Friday, September 30, 2005

Beacon No. 69: Look How We Could Listen


Karen Hughes has finished her "listening tour" of three Middle Eastern countries: Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Foreign reviews of this tightly paced trot have varied widely (see John Brown's September 28-29 Public Diplomacy Review) for a lengthy round-up of trip coverage) but major U.S. press outlets have generally been positive.

Hughes' trip, unintentionally modeled on Hillary Clinton's pre-Senate listening tour of New York State, allowed her to be seen listening to a variety of Middle Eastern audiences if not actually to the general public, a fine first step in public diplomacy.

That said, public diplomacy involves persuading foreign citizens that their concerns really are being heard or at least considered, which raises the question of how to attention to the opinions of the great mass of people in the Middle East. Specifically, how could the U.S tailor programs that would not only allow Middle Eastern publics to be heard by U.S. citizens and policymakers, but also hear themselves being heard?

Two possible avenues show up in today's news: Citycapsula in Bogotá and StoryCorps in the U.S.

The L.A. Times' Henry Chu describes Citycapsula in his lede:

She was a young woman with a message, and she wanted the whole city to hear it.

So on a recent afternoon, she marched over to one of Bogotá's busiest street corners, stood before a flimsy-looking cardboard kiosk, punched a green button and addressed the video camera that whirred to life.

"To all publicists: I've had it up to here with seeing butts and breasts. There are more intelligent ways to market a product," she said, her voice full of exasperation. "If you have daughters, sisters, whatever, please think….

"Women, respect yourselves! We have something called a brain, which lasts longer than this and this," she declared, clutching her chest and backside. Then, satisfied with her diatribe, she plunged back into the teeming sidewalk traffic.

That same week, a middle-aged man with a harried look stepped up to the kiosk and delivered a different sort of plea.

"I want to tell all the mothers-in-law of the world, you're very much loved by us sons-in-law," he said a little nervously, with one particular mother-in-law clearly in mind. "But sometimes you're too intense, and you don't support the couple enough…. I love you very much, but you've got to change."

Both appeals were broadcast on television a few days later, beamed into living rooms across this bustling capital of 7 million people. The clips formed part of the hit show "Citycapsula," a weekly compilation of footage of ordinary residents who stop at one of several camera-loaded kiosks around the city and opt to put a few moments of their lives on film.

The Citycapsula method has the virtue of being a quick and cheap way to produce television, and if I've discovered one thing about living among Los Angeles TV producers for the past 16 months, budget rules.

Then there's StoryCorps, which does nearly the same thing with audio clips:

StoryCorps is a national project to instruct and inspire people to record each others' stories in sound.

We're here to help you interview your grandmother, your uncle, the lady who's worked at the luncheonette down the block for as long as you can remember—anyone whose story you want to hear and preserve.

To start, we're building soundproof recording booths across the country, called StoryBooths. You can use these StoryBooths to record broadcast-quality interviews with the help of a trained facilitator. Our first StoryBooths opened in New York City's Grand Central Terminal on October 23, 2003. We also have two traveling recording studios, called MobileBooths, which embarked on cross-country tours on May 19, 2005.

We've tried to make the experience as simple as possible: We help you figure out what questions to ask. We handle all the technical aspects of the recording. At the end of the hour-long session, you get a copy of your interview on CD. And thanks to the generous contributions of our supporters, we ask for only a $10 suggested donation.

Since we want to make sure your story lives on for generations to come, we'll also add your interview to the StoryCorps Archive, housed at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, which we hope will become nothing less than an oral history of America.

Slightly pricier, more formal, and more narrative-driven to be sure, but if StoryCorps lasts awhile—and heart-warming pieces like the one on NPR's Morning Edition this morning indicate it will—it could provide an interesting take on the American mood (or another country's mood) at given moment in history.

The StoryCorps or Citycapsula templates could easily be adopted to facilitate U.S. public diplomacy abroad. Recording and archiving technology at U.S. cultural centers overseas combined with dissemination via existing U.S. international broadcasting could give foreign publics input into the U.S. policy process—and potentially create ratings hits in other countries.

Look, people might say, the Americans are showcasing ... us!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Beacon No. 68: Not Necessarily the News


The front page of yesterday's Wall Street Journal had a throwaway item about "Voice of the Caliphate," a weekly news roundup that al-Qa'ida has started broadcasting on the Internet. A quick Google search leads to, which has the first "Caliphate" broadcast archived and roughly translated.

A muscular, ski-masked anchorman sits at a desk before a rifle and what I take to be a Qur'an. He discusses last week's top news stories: the 'liberation' of Gaza, Zarqawi's 'defense' of Sunni interests in Iraq, and Hurricane Katrina's devastation, which is revealed as God's punishment of New Orleans homosexuals. (Hurricane Rita is mentioned briefly as having occurred in North Carolina.)

The anchor's appearances are interspersed with footage from the various places under discussion to create a sense of immediacy, and each segment is punctuated by computer graphics and a melodramatic voice proclaiming the "Voice of the Caliphate" (صوت ألخلافة), complete with Space Age studio reverb. The anchor's voice is calm and businesslike, mimicking the delivery of legitimate newscasters everywhere.

Is "Voice" actually from al-Qa'ida? It's impossible to tell; nearly anyone could have produced this video using found footage, a digital camera, some cheap software and an assault rifle.

But if it's from an al-Qa'ida-related group, it marks a further move away from the use of mainstream media to broadcast propaganda. Why risk sending a bin Laden video from his Karachi apartment all the way to al-Jazeera's offices in Doha? Al-Qa'ida leadership might have concluded that it's safer, cheaper and more efficient to create entire news broadcasts and disseminate them for free on the Internet; let download-happy Muslim kids do the rest.

If I wanted to counter the propaganda impact of "Voice of the Caliphate," I'd start producing parodies of it as soon as I knew its format, regular features, announcer, et cetera—certainly before it became wildly popular. Mocking "Voice's" over-serious style and message might be an effective antidote to The Al-Qa'ida Channel.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Beacon No. 67: Walking a Mile in Their Abaya


Karen Hughes spoke on September 27 to an all-women audience at a university in Jidda, Saudi Arabia. Whereas audience participation at her Egypt stops went pretty well according to plan—mild, respectful, friendly comments given and received—some in the Jidda audience questioned the very underpinnings of the under secretary's "listening tour" in the Middle East.

Ms. Hughes ... is on her first trip to the Middle East. She seemed clearly taken aback as the women [in the audience] told her that just because they were not allowed to vote or drive that did not mean they were treated unfairly or imprisoned in their own homes.

"We're not in any way barred from talking to the other sex," said Dr. Nada Jambi, a public health professor. "It's not an absolute wall."

The audience, composed of elite women in one of the Arabian Peninsula's more liberal cities, made several similar points, according to the Times' Steven R. Weisman. To her credit, Ms. Hughes "appeared to have left a favorable impression" by assuring the audience that she would "be glad to go back to the United States and talk about the Arab women I've met."

While the people planning the under secretary's events may have been mortified—Weisman notes that Karen Hughes "is considered one of the administration's most scripted and careful members"—I hope Ms. Hughes sees that this session is actually an excellent development for both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

Influential Saudi women may feel they have opened a channel to the Bush administration through a woman known worldwide to have the president's ear, while Ms. Hughes has experienced an audience that's not only not on the same page, but not even reading the same book. At the very least, despite a disconnection in Saudi and U.S. expectations going into the event, respectful disagreement took place rather than shouting.

The Jidda conversation was not so much about how the U.S. could better advocate its ideals and positions, but whether such advocacy is even considered necessary or good by the host country—and what happens after that.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Importance of Being Continuous


Patricia H. Kushlis is joined by Patricia L. Sharpe in Monday's "Cultural Diplomacy Matters—and It Works" over at WhirledView. In a nutshell, the authors write that too much money is spent studying public diplomacy and not enough on doing it.

Regular readers of Beacon and WhirledView already know that U.S. cultural diplomacy programs abroad lack funding, but PHK and PLS touch on the all-important problem of continuity: Why do U.S. cultural programs start and stop so unpredictably, to the extent that other nations' diplomats view them as unreliable?

“The problem is sustainability,” according to a jaded Southeast Asian diplomat quoted in [an Associated Press] report. “During every international crisis, you open a library, and then, when the crisis passes, you close it down and disburse the books. When you close this library, don’t bother to distribute the books. We have plenty already.”

... It’s impossible to implement a serious cultural diplomacy program without continuity. According to an American diplomat in Cairo, “our cultural presence in this country no longer exists. The French Cultural Ministry can give you a monthly calendar. We can’t do anything because we don’t know when anything will happen....We’re not speaking to anyone anymore. People ask, Where’s your culture. Where are you?”

An excellent read as usual, with a link at the bottom to other WhirledView posts on public diplomacy.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Beacon No. 66: A "Metal Storm" in Turkish Minds


Ted Widmer of Washington College in Chestertown, Md. recently wrote about a book that Turkish 18-30 year olds are reading in droves: Metal Storm, a fictional account of a U.S. invasion of Turkey.

Why would the U.S. invade its historic ally and strategic partner? Turkey's supply of borax, of all things, which the U.S. needs more of in the year 2007 for "nuclear weapons and space technology":

G.I.'s overrun Turkey from their position in neighboring Iraq. The first phase of the invasion, Operation Metal Storm, resembles Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. The Americans have no difficulty taking over Turkey's primary cities, where they allow cultural vandalism. They fail to secure the countryside, however, and slowly their hubris begins to do them in.

Shades of Tom Clancy's 1994 Debt of Honor, where pride and an ambition to re-colonize North Asia for its resources drive corrupt Japanese leaders to attack U.S. forces in the Pacific.

Although it met with criticism for portraying Japan's leadership as sneaky, Debt of Honor struck a chord in a recessionary, pre-dotcom America that was suspicious of Japan's economic success, and receptive to messages of Japanese greed and hubris.

Metal Storm also has some grounding in Turkey's deeper fears: The U.S. has limited Turkey's ability to pursue Kurdish insurgents to their bases in Iraqi Kurdistan—a major step in Turkey's traditional area of influence. It may not take much more imagination, in Turkish readers' minds, to think the U.S. might want to end Turkey altogether:

... The United States attempts to partition Turkey between two historic rivals, Greece and Armenia, and allows a Kurdish state to come into being. Turkey responds with a creative solution straight out of a West Point seminar on worst-case scenarios. First, the Turks form a new alliance with China, Russia and Germany. Then, a brave Turkish secret agent named Gokan goes ballistic. In a shocking scene, he steals a poorly guarded nuclear weapon and takes out Washington. ... Presto, the crisis is over, catharsis achieved, and Turks can go to bed knowing the invader has been soundly and justly defeated.

Note where Turkey looks for help: Not at the E.U., which isn't exactly seen as the Anatolian republic's pal these days, but to the enemies (or at least competitors) of its fictional enemy and to Germany, where millions of Turkish-descended Germans live and thus already a major source of "help" in the form of remittances.

Widmer notes that Metal Storm is "said to be very popular with the Turkish military, and men aged 18 to 30." It would be unfortunate if this demographic came into adulthood misunderstanding U.S. intentions, but as Widmer points out, that road runs both ways:

The American ambassador to Turkey reportedly had to find scientists to prove that last winter's Asian tsunami was not caused by an American nuclear explosion. (Then again, ... "The West Wing" recently portrayed Turkey as a country where women are beheaded for having sex with their fiancés.)

Side cultural note: Hollywood celebrities, once highly in demand to do ad campaigns in Japan, are losing work to homegrown talent, according to "The Stars Realign in Japan" in today's L.A. Times:

"The mystique has faded," said Akihiko Sasamoto, who heads the Asian casting division of Hakuhodo, one of Japan's biggest advertising and marketing agencies. "You no longer have this distinction between foreign artists and Japanese artists. So we don't need to spend a big amount of money on a Hollywood star."

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Fulla of Arabia


Katherine Zoepf writes in today's Times about a doll that's increasingly popular among Middle Eastern girls: Fulla, whose creators say she's in line with Muslim values. This Barbie competitor wears either a black abaya or a white head scarf and full-length coat, and comes complete with prayer mat.

She's a big hit in the Middle East, having inspired (at least) a breakfast cereal, a bicycle, pool toys and a trademarked color, "Fulla pink."

This would be a pretty standard case of cultural adaptation—middle class and wealthy Middle Easterners want their daughters to have a doll they identify with, rather than one who is fully mall-enabled, and Syrian entrepreneurs have provided one—except that Barbie has been vanishing from store shelves in the region.

This raises a fistful of questions: Is the lack of Barbie because of formal or informal government intervention? Or is Mattel phasing out its Middle Eastern sales? Is a distaste for goods perceived as American at work? Or are toy distributors simply getting religion and looking for something to sell that's not in a bikini?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Exporting Education


In last Saturday's Times, Celia Dugger's "$200 Million Is Pledged for Higher Education in Africa" describes several U.S. foundations's decision to donate $200 million to the cause of higher education in Africa:

The investments will significantly increase Internet access for a group of African universities, finance scholarships for hundreds of young women and build programs to train agricultural scientists and public health managers, among other things.

Funds from brand-name American foundations like Carnegie, Ford, Hewlett, MacArthur, Mellon and Rockefeller will flow to schools in individual countries like Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda; but the real winner here may be the elusive idea of a pan-African identity, since the foundations' initiative is designed to increase international cooperation in technology while helping with decidedly individual concerns like hunger:

The new foundation money will help bring African universities into the digital age. By banding together with foundation support, the universities have been able to obtain many times the Internet bandwidth they had before at a third the rate paid by most institutions in Africa. Intelsat, the global satellite operator, is providing the bandwidth.

The money will also support training for professions essential to Africa's ability to produce more food and care for its sick. The partnership is investing in a five-year Ph.D. program at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa to train plant breeders. The hope is that these scientists will develop more productive, pest-resistant crop varieties that will help Africa feed its millions of hungry people.

The ongoing power of robber barons like Carnegie, Mellon and Rockefeller and industrialists like Ford and Hewlett to put their stamp on affairs continues to impress. That their foundations have been both structured and flexible enough to make 21st-century decisions about who to help and how continues to amaze.

(Thanks as always to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for the initial item.)

Friday, September 16, 2005

Prophet Motive


In "The Market McDonald's Missed: The Muslim Burger," the Times' Craig R. Smith visits Clichy-Sus-Bois, France and a fast-food joint called Beurger King Muslim. BKM tries to combine Muslim concerns—specialized halaal (حلال) food preparation, cashiers who may wear veils, a cash register that says "peace be upon you" after each purchase—with a Western-style fast-food sensibility that the owners hope will pry French North Africans out of their kebab-shop ghetto.

At one level it's no different from McDonald's efforts to blend in with local markets (recall John Travolta's rhapsody about a European "Royale with Cheese" in the movie Pulp Fiction), but in this case the owners are French locals—and they're looking to export their idea: Morad Benhamida, Abdelmalik Khiter and Majib Mokkedem plan to franchise Beurger King Muslim and say they have 30 prospective franchisees lined up.

While Muslim-oriented restaurants will tend to have higher overhead than its Western-oriented counterparts—for instance, an outside agency certifies that the premises are halaal, and "bacon" for the burgers must come from turkey rather than pork—the soft power of a "by Muslims, for Muslims" brand may overcome any additional costs. BKM's flagship store in Clichy-Sus-Bois is already ringing up 800 transactions a day.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Beacon No. 65: Public Goods and Public Diplomacy


By far the most interesting thing I've read on public diplomacy lately is Charles Wolf, Jr. and Brian Rosen's 2004 paper "Public Diplomacy: How to Think About and Improve It." (Download the PDF here.)

Wolf and Rosen jump over misunderstandings of public diplomacy ("We need a rapid response team to counter bad press about America!") and nods to past glories of counterinsurgency ("The British did it in Malaya!") to a theory of public diplomacy grounded in what RAND does best: number-crunching.

Skip the beginning of the paper, unless you really want to read the ritual acknowledgements that America's poll numbers are down in the Middle East, that public diplomacy is tough to define, and that marketing soda pop isn't like marketing democracy. Turn to page eight, where the first number is three. That's how many groups Wolf and Rosen contend are out there waiting to be persuaded (or not) by public diplomacy efforts:

Potential opposition to U.S. policies can be divided into three discrete groups: those who accept that the values America seeks are goods; those who may believe that the values America seeks are not goods, but who nonetheless see them as a means to achieve other core goals (such as personal or family betterment; improvements in health, education, and skills; and the assurance of personal dignity) that are associated with the preceding values; and those who believe that the goals America seeks, as well as the associated core goals, are "bads" and would therefore reject the entire package.

This is where Wolf, an economist, and Rosen, an attorney at law, start rolling up their sleeves.

Those in the first category will be most receptive to the contention that U.S. policies are beneficial. Because they already believe that the values and policies [the U.S. seeks] are "goods," they need be convinced only that the policies really do engender those values. Convincing those in the second category requires the antecedent step of convincing the members that the values themselves are associated with goals that are valued by those in this category (e.g., opportunities for personal or family betterment, improvements in health and education, etc.).

These two categories compose what we have referred to as public diplomacy's "constituency." Those in the third category are presumed to be beyond persuasion; they compose public diplomacy's "adversary."

Thus, two tasks emerge. One is to convey and contend that U.S. policies are pursued because they seek to further values that are already accepted by the audience, including Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere. The second is to show that the values themselves have other derivative effects that are accepted as goods.

Already the authors moving away from a simplistic "welcome the first group, persuade the second and ignore the third" model. Since you're reading a RAND paper—by a lawyer and an economist, no less—you know more numbers are on the horizon, and the authors don't disappoint.

They discuss how two men who had little more than the power of speech at their disposal—Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela—expanded their constituencies and neutralized their adversaries. Wolf and Rosen break down a sample of the two civil rights giants' speeches and hunt for patterns in whether they called for peaceful or violent action, how positive or negative they were, and how they addressed or ignored their adversaries. Pages of tables follow, which are helpfully translated back to English:

King made substantially more positive than negative references. In contrast, before Mandela was in prison, his negative references always equaled or exceeded the positive ones. After imprisonment, his speeches were markedly different. In each of them, positive references substantially exceeded negative ones. ...

With few exceptions, King gave little attention to the adversary, averaging only one adversary reference per speech, or to the adversary's activities. This contrasts markedly with Mandela who, before prison, made an average of three or four references in each speech to the identified adversaries and their activities. However, after release from prison, Mandela's emphasis was sharply reversed; his attention focused instead on positive references and on the constituency, while rarely making negative references or even mentioning the adversary.

King realized he needed the assistance of white America, while Mandela realized that South African blacks needed help from the entire world. The two men tailored their messages accordingly, but King's example is particularly useful to the authors' idea of persuading the second type of "constituency" group—those who want the benefits of American ideals without wanting the ideals themselves.

... King did not speak merely of black civil rights for its own sake. He linked black civil rights as [sic] beneficial, indeed essential, for America as a whole. He portrayed attaining black rights as inextricably linked to fulfilling America's purpose and promise as a nation predicated on freedom and democracy.

Wolf and Rosen don't hesitate to link King's and Mandela's successes to the U.S. quest for a public-diplomacy strategy,

specifically for affecting positively the behavior and attitudes of those who believe that the values America seeks are "bads" but nonetheless desire core goals such as personal or family betterment with which these American values are linked. This group should be among the constituencies targeted by American public diplomacy. To enlist their support requires convincing them that U.S. goals, which this group may currently oppose, are inextricably linked to other goals—family and personal betterment and improvements in health, education, and opportunity—that this group favors.

The authors go on to make finer points about how messages should be framed to broaden the U.S. constituency and sideline its adversaries—but their central message remains one of linking readily understood material, personal and spiritual goods with more abstract and often poorly understood concepts that the U.S. advocates.

This is a more complex, granular form of "accentuating the positive" than the U.S. generally engages in, but one that is well within its reach with some additional investment in understanding how Wolf and Rosen's two constituency groups (and one adversary group) see both themselves and the United States.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Enter the "Bosnian"


Yesterday's Times ran a Reuters story tagged "Coming Together Over Bruce Lee", which the China Daily helpfully picked up. The Times' version went something like this:

The ethnically divided Bosnian city of Mostar has agreed to erect a new symbol of unity—a statue of the martial arts legend Bruce Lee ... beloved of the city's Muslims, Serbs and Croats alike. The statue, cast in bronze and showing the star in a fighting pose, will be designed by a local sculptor and put up in Mostar's central square in November. Mr. Lee's widow, Linda, will be invited to attend the ceremony. A civic group in the strife-ridden city developed the idea in 2003, and recently won a $6,250 donation from a German organization to finance the project. Veselin Gatalo, a member of the organizing group, said, "This will be a monument to universal justice that Mostar needs more than any other city I know."

It's difficult to tell from a distance whether Bruce Lee is a widely regarded hero in the southern Balkans or whether Veselin Gatalo belongs to a fringe group that just happened to get a permit for the statue. But as his quote implies, Mostar's citizens seem more concerned about having a neutral slate onto which they can project their yearning for justice.

From this perspective, Bruce Lee is the perfect man, and perhaps the only man, who could be memorialized so publicly in a divided city like Mostar. His Chinese ancestry removes him from the region's recent ethnically and religiously based fighting, while his 1973 death eliminates the chance that he will do anything that might taint his heroic image (see IMDB's entry on Enter the Dragon, or Wikipedia's take on Fist of Fury for example).

Monday, September 12, 2005

Beacon No. 64: We've Heard It All Before


In the past week I finally read The Ugly American, William Lederer and Eugene Burdick's 1958 novel about American diplomats and citizens in the fictional Asian nation of Sarkhan. Writing from their own experiences, Lederer and Burdick portrayed Americans abroad who were smart, inquisitive, humble and effective—and an equal number who were dense, ignorant, proud and career-minded.

The novel (really a collection of interconnected short stories) takes place around and immediately after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam in 1954, an event that underlined the difficulty a Western army had in fighting what were then called the Viet Minh. In fictional Sarkhan, some American diplomats and businessmen win local hearts and minds with their can-do spirit and willingness to get their hands dirty, while others stay isolated at the embassy by language, casual racism or bureaucracy, ignorant of the country's growing Communist insurgency.

In other words, all the problems of U.S. diplomacy and soft power have been with us for decades, and potential solutions have been around for just as long.

Despite The Ugly American's continuing relevance, Lederer and Burdick's sharp-eyed critique isn't embraced by the State Department, which was so ticked off at the book that it issued a Reply to Criticism in The Ugly American in 1959. Even today, the book doesn't appear on the recommended reading list for those interested in taking the Foreign Service Written Exam.

So who is reading it? Apparently it's a required text in the Army's special forces, which is no surprise because the book is practically a billboard for the Green Beret counterinsurgency model.

A Note on Language: While I'd always thought the phrase "ugly American" described ugly behavior, it actually refers to an American engineer in the book who, while physically ugly, works with his equally homely Sarkhanese counterpart to develop an innovative, bicycle-powered pump to lift water to terraced rice paddies.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Under Secretary Hughes' Swearing-In

Here is the State Department transcript of Karen Hughes' swearing-in ceremony this past Friday:

I've read elsewhere that Hughes has read about three dozen reports on public diplomacy in the past month, so it's not surprising that she didn't articulate a grand vision besides a welcome affirmation of

the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance.
President Bush, on the other hand, not only introduced and swore Hughes in, he commented at length on other nations that have sent aid to the U.S. in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:

Think of this, Afghanistan has pledged a hundred thousand dollars to aid -- in aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Ambassador, thank you. Canada has sent ships with disaster supplies. Air Canada -- Air Canada's planes assisted in the evacuation. Israel sent tents and mineral water and medical supplies. Italy has sent beds and sheets and blankets and inflatable rafts to help with rescue efforts. Kuwait has pledged $400 million in oil and a hundred million dollars in humanitarian aid. Qatar and the UAE has pledged $100 million each. Sri Lanka, one of the world's most impoverished nations that is struggling to overcome the effects of the tsunami, has sent a donation of $25,000.

In all, more than a hundred countries have stepped forward with offers of assistance, and additional pledges of support are coming in every day. To every nation in every province and every local community across the globe that is standing with the American people, and with those who hurt on the Gulf Coast, our entire nation thanks you for your support.
It's good to see that when the subject is not the Iraq war, the United States still has a pretty large reservoir of goodwill around the world.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A "Sling and the Stone" Excerpt


I'm on the last few pages of Marine Col. Thomas X. Hammes' excellent The Sling and the Stone, which I mentioned in Beacon No. 62. TSATS deals with "fourth-generation warfare" (4GW), which Hammes casts as a contest of wills between asymmetric opponents. The militarily weaker combatant's task is to grind down the stronger's will to continue the fight, persuading the stronger side that it will never prevail, or at least that the cost will be too high.

The key to 4GW is patience, as this excerpt from TSATS shows:

Of particular importance is understanding that [4GW] timelines are much longer. ... The Chinese Communists fought for twenty-eight years (1921-49). The Vietnamese Communists fought for thirty years (1945-75). The Sandinistas fought for eighteen years (1961-79). The Palestinians have been resisting Israeli occupation for twenty-nine years so far (1975-2004). ... Accordingly, when getting involved in a 4GW fight, we should be planning for a decades-long commitment. ...

Fourth-generation warfare opponents focus on the political aspects of the conflict. Because the ultimate objective is changing the minds of the enemy's political leadership, the intermediate objectives are all milestones in shifting the opinion of the various target audiences. The know that time is on their side. Westerners in general, and Americans in particular, are not known for their patience. We are not a people who think in terms of struggles lasting decades. Fourth-generation-warfare enemies will not seek immediate objectives but a long-term shift in the political will of their enemies. They will accept numerous tactical and operational setbacks in pursuit of that goal. [pp. 221-221]

The weaker combatant (the Viet Cong, al-Qa'ida) will win, Hammes says, when it engages successfully in a war of ideas, using violence only strategically to punctuate its ideological message and avoiding stand-up fights whenever possible. This takes focus and patience at a level that Western governments, with their constantly rotating leadership and layered governmental structures, can rarely sustain.

Even patient, focused 4GW combatants are in danger of miscalculating how much violence to mix with their words. Until 2001 Al-Qa'ida was beginning to accomplish its strategic goal of wearing down American will to keep troops in the Middle East, combining its anti-U.S. message with a series of bombings and killings overseas that attracted only sporadic U.S. attention.

From the first Gulf War to 2001, Stateside policymakers began to consider evacuating U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region. The U.S. government and its citizens could be convinced that the cost of keeping troops on the distant Arabian Peninsula wasn't worth the toll in lives and treasure—but on 9/11 al-Qa'ida suddenly changed its message from "Leave Arabia" to "You are unsafe at home." From a 4GW perspective Al-Qa'ida erred, Hammes says, primarily in becoming the focus of a sustained worldwide campaign against itself.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Beacon No. 63: The Slide Stops


In "U.S. Fails to Mend Image in Europe" (no link), the Wall Street Journal's Marc Champion summarizes the state of European view of the U.S.:

An annual survey of opinion in 11 countries published today finds that, while the U.S.'s image is no longer sliding downward, Europeans feel no warmer toward the U.S. than they did a year ago, are no less hostile to U.S. global leadership and still disapprove overwhelmingly of the way Mr. Bush handles foreign policy.

"We found that, despite major efforts to repair relations, there is still a rift in how we view each other and the world," said Craig Kennedy, president of the German Marshall Fund, which conducted the survey of roughly 1,000 people in the U.S. and about 1,000 people in each of nine European Union countries, plus Turkey, in June.

See here for results of the Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Trends survey.

The Journal's Marc Champion says that even though the Bush administration has held out multiple olive branches to European nations and has increased cooperation with, say, France on getting Syria out of Lebanon, European opinion remains focused on the "bloodshed and instability in Iraq."

On the same page in today's Journal is Cui Rong, Zhou Yang and Kathy Chen's "Hurricane Response Dims Chinese View of the U.S." (no link). It ledes with:

The rosy view of the U.S. once held by many Chinese, already eroded by the 1999 U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade—which Washington maintains was an accident—and U.S. treatment of war-zone detainees and terrorist suspects, is fading further due to the fumbled response to Hurricane Katrina. ...

At least for now ... it is more a matter of disenchantment rather than disengagement. Zhang Weifeng, for example, always believed the U.S. government worked like a well-oiled machine. But after watching television footage of the post-Katrina chaos each night, the 28-year-old accountant sees the U.S. in a different light.

"I had thought this could only happen in developing countries," he says. In fact, "the U.S. government is not as powerful and efficient in critical moments as I have imagined."

The three WSJ writers note that China's citizens may be ending a natural period of infatuation with the U.S. that began when China began embracing elements of capitalism:

... Liu Jinzhi, a professor of international relations at Peking University, points out that in the past 50 years, Chinese people's views have gone from one extreme to the other: Vilified under the Communist system, the U.S. has been idealized during the past two decades of market changes.

"I think now Chinese people are coming close to a true picture of the U.S.," Prof. Liu says. He adds that in the long run, the change in public opinion toward the U.S. could restrict Chinese leaders' [options] in making foreign policy" and pressure them to take tougher positions."

By controlling information flows into the country, the PRC leadership has been able to keep China's citizens on board with its foreign-policy initiatives. But now that increasing numbers of Chinese have routine, uncontrolled access to foreign media, those leaders are finding that opinion counts. Although China isn't close to being a democracy, its populace is evolving to the point where, as in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it will act as a veto on Chinese leaders' wishes. The power to say "no" to the government is still power, and I expect Chinese citizens will start using it in the next few years.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Blogs on Power, Hard and Soft


Readers sometimes fret that I get nearly all my news from the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Lebanon Daily Star, with occasional field trips to and the Los Angeles Times. For the most part this is true. As a sometime journalist and frequent traveler overseas, I believe these newspapers and their writers employ smart people who try to figure out what's going on in the world, report the news and occasionally contextualize it.

I do occasionally go further afield in the hunt for news, and here are some Web sites (in addition to those on the right-nav of this site) that I've been reading lately for cues on both soft and hard power.

Organic Warfare tends to focus on applications of hard power and fourth-generation warfare, with recent entries covering Zarqawi's claims to dominance in a western Iraq town, knife fighting and the use of force in New Orleans.

Mark at ZenPundit examines foreign and military policy (and, inevitably nowadays, Katrina) through the lens of Thomas P.M. Barnett's Pentagon's New Map hypothesis. His tastes range widely, from Barnett's SysAdmin/Leviathan proposal for U.S. forces to democratization to U.S. intelligence-gathering.

At The Long Tail, Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson looks at the economics of how network theory is playing out across the Internet. It's a bit more technical than other sites I frequent, but a worthwhile read. Here's an explanatory excerpt:

The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of "hits" (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers. In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly-target goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare.

One example of this is the theory's prediction that demand for products not available in traditional bricks and mortar stores is potentially as big as for those that are. But the same is true for video not available on broadcast TV on any given day, and songs not played on radio. In other words, the potential aggregate size of the many small markets in goods that don't individually sell well enough for traditional retail and broadcast distribution may rival that of the existing large market in goods that do cross that economic bar.

Many thanks to USC's Joshua Fouts for recommending Eccentric Star, which specifically covers public diplomacy although author Ann Driscoll, a former USIA foreign service officer, tends to restrict herself to captioning lengthy excerpts from mainstream news sources. Driscoll tends to cover a different theme each day and has a good eye for what matters in public diplomacy.

Joshua Fouts also called my attention to CorporatePower: Communications and Public Diplomacy, N.D. Batra's repository for columns from The Statesman of India. Batra writes exhaustively on public diplomacy with a welcome emphasis on the Asian subcontinent and India's partners and/or adversaries.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Not a Day for Soft Power


It's been a bad couple of days for soft power. Hard power seems to be the only thing that counts in the Battle of New Orleans, and nearly everyone's reputation is taking a beating: Louisiana is blaming the feds, the feds are still blaming the hurricane, the New Orleans mayor and his citizens are blaming everybody.

While there is literally no silver lining along the U.S. Gulf Coast—there seem to be almost no heroes for televised news to find or amplify—there apparently is a silver lining in the story of the Baghdad bridge stampede.

A few days ago a large Shi'ite religious procession was wending its way through Iraq's capital, getting mortared along the way by (presumably Sunni) insurgents. Although the bombardment didn't deter the pilgrims, a rumor started that a suicide bomber was waiting in the crowd to detonate himself. Panic ensued on a bridge over the Euphrates and nearly 1,000 people were crushed—or drowned after jumping 30 feet into the river.

To my astonishment, and probably that of everyone in central Iraq, civilians in Fallujah, who almost certainly are Sunnis, have lined up to donate blood to help the injured Shi'ites. For more, see Baghdad Dweller, which refers to the Arabic-language Iraq4All News.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Dull Web Site—But Some Hopeful Signs from State


The official Web site for the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs is a bit dull, with just six links to other internal PD/PA pages:

From the Under Secretary links to archival public testimony by Under Secretary Hughes and thematic predecessors like Charlotte Beers and Margaret Tutwiler, almost none of which is from 2005;

Office of Policy, Planning and Resources for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs describes what that office is mandated to do;

Bureau of Public Affairs links to State's public-affairs offices (the Press Relations Office, the broadcasting services, the Foreign Press Center and so on)

Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has announcements about cultural and educational exchanges with other countries, most of which pre-date the tsunami disaster;

Bureau of International Information Programs describes "the principal international strategic communications entity for the foreign affairs community" and how Alexander Feldman tries to get the word out in "English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Persian, Russian, and Spanish"; and

Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy links to a description of the bipartisan panel that advises Under Secretary Hughes et al.

I should be more forgiving of State and the Under Secretary's office right now; by all accounts, Karen Hughes is on the equivalent of a listening tour—hearing out citizens, members of other agencies, her boss in the White House, and today the Islamic Society of North America at its Chicago convention. I suspect she is working hard to understand what she needs to do and how to do it.

While I may be frustrated at the lack of initiatives or position papers emanating from Hughes' office, she did promise "several initiatives next week" and has sent a message to U.S. envoys abroad urging them to mark 9/11 "humbly":

For example, she suggested that the ambassador to Egypt visit Sharm el Sheik, the Red Sea resort where attacks occurred this year.

Excellent interim move: Exactly when it is most tempting to remind the world of U.S. losses, Ambassador Francis Riccardione and his colleagues are being urged to visibly empathize with other countries' trials.
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