them in your direction. Seduction is always more effective than coercion, and many values like democracy, human rights, and individual opportunities are deeply seductive.

But this definition raises other questions:

—How do you get others to admire your ideals when they likely view their own as normal and admirable?

—How do you deal with the parts of your culture that aren't admirable, or even offend cultures you'd like to influence (the MTV-in-Mecca problem)?

—How does attraction translate to influence; in other words, how do you measure soft power, and if you can't, how do you know it exists?

—What part does soft power play in a balanced foreign-policy portfolio that includes diplomacy, trade and armed force?

—Should soft power be used actively (propaganda) or passively (people who drink Coke and read about our elections are more likely to like us)?

—How do corporations, non-governmental organizations and other non-state actors promote their own soft power?

—What happens when a country you're trying to influence experiences a crisis? Does soft power have any applicability during a civil war, famine or other emergency?

I'll be addressing how hard and soft power are defined, and how they interact along the continuum of foreign policy, in the weeks ahead—thus the Roman numeral in the title of this post.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Beacon No. 4: Habits of Democracy


Decades after Nasser's death, the only thing that's truly pan-Arab is Super Star, a Middle Eastern celebrity-search show sponsored by Lebanon's al-Mustaqbal ("the future") satellite channel. Super Star bears a strong resemblance to the hit American show American Idol.

Super Star 2 began in February and took six months to narrow 83 competitors down to just two: In the August finale, singers Ammar Hassan of the West Bank and Atmar al-Atar of Libya jousted to be named the Middle East's best male singer. Passions ran high among both Palestinians, who could use a non-violent hero, and Libyans, recently in from the cold following Col. Qaddafi's settlements of the Lockerbie bombing and WMD issues.

Votes were cast entirely by cell phone but, even though Yasir Arafat made the contest a point of national pride and at least one Palestinian cell-phone company offered cut-rate calls for voting purposes, Libya's al-Atmar pulled out a convincing victory, 54 to 46 percent.

Reality-TV singing contests are shallow and probably don't represent the hopes and aspirations of all but a relatively small, wired minority in the Middle East; but for all the complaints about reality TV, Super Star is one of the only examples—if not the example—of Arab participatory democracy in the region. So if Middle Eastern democracy starts growing with a remote in one hand and a Nokia in the other, so be it.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Va.-Based, U.S.-Financed Arabic Channel Finds Its Voice (

This morning the Washington Post took a nice long look at Al-Hurra in comparison with Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya in Ellen McCarthy's "Va.-Based, U.S.-Financed Arabic Channel Finds Its Voice." Senator Biden is calling for a dramatic increase in the Broadcasting Board of Governors' budget in order to set up Farsi, Kurdish and Uzbek TV stations, but critics—including Voice of America staffers—are grumbling that Al-Hurra is already draining scarce resources from its operations. Worth the read.

The Post has also bundled a trio of two-minute video reports related to the story here, and although they only show the surface of Al-Hurra's operations in Springfield, Va., they're also worth a look.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Beacon No. 3: Just Like a Good Neighbor, China Is There


China is hungry.

The People's Republic needs ever-greater infusions of raw materials that it can turn into televisions, CDs, automobiles and more for export and domestic use. While it could just quietly import oil, natural gas, iron, alumina and the other commodities it needs, China recently began a "charm offensive" that highlights the positive role it's playing regionally and globally—and helps cement its access to "hard" goods.

Since Hu Jintao's ascendance to the presidency in March 2003, China has begun what may be a years-long drive to promote its diplomatic, peacekeeping, entertainment and technological prowess. Both Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao have worked to improve relations with the U.S. and nearly every East Asian state, including close U.S. allies Thailand and Australia (a major PRC supplier of liquid natural gas, iron and alumina ).

The PRC's vigorous new leader, who turns 62 in December, has engaged in a worldwide round of handshaking, tea-drinking and ribbon-cutting that puts frequent-flier-mile gods Kofi Annan and Pope John Paul II to shame. As the Asia Times put it in December 2003:

"Since President Hu Jintao and company took the reins of Chinese Communist Party leadership, the Middle Kingdom has put on its most engaging face. From the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Bali and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum in Bangkok to Hu's triumphant visit to Australia, China's new leadership has forged the image of a responsible regional partner."

Premier Wen stayed busy signing agreements at that October 2003 ASEAN meeting, committing the PRC to several regional business deals and cultural exchanges. It should be noted that the U.S., although it isn't an ASEAN member, didn't even send a diplomat to ASEAN as an observer.

In contrast, Wen visited the U.S. in 2003 with trade delegations in tow, hoping to smooth any feathers ruffled by the PRC's astounding $120 billion annual trade surplus with the U.S. Essentially, as the middleman between U.S. buyers and Asian raw-materials suppliers, China gets the credit among its neighbors for providing cash and jobs that in reality are paid for by U.S. consumers.

Soft power works best when states' interests converge, and right now China is building a world in which its trading partners have every interest in seeing the PRC succeed.

Also, the friendliness and relative humility that China's leaders display plays in the region as a refreshing change from Japan's 1980s arrogance. While Tokyo's decade-long economic woes have severely damaged its soft and hard power, Beijing has handily picked up the slack as regional leader—particularly since it has no imperial past to live down (besides the low-intensity occupation of Tibet).

China has even turned its long support for North Korea into a plus, positioning itself as the indispensable player in the six-party talks to help disarm North Korea without destabilizing the Korean Peninsula.


Unable to project power over water, this nation of 1.3 billion could still be East Asia's next military bully—a position it hasn't sought for roughly a thousand years. But around the region, Beijing has toned down any military threats except about Taiwan, where it sticks to its position that the island nation is merely a renegade province destined to rejoin the fold.

Otherwise China has avoided interfering in other countries' affairs as long as their governments support the PRC's ever-increasing appetite for raw materials. It has finally agreed to a cooperative settlement regarding disputes over the strategically located, mineral-rich Spratly Islands, and it even steers clear of situations where Chinese-descended citizens are threatened, as they frequently are in Indonesia. (Many Indonesian Chinese are well-to-do merchants and subject to envy, not to say riots, by other ethnic groups.)

However, the PRC is sending a 125-man riot-control and police contingent to hurricane-stricken Haiti , marking the first time a fully integrated Chinese unit will participate in a U.N. peacekeeping mission.

This deployment wins it goodwill among U.N. members, which have long sought a bigger Chinese peacekeeping role. Some observers also note that this move helps the PRC compete with Taiwan for Haitian public opinion. This seemingly odd concern springs from Haiti's diplomatic recognition of Taiwan and not the PRC. If even tiny Haiti switches recognitions, the PRC reaps both immediate and long-term prestige benefits—all for 125 peacekeepers and some kind words.

After a low point surrounding the spring 2001 downing of a U.S. spy plane on Hainan Island, the PRC has shunned conflict with the U.S., the only power that could check it militarily. For instance, the PRC seems content to let the U.S. play sheriff in the Persian Gulf, seeing that America's need for stability there serves its own growing interest in cheap, plentiful oil.


China's soft-power offensive isn't just about feeding raw goods to its manufacturers; the country's other soft-power assets are also cranking up.

Witness Hero, a recent East-meets-Western flick about assassins who oppose ancient China's unification under a single emperor. Through balletic swordplay, buckets of blood and much horseback riding through gorgeous deserts, viewers get a parable of the Qin dynasty's need to subdue and unite the country, despite the many lives that will cost.

Hero apparently didn't pack 'em in at home, given how its ends-justify-the-means philosophy could be seen as trivializing civil rights. But it marks the export of a Chinese national creation myth that could be every bit as potent in East Asia as Paul Revere's ride and the Boston Tea Party are in the U.S. It is believable, beautifully shot, wonderfully acted and professionally choreographed. Its production values are extremely high, thanks to both native talent and post-production work in Sydney and Hong Kong.

On the whole, Hero is as good as anything Hollywood is now making, and along with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon it sets a new standard for movies worldwide—not just semi-historical epics or Chinese action films. Significantly, Hero debuted as the most popular movie in the United States.

In addition, top video-game maker Electronic Arts announced on October 5 that it would open a studio in China to tap into the growing Asian market for online games; it may employ up to 500 people by the end of the decade. China's soft power will be further enhanced when it is the producer of Asian-customized versions of popular massively multiplayer online games like Medal of Honor and Ultima Online.

China is also promoting its prowess in more old-fashioned technologies—like space travel. It entered an era of manned spaceflight when Yang Liwei rode his Shanzhou 5 space capsule into orbit in October 2003. He then immediately went on a morale-building tour to places like Hong Kong, where a newly minted hero might help shore up the mainland government's sagging popularity.


China is moving to increase its soft power in a comprehensive fashion that's hard to ignore, but the U.S. government hasn't done much to signal it understands what's happening. Today the U.S. film industry has real competition from the PRC's for worldwide hearts and minds. The American manned space program is on life support despite the Bush administration's clear, aggressive goals of returning to the Moon and continuing to Mars. The U.S. doesn't show up at important regional conferences in countries where its diplomats are already drawing paychecks.

Some might question whether the U.S. even needs to involve itself in an East Asian "charms race," but the PRC is clearly moving onto soft-power turf that the U.S. has long taken for granted: technological prowess, a unique and well-packaged national creation myth, friendly diplomacy and free trade. If the U.S. doesn't make efforts to show up on East Asia's soft-power radar it could one day find itself boxed out of the region by a friendly—but firm—economic Monroe Doctrine.

Beacon No. 2: Radio Rides Out of the West


Fact: Literacy and income in the countries that spawned the 9/11 terrorists are both low.

Fact: People who can't read don't use the Internet, and likely can't afford a TV.

Fact: While Middle East TV penetration is low, radios are everywhere.

The U.S. could be doing more, and getting more bang for its soft-power buck, by sharply expanding its radio broadcasting in the Middle East and around the world, increasing its current reach from 100 million listeners to 2 billion. It should also avoid large investments in TV broadcasting.

Here's why:

U.S. international broadcasting is cost-effective, reaching 100 million listeners in 2003 for just over $503 million , or about $5 a head.

There's just one problem with reaching 100 million people: The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees the federal government's non-military international broadcasting outlets like Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America, should target something closer to 2 billion listeners. That's how many people Thomas P.M. Barnett identifies as part of the "non-integrating Gap" in his The Pentagon's New Map (Putnam, 2004), and Barnett says those 2 billion—disconnected from a rapidly growing web of global institutions and information, poor and increasingly desperate—are the key to the next century's conflicts.

Reaching them with the messages that BBG stations excel at projecting—broadcasts that strive to be comprehensive, fair and free, showcasing the most important democratic values—is vital to any hope of integration with the rest of the world (ROW) and its institutions, and to lowering the odds that those billions will aid or abet al-Qa'ida's successors.

Reaching those 2 billion will be expensive. Simply multiplying the $503 million it took to reach 100 million listeners by 20 gives a rough idea of the cost: $10 billion or more, considering that any economies of scale might be wiped out by the added cost of serving large, low-density countries like Kazakhstan and the central African nations. It's a necessary expense, though, with such large swaths of the Middle East and ROW uncovered and cut off from the larger world of ideas and information.

If the money was found, how quickly could the BBG's broadcasters expand their operations? Take the example of Radio Sawa, which didn't even exist on paper on 9/11; it now broadcasts in FM in the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi, Dubai); Morocco (Agadir, Casablanca, Fes, Marrakech, Meknes, Rabat, Tangier); Jordan and the Palestinian territories (Amman and the West Bank, Northern Jordan, Bethlehem/Ramallah); Iraq (Baghdad, Basra, Erbil, Mosul, Sulimaniyah), Djibouti; Qatar; Kuwait; and Bahrain. It's also heard on longer-range medium-wave frequencies in Egypt and the Levant, Iraq and the Gulf, and the Sudan and Yemen.

Many have argued that Radio Sawa's mix of programming—heavy on Arab and (occasionally racy) American pop, plus concentrated news blasts and some innovative cultural programming—isn't capturing Middle Eastern attention spans fast enough, but ACNielsen disagrees, reporting that Sawa's average 2003 listenership in Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, Qatar and the U.A.E. was 32 percent. More importantly, it's "regarded as a reliable source of news."

In the rest of the world, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty already broadcasts in 28 languages, Voice of America in 40 and Radio Free Asia in seven, while Radio Farda and Radio Martí focus on Farsi and Cuban Spanish, respectively. These operations' range of language skills and broadcasting sites offer a base from which the BBG could aggressively expand.


The BBG has lately begun to expand its TV and Internet programming, including efforts like the Arabic-language TV station Al-Hurra ("the free one"). The Governors reason that this is where populations are heading for news and entertainment as connectivity, income and technological levels slowly rise.

But this strategy is a mistake—at least in the Middle East. Where radio is ubiquitous among the region's 223 million people , there are only about 16.63 million TV households, or roughly one per 13 persons.

Besides low penetration, TV sets are tremendously more expensive, transmitters are fewer and TV signals more easily jammed than radio.

Middle Easterners who do have a TV already have access to satellite broadcasts including CNN, the BBC and others, so it makes less sense for the U.S. to spend a lot entering TV markets already served by a range of news sources.

Radio, as personified by the BBG's stations, seems like the fastest, most cost-effective way to reach vast populations in the regions least-served by reliable news sources—and the U.S. has an opportunity to become their trusted partner, as it was for Eastern Europe during the Cold War. Even if the total cost of doing so seems large, it's worth the investment to move an ever-larger share of those disconnected billions toward the mainstream of global civilization.

Beacon No. 1: British Council on the Rocks

How would Americans feel if one of the federal government's top spokesmen—the White House's Scott McClellan or the State Department's Richard Boucher—was caught penning anonymous op-eds against Hispanics in his spare time, painting them as some kind of threat to Western Civilization?

It would be a disaster for already-touchy American relations with Latin America and Spain, not to mention angering millions of U.S. Latinos. The op-eds would fan post-9/11 fears that the U.S. is no longer the place for huddled masses yearning to breathe free. After all, a high government official said so!

Investigations would begin, ambassadors would scurry to smooth ruffled feathers, and the U.S. would practically be forced to make some highly conspicuous pro-Hispanic moves domestically.

Thank goodness it didn't actually occur—in the U.S., anyway. But this imaginary scenario is almost exactly what did happen to the British Council this summer.

A series of four op-ed articles appeared in the London Sunday Telegraph that were highly unfavorable to Muslims, comparing them with dogs and Nazis and denouncing "the black heart of Islam." The op-eds offered some of the ominous, we're-being-swamped-by-aliens rhetoric normally seen only in white-supremacist pamphlets—and yet there they were in one of Britain's most respected newspapers. They were bylined "Will Cummins," which the Telegraph later admitted was a pseudonym; and the big game became figuring out who the previously unknown Cummins was.

Enter the Manchester Guardian, which on July 29 said that "Will Cummins" was most likely Harry Cummins, a press officer at … the British Council!

To understand the shock waves this caused in the U.K., note that the government-funded Council's whole reason for being is to "build mutually beneficial relationships between people in the U.K. and other countries and to increase appreciation of the U.K.’s creative ideas and achievements." This means teaching English and generally spreading the good word about the U.K. and its culture at a worldwide network of centers—in 110 countries at last count.

In other words, take a little bit of Peace Corps, a dash of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a pinch of national pride, and you've got the tremendously successful British Council.

Cummins denied that he was the author, but was nonetheless suspended pending an investigation. Then Council director general David Greene tried to stem the storm of outrage that broke over his head, quickly assuring the Muslim Council of Britain (and anyone else who would listen) that "there is no place in the British Council for people who utter such hateful utterances."

The Cummins affair is a case study in how "soft power" can be earned and lost.

Harvard's Joseph Nye coined the phrase to describe "the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments." It involves using popular or favorable institutions and ideals to convince other countries to cooperate with your nation's goals, rather than compelling them via "hard" military or economic power.

Soft power is something that accumulates slowly over time and is notoriously hard to measure, leading some to dismiss it. But when the U.S. sends Peace Corps volunteers to Paraguay to build fish ponds, or broadcasts objective reporting to other nations through the Voice of America, or funds a symphony's trip abroad, it is slowly making deposits in a soft-power account. These deposits eventually yield interest in the form of favorable public opinions of the U.S., or even cooperation from a prime minister who still recalls the first time he saw an American—playing the violin during some long-ago goodwill tour.

Soft power is not just propaganda, but relies heavily on matching reality to rhetoric. If a country like Britain preaches multiculturalism—and it does—its soft power suffers when racial or religious discrimination appear at home, particularly when it comes from someone funded by the government.

Damage to the beloved British Council, a premier soft-power asset celebrating its 70th year, and to larger U.K. interests has already been done. A week after Cummins' July 29 suspension, articles on the controversy had already appeared in Pakistan and Canada, in Asian Age magazine, on the BBC, and on Muslim and jihadi sites worldwide.

At this point, regardless of whether "Will Cummins" is actually Harry Cummins, the British Council has to regain some credibility in the Muslim world. Standard public-relations tools include apologies, diversity training for Council staff, prominent hires of Muslims (particularly to replace Cummins, if guilty), and sponsoring Muslim-oriented events at home and abroad.

In the long term, though, British Council officials abroad will have to find creative ways to shore up relations with host countries and their citizens. The drill now involves patience and consistency: Show over time that "Will Cummins," whoever he may be, has nothing to do with the Council's drive to teach English and to, in its Web site's words, "present the very best of [the] modern, diverse U.K."

I plan to use this space for frequent discussions of soft-power topics both foreign and domestic. It's an exciting time to be commenting on it because just behind the headlines, nations seem to be building or using their influence everywhere:

—China is mounting a long-term "charm offensive" to counter decades of bad press over its human-rights records and regional bullying, frequently dispatching president Hu Jintao and other top-drawer officials on high-visibility, highly successful diplomatic and trade missions. Much more than just PR, Beijing is pouring time and money into assuaging fears about its coming Pacific pre-eminence. (Believe me, you want Hu's frequent-flier miles.)

—As of September 1, France was calling in years' worth of friendships across the Muslim world in an attempt to save the lives of two of its journalists, kidnapped by Iraqis who oppose the French ban on headscarves in public schools. At press time both Hamas and Hizb'allah had signed on to call for the journalists' release, despite their opposition to the French ban.

—In January 2002, President Bush called for a doubling of the size of the Peace Corps at exactly the moment when the U.S. needed to start promoting its non-military nation-building efforts.

In the future I plan to talk about how these and other countries build up soft power over time and then reap the benefits—or allow it to dissipate in a series of bad moves. I'll also be venturing into hard-power territory from time to time in an effort to illustrate how hard and soft power work together in policymaking.

So please stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

In the beginning ...

... There was Beacon.
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