Monday, July 31, 2006

Joshua S. Fouts

Slight break from sequence this morning to welcome Joshua S. Fouts, director of USC’s Center on Public Diplomacy and co-director of the Center’s "Public Diplomacy in Virtual Worlds" project. Previously he was co-founder and director of the USC Annenberg Online Journalism & Communication Program and editor of the program's flagship effort, the Online Journalism Review, as well as deputy chief of staff at the Voice of America. Here are his takes on the best episode of public diplomacy and the most influential element of soft power.--PK

Public Diplomacy Dateline 1994: From Monologue to Dialogue as VOA Picks up the Phone

In 1993, shortly after taking over the helm of the Voice of America, director Geoffrey Cowan said that it was time to stop talking to audiences overseas and time to start listening. One of the hallmarks of U.S. democracy, he noted, was our ability to tell the good with the bad and, perhaps more importantly, to engage in debates about them in an open forum. Why not bring the world audience into the conversation?

At the time, China still jammed VOA broadcasts quite heavily, and anecdotal evidence in Iran told us that equipment that could be used to access overseas broadcasts—satellite receivers, for example—was heavily banned by the Mullahs. But we knew were getting through.

Cowan announced that we would start a call-in show to these regions—first in Mandarin and later in Farsi. VOA had hosted call-in shows before, but never on a regular basis and infrequently in languages of countries in which jamming was prevalent. Further, he pushed us to embrace the evolving pace of technologies and make the information accessible on multiple venues—satellite and Internet.

This led to the creation, in 1994, of a simulcast in which, quite radically at the time, television cameras were put into the radio booths, allowing the feed to be transmitted via the traditional shortwave, but also via satellite television signals, and using a relatively new Internet audio streaming technology run by a small company called Progressive Networks.

To describe the first shows as emotional is an understatement. Listeners embraced the platform and filled up the phone lines. They asked tough questions of guests from the First Lady, Hillary Clinton, to a stream of politicians, diplomats and pundits. More importantly, we listened, we discussed and debated. And the world talked back.

Soft Power: The Internet

Although its influence is still evolving, and its mark on history not yet a blip, the Internet's impact will surely be felt and noted by historians as nothing short of significant for our era.

Created originally as a post-apocalyptic communication tool by the U.S. Defense Department, the Internet has become the current definitive venue for global outreach and cultural influence. From redefining communities online to democratizing everything from play to politics to publishing, the Internet is where the world makes its opinion heard, seen and replayed to multitudinous echoes, iterations and edits.

Its where we learn about each other—from reading the weblog of a vice president in Iran (Mohammed Ali Abtahi) to keeping current with U.S. soldiers in Iraq to sharing and building memorials in virtual worlds reacting to the conflict between Israel and Hizbollah.

Coming Tuesday: Mark Safranski of ZenPundit

Friday, July 28, 2006

Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

Here is the fifth entry in this week’s series on both the best episode of public diplomacy and the most important element of soft power. I’m fortunate enough to have the coiner of the phrase “soft power” here today: Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

He is the Distinguished Service Professor and former Dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, received his bachelor's degree summa cum laude from Princeton University, did postgraduate work at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, and earned a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard. In addition, Dr. Nye has served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Chair of the National Intelligence Council, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology. In 2004, he published Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, Understanding International Conflicts (5th ed.), and The Power Game: A Washington Novel.--PK

Public Diplomacy Dateline 1958: Perestroika Begins When a Soviet Visits Columbia University

I think the single best episode of public diplomacy of which I am aware was the U.S.-Soviet exchange program that brought Alexander Yakovlev to study at Columbia University in 1958. He was greatly taken by the theories of pluralism taught by Professor David Truman. He applied these ideas as a key exponent of perestroika and glasnost after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the 1980s. This helped to accelerate a peaceful end to the Cold War and to the Soviet Union. Although it took two decades to pay off, it is difficult to think of a greater impact than that. (I describe the event in more detail in Chapter 2 of Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.)

[The National Security Archive discusses “Alexander Yakovlev and the Roots of the Soviet Reforms” here and the BBC announces Yakovlev’s death and provides interested parties’ comments here. UC Berkeley’s Institute of International Studies interviewed Yakovlev at great length in April 1996; read the transcript here.]

Soft Power: Merchants Cover the Globe, and Their Faiths Follow

I suppose the most influential element of soft power throughout history would be the spread of the great religions beyond their original place of origin to intercontinental distances. True, some of the spread of Christianity and Islam (though less so with Buddhism) was accomplished by the hard power of the sword, but a great deal was due to merchants and missionaries and the attraction of the religious doctrines. Nor should we ignore the more recent spread of the scientific method, which attracted people by its rational world view and empirical power. In both cases, the attractive power of ideas had profound effects on the world.

[A Bartleby Encyclopedia of World History article briefly hints at the power of the spread of religious ideas.]

Coming Monday: Mark Safranski of ZenPundit

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Nancy Snow

Here’s the fourth entry in this week’s series on the best episode of public diplomacy and the most important element of soft power, courtesy of Nancy Snow. Dr. Snow is an associate professor at California State University, Fullerton and a senior fellow at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. She is the author of Information War: American Propaganda, Free Speech, and Opinion Control Since 9/11 and Propaganda Inc.: Selling America’s Culture to the World, and writes on the Web at

Public Diplomacy Dateline 1982: Ronald Reagan Addresses Parliament

I would point to any number of Reagan speeches, but one in particular that sticks out in mind is his speech before the British Parliament in June 1982 in which he proposed a pro-active American democratic propaganda campaign:

The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means. This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy. Who would voluntarily choose not to have the right to vote, decide to purchase government propaganda handouts instead of independent newspapers, prefer government to worker-controlled unions, opt for land to be owned by the state instead of those who till it, want government repression of religious liberty, a single political party instead of a free choice, a rigid cultural orthodoxy instead of democratic tolerance and diversity?

This speech is particularly eventful to me because it corresponded with my first travel abroad to both democratic and Communist countries (West Germany, Switzerland, Austria, East Germany, Czechoslovakia) in which I was made aware of what American freedom and culture really were. Until one leaves home, you are like the fish in water unaware of your unique milieu.

I was not generally a fan of Reagan's foreign policy agenda but I do credit him with understanding the power of persuasion through speechmaking. In this speech, he emphasized a very important Anglo-American public diplomacy relationship that was personally illustrated over the years by his close friendship to former USIA International Visitor Margaret Thatcher. Who can forget the image of the ailing Thatcher at Reagan's funeral service at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley? Critic or not, it was a moving image that reminded me of his long-ago speech.

[The USIA program that facilitated Thatcher’s 1967 visit lives on today as the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.--PK]

Soft Power: Fulbright’s International Character Keeps Paying Dividends

As for soft power, I am eternally biased in favor of the Fulbright program. I knew Senator Fulbright personally and I've yet to come across an octogenarian who could elicit Rock Star status with international Fulbright scholars as I saw on many occasions during my graduate school days living in Washington, D.C. Fulbright was very realistic about his namesake's appeal: it must not come across as propaganda or appear too linked to government public diplomacy goals. It must stand on its own attractiveness (beauty for beauty's sake) as an important tool in building mutual understanding. That's soft power at its best, for I do believe that the United States still holds great pulling power as a seat of outstanding education and openness in the pursuit of ideas. (Or at least I would hope so!)

The beauty of Fulbright is that it is a truly international program that works with nongovernmental organizations and governments throughout the world in the furtherance of such openness. Its very mutuality in structure is what makes it a soft power all-star for a multitude of countries but with an American heritage.

[Dr. Snow is herself a Fulbright alumna—and note also that Fulbright was a Rhodes Scholar at Pembroke College, UK in the 1920s. Rhodes scholarships were a bequest of Britain’s Cecil John Rhodes, whose exploitation of southern Africa is now considered politically incorrect; but like arms maker Alfred Nobel, Rhodes’ legacy, a century on, is a positive one in the West.--PK]

Coming Tomorrow: Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Nicholas Cull

Here's is this week's third entry on the best episode in public diplomacy and the most important element of soft power. Dr. Nicholas Cull is the new director of master's program in public diplomacy the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy, and formerly taught American Studies at the University of Leicester, UK. In 2005 he published Selling America: U.S. Information Overseas, a history of the USIA.--PK

Public Diplomacy Dateline 1940: The British Cultivate Edward R. Murrow

My all-time public diplomacy coup would be the British decision to cultivate Edward R. Murrow as a means to address the neutral U.S. in 1940. It paid off big-time, both drawing the U.S. into the Second World War and building lasting links between British and U.S. broadcasting communities. I also suspect that Murrow's approach to public diplomacy was much influenced by his British experiences.

[See Murrow’s entry at the Museum of Broadcast Communications with bibliography. In this article, Murrow’s colleague Richard C. Hottelet unveils a plaque at Weymouth House, where Murrow lived during World War II and not only dramatized Britain’s struggle against Germany, but promoted the U.S. to Britain’s public on a BBC program called Meet Uncle Sam.--PK]

Soft Power: Byzantium Conquers Long After Its Conquests End

If soft power is conceptualized as the ability to exert cultural influence without matching military power—to punch above your weight—then for reach and endurability it is hard to match the soft power of the Byzantine Commonwealth, which spread Orthodoxy from the Bosphorus to the gates of Moscow and way outlasted the physical ability of Byzantium to enforce anything at all. Its reach can still be perceived 1,000 years later.

[Dimitri Obolensky’s The Byzantine Commonwealth is an influential review of the eastern Roman Empire’s (and Eastern Orthodoxy’s) influence over a thousand years of history.--PK]

Coming Tomorrow: Dr. Nancy Snow

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Patricia Kushlis

This is the second of this week's series on the best episode of public diplomacy and the most influential element of soft power. Meet Patricia Kushlis, a retired Foreign Service Officer and specialist in Europe, Asia, the U.S., politics, public diplomacy and national security. She is an adjunct professor of political science at the University of New Mexico and contributes regularly to the world-politics blog WhirledView.--Paul K.

Public Diplomacy Dateline 1975: A Meeting in Helsinki

In 1992, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) held its first major conference in Helsinki, Finland, a fitting memorial to the Cold War’s end. This 54-nation conference also commemorated CSCE’s 1975 beginning—the initial 35-state conference held in the same city but at a different time in a polarized world. The U.S. had only reluctantly agreed to participate, perhaps simply because the idea of a pan-European security conference had Soviet origins. America’s cold warriors—still smarting from Vietnam—feared wrongly the conference might hurt U.S. interests in Europe, the chief battleground between East and West. Baltic émigré communities also objected because they believed the conference would legalize then-national boundaries, keeping the three small Baltic countries forever in Soviet hands.

The 1975 conference included a human rights “basket” or negotiating group. Its negotiators drafted a declaration of support for individual human rights. The declaration became known as the Helsinki Accords—that first CSCE conference’s most important act. I don’t know why the Soviets agreed but they did—perhaps because they thought no enforcement or verification mechanisms existed, and so assumed the human rights provisions were empty words.

In the end, the Helsinki Accords—unbeknownst to us—provided the chief protection for and inspiration of tiny groups of anti-Communist dissidents from Prague to Moscow. They ultimately inspired the many to challenge the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union and to end Communism in Europe.

Yet little did anyone involved in that first conference dream of the soft power the Helsinki Accords would have in ending the Cold War. The U.S. only learned that from East European delegates in 1992—because these same people had been dissidents in those darkest days who had clung to every word.

Note: The CSCE is now the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe with a permanent secretariat in Vienna.

[Read the text of the Helsinki Accords at the University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Library. The Accords inspired the formation of Helsinki Watch, an NGO that monitored the USSR’s compliance with the document it had signed. Today it is known as Human Rights Watch. Also, here's what the EU has to say about its own history.--PK]

Soft Power: A United Europe Starts with Coal and Steel

The most influential element of soft power over the centuries? French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman's dream of a united Europe in the wake of World War II's ashes. Although still very much a work in progress, the first stage—the six-nation Coal and Steel Community founded in 1951—began the transformation of this war-torn continent into a cooperative international economic powerhouse with strong political dimensions that, step by step, has raised all boats. U.S. behind-the-scenes support through the Marshall Plan was crucial to its success, but without French and German agreement to make West Europe a better, more peaceful place built upon Schuman's vision, the prosperous Europe of today would not be.

[Those who think tax policy drives everything will be delighted by Schuman’s May 9, 1950 speech, which explicitly links a future united Europe to the tiny first step of coordinating French and German coal and steel tariffs. Here is a transcript of his speech in English. The Fondation Robert Schuman attempts to extend Schuman’s work on democracy and international unity into Eastern Europe.--PK]

Coming Wednesday: USC Center on Public Diplomacy chief Nicholas Cull.

Monday, July 24, 2006

John H. Brown

As noted Friday, I'll spend this week publishing answers to two questions I'd asked of several people: First, what was the best single episode of public diplomacy ever, and secondly, what has been the most influential element of soft power of all time?

Let's start with John H. Brown, a former Foreign Service Officer and the compiler of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy’s Public Diplomacy Review, which has been an invaluable help and time-saver to me here at Beacon. (The near-daily Review is available free by requesting it at Here are his best-ever public-diplomacy episode and most influential soft-power element.--PK

Public Diplomacy Dateline 2001: Willis Conover, the American Deejay Who Penetrated the Iron Curtain for 40 Years

My best episode of public diplomacy in my 20-year foreign service career is a 2001 jazz festival in Moscow honoring Willis Conover, the legendary host of the 40-year Voice of America Jazz Hour program that had such an impact on Eastern European audiences during the Cold war. The event, organized by the cultural section of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and Russian jazz organizations—and financially supported by the State Department and the Voice of America—commemorated the fifth anniversary of the death of this extraordinary disc jockey, whose unforgettable baritone voice, turning his heartland American English into a kind of musical composition of its own, introduced millions outside the United States to the uniqueness—and universality—of jazz.

American and Russian musicians took part in the two-day celebration, which drew a packed house and many young people. It was wonderful to see how Willis—without whom, arguably, the Cold War would not have ended—was remembered with such affection and admiration in what was formerly “enemy” territory. Conover had become a part of the collective memory of jazz lovers, an artistic genius (so unlike crude propagandists involved in the East-West struggle) who made the best of American cultural achievements accessible to information-starved listeners behind the Iron Curtain eager for an alternative to communist efforts at mind-control.

It is ironic that Willis is practically unknown in his own country, as his programs were not aired stateside due to the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which prohibits the domestic dissemination of U.S. government-supported information products intended for foreign audiences.

[Listen to a brief piece on the Voice of America Jazz Hour from PRI’s The World, February 10, 2005. According to his Wikipedia entry, Conover organized all-race shows in America that helped break down color lines at home as well. Interestingly, beginning as a teenager, Conover corresponded with horror/fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft, later producing Lovecraft at Last, an edited collection of their correspondence.--PK]

Soft Power: A Crazy Little Thing That Increases a Cultural Affairs Officer's Effectiveness.

This sounds corny, but I think the most influential element of soft power throughout history is love, or at least the recognition that love can play a role in human relations, even on an international level, so often simplistically reduced to the survival of the fittest. If soft power is the power of attraction, it cannot be “successful” without the acknowledgement of the presence, at various grades of intensity, of forms of love—among them, love giving and love receiving—rather than the all-too-frequent automatic reaction that the unknown Other or the foreigner is “against us.”

I often quote from a wonderful 1964 article (“But What Do you DO?”) by my father, who was Cultural Affairs Officer (CAO) in Western Europe and Mexico in the 1950s and 60s:

“The CAO soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating.”

[Read all of John L. Brown’s 1964 Foreign Service Journal article on the CAO’s travails, “But What Do You DO?” here. Ideally, the elder Brown wrote, the CAO “should share everyone's tastes; nourish coexisting passions for Grandma Moses and Jasper Johns, Zane Gray and William Burroughs, Leonard Bernstein and John Cage.” Quite a range.--PK]

Coming Tomorrow: Patricia Kushlis of WhirledView.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Next Week in Beacon


Next week I’ll be taking a break from my own ranting about PD and soft power to showcase the work of several actual experts on these subjects.

I have the great pleasure of presenting their views on two questions: What was the best single episode of public diplomacy ever, and secondly, what has been the most influential element of soft power of all time?

Starting Monday, you’ll see a week’s worth of writing by:

—Former Foreign Service Officer and Public Diplomacy Reviewer John H. Brown

—University of Leicester and USC professor Nicholas Cull

—Former FSO and WhirledView contributor Patricia Kushlis

—Harvard professor and Soft Power author Joseph Nye

—Intel/military maven and ZenPundit founder Mark Safranski

—CSU Fullerton associate professor and USC senior fellow Nancy Snow

I may have a few more surprise posts to put up, and perhaps one for myself—but the focus will be squarely on my guests, who together range over centuries of public diplomacy and thousands of miles of soft power.

See you Monday!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Beacon No. 96: Super-Empowered Victims


I just hate to forgive the administration’s diplomatic inaction in the Israeli-Palestinian-Lebanese war, so I won’t—but I can explain it.

As someone said many years ago, a U.S. president can only handle one major crisis at a time—two if they’re extraordinary and served by an extraordinary staff, but no more. When the president decides to focus on a particular crisis, everything else falls by the wayside: fewer policy initiatives, fewer laws proposed, fewer administration personnel on TV explaining what 1600 Pennsylvania is thinking.

In a period so seemingly filled with crises both domestic (fuel prices, economic uncertainty, the congressional mid-term elections) and foreign (DPRK missile tests, rallying nations against Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the Iraq war, the Afghanistan insurgency, the G8 summit), it’s difficult for a president to choose one thing to focus on and do well. Add a wholly unexpected war between Israel and two of its neighbors, with potential for involving Syria as well, and you have a recipe for executive paralysis.

The administration faces a particularly well-endowed adversary in Iran, which can cause trouble for the U.S. in no fewer than four of the areas I mentioned above: fuel prices, its avowed nuclear program, southern and central Iraq, and western and central Afghanistan.

Like the proverbial tube of toothpaste, if you squeeze Iran hard on its nuclear program—as the EU, U.S. and UN Security Council were just about to do last week—it pops up in another well-prepared position: Lebanon.

Having its Hizb’ullah proxies kidnap two Israelis set off a war that distracted the EU and revealed Hizb’ullah’s new weapons capabilities (and by extension, Iran’s) in dramatic fashion, while simultaneously undermining the U.S.-European diplomacy that was about to condemn its nuclear program.

As Iran veteran Elaine Sciolino writes in “An Embodiment of Iran’s Long Shadow: Missiles for Hezbollah,”

Iran’s support for Hezbollah’s actions against Israel seems to have a twofold purpose: to deflect attention from Tehran’s impasse with the United States and five other nations over its nuclear program, and to further position itself as a powerful regional player.

“The Iranians are gambling that there won’t be a military attack against them,” said one senior European official who spoke on condition of anonymity, under diplomatic rules. “Iran is trying to say, ‘Nothing is possible without me.’ And for the moment, the nuclear issue is forgotten.”

Indeed, action on a resolution at the United Nations Security Council critical of Iran for failing to suspend its uranium enrichment activities is essentially is on hold because of the crisis in the Middle East.

Absent a military attack by the U.S. on Iran or a total military defeat of Hizb’ullah in Lebanon—go ahead, insert your laughter here—Iran can’t help but come out of this entire crisis ahead.

Thomas Friedman likes to write about Super-Empowered Individuals but in this case, Iran’s brilliant play of two Super-Empowered Victims—the kidnapped Israeli soldiers—has preoccupied Israel, paralyzed the U.S. and the weak Lebanese central government, and drained them variously of blood, treasure and goodwill, all at little cost to itself.

The administration has long neglected the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the eastern Mediterranean generally, except insofar that terrorists and money cross from Jordan and Syria into Iraq. It’s not surprising that if finds itself so distracted by crises and Iran’s full-court deftness that it can’t get more than a single Arabic-speaking American official on Al-Jazeera.

(Thanks to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for pointing me toward the Abu Aardvark item.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Beacon No. 95: A Bit of Layalina


Len Baldyga forwarded a link to Layalina TV's biweekly press review, which is worth a look to get a broad overview of what Western and Arab programmers are doing in one another’s domains.

Layalina, an American TV production company with a blue-chip board, hopes to present some reasonable voices and cross-communication between the Muslim world and the West. For years now it has geared up to produce programming like On the Road in America, and you can watch a highly polished trailer for this show—in production this summer—on Layalina's Web site. (It may take a while to load, but be patient.)

This "semi-reality" show—I'll have to ask my former TV-producer wife exactly how far that tag lets you stray from actual or even scripted "reality TV" reality—involves three Arab men brought to the U.S. for a road trip. The lads start out in Manhattan, which generates the trailer’s best line: One Arab visitor says, "I used to think that the majority of people in America were Americans, but it looks like only 50 percent are Americans and the rest are foreigners."

The trailer’s first stop on the American mainland is Indianapolis, home to a substantial-looking mosque and, later on, some friendly bread-breaking with young American men and women. After this, the three travel to and between many other American cities a la Travels with Charley, right down to a dumpy-looking RV that could almost be Steinbeck’s Rocinante.

They (and the producers) are acutely aware—with their dark skin and trailing camera crews—that they are role models for Arabs in the U.S., and when the series is released one can look for many frank exchanges of views with Americans like the one that takes place at the Madeline Island (Wisconsin) Library. (All three men seem to have some facility with English.)

It’s all very nice to create a show for Middle Easterners showing Americans as tolerant, diverse, et cetera, but ultimately it’s the same message the U.S. has been sending for years. If communication is two-way, though, I’d like to see Layalina reverse its formula.

In the future, the company should produce a similar show with three Americans who have some facility with Arabic traveling around the Middle East. (Include a woman, please.) It would be expensive; the permissions from country to country would be a nightmare; and certain sites would simply be off limits, especially Mecca, to non-Muslim Americans.

But I think the gain in putting a face on the Arab world for Americans all too willing to think every face is obscured by a kaffiyah or a burqa would be immense. Middle Easterners would also gain when the show was broadcast in their region because it would capture—however politely—Americans’ preconceptions about the Arab world through their visceral reactions to it.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A Legacy of Karate

Although good news from Iraq is rare, Paul von Zielbauer’s “In Joyful Ceremonies, First Iraqi Province Proudly Assumes Control” has it. Coalition authorities have returned Al-Muthanna province, in southern Iraq along the Saudi border, entirely to Iraqi control. It is the first province to make the transition to independence, and hopefully it begins a wave of peaceful re-enfranchisements, which are as necessary to U.S. soft power as they are desirable to Iraqi citizens.

Von Zielbauer describes the ceremony:

At 9 a.m., soldiers, residents and reporters were awaiting the ceremony when Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki strode onto the red rubber running track. Well-wishers quickly mobbed him, to the clear displeasure of 16 armed and tense-looking security agents, who brushed back the crowd.

A few minutes later, about two dozen tribesmen in ankle-length robes and kaffiyehs jogged into the far end of the stadium, each holding a 1940’s-era bolt-action rifle overhead. They passed Mr. Maliki, seated at the edge of the track, chanting in unison, “Congratulations, we came to visit you and give congratulations!”

Mr. Maliki eventually strode to a podium arrayed with plastic flowers and praised Muthanna’s people for being the first among the residents of the 18 provinces of Iraq to reclaim independence from coalition forces.

The sound system garbled the prime minister’s words for several minutes at a time, as it did with all the other dignitaries who spoke.

The organizers eventually determined that the sheer quantity of hardware in the arena— machine guns, bulletproof vests and ammunition clips that most Iraqi men were carrying— was causing the problem and moved everyone back.

“This is the type of country we want to live in,” Mr. Maliki said in one stretch the microphone captured clearly. “All tribes, security forces, government officials, working together toward the security of Iraq.”

Interestingly, there must have been a lot of Japanese troops in Al-Muthanna as well, and the Japanese stationed there must have had a great deal of peaceful interaction with the locals. The proof of this is in the number of Iraqis with Japanese martial-arts training:

After the [ceremony’s] speeches, members of an Iraqi karate team, trained by noncombat Japanese troops stationed here, demonstrated their skills, breaking wood poles over one another’s limbs and disarming some team members acting as bandits with karate moves.

The crowd, circled tightly around the demonstration, applauded enthusiastically.

I wonder what the handover ceremony will be like in provinces dominated by U.S. and British forces, and what the U.S. parallel to karate will be. It may be more subtle than breaking wooden poles over assailants; possible U.S. strengths include areas like organization (accounting and logistics) and construction (engineering and fabrication). There may also be a parade of Iraqis who have learned to reach the highest levels of Halo on the Xbox platform.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Soft Power and Transformational Presidents


Joseph Nye has a new article in the July/August 2006 Foreign Affairs, “Transformational Leadership and U.S. Grand Strategy” that compares the George W. Bush administration with several others that have tried to transform U.S. foreign policy. (You can read the first 500 or so words here.)

Nye contends that only two presidents in the past century have truly transformed U.S. policy: FDR, who ended isolationism and unilateralism, and Truman, who built on Roosevelt’s policies and introduced permanent alliances and containment. In several other cases, notably those of Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, circumstances and personal flaws beat back presidential challenges to the status quo.

A crisis is nearly always necessary to create a moment that’s amenable to transformation, but as Nye writes, individuals matter. He has an interesting take on the qualities necessary to be a transformational president, and it’s no surprise that they have to do with soft power

The first, policy vision, is the ability to articulate an inspiring picture of the future. Grand speeches are not enough; anyone can produce a wish list. Effective visions must accurately diagnose the world situation, balancing realism with risk and ideals with capabilities. Roosevelt was good at this; Wilson was not. The second is emotional intelligence, the self-knowledge and discipline that allow leaders to project personal magnetism. Successfully managing the impression one makes requires some of the talents good actors possess. Reagan’s Hollywood career served him well in this regard. The third, communication, helps a leader to inspire domestic and foreign audiences.

The current president falls short as a public educator and also seems to lack patience, Nye notes, compared with some of his predecessors. He goes on to discuss three more capabilities:

Organizational capacity is a president’s ability to manage the structures of government to shape and implement policy, including supervising advisers in order to ensure a flow of accurate information about the inputs and outputs of decisions. ... Political skill, the art of finding the means to achieve the ends set forth in one’s vision, whether by bargaining, buying, or bullying, is obviously crucial. A president cannot achieve goals just for narrow groups of supporters; he must use his successes to build political capital with wider circles of followers. Johnson, for example, was a brilliantly successful politician for most of his career in the Senate, but he could not replicate that success in the international sphere. Finally, a successful foreign policy leader needs what theorists of business leadership call “contextual intelligence,” the ability to understand an evolving environment and to match resources with objectives by moving with rather than against the flow of events. Contextual intelligence allows a leader to act on hunches based on informed intuition, what Bismarck once described as the statesman’s task of hearing God’s footsteps as he marched through history and trying to grasp his coattails. Although often faulted for his purportedly limited cognitive skills, Reagan had good contextual intelligence.

Nye ends by comparing G.W. Bush with his nearest analogue, Woodrow Wilson, adding that Bush has strengths—emotional intelligence and self-mastery—that compensate for some of Wilson’s weaknesses. Although the case for Bush as a transformational foreign-policy president remains open, Nye ends, “the odds are against him and he is running out of time.”

The president, then, must institutionalize the transformative elements of his foreign policy long before the next presidential election on November 4, 2008. I would look for a wave of conciliation of U.S. allies and treaty-making with them and multinational bodies to ensure that Bush’s emphases on democratization, globalization and fighting terrorism are as nearly set in stone as they can be before the next president takes office in January 2009.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Soft Power of Power


Quality expert W. Edward Deming didn’t mean to influence Japanese automakers (at least at first).

Chinese warfare theorist Sun-Tzu certainly never meant to influence super-agent Michael Ovitz and by extension, all Hollywood.

And without meaning to, Robert Greene and his Wall Street Journal bestseller The 48 Laws of Power have somehow become the guides of the moment for hip-hop brand-builders:

Rappers write lyrics about the book ("The only book I ever read I could have wrote: '48 Laws of Power,' " Kanye West rapped in a famous freestyle), they refer to it in interviews ("In 'The 48 Laws of Power,' it says the worst thing you can do is build a fortress around yourself," Jay-Z noted in Playboy) and they study it as a guide to succeeding in the cutthroat music business.

"The book is like a martial-arts manual for the business," said Quincy "QD3" Jones III, a rap producer turned filmmaker who is making a feature documentary about "The 48 Laws' " hip-hop connection. "It teaches people in our demographic how to think more holistically about their business practices."

Some reviewers had a different take when the book first appeared. "By the 36th law, you start to feel unclean and worried about your own morality," said one. "By the 44th, you have accepted the fact that you are basically immoral and so is the world. By the time you reach No. 48, you are saying: 'Right, who is my first victim?'"

Continuing his role as an unlikely Virgil, Greene is now co-writing a business book with rapper 50 Cent; watch for it to climb the Billboard charts. ...

Monday, July 10, 2006

Cigarettes and Tea Are Your Friends


In “Lessons from Vietnam in how to 'flip' an enemy,” former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang hearkens back to his days with military intelligence during the Vietnam War, in which prisoners of war were accorded Geneva protections as a matter of course. Lang’s job was to find Vietcong and NVA prisoners willing to work for the South Vietnam government:

I visited a number of these [POW] camps in 1972 and did not see anything very objectionable about them [from a Geneva Conventions standpoint]. When the war finally ended, these imprisoned soldiers were returned to their own side.

But as in any war, soldiers who are not so firmly anchored to one side can be persuaded to "come over." Often these men are among the most intelligent and experienced, who have come to see war itself as a cynical game played by the powerful at the soldiers' expense.

Hundreds of prisoners decided to change sides during the Vietnam War and join with US or South Vietnamese forces. One of the most useful projects that the "turncoats" served in were the "Kit Carson Scouts." These former enemy soldiers wore our uniforms, bore arms as part of our combat forces, and accompanied our own soldiers in the field. Their knowledge of the enemy's methods and habits proved invaluable. ...

I talked with a lot of prisoners that year. But one stands out. I was "scouting" in the POW camps for someone suitable for a special project that my unit was "running." We needed an enemy officer - an expert resource - to advise our intelligence analysts. We were notified that there was someone in a facility near Saigon who might be interested. I drove out there to see a North Vietnamese lieutenant.

We spent the day in a whitewashed room, smoking Gitanes (French cigarettes), drinking tea, and chatting. The lieutenant had been a rifle company commander in the 325th NVA Division. He spoke excellent French and had graduated from a good school in the North.

Like me, he had served a previous tour of duty in South Vietnam. He was an Olympic competitor in marksmanship and had been sent to the Olympic Games in Europe after his first combat tour. When he returned home, he was upgraded from a sergeant to an officer and sent back to South Vietnam with the 325th - an outfit akin to the 82nd Airborne Division in our forces. During our chat, we discovered that we had actually fought each other a couple of times in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam in days gone by. This was a kind of bond.

At the end of the day, he said that he wanted to get out of "this place," and that he had no one to go home to in the North. He asked if I thought he could live in California "afterward." He left the camp with me to work with our forces against his former comrades. ...

Lang’s experience may have been atypical, and I’m sure U.S. forces try to “turn” prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, his story highlights the fact that the pool of potential recruits will always be larger when prisoners are well-treated as a whole. This creates the opening for dignified offers of tea and cigarettes, and might even turn men who realize they once shot at each other into allies.

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

Friday, July 07, 2006

Producing (TV) and Consuming (Cinnabon)


The power of reality TV in the Middle East continues to surprise. Take Wife Swap, an Israeli version of a British show whose Big Idea is just as little as you’d think. An Israeli secretary trades places with her Arab Israeli counterpart, each going to live with the other’s husband for a short while; hijinks ensue in “Take My Wife (and Her Culture and Religion), Please”:

TEL AVIV, July 4 — Ayelet Movsowitz, a Jewish Israeli, peers out the car window as her ride veers off the highway and follows the signs to an Arab village.

"Are you crazy?" she asks in an opening scene of an episode of Israel's version of the television reality show "Wife Swap." "Don't tell me I am going to have to cook all day, kabobs and what not. Oy. I'm in an Arab village. I just hope it's not a hostile village."

Meanwhile, Amal Ahmed Abdullah, 28, her Arab Israeli counterpart, slowly walks past a large Jacuzzi in Mrs. Movsowitz's house about 90 miles north, in the Galilee region of Israel.

Her mood dampens when she examines the contents of the refrigerator. "There is nothing spicy here," she says, pronouncing this a typical European Jewish home. "A real Ashkenazi fridge. They don't know how to cook."

Long story short, there are ugly moments—in the print version of this story, Mr. Movsowitz is captioned as telling his temporary wife, “She’s trying to show she’s the boss, as the woman, and also the boss over a Jew” and implies that Mrs. Abdullah can’t be trusted with his children—and touching ones as well, as when Mr. Abdullah goes enormously out of his way at the last minute to buy wine for Mrs. Movsowitz’s observance of the Sabbath.

The story is worth reading, if only to get you thinking about what conflicted area Wife Swap will land in next—Belfast? Grozny? Kuala Lumpur?

Personally, I’m waiting for Husband Swap. Maybe next century.

Meanwhile, in Syria: For decades, the Assad regimes have been notorious for turning dissent on and off like water from a spigot—the same way they turn social change, entrepreneurship and even Hezbollah on and off. Today, faced with increasing religiosity in Syria, it appears that Damascus is urging TV producers to think religiously moderate thoughts.

Production of this year’s Ramadan TV specials is in full swing. One of this year’s month-long extravaganzas will be Renegade, and Michael Slackman describes how Syria’s leadership may be using it to send messages of religious moderation and tolerance:

Yassin al-Bach never returned home after bomb blasts tore through London's Underground. Since he was a religious Muslim, with a beard and a small white skullcap, he was immediately presumed by the public and the authorities to be a terrorist.

A scene from the series, which opposes religious extremism and is to be broadcast this fall during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Mr. Anzour said that making the series was "a joy, my pleasure," adding, "but it is also to defend our country."

But Mr. Bach was a victim — albeit a fictional one. His demise is the twist in the plot of a coming television series as obvious as the message of the show. "Those terrorists are killing Muslims, too," his mother, Mona, sobbed on camera. "How come in the name of Islam they are killing Muslims? I am calling all faiths, all religions, to join together and defeat terrorism."


Mr. Bach is a character in a series called "Renegades," which is part of a growing trend in Arab countries, where leaders are eager to address social taboos and religious extremism but are reluctant to confront them more directly.

"This is an attempt to promote a discussion of these problems, to bring them out of secrecy," said Hatem Ali, one of Syria's top directors. "But the solutions are not in the hands of artists like us. We are contributing to a discussion which has begun in Syria."

That discussion is not exactly out in the open, but television dramas provide the useful service of distancing the leadership from controversial messages. It has allowed those in power to continue to promote their religious credentials, a necessity as people here steadily become more religious, while also working to tame religious movements.

Renegades producer Najdat Anzour denies anyone is pushing him to send a message of tolerance, but considering how thoroughly the Assad government infiltrates every facet of Syrian society, it’s difficult to take Mr. Anzour at face value. I only hope he is not fighting a rearguard action against an inevitable tide of fundamentalism, which could further destabilize the eastern Mediterranean.

Finally, I’m reading Max Boot’s The Savage Wars of Peace, a history and frequently a defense of U.S. small wars and interventions going back to the Barbary Pirates crisis during the Jefferson administration. Boot, the editorial features editor at the Wall Street Journal, is not someone I’d normally count on for an entertaining read, but his book is highly readable. Also, check out his op-ed in yesterday’s L.A. Times, irresistibly titled, “Our Enemies Aren’t Drinking Lattes.” In it, Boot documents the enormous logistical tail that follows our relatively small number of actual warriors around, creating huge slices of Middle America throughout Centcom’s jurisdiction:

Some front-line units continue to operate out of spartan outposts where a hot meal is a luxury and flush toilets unknown. But growing numbers of troops live on giant installations complete with Wal-Mart-style post exchanges, movie theaters, swimming pools, gyms, fast-food eateries (Subway, Burger King, Cinnabon) and vast chow halls offering fresh-baked pies and multiple flavors of ice cream. Troops increasingly live in dorm-style quarters (called "chews," for "containerized housing units") complete with TVs, mini-refrigerators, air conditioning/heating units and other luxuries unimaginable to previous generations of GIs.

No one would begrudge a few conveniences to those who have volunteered to defend us. But the military's logistics feats come with a high price tag that goes far beyond the $7.7 billion we spend every month on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. U.S. troops in those countries consume 882,000 liters of water and 2.4 million gallons of fuel every day, plus tons of other supplies that have to be transported across dangerous war zones. Centcom has more than 3,000 trucks delivering supplies and another 2,400 moving fuel — each one a target that has to be protected.

And a large tail needs its own tail: Boot notes that 100,000 of the people in Centcom’s jurisdiction are either logistical support troops (20,000) or private contractors (80,000). There are only 150,000 troops total in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Boot’s best quote comes when he encounters one of Robert Kaplan’s imperial grunts:

Most of our resources aren't going to fight terrorists but to maintain a smattering of mini-Americas in the Middle East. As one Special Forces officer pungently put it to me: "The only function that thousands of people are performing out here is to turn food into [excrement]."

Contrast this with Boot’s description in Savage Wars of legendary marine “Chesty” Puller’s patrols to put down a rebellion in Nicaragua during the 1920s or early 1930s:

Puller understood the secret of effective counterinsurgency: “you’ve got to keep moving”—patrolling nonstop, often at night, to keep the guerrillas on the run. Company M averaged 30 miles a day on foot over winding mountain trails. They kept slogging right through the rainy season, spending 20 days of every month in the field, even as the trails turned to mud and their uniforms disintegrated into rags. Puller and his men carried only a handful of supplies on sturdy native mules, and for the most part subsisted on a diet of rice, bans, coffee, and some occasional wild game or beef.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Beacon No. 94: A Foolish Inconsistency


In January 2003 I had lunch with an Afghan I knew in Fremont, California. This highly assimilated jeweler of Tajik descent, who had lived in the U.S. since the 1980s, had thrived here; now he lived in a gated community and could watch CNN and Al-Jazeera on the largest TV I had ever seen.

This man, who I’ll call Hamid, was a big supporter of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, not least because he had personally hosted Ahmed Shah Massoud at his Fremont home for a Northern Alliance fundraiser. Hamid took it personally when Al-Qa’ida assassins killed Massoud on September 9, 2001.

For whatever reason, I asked his opinion of the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq. Here are some of the notes I took on our conversation afterward:

[Hamid] says that the recent confrontation with North Korea has proven to him and "100 percent" of Muslims that a prospective war on Iraq is a war against Islam. Iraq, he says, was developing nuclear weapons so as not to be pushed around by the U.S. or Israel. North Korea has nuclear weapons but will not be attacked; but Iraq, which does not have them, will be.

[Hamid] sees Islam as the major distinguishing factor here and predicts that just as men from 40 countries joined the mujahideen in fighting the godless Soviets, so will they flock to the side of Iraq--or at least flock against the U.S., Britain and Israel--if there is a war there. He thinks that moderate Muslims who had previously not thought of a U.S. attack on Iraq as a war against Islam will change their minds.

Later, Hamid took a phone call from someone and had a brief conversation. When he hung up, my notes continue,

... He said that there had just been a rocket attack on Kabul and attributed this to Afghan warlord Gulbadin Hekmatyar. ... In the event of an Iraq war, attacks like this would increase dramatically as Muslims rallied against what he said would be characterized as a Crusader war.

Three and a half years later, Hamid’s predictions have panned out and U.S. policy toward North Korea remains plagued by a foolish inconsistency, as Emerson might have said. While I don’t think the Iraq war is a Crusader war, I can see where Muslims would misinterpret the gap between U.S. speech and actions as pure hostility to the Islamic world.

There are good reasons to not bomb or invade heavily armed North Korea, even in the wake of this week’s missile launches by Pyongyang; but Muslims will likely misinterpret President Bush’s restrained diplomacy as a lack of follow-through toward a country that not only says it has nukes, but keeps firing potential launch vehicles into the Sea of Japan like roman candles.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Beacon No. 93: Warren Buffett “Shows”


Most soft power is a side effect of wielding hard power wisely.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of Warren Buffett, whose rampant charitable giving two weeks ago has resonated overseas. The story there, writes James Forsyth on Foreign Policy’s Web site, is how Buffett- or Gates-scale charity (a hard-power, dollars-and-cents factor) justifies American capitalism (a “soft” ideology or economic philosophy).

I was in London when the Sage of Omaha made his announcement and I have never seen such positive coverage of the US in the British media in all my life. All of a sudden articles appeared saying 'why aren't our rich more like the American rich, this is the moral justification for American capitalism, look at how much private American citizens give away' etc. Karen Hughes couldn't have scripted it better.

Buffett probably didn’t mean to influence the British press and public, but he has, purely on the strength of character his actions show—not because he is giving the British anything.

This is the root of soft power—show, don’t tell—and it illustrates where I separate myself from people for whom public diplomacy is just a nice way of saying “propaganda.” The best thing public diplomats can do, in most cases, is not talk about the importance of democracy in fine international hotels or announce bold steps during one’s State of the Union address, but instead give a little-d democrat a plane ticket to another country to talk with the locals about how they promote one-man-one-vote at home.

But because the temptation to tell is so powerful, Forsyth can’t help but propose a way for the U.S. to get more “mileage” from Buffett’s announcement:

... The Bush administration should think of a way to get some more mileage out of Buffett's generosity. So, how about a presidential announcement that the administration will ask Congress for matching funding—calculated as $3 billion a year by people better at math than I—for the Millennium Challenge Account, an initiative that looks great on paper but suffers from under-funding. ...

The MCA is under-funded, but perhaps U.S. soft power is better served by just ... funding it! ... rather than trying to hitch a ride on Buffett’s coattails.

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