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

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