Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Defending the War in Iraq

Below is my final exchange with a Blogger about the legality of the war in Iraq. It started by my commenting on Noam Chomsky's take on the UN.

Blogger: http://sabbah.biz/mt/archives/2007/11/25/do-the-democrats-have-a-different-answer-on-iran/


"Until the mischief be grown general, and the evil designs of the RULERS become visible, the people, who are MORE disposed to SUFFER than to right themselves by resistance are not apt to stir." - Locke [emphasis mine]

"But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same course, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their RIGHT, it is their DUTY to throw off such government, and to provide NEW guards for their future safety." - Declaration of Independence [emphasis mine]

When Iraq did not avail themselves of their rights or perform their duty to remove Saddam Hussein and when failing to do so became a destabilizing force of attrition and uncertainty to the region it became the right and duty of other nations to confront that destabilization of attrition and uncertainty. Confrontation that, in the scope of historical conflict, is neither unjust nor unnecessarily brutal. The concept of bloodless war and effortless freedom is a new concept not supported by history or "Common Sense".

Evidence of this bloodless concept is the abandonment of Iraq by its citizens of means. The drain of professionals whose education and skills was sorely needed only served to prolong the suffering of those who chose to stay or had no choice but to stay. Further evidence is the depiction of US troops as indiscriminant in their war-fighting. By any fair and unbiased measure of the whole the US military has shown unprecedented restraint -possibly to the detriment of the mission.

Kofi Annan on the Responsibility to Protect –

"This responsibility lies, first and foremost, with each individual State, whose primary raison d’ĂȘtre and duty is to protect its population. But if national authorities are unable or unwilling to protect their citizens, then the responsibility shifts to the international community..."

What happens when the apparatus of the UN, the Security Council that he later describes, also fails? Like in the Balkans? Or Rwanda? Or Darfur? And when diplomacy is a circular game rather than a useful tool? Then does serving the Purposes and Principles of the UN require stepping outside its framework? What is the higher priority? Certainly not the procedure, but rather the Purpose and Principle.

Can a good argument be made that the Iraq war is itself more destabilizing than Saddam? Yes, but that argument must rely on short sighted and outmoded concepts that don’t take into consideration our global interconnectedness or the historical benefit of liberty and democracy -benefits that take generations to fully realize.

Has the Iraq war been prosecuted well? Obviously not. There have been too many mistakes that continue to cost thousands of Iraqi lives and hundreds of US and Coalition lives. Do these mistakes constitute negligence? I am open to that, but don’t at this time think so.

Therefore, to say that the Iraq war is “illegal” or to use the word “occupation” in a pejorative way is to avoid the facts. Facts supported by modern and historical notions of the rights of man and the obligations of government.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Response to LA Times Piece on Public Diplomacy

Below is a letter sent to Price B. Floyd concerning his opinion piece in the LA Times.

Mr. Floyd makes some fantastic points but misses some of the bigger picture which is sadly typical of old guard diplomats when it comes to public diplomacy.


Mr. Floyd,

I enjoyed your public diplomacy piece in the LA Times. It seems some of the best "PR" Karen Hughes has been responsible for was accomplished by merely stepping down. I have never seen so much buzz about public diplomacy. You are correct to point out policy as a prime reason for our poor image abroad but you missed one very important issue that is staring us in the face. It is the lack of understand for the concept and power of public diplomacy. Save a few "elite" circles the concept is lost on most people, even our diplomatic corps. Because public diplomacy happens whether we mean to engage in it or not and because the altruistic context of the word "diplomacy" draws our attention away from the fact that the ends of public diplomacy can be malicious, we tend to concentrate on traditional ideas of diplomacy leaving the Public-to-Public aspect of public diplomacy alone. This lack of awareness and understanding does as much to undercut our image abroad as does rendition and secret prisons.

Take for example the global assault on Guantanamo. Gitmo is perceived to be a torture chamber void of human rights by many at home and most abroad. How were calls of condemnation with out suggestions for solutions allowed to go unanswered? Why were those unconcerned with solutions allowed to frame the debate rather than those that understand that many of its prisoner's countries of origin might not want its occupants back and that some occupants might actually need to be in a facility? My best guess is that it was the Administration's and State Department's general ignorance of the continuing convergence of public opinion and global interconnectedness.

Punditry is as easy as opening a blog. Successful punditry is as simple as opening a blog and confirming like minded reader's bias. One does not have to be an expert on Gitmo and the delicate issues surrounding it to be a successful distributor of information. Our failure to engage these distributors where they actually are has been devastating.

The US government can not by definition engage in Public-to-Public diplomacy and direct interference is often seen as propaganda or censorship. But it can take a facilitating role by promoting the concept, educating us on the skills and responsibilities of public diplomacy.

Most important is that those of us "in the know" undertake the task that is grassroots understanding of the importance and power of public diplomacy by teaching the skills necessary to be effective in our communications. While this concept has been around for a while, it is foreign to most. We have legions of public diplomats that can change the US image abroad if we take the task seriously.

Kind Regards,

Benjamin Cook

Saturday, November 17, 2007

If the Internet ain't broke, don't fix it!

Recently, The United Nations sponsored a conference on US control of certain important parts of the Internet. For the most part this conference and its aims represent the clearest example of the dysfunctional relationship the US has with the world and how in this particular case, as in a few others, it doesn’t matter what the facts are only that the US be made to appear the selfish Super-Power.

The primary reason for this conference is benign enough. The idea is that control over the internet be international. That is all well and good and something as borderless as the Internet certainly deserves as much international influence as is prudent -PRUDENT being the key word.

Calls to internationalize instantly or at a rapid pace is not prudent. At the center of this discussion is ICANN or the Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers, a California based non-profit that controls and assigns all domain names. Being a US non profit some feel that US can and does exercise too much control over the Internet. Fair enough, but on balance what has been the record to date of that influence?

Internationalization proponents are quick to point to the sluggish way internet becomes available to developing nations and the language barriers that an all English system provides. The problem is not with the veracity of these issues; rather it is with the solution. Internationalization proponents obviously see a more international solution that will have either some kind of defused oversight (think an EU type bureaucracy with infinite members) or slightly more central oversight (think the UN). The problem with each of these solutions is the track record of efficiency. The EU can be at times paralyzed with inefficiency even when dealing with issues that are broadly accepted. The UN is only able to be effective when there is complete agreement by the big five. This agreement is very rare. Both of these oversight solutions promise sluggish action and there-by paralyze the very solutions to the issues they portend to promote.

The US track record on the other hand speaks for itself. It is the track record that has brought us to this point of global interconnectedness. It is the track record that stands in bright contrast to the other options. It is the track record that has facilitated global conversations from the far reaches of the world allowing better understanding. The current US based solution is not perfect and there is need for international involvement but the current US based solutions is not broken either. Therefore I see no need to fix it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Karen Hughes / Public Diplomacy

In recent weeks I have read article after article about departing Under-Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes’ job performance or lack there of. These articles range between false interpretations of good data to ignorant partisan blather to accurate reporting of the facts without political interpretation. What most have in common is that they recognize the monumental job U/S Hughes had as the person tasked with improving America’s image abroad.

Often read are references to putting Lipstick-on-a-Pig or Polishing-a-Turd. These “thoughtful” literary devices were used to exemplify the writer’s idea of the hopelessly difficult task of selling US policies that are seen in many places as colonial or empire driven. Luckily Karen Hughes didn’t shy away from the task and did the first real work public diplomacy has seen since the days of Edward R. Murrow.

Quickly, public diplomacy simply is any exchange between people, cultures or countries that is not Government-to-Government -which would be traditional diplomacy. A blog by an Iraqi in Mosul read by an American in Charleston is public diplomacy. Starbucks coffee in China is an exchange that can be considered public diplomacy. Sadly, MTV’s Sweet Sixteen program airing in Ireland is also an unfortunate exchange and is public-to-public diplomacy.

U/S Hughes and the State Department as a whole only really work in the Government-to-Public realm. Under Hughes the State Dept. increased its sad little budget ,opened regional Public Diplomacy Hubs in London, Brussels and in Dubai, and Rapid Reaction teams were formed to counter misinformation, conspiracy theories and needless hysteria often seen in online forums, chat rooms and weblogs throughout the Islamic world. These moves by Hughes constitute a wholesale change in direction and performance by the State Department. Both Clinton and Bush “43” had Public Diplomacy officers that worried only about “branding” rather than any kind of exchange. It was a one way communication effort. Much like advertising. The problem is that these actions are actually reactions and are meant to limit damage rather than be a true dialogue or exchange of information. Now, Hughes and Co. have posted a State Department blog (http://www.blogs.state.gov/) where any interested party from all over the world can exchange views with the various State officials that post. This constitutes a proactive exchange and I believe the first of its kind for State public diplomacy.

Efforts like this constitute the State Departments first foray, or should I say unintended consequence, into Public-to-Public diplomacy. By allowing the conversations to be public and open for engagement by anyone Hughes and State have taken an important step towards a global dialogue. Ideas are not presented and then forgotten as was the old “branding” way. Conversations are now taking place, albeit on a small scale.

There is much more to be done in terms of policy and grassroots efforts here at home to be full participants in all forms of public diplomacy. Chief among these is teaching the concept of public diplomacy at a much earlier age. Next is providing the tools necessary to engage effectively in public diplomacy. The number one tool missing in the United States is the ability to speak a second language. It would be nice if more of us spoke Spanish or French. It would be best if we spoke Farsi or Chinese! We have a long way to go and Karen Hughes has barely scratched the surface. The great thing about Public Diplomacy is it is best accomplished by “publics” as the name suggests. So perhaps we should look to ourselves as the responsible party for allowing misinformation, conspiracy theories and propaganda to run rampant amongst our global neighbors?

Benjamin Cook
Director, the Organization for Public Diplomacy

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

the Organization for Public Diplomacy

I have started a non profit. It is called the Organization for Public Diplomacy.


Check it out!