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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Public diplomacy talk

I'm heading east later today in order to give a talk on "Public Diplomacy and the Bush Doctrine" tomorrow.

Basically, I will be arguing that the US cannot view "public diplomacy" as linear communication. Treating it like advertizing may work in the short term to "sell" foreign policy -- but it will not be successful in the long term either for winning "hearts and minds" around the world or for maintaining domestic political support for policy.

Ordinarily, political legitimacy cannot be garnered via repeated communication of a simple political slogan.

So what does the US need to do instead?

Well, given that political communication always occurs in a wider context, the US must account for that context. Given globalization, the 24 hour news cycle, the internet, and the increased democratization of states and international organizations (via inclusion of NGOs and transparency norms), the US must treat the public sphere almost as if there's a worldwide need for democratic accountability in its foreign relations.

Domestic opponents are going to raise objections, even on "high politics" questions like security. Even friends and allies may have concerns that they are willing to voice in a global public arena.

Thus, the US has little choice but to act as if it communicates in a global public sphere. This means embracing something akin to a discourse ethic. It must be willing to listen to the voices of others, respond to their concerns with empathy, and perhaps most importantly, show a willingness to be convinced to think and behave differently.

That is the secret to meaningful communicative action. Dialogue is not one sided.

To those who would say, "but we cannot undercut our own security by giving in to the demands of others," I would say (a) the US must provide a genuinely convincing argument that the security stakes are high; and (b) the US must think about formulating truly collective security to address shared concerns. This means making the concerns of others our own, and vice versa.

In the case of Iraq, the US failed to convince some of its closest friends (Germany) and neighbors (Canada) that war was necessary. As a consequence, the US still finds collective security options elusive.

That is the price of acting without legitimacy.

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