Monday, November 26, 2007

Noonan's "On Setting an Example"

I didn't read it until long after it should have been fishwrap, but Peggy Noonan's "On Setting an Example" on November 17 pretty much encapsulates what I think the practice of public diplomacy should be.

Noonan, the former Reagan and George H.W. Bush speechwriter, tends to spend her weekly column inches in the Journal Clinton-bashing, but she remains worth reading decades after her mid-'80s heyday. Never more so than now, and her column is worth quoting at length:

In some rough and perhaps tentative way [during 2008] we will have to decide what philosophical understanding of our national purpose rightly guides us.

Part of the debate will be shaped by the tugging back and forth of two schools of thought. There are those whose impulses are essentially interventionist—we live in the world and must take part in the world, sometimes, perhaps even often, militarily. We are the great activist nation, the spreader of political liberty, the superpower whose meaning is made clear in action.

The other school holds profound reservations about all this. It is more modest in its ambitions, more cool-eyed about human nature. It feels more bound by the old advice attributed to one of the Founding Generation, that we be the friend of liberty everywhere but the guarantor only of our own.

Much has changed in the more than two centuries since he said that ... and yet as simple human wisdom, it packs a wallop still.

Those who feel tugged toward the old Founding wisdom often use the word "beacon." It is our place in the scheme of things, it is our fate and duty, to be a beacon of liberty. To stand tall and hold high the light. To be an example, to be an inspiration, to encourage. We do not invent constitutions and impose them on other countries; instead they, in their restlessness, in their human desire to achieve a greater portion of freedom, will rise up in time and create their own constitution. And because they created it, they will hold it more dearly.

So we are best, in the world as it is now, the beacon, not the bringer, of freedom. We are its friend, not its enforcer. ...

But if you want to be a beacon, it's actually a hard job. It involves activism. You can't be a beacon unless as a nation you're in pretty good shape. You can't be a beacon unless you send forth real light. You can't be a beacon unless you really do inspire.

Do we always? No. We're not always a good example for the world. And so, for the coming holiday, a few baseline areas, some only stylistic, in which we could make our light glow brighter in—and for—the world.

Noonan goes on to call for cleaner leaders, more issue-oriented political debate, a less obviously sex-focused culture and other efforts. But whether you agree with her recommendations or not, Noonan is still worth reading for a shot of inspiration about improving America's image abroad by improving America.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Exit the Bringonner


In September I'd written about Frances Townsend's ill-advised taunting of Osama bin Laden ("Bringing Them On"). Now Townsend, who is suddenly being called "Fran" by the President and the Post, has taken a walk. Spend more time with family? The Post doesn't know.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Heart of the Matter

Brief piece over at the Council on Foreign Relations regarding "nation branding," quoting not just founder-of-the-field Simon Anholt but my occasional colleague Joshua Fouts from USC's Center on Public Diplomacy.

The article ends with a quote from Anholt that sums up how policymakers should think about public diplomacy:

Anholt [argues] that nation branding is not the answer unless it is pursued alongside policy changes. “I don’t tell countries how to do marketing,” he says. “I advise them on what sorts of policies they need to undertake in order to earn the reputation they feel they deserve.”

It's that simple. Feel like your nation is the sole heir of Enlightenment rationality? Then act it.

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

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Hughes Resignation


The timing of Karen Hughes’ resignation as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs is appropriate: Late to the job—she delayed showing up for work for months to oversee her son’s last few months before heading to college—she now departs it early, saying that she’d like to spend more time with her husband.* But I don’t necessarily buy that.

Sure, this is clearly not the gung-ho road warrior of Ten Minutes from Normal.

Nor do I imagine Hughes—no one’s shrinking violet—is simply ducking out to avoid the now-melancholy-now-panicky final days of the Bush administration implied by this headline.

I imagine—I hope—that Karen Hughes has simply succumbed to the knowledge that she has been in charge of the icing, not the cake. No matter how much she believes in President Bush’s foreign policy, Hughes may finally have realized that until U.S. policy changes, it’s impossible to make much headway with the Muslim audiences who are the key target of U.S. public-diplomacy efforts. Perhaps the Under Secretary realized that there’s a difference between fighting the good fight and beating one’s head against the wall.

*Contrast that with Hughes' ex-deputy Dina Habib Powell, who resigned to spend more time with money—hers and others'—over at Goldman.
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