Thursday, October 27, 2005

Let Spies Be Spies


I'm baffled by one of today's headlines: "U.S. Spy Agencies Told to Bolster the Growth of Democracy." Apparently director of national intelligence John Negroponte has made this one of the three major missions that U.S. intelligence agencies should focus on, along with countering terrorism and weapons proliferation.

From a soft-power standpoint, I can't think of a worse or more distracting mission for U.S. intelligence agencies and their human agents and sources.

U.S. soft power is a function of its ideas, ideals and achievements, among them freedom, equality, opportunity, openness and technological prowess. The intelligence agencies have enormous tech savvy but aren't emblematic of any of the qualities commonly associated with soft power—nor should they be.

Intelligence agencies, from what I understand, are hierarchical, secretive and exist solely to give the U.S. hard-power advantages over both adversaries and allies. In addition, everyone in the world knows this, because their intelligence agencies are trying to do the same thing. This makes intelligence agencies poor messengers for democratic governments.

I don't think the CIA, NSA and their cousins should be tasked—saddled is a better term—with a mission like democracy promotion. Their mission should remain what it is: to sort out the good guys from the bad, find out what they want and intend, and counter the bad guys in a most undemocratic fashion. Everything else is a distraction.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Beeb Says "Bye-Bye, Bulgaria"


The BBC will soon shift resources away from southern and eastern Europe (and Thailand), where listenership has fallen and strategic needs lessened with the EU expansion. The new target market: the Arabic-speaking world through a dedicated, 12-hours-a-day TV station.

The BBC says it will end broadcasts in "Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Kazakh, Polish, Slovak, Slovene and Thai" in 2006. With peace firmly established in Europe, it's time to reach Arab audiences, according to BBC World Service Director Nigel Chapman:

"BBC World Service is already the most successful, trusted and respected voice in the Middle East with more than 60 years experience of broadcasting in the Arabic language on radio, and more recently and successfully, online.

"The BBC Arabic Television Service will build on this legacy by offering trusted and accurate news with an international agenda.

"It would mean the BBC will be the only major broadcaster who will provide a tri-media service in Arabic to the Middle East – using TV, radio and online for sharing views and perspectives across the region and the wider world.

"Our research suggests there is strong demand for an Arabic Television service from the BBC in the Middle East."

Regardless of what the Beeb's research might show, there's a strong strategic need for Britain to have a bigger Middle East presence—much as the BBC might deny it:

Hosam el-Sokkari, head of the BBC's Arabic Service, said there was no political motivation behind the new Arab channel. It will be "there to inform, educate and entertain, not to take part in the political process," he told reporters.

The BBC's Arabic Service already has reporters in every Arabic-speaking country. Its radio broadcasts draw some 12 million listeners each week; its Arabic online service,, attracts millions of people a month. But in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and North Africa, where the BBC cannot use FM radio broadcasting, it faces tough competition from satellite television companies.

Mr. El-Sokkari is almost certainly being disingenuous; he must know the BBC needs a seat at the satellite-TV table in the Middle East to maintain its brand, and that even informing, educating and entertaining the millions of Middle Easterners who have recently gained access to outside media is a political act.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rice and Straw at the Alabama-Tennessee Game


The death yesterday of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks only highlights the distance African Americans have traveled since the 1950s and 1960s, when it was generous to even call them second-class citizens in the South and much of the rest of America.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been smart to link the relatively rapid changes in the American South these past two generations with the possibility of positive change around the world. Rice grew up in segregated Alabama and was even a playmate of one of four girls killed in an infamous Birmingham church bombing, and she has used a domestic trip with British foreign secretary Jack Straw to draw a surprising amount of attention to this aspect of her childhood; on October 22, Rice even appeared at a memorial service for the bombing victims in Birmingham.

Rice seems to finally be using her personal story on the job as America's first diplomat. It's almost unnecessary for the Secretary to connect African Americans' struggles for civil rights with those of people overseas who doubt the possibility of change in their own lifetimes. They will get the message that the U.S. has come a long way—Rice and Straw were loudly cheered at last Saturday's Alabama-Tennessee football game!—but continually struggles to go further.

Monday, October 24, 2005

"Let's Out-Recruit Osama bin Laden"


Keith Reinhard of Business for Diplomatic Action (and ad giant DDB Worldwide) was interviewed briefly in "Erasing the Image of the Ugly American" yesterday. He expands on his view that while the U.S. government isn't seen as a credible messenger of U.S. values, the U.S. business community not only is credible but has a duty to improve America's image abroad.

Reinhard et al. have a vested interest in seeing U.S. goods welcome abroad; as he notes in the interview,

We know that in Group of 8 countries, 18 percent of the population claim they are avoiding American brands, with the top brand being Marlboro in terms of avoidance. Barbie is another one. McDonald's is another.

When the U.S. looks bad, it also sells less at home, Reinhard says, noting that "inbound travel from other countries is off 1.5 percent, in terms of market share, from 2000 levels. One share point is 7.6 million visits and $12 billion in sales."

He continues to argue strongly for a return to more-liberal visa policies as a cure for both ignorance of the U.S. and international perceptions of arrogance:

Business leaders can say to the government, "This is really hurting us and we need to have a friendlier, more welcoming visa policy." We should encourage people to come. For example, we're working with a group called Young Arab Leaders that has identified 500 Arab and Muslim youth who we think should be brought into the United States and into U.S. companies. Think of it as the Fulbright for the private sector. Let's out-recruit Osama bin Laden.

Reinhard's not entirely consistent—he bemoans Voice of America funding cuts and then quotes a Palestinian who calls Al-Hurra "a joke"—but those interested in a practical, business-minded take on public diplomacy should see BDA's constantly improving site.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Beacon No. 70: Afghanistan's Interesting (Again)


Every so often a newspaper article comes along that perfectly summarizes a complex problem. Carlotta Gall and Eric Schmitt's "Taliban Step Up Afghan Bombings and Suicide Attacks" is one of those pieces. Here's how it starts:

KABUL, Afghanistan, Oct. 20 - Violence in southern Afghanistan has escalated in the last month as militants are increasingly taking a page from the insurgent playbook in Iraq and using more roadside bombs and suicide attacks, senior Afghan and American officials said Thursday.

American officials said they were bracing for protests throughout the Islamic world in response to allegations that American soldiers in Afghanistan had burned and desecrated the bodies of two dead Taliban fighters and used the remains as propaganda. American officials voiced fears of violence after Friday Prayer services.

Standard Gall so far: Lead with hard power to draw readers to this forgotten corner of American interests—then change the subject to something else interesting that's happening in Afghanistan. But suicide-bombing and corpse-burning are more related than they might seem because they illustrate the soft-power problems of both the U.S. and the Afghan insurgents.

Here's a more-detailed report on the corpse-burning story from today's L.A. Times:

According to the [Australian photojournalist's] report, the bodies were set afire on hills above the village of Gonbaz north of Kandahar after the two Taliban fighters were killed by U.S. soldiers the night before. Five soldiers stood around the fire, and two of them read messages trying to provoke militants.

The messages, which apparently were broadcast to the Taliban, highlighted the fact that the bodies were laid out facing Mecca.

"Attention Taliban: You are cowardly dogs," read one soldier, identified as psychological operations specialist Sgt. Jim Baker. "You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned. You are too scared to retrieve the bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be."

Another soldier, who was unidentified, read: "You attack and run away like women. You call yourself Talibs but you are a disgrace to the Muslim religion, and you bring shame upon your family. Come and fight like men instead of the cowardly dogs you are."

A third soldier is heard saying, "Wow, look at the blood coming out of the mouth on that one."

Mockery, Mecca and desecration, all captured on videotape in the middle of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. So the U.S. now has bigger image problems in Afghanistan, and throughout the Muslim world, than it did before the report aired in Australia on Wednesday.

But then Gall and Schmitt's return to the ostensible subject of the article—the shift in insurgent tactics—shows the Taliban, al-Qa'ida et al. have problems of their own.

Suicide bombings have spiked since the September elections, something that's surprising because it was thought most Afghans believed this tactic was un-Islamic. Here's Gall and Schmitt's theory as to why:

American intelligence officials say Afghan insurgents are resorting to more spectacular attacks partly to attract financing for operations from extremist financiers in the Middle East who have been increasingly directing their funds to insurgents in Iraq, including the network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

My first reaction to this is relief that Afghanistan's assorted rebels don't have a sufficient funding stream to operate on their own—in other words, they're not hand-in-glove with the opium growers and traffickers, who are having a banner year in South Asia.

My second reaction is that the Taliban and al-Qa'ida have changed tactics because the Iraqi insurgents' relative soft power has grown. Afghan insurgents may somehow need to compete with their Iraqi counterparts in the arena of ideas to attract funding, just like any Western NGO. (The "idea" may be the tactic of blowing yourself up, but it's still an idea.)

In other words, those "American intelligence officials" think the Afghans aren't changing tactics to try to win the war against the U.S. so much as to attract funding and followers—to make a splash in the Muslim world's headlines and only incidentally hurt U.S. forces and their allies. That can come later—after a funding stream is secured. The Iraqis stole our fire. Now what can we do about it? We Afghans don't approve of suicide bombings but if it's getting the Sunnis a lot of press. ...

And just like their Iraqi counterparts, the Afghan insurgents are getting others to strap on bombs:

In the case of the attack that killed an Afghan commander, Agha Shah, the police did find the head of the bomber, he said, and he appeared to be non-Afghan, possibly an Uzbek.

It remains to be seen how the U.S. and the Afghan insurgents will solve their sizeable soft-power problems in Afghanistan. I can only hope that suicide bombing is as distasteful to Afghans as beheadings were to Iraqis, and that the insurgents' shift in tactics fails to attract either funding or popular support.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Thursday Round-Up


Thomas P.M. Barnett and his new Blueprint for Action keep tilting at the Pentagon. Folks who like big conventional-weapons systems are appalled. The logorrheic Barnett continues unaffected at

Homebrewed Russian movie on the Afghanistan war smashes all box-office records. Company 9 is a sort of Slavic Full Metal Jacket.

(Middle East) people are watching the Saddam trial. BAGnewsNotes worries that the U.S. is infantilizing Saddam to Middle Eastern viewers by holding him in a courtroom "crib," as Jon Stewart apparently called it.

Still 4GW after all these years. ZenPundit links to a review of Thomas X. Hammes' The Sling and the Stone and rolls in military theorists like Martin van Creveld, the late Col. John Boyd and Sun Tzu on the topic of fourth-generation warfare.

(Thanks to Andy Valvur for Barnett-spotting while I took a brief vacation.)

Monday, October 17, 2005



On Friday the Wall St. Journal reported that The Simpsons is being translated into Arabic and sanitized for Middle Eastern audiences:

"Omar Shamshoon," as he is called on the show, looks like the same Homer Simpson, but he has given up beer and bacon, which are both against Islam, and he no longer hangs out at "seedy bars with bums and lowlifes." In Arabia [sic], Homer's beer is soda, and his hot dogs are barbequed Egyptian beef sausages. And the donut-shaped snacks he gobbles are the traditional Arab cookies called kahk.

Bart Simpson is now called "Badr."

The Simpsons is debuting now because Middle Eastern TV viewership spikes during Ramadan, and Saudi-owned MBC would like to get Al-Shamshoon off to a good start. But some observers quoted in the WSJ article are worried that Springfield's first family just won't translate:

One blogger wrote, "'Hi-diddly-ho, neighbors!' How the h— are they going to translate that? Or this great quote: Mr. Burns: Oooh, so Mother Nature needs a favor? Well maybe she should have thought of that when she was besetting us with droughts and floods and poison monkeys! Nature started the fight for survival, and now she wants to quit because she's losing. Well I say, hard cheese."

But it could work. After all, South Park was translated for Kuwaiti TV, according to Tunisian blogger SubZero Blue, who was skeptical of the whole project back in September. (He also sounds a tad resentful that the Egyptian dialect will be used for Al-Shamshoon.)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

An "Indonesia Bounce"


Glen Kessler and Robin Wright say in the Post today that "Earthquake Aid for Pakistan Might Help U.S. Image." Following the recent 7.6 earthquake, which has killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis with the death toll still climbing, the U.S. is making a big push to help out.

The quake mainly affected northern Pakistan, a hotbed of resistance to both Islamabad and U.S. interests in Afghanistan, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an "unscheduled" stop in the Pakistani capital to show support and offer help.

It's a great opening for U.S., both in the short-term business of saving lives and for long-term public diplomacy. The U.S. is widely distrusted in the disaster zone—and Osama bin Laden and a host of al-Qa'ida baddies are thought to be hiding there. It behooves the U.S. to be friendly with as many Pakistanis as possible and hope that someone drops a dime on bin Laden down the road.

Of course, unnamed high administration officials deny any motivation but the humanitarian, while at the same time welcoming any silver linings:

"[Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf is a friend and hero in our eyes," said one senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the issue more freely. "There is a clear and unmistakable signal being sent that we help our friends."


The official, noting that U.S. aid is also flowing to Central America after the devastating floods there, said that the administration is not acting to "curry favor with hostile Muslim populations." But, he added, "if there is a positive impact for the United States, so much the better."

As another U.S. official put it: "If this helps us show that Abu Ghraib is not reflective of the American character, that would be good."

Will quake aid help? Look at the bounce that the U.S. reputation got in Indonesia following aggressive U.S. help after the tsunami:

... The U.S. government has now committed nearly $1 billion [to Indonesia], with private donations topping that.

Polling has indicated that the U.S. tsunami effort -- which included sending a fleet of ships and providing round-the-clock helicopter rescues -- has paid dividends to the United States' image in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country.

A survey of 1,200 Indonesians one month after the tsunami, sponsored by Terror Free Tomorrow and conducted by a leading Indonesian pollster, found that, for the first time, more Indonesians (40 percent) supported the U.S. terrorism fight than opposed it (36 percent). Sixty-five percent of those surveyed had a more favorable impression of the United States, with support strongest among those younger than 30, while support for Osama bin Laden dropped from 58 percent before the tsunami to 23 percent. Terror Free Tomorrow is a nonpartisan group that studies popular support for global terrorism.

Husain Haqqani, director of the Center for International Relations at Boston University and an adviser to Terror Free Tomorrow, said the experience in Indonesia could easily be replicated in Pakistan. Haqqani, a former adviser to several Pakistani political leaders, said that anti-American Islamic groups have begun to realize this and have opposed the U.S. aid because "this may take the wind out of their sails."

I read somewhere yesterday that Pakistani militant groups were in disarray following the quake. Hopefully the U.S. can help fill any vacuum they leave.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Blue-Collar in the Best Sense


I just finished Robert Kaplan's excellent Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground, which looks at how U.S. soldiers and marines are handling various engagements around the world. Kaplan details some combat, but he mostly focuses on hearts-and-minds campaigns waged by a few dozen Green Berets in isolated spots like Colombia, where the rules of engagement allow shooting only when you're shot at.

Kaplan repeatedly says that strategy decisions take place in Washington and are primarily a concern of America's elites—but the execution of those decisions worldwide is in the hands of a blue-collar force, in the best sense of that term: men (and occasionally women) who are primarily concerned with what works for their particular mission rather than ideological purity.

What works, from the author's perspective, is steadfastness, hands-on local knowledge, and friendliness, sort of like the marines' old saying that a marine is both your best friend and your worst enemy.

This is the third book of Kaplan's that I've read after his excellent Eastward to Tartary and Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos, and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about the potential—and the limits—of American engagements abroad.

For a free taste of Kaplan's thinking, see his op-ed piece in today's Times, "Next: A War Against Nature." (Login required.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Beijing to Space in Just Minutes


It's a proud time in the People's Republic of China:

—As you'd expect, China Daily is filled with news of tomorrow's planned launch of Shenzhou-VI, the PRC's second manned space flight. The official Chinese paper also has an analysis of why manned space flight capabilities put it in the big leagues here.

—China's "soft strength" is surging, a fact highlighted by a month-long Chinese Culture Festival in the U.S. The profile of this event here in Los Angeles is roughly zero, but the Chinese are excited about this "face-to-face exchange with the American people" and that's what counts.

—Click on the banner ad that runs at the top of the previous story, which hopefully says "Celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Anti-Fascist War," or this link. It leads to a round-up of September's commemoration of the end of World War II, which in China was actually two wars: a War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and a World Anti-Fascist War.

Although I haven't had a chance to read it, this collection of articles seems like a great introduction to how China views World War II and thus to its current picture of itself: trod-upon in the past but plucky, tough, and heir to a great cultural tradition.

(Thanks as always to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for the initial item on China's "soft strength," which led me to other interesting China Daily news.)

Monday, October 10, 2005

More Boykin Award Nominations, Regrettably


Joshua Landis' Syria Comment slides one past that I hadn't heard about: On October 3, Bill O'Reilly of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor called for the assassination of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Landis runs a transcript of Mr. O'Reilly's remarks, which occurred while he was speaking with former presidential candidate and retired General Wesley A. Clark.

This follows on the heels of the preacher Pat Robertson's call for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the nearest thing the Western Hemisphere might have to Syria's president. Mr. O'Reilly and Mr. Robertson are the second and third nominees for the 2005 Boykin Award, given to the public figure who does the greatest damage to U.S. soft power in a calendar year. Let me explain.

Lately, I've started using a carrot-and-stick metaphor to describe the differences between soft power (ideals, institutions, achievements) and hard power (military and economic coercion). Most people, like most horses a century ago, would rather be lured by the promise of a carrot than beaten with a stick. For the U.S., the carrot—the lure that will get people in other nations to be more likely to agree with U.S. policies—is a combination of things:

Aligning our policies with our ideals (a fair justice system, democratic elections, free speech, economic opportunity, racial equality)

Listening to other nations (to their history, language, concerns)

Humility (doing what's good for U.S. interests without highlighting other nations' shortcomings)

Tools that get our message out (international broadcasting, two-way educational exchanges, cultural centers, touring American orchestras and theater groups, active public diplomacy)

There are other soft-power tools, but this list is a start and will be argued over, added to and refined. Despite the incompleteness of this list, I'm sure that one thing detracting from U.S. soft power—something that takes people's eyes off the carrots the U.S. has to offer—is when famous people who are in no position to threaten another nation do so.

Commentators like Bill O'Reilly and Pat Robertson, lightly traveled though they may be, must realize that the whole world knows the U.S. has a stick—its armed forces—which could destroy anything it was swung at. Every nation includes this fact in its foreign policy calculations, which makes the world a more peaceful place than it might be in the absence of such an overwhelming threat.

As a result, there is never a need to emphasize that the U.S. holds a stick that could end a foreign leader's life or even incinerate an entire city; it is counterproductive to do so. To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, the U.S. can afford to speak softly about carrots, because everyone knows about its big stick.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Senate Torture Restrictions Make Middle East Headlines


Senator McCain's torture-restriction bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate today 90-9, yet it's headed for a probable White House veto. Anyone interested in how the Arab world perceives U.S. responses to the Abu Ghraib scandal might want to check out two stories:

On Al-Jazeera's English-language site, you can read "U.S. Senate votes to ban prison abuse" story accompanied by a small, relatively mild Abu Ghraib-fleshpile photo.

On Al-Jazeera's Arabic-language site, "ال شيوخ الأميركي يتحدى بوش ويحظر تعذيب المحتجزير" (roughly, "American Senate restricts Bush and forbids torture of the detainees") is accompanied by a much larger, much more frightening photo of a German shepherd or similar dog in the face of a kneeling detainee.

The bad news is that the U.S. is still associated with these photos. The good news is that the Arab world is still watching to see how the U.S. follows up and either corrects its mistakes or doesn't. An opportunity exists to demonstrate that the U.S. takes detainee rights seriously and it would be a shame to squander that.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Two Takes on Turkey


Today's Lebanon Daily Star offers two articles that are separate tributes to soft power. The first, "The European Union: A quiet but powerful force for reform," discusses how well European quiet diplomacy has been doing in getting Turkey to institute political, social and economic reforms. It also mentions Europe's long-term efforts to cultivate good government in North Africa and the Middle East:
Apart from the framework of [Turkish] membership negotiations, the EU has also used its partnerships with various regional countries to advance the pace of political reform. The European Neighborhood Policy, which builds on the economic reform initiatives launched in the Barcelona Process, offers privileged relations with the aim of encouraging neighboring states' commitment to the rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights. Incentives such as aid and economic integration have been used to encourage progress on political reforms in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Syria.

Europe's subtle but significant efforts to promote reform in the region demonstrate that the EU is a powerful reformist force in the Middle East. While the European approach to promoting reform has been understated and less aggressive than that of the United States, it has proven to be equally - if not more - effective. America's efforts to promote reform are often greeted with skepticism or even hostility, while the EU, which has long been engaged in the region, has a greater degree of credibility.

I find it hard to believe that most Turks think the EU—widely thought to have racist motivations for keeping Turkey at arm's length, reluctant to intervene when Muslims were being slaughtered in the Balkans—has much credibility at all. Ankara, bruised by Austria's near-rejection of talks on full Turkish membership, is thanking the U.S. for help in getting those talks started, according to "Turkey thanks U.S. for its support for EU membership talks":

Turkish leaders have thanked the United States for intervening on Turkey's behalf during diplomatic wrangling that resulted in the European Union opening membership talks with Turkey. "The support of the U.S. to Turkey during the ... negotiation period with the EU is clear, natural and right. We are pleased about it," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Namik Tan said.

He said Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday.

The Star's editorial writer credits the Europeans, who have spent years putting off Turkish membership talks, for quiet stubbornness in the guise of pushing "reform."

Luckily the Turkish government—Turkey's Islamist government—credits the U.S. for quietly siding with Ankara for just as long.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

No Need to Speak Western European


As a follow-up to yesterday's piece about French engagement with China, I'm again leaning on the Christian Science Monitor. This time it's an op-ed piece lamenting the lack of U.S. Chinese speakers, and what two senators are trying to do about it:

Despite talk of trade wars and military confrontation, polls show that more Americans have a favorable view of the Chinese than five or 10 years ago. Regrettably, this has yet to translate into any large-scale effort to engage anything besides Chinese factories.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D) of Connecticut and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee want this to change. In May, they introduced the United States-China Cultural Engagement Act, a bill to provide a modest but symbolic $1.3 billion over five years to tackle shortages of Chinese language classes in the US, as well as strengthen cultural, educational, and commercial exchanges with China. These senators are wisely suggesting that the United States take a policy of "engagement" with China seriously.

I think Sens. Lieberman and Alexander are right to think long-term: In 20 years their program, if it's passed and funded, will help the U.S. address China by the time it is a serious competitor in arenas other than the economic. I only wish they had added financing for languages like Arabic, Pashtu, Urdu and Hindi, all of which are important in the near-term.

The senators may have decided that the battle over learning these languages is already lost, though, and that U.S. efforts in regions where they are spoken will rise or fall on the current stock of U.S. linguists and translators. After all, the current administration hasn't yet made a serious attempt to increase the number of civilians speaking "strategic" languages like Arabic and Chinese, choosing to tie itself into knots by trying to hire native speakers of these languages who somehow don't have any ties to the land of their birth.

I'd love to see a return to the levels of financing of language programs that existed during the Cold War, when it was not only easy to find good Slavic-language programs all over the United States but even possible to get a paying job after taking a degree—all because successive Congresses and Presidents took seriously, for decades, the need for fluent speakers.

I remember that in 1984 an astronomy classmate of mine at the University of Maryland spoke Russian fluently, despite her all-American background and somewhat sheltered upbringing (she was considering transferring to Bob Jones University). She considered this normal, as Russian was offered (thanks to federal dollars, no doubt) throughout high school in her suburban Maryland school district, which surprised me coming from a Hudson Valley, New York district that barely mustered Spanish and French.

Bravo to Sens. Lieberman and Alexander for realizing that the U.S. won't need even more trustworthy citizens who speak, say, Flemish in 2025:

The road to successful communication with China is a long one. Only 2.2 million of 290 million Americans speak Chinese, and at least 85 percent of them are of Chinese descent. This deficiency should be unsurprising given that 98 percent of US higher education language enrollment is in Western European languages.

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

Monday, October 03, 2005

From Wars to Welcome


Peter Ford noted in Friday's Christian Science Monitor that "On World Stage, France's Role Is Audience Favorite."
Ford resurrects an April 2005 study by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes and GlobeScan on what 23 countries' citizens think of other countries. The U.S. fares poorly in comparison with France, which is widely admired for its culture and its perceived willingness to stand up to Washington.

Nearly lost in the middle of the story are a few throwaway lines on France's active, long-term efforts to cultivate its historic foe, Germany, with impressive results.

[There have been] 60 years of French efforts to promote their relationship with neighboring Germany after fighting three wars in 70 years.

Those efforts have paid off. The hundreds of thousands of community, school, business, and cultural partnerships that have sprung up on both sides of the Rhine since the end of World War II have helped convince 77 percent of Germans that France plays a positive role in the world, according to the PIPA study.

German respect for French culture is deep. "They have a special feeling for design and art that makes them highly influential in the world," says Anete Bajrami, a newly qualified architect.

Germany may also be emulating France's approach to foreign policy:

For years, Germany resisted French efforts to enlist it as a counterweight to Washington. But some of France's fierce individuality has rubbed off on Berlin, says [Ludwigsburg German-French Institute deputy director Henrik] Utterwede. "There is this idea of friendship [with Washington], yes; obedience, no. There is a sense of emancipation in German foreign policy that can almost be considered 'Francophonization.'"

France's decades of patience, persistence and consistency have created big dividends; with what sound like relatively small investments in "community, school, business and cultural partnerships," not to mention its championing of the European Union, France no longer has to invest heavily in some 21st-century Maginot Line to protect its rear.

And guess who France is cultivating now, Ford and others say? The People's Republic of China, where it has just completed a two-year-long French Culture Year:

As the first Western nation to recognize Communist China, France won a special place in Chinese hearts (72 percent of Chinese respondents saw French influence as positive).

Beijing also warms to French policies, such as its failed crusade earlier this year to end a 16-year-old EU ban on arms sales to China, and its support for China's push to unify with Taiwan.

For ordinary Chinese, however, the Parisian pull appears to be more cultural. "Well-educated people in Beijing like French films more than American films now," says Wang Qing, a specialist in French cultural exchanges for the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. "In French films we can see something more sophisticated."

Asked why the Chinese liked France, Wang Li, a woman in Shanghai, replied simply, "The French have money and good culture."

That impression has no doubt been boosted by the "French Culture Year" that recently featured more than 300 art, dance, and musical events around China.

Maybe efforts like France's take decades to bear fruit—but that's about when China is expected to fully take its place among the world's dominant powers, and when a medium-weight power like France may need a superpower ally.

(Read the People's Daily's accounts of the Year's kick-off here and mid-September conclusion here. Thanks to Len Baldyga's e-mail stream for pointing the CSM item out.)
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