Public Diplomacy

Ratings whores

SchiefferWant to know why Congress is so disfunctional and the public is so divided?

Look at the news entertainment media.

Fox TV doesn't have a corner on fulmninations and name calling designed to bolster ratings.

Even the venerable Sunday morning news panels have become forums for "making news" at the expense of exploring the important issues of the day.

Case in point: the current controversy over comments UN Ambassador Susan Rice made about the attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Starting at the end and working back, it's pretty obvious that she is the victim of yellow journalism worthy of the Hearst tabloids in the days of the Spanish-American War.

In a story about Ms. Rice's possible nomination as Secretary of State, the New York Times notes that she "would face stiff resistance on Capitol Hill, where she has come under withering criticism from Republicans for asserting that the deadly attack on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya, might have been a spontaneous protest rather than a terrorist attack."

That's absolutely correct -- many GOP lawmakers have accused Ms. Rice of claiming that the Benghazi attack might have been a spontaneous protest. They consider it part of an Administration plot to avoid admitting that terrorists are still at large, despite the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Leaving aside the fact that no one in the Obama administration has claimed the terrorist threat is over, there's only one thing wrong with that assertion: Ms. Rice did not say the attack was a spontaneous protest and she didn't deny it was a terrorist attack.

Here's what she told Bob Schieffer of CBS's "Face the Nation" program:  

"Based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy-- --sparked by this hateful video. But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that-- in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent."

It's not elegantly phrased -- as Gov. Romney might say -- but it's pretty clear she said it appeared that a spontaneous protest was taken over by extremists.

Scheiffer asked if the attack had been planned and whether Al Queda had participated and, rather than denying either claim, she said, "Well, we'll have to find out that out. I mean I think it's clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence. Whether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself I think is one of the things we'll have to determine."

You can read the transcript for yourself here.

If you do read it, pay close attention to the question, Schieffer then poses to Senator John McCain in a separate interview.

"Susan Rice says that the State Department thinks it is some sort of a spontaneous event," he said with a note of skepticism. "What-- what do you make of it?" Well, McCain naturally thought that was preposterous.

"Most people don't bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration," he said. "That was an act of terror, and for anyone to disagree with that fundamental fact I think is really ignoring the facts."


Except this is one of those imaginary controversies that exists only in the minds of news entertainment jockeys who want to generate secondary headlines.

It pains me to count Bob Schieffer -- a man I have long admired -- among the ratings whores. He is one of the senior journalists who despair that our political system has become so dysfunctional. Look in the mirror, Bob.




What's really bugging them?

Muslim protestNo one can read about the attacks on U.S. embassies in Islamic countries without wondering what is really motivating them.

The host of at least one Sunday talk show tried to reduce it to a binary question -- was it a spontaneous reaction to a nutjob film mocking the Prophet Mohammed or was it another set of terrorist attacks? The U.S. representative to the United Nations said it might be both -- spontaneous protests that were exploited by terrorist elements.

I suspect the FBI investigation will prove she's right.

But I think these protests may also be rooted in a deep cultural conflict that would be significant even if there were no terrorists to exploit it.

Bernard Lewis, the 96 year-old author and Middle East expert, writes in his latest book, that the West and the Muslim World have very different political values.

The West values "freedom" above all else. The Muslim world values justice. In the Muslim world, freedom was not a political value until very recently. When Muslims spoke of "freedom," it was in social and legal terms as the opposite of "ensalved."

But what Muslims have always valued is "justice," the sense that they are treated fairly by their rulers and their government. The Arab Awakening of last spring was not a rush to Western style democracy and freedom, but a reaction to widespread corruption and injustice. Remember: it all started because a Tunisian vendor objected to a police officer's extortion attempts.

With that background, it's easier to see how difficult it will be to defuse these and future protests.

Arguing that insulting the Prophet is just an awkward aspect of our freedom of speech will fall on deaf ears. The very concept is irrelevant to them.

What they want is justice -- some demonstration that we respect their religion and are as outraged as if our own faith was being mocked. 


The True Faces of Islam

Islam_screen To many Westerners, the face of Islam has been, at best, a religious zealot and, at worse, a crazed terrorist, with not much room in between.

Many Westerners have seen Islam as a monolithic movement of intertwined cultural, religious and political beliefs dating from the 7th century. 

To Western eyes, Islam appears anti-democratic, intolerant, and inherently violent.

But what’s happening in the streets of the Middle East and North Africa these days may be changing that.  

The peaceful crowds in Egypt’s Tahrir Square sent exactly the opposite message. They weren’t seeking to establish an Islamic state, but to gain greater freedom and to end a culture of political corruption. They weren’t led by fiery-eyed mullahs, but by geeks armed with cell phones and Twitter accounts. 

Across North Africa, Muslim men and women are taking to the streets to win the same basic rights people in other countries enjoy – freedom, justice and fair elections.

Their protests are Islamic only in the sense that they often use Friday prayers as their organizing vehicle. Anyone paying the least attention has to be impressed that these crowds are not about to substitute one form of oppression for another, even in the name of religion. 

Maybe now we will be able to unpack our conflated beliefs about political, cultural and religious Islam.  

 In The Many Faces of Political Islam, Muslim scholar Mohammed Ayood points out that Political Islam covers a broad spectrum that is context specific. “What works in Turkey won't work in Indonesia,” he says. And he can point to widely different strains of political Islam to illustrate his point. Saudi Arabia and Iran are very different "self-proclaimed Islamic states;" Pakistan and, until recently, Egypt are states caught "between ideology and pragmatism;" Turkey and Indonesia are Muslim democracies; Hezbollah and Hamas are Islamist national resistance movements; al Qaeda is a fringe group of Islamic fanatics.

The breadth of Political Islam would seem to offer Western governments plenty of handholds from which to begin a fruitful dialog.

One stumbling block, of course, could be Cultural Islam. To Western eyes, many aspects of Muslim culture seem to be stuck in the 7th century, especially in its treatment of women. But it’s just as easy to find misogynistic texts in the Old and New Testaments as in the Qu’ran.

And Islamic culture is not immutable. It is subject to as much change and flux as any other culture. And as was the case in the West, cultural change it will follow -- not lead -- economic development.

Already, surveys show that Muslims in Europe and America are closer to the attitudes of their adopted countries than to those of their ancestral homes. The determining factor seems to be the degree of social integration they’ve been allowed.  On the other hand, even Muslims who aren't particularly religious project a strong traditionalist Islamic identity if they feel isolated within their adopted countries.  

Ironically, Islamophobic rhetoric and hearings like Congressman King's discourage any hope for greater integration and assimilation by casting suspicion on Muslims as a group-- particularly as potential terrorists. And that undermines the very cultural changes King says he'd like to see. 

Finally, Religious Islam is not nearly as “foreign” as it may at first seem.  In his new book, Allah: A Christian Response, theologian Miroslav Volf reveals surprising points of intersection and overlap between Islam and Christianity. “What binds Muslims to Christians and religious Jews is a shared commitment to love God and neighbor,” he writes.

What's more, Volf reminds us that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. True, they understand God somewhat differently, but the similarities in their convictions about God are much greater than the differences. Muslims, Christians, and Jews share fundamental values, including some version of the Golden Rule -- a principle that compels you to treat others as you would want to be treated.

“Reaffirming such common values, and holding each other accountable to them,” Volf suggests, “would do much more to improve Americans' safety than will the King hearings.”




A question of identity

FingerprintMost of us think our identity is as certain and unchanging as our fingerprint. 

But, in fact, who we think we are is intertwined with our notions of who everyone else is. 

Our concept of "the other" is at the root of our own sense of identity. 

We define ourselves, to a large extent, in terms of who or what we are not

A newborn experiences no boundary between herself and the rest of the world. To her, all is buzzing confusion within a chaos of sensations. 

In time, she learns that the nipple on which she feeds is not an extension of herself. She begins to find the boundaries of her own body and, in time, even to gain some control over them. And eventually to form what is called "a theory of mind," the understanding that she cohabits the world with other sentient beings who have thoughts and feelings similar to her own. 

Of course, this is obviously a gross over-simplification, but the key idea is that our self-identity is plastic and develops over our entire lifetime in response to our experience of the world around us. Our sense of "self" and our sense of the "other" are symbiotic. 

So what does it mean when a French president says that his country faces an "identity crisis" because of all the Asians, Africans and Muslims crowding into his country? What should we make of Talmudic arguments over the definition of a "Jew." And how about the Dutch editor who complained, "We want to teach immigrants more about our identity, and we discover that we're not sure what's left of it"? 

One writer, Van Wishard of WorldTrends Research, thinks it's all a sign of a "global identity crisis." 

The concept of the "other" has a long and storied history in philosophy and psychology. But this is more than idle philosophizing or armchair therapy.It's a matter of life and death for millions. 

As Van Wishard points out, the problem of the other is behind the ethnic strife that has cursed large swaths of the developing world. And, perhaps, a preview of coming attractions for the rest of us.

Americans on Muslims

Warning-muslims-nearby Warning-muslims-nearbyThe Gallup World Religion Survey, just out, shows some disturbing attitudes towards Muslims amongst Americans.

  • Americans express more prejudice toward Muslims than any other faith group. Almost a third say they harbor "some" or "a great deal" of prejudice against Muslims.
  • Ironically, those who say they are prejudiced against Jews are the most likely to be prejudiced against Muslims.
  • Only about a third of Americans claim to have at least "some" knowledge about Islam, but more than half (53%) say they are at least "somewhat" unfavorable to it.
  • Fewer than half of Americans (47%) say they know even one Muslim, but it doesn't seem to make any difference on their attitudes toward "Muslims" in general.

The one thing that seems to affect people's attitudes toward Muslims the most is whether or not they themselves attend religious services frequently.  Those who attend more than once a week are less likely to be prejudiced against Muslims. 

All of this matters to anyone who believes in the power of person-to-person diplomacy. Prejudice against Muslims risks alienating the five to eight million Muslims in the U.S. who are potential partners in the fight against Islamic extremists. It also feeds the victim narrative that extremists use so effectively against us.

Land of Opportunity?

Child_flag002_rc I have always thought of myself as living evidence that America is a land of opportunity.  I was born into poverty. I was not only the first member of my family to graduate from college, but from high school. And when I left grad school, my financial statement showed no real assets except for a student loan that was coming due.  

But now an op ed in the Washington Post by two researchers at the Brookings Institution suggests that my experience may be more of an exception than a general rule.  In "Five Myths About Our Land Of Opportunity," Isabel Sawhill and Ron Hawkins demonstrate that the reality of social and economic mobility in the U.S. is much more complex than the myths might suggest. 

For example, recent research demonstrates that people born into poverty in the Nordic countries and in the United Kingdom have a greater chance of forming a higher income family by the time they're adults than people born poor in the U.S. Furthermore, it is no longer certain that each generation does better than the last.  In the U.S. today, men in their 30s earn 12 percent less than their fathers did at the same age. 

Those are just two of examples of the myths Sawhill and Hawkins debunk.  But they are not just myth-busters.  They also suggest ways to bring the reality of American economic life into line with our ideals of equal opportunity. And perhaps surprisingly for two research fellows at a left-leaning think tank, it is less about income redistribution than about restoring the vitality of American families.  It's a "family values" proposition that every American can embrace. Thanks to my friend Morry Tanenbaum for drawing it to my attention.

Blame It On Rio

Rio-olympic-logo As anticipated, pundits on all sides of the political spectrum are interpreting Chicago's Olympic snub as evidence of continuing anti-Americanism.  

Even President Obama's popularity in the left-leaning quarters of the world, they sniff, couldn't rub off on his adopted home town.  John R. Miller, a former Republican pol and State Department ambassador-at-large opined in the New York Times that "public opinion, it seems, is driven less by current events or decisions than by a deep resentment of America's powerful status."  

The lesson he drew from all this? "Pay less attention to foreign opinion surveys and more to our own ideals and interests."  Unfortunately, I think Miller is wrong on both his analysis of Chicago's failure and the lessons he draws from it.  

As the Times' sports section makes clear, Chicago's loss has less to do with the quality of its proposal than with an intramural fracas within the International Olympic Committee itself.  The U.S. Olympic Committee has had a rocky relationship with other IOC members ever since the Salt Lake City Games were tainted by a bidding scandal.  And many were irritated by its recent efforts to undercut the IOC's biggest funding source by establishing its own Olympic TV network. Finally, the eventual winner, Rio de Janeiro, offered the opportunity to hold the Olympics in South America for the first time. Anti-Americanism may not have played much, if any, of a role.  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.  

But even assuming the problem was that "nobody likes us," as Miller's column headline suggested, the solution is not to adopt a "who cares" attitude.  That might have worked in the 19th century -- or even in the first two-thirds of the 20th -- but it won't fly in the 21st.  

Think of the biggest issues America faces -- nuclear proliferation, terrorism, pandemics, the economy, etc.  None of them can be addressed unilaterally. Even a country as powerful as the U.S. needs the cooperation of other countries in dealing with them.  And the latitude foreign leaders have to work with a U.S. president is a function the trust their own people have in us. One example: would Sarkozy and Brown have stood with George W. Bush to challenge Iran's hidden nuclear site? 


NewsyLogo In Rebuilding Brand America, I cited research showing that media tended to follow the political and social views of their target audience.  Conservatives don't watch Fox News because it's conservative; Roger Aisles made it conservative to attract conservative viewers.  Al Jazeera reports the news from an Arab perspective because that's the environment in which it was founded and operates.

To find what Carl Bernstein called the "best available version of the truth," readers and viewers need to seek out journalism told from multiple perspectives.  The Internet has made that easier than ever.  One site currently in beta, Newsyanalyzes and synthesizes news coverage of important global issues from multiple sources.  Its unique method of presenting how different media outlets around the world are covering a story provides context to help viewers understand complex global issues.

Iran's Youth Movement

Change for Iran Back in the 1970s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote an article that helped explain why the Vietnam War protests represented a sea-change in American society.  The key, he said, was demography -- the Baby Boom generation, which was then of draft age and personally affected by conflict, had sufficient critical mass to dominate public discourse and change the course of history.  

However the Iranian election turns out, the country's supreme Ayatollah would be wise to dig up a copy of Moynihan's article. About 65 percent of Iran's population is under 30, well-educated, and eager to end the country's isolation from the West.  While the ayatollahs control the country's mainstream media, they have little sway over the media that its young people actually use -- blogs, instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook and the like.

That's how they organized the mass protests that evaporated President Ahmadinejad's lead in less than a month.  Taking a cue from the last U.S. presidential election, the poster in the photo above reads "Change for Iran."

Whether Ahmadinejad loses or wins, Iranian politics -- and society -- may be changing in ways no one expected.

The Muslim Oprah

Amr_khaled I may be the last person interested in public diplomacy to have heard of Amr Khalid and I have no excuse.  Time magazine picked him as one of the world's 100 most influential people.  The New York Times Sunday magazine  described him as "the world's most famous and influential Muslim televangelist."  He's been compared to Rick Warren and Pat Robertson on that score, but Dalia Mogahed, who recently co-wrote an insightful analysis of the Islamic World (see Who Speaks for Islam), says he's really more like "the Muslim Oprah." 

His popularity is huge and, from what I've seen on his web site, Khaled seems to be just the moderate voice many have been looking (and hoping) for in the Muslim World. He rejects extremism and promotes faith-based community development.  He does not pretend to be a religious scholar (he's an accountant by training), but he stresses everyday actions to get closer to Allah such as honesty, humbleness, and being polite. His message strikes a particularly resonant chord among middle class young people across the Muslim World, who he reaches through satellite TV and the Internet.

A few hours of Internet research suggests that Khaled's audience is actually larger than Oprah's, as his influence.  Maybe she should start calling herself "the U.S.'s Amr Khaled."

Brand-Aid For America

Brand_america Jeff Yang, over at Salon, posted a piece analyzing which presidential candidate would do the most for Brand America if he/she won the election.  It must have hit a nerve because in the first few hours of its posting, it evoked 43 letters.  (Potential conflict alert: I'm quoted extensively, but Jeff brings his unique perspective to the issue and also quotes people far more qualified than yours truly. Even some of the letters present valuable perspective.)  Of course, improving America's image around the world isn't the biggest challenge the next president will face, but it's way up there.  And we've elected presidents for less noble reasons. 

Citizen Diplomacy

Handshake I was honored to have been asked to speak at the recent Summit on Citizen Diplomacy in Washington, D.C.  In preparing for the meeting, I was reminded that citizen diplomacy truly is key to restoring America's reputation around the world.  Melinda Brouwer, who blogs for the Foreign Policy Association, produced a cogent summary of my remarks, which you can read here.

The Year of the Mouse

Capitalizing on some astrological good fortune, Disney will mark China's Year of the Rat, which begins on Feb. 7, by suiting up its own house rodents, Mickey and Minnie, in special red Chinese New Year outfits.China_mickey 

It's all part of Disney's effort to glocalize its Hong Kong park.  According to the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), last summer, Disney executives took a page from P&G's playbook by conducting research in the homes of Chinese consumers to get a handle on their lifestyle habits as busy families.

"We are working as the 'Chinese' Walt Disney Company -- ensuring that all the people who work in Disney understand the Chinese consumer to forge a deeper emotional connection with the brand," says the park's managing director. 

Now, in addition to Mickie and Minnie's makeover, vendors hawk deep-fried dumplings and turnip cakes, the Main Street parade features a dragon dance with bird, flower and fish puppets, all set to traditional Chinese music. And the gods of wealth, longevity and happiness -- all major figures in Chinese New Year celebrations -- join the regular Disneyland gang. 

It's the power, stupid!

Soeren Kern, writing in the American Thinker, makes some valid points about anti-Americanism.  For example, that it's been around in one form or another since Colonial says.  That it won't evaporate when a new president moves into the Oval Office.  And that it's a reaction to American power rather than  U.S. foreign policy.American_thinker

But then he goes off the deep end in predicting what it will take to restore America's reputation around the world.  "For starters," he writes, "the next American president would (for starters) have to relinquish all use of military force, surrender US sovereignty to the United Nations, adopt a socialist economic model, abolish the death penalty, accept an Iranian nuclear bomb, abandon US support for Israel, appease the Islamic world in a high-minded 'Alliance of Civilizations'... and so on."

Kern's purpose is undoubtedly to erect a straw man he can quickly knock down.  But power and respect (or even affection) are not mutually exclusive. In fact, America had all three following World War II.  The difference then -- and for the next 45 years -- was that the U.S. worked cooperatively with other nations in addressing global problems, took their interests into account, and considered itself a leader among the community of democracies -- not the only game in town.  It's not having power that evokes jealousy and resentment; it's how power is exercised.

Fearful Superpower

Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria traces the roots of anti-Americanism to fear -- not that of other countries towards us, but our fear of the rest of the world. He warns that that fear will not necessarily subside when a new president moves into the Oval Office. Fearful_superpower

"Ever since the (9/11) attacks," he writes, "the United States has felt threatened and under siege and determined to carve out maximum room to maneuver. But where Americans have seen defensive behavior, the rest of the world has looked on and seen the most powerful nation in human history acting like a caged animal, lashing out at any and every constraint on its actions."

The presidential primaries give Zakaria little reason to believe attitudes will soon change.  "Republicans are falling over each other to paint an atmosphere of dire threat that requires strong, even brutish action to protect the American people. Democrats, while far less guilty of fearmongering, have been afraid to combat this hysteria."

It's a compelling argument.  Read more here.

Our Semi-flat World

Flat_worldHarvard's Pankaj Ghemawat takes issue with Tom Friedman's famous dictum that "the world is flat" in his own book on the marketing implications of globalization. Setting aside metaphorical conflations of  geometry and geography, Redefining Global Strategy: Crossing Borders in a World Where Differences Still Matter lays out a practical action plan for global businesses.  You can get a good overview in Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge blog.


Chefs_hat Jairo Senise is CEO of Gruma, a Mexico-based maker of flatbreads. In Strategy+Business, he explains the importance of adapting products to local tastes, which he calls "chefmanship."  (Okay, it could be "chefpersonship" I guess.)  He also demonstrates how local local can be.

Who knew that Texans generally like their tortillas fluffy, while Californians like them elastic and in Arizona they like them chewy?  The principle applies equally well to automobiles and detergents, he says.

Learning from Mickey

European bloggers have lots to say about travel to the U.S. and little of it is good.  For example, in this posting the London Telegraph's travel writer, Francisca Kellet, asks "why are American airports so dreadful?"  She gets no argument from her readers -- over two dozen took time to add their own horror stories. Miamiairport_2

But there may be hope.  Miami International Airport has begun to invest in customer service improvements.  It's sending staff to the Disney Institute in Orlando to learn how the Magic Kingdom does it.

Miami International Airport is a gateway to and from the Caribbean and Latin America. About 32.5 million passengers passed through the airport in 2006, including more than 14 million international passengers. But among 18 U.S. airports with 30 million or more passengers per year, only three airports performed worse in J.D. Power and Associates' 2007 North America Airport Satisfaction Study.

Most observers consider it a smart move on the airport's part, despite the cost ($15,000 for a half-day).  Now if only the customs and immigration service would sign up.

Glocal for Ramadan

Rebuilding Brand America encourages international companies to "glocalize" their brands, i.e., to adapt to local customs and tastes while respecting core values. Ramadan

One good current example is Starbucks, which introduced new coffee flavors and packaging across the Middle East to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan.  Among the new flavors -- a date Frappucino and a special selection of Arabian coffees.  The cups even have a special holiday design of crescents and mosques. Read more in Al Bawaba out of the United Arab Emirates.

Penetrating the C-Suite

Chief Executive magazine invited me to tell its readers what they can do about growing anti-Americanism. Thwart_2 I was happy to do so in an article entitled "Rebuilding Brand USA."  But I was even happier to see a companion piece by investment banker Bob Kuhn on the same topic, from a slightly different point of view.  It's called "Thwarting Anti-Americanism" and a quick read.  Maybe the issue is starting to penetrate the "C-suites" of American business.

The Real Lesson of Katrina

Many people were shocked at the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina. New_orleans Then Congress passed a multi-billion dollar recovery program, heads rolled at FEMA, and the network news anchors left New Orleans. Now two years later, the news crews are back, trailing President Bush on his tour of the still moribund city, and newspapers around the world are noting that New Orleans residents are marking the anniversary with a mix of anger and sadness. The city is still largely in shambles. Where, people ask, did the money go?

Some of the money certainly lined the pockets of the scam artists who descend on any tragedy. Some of the aid was probably delayed by political infighting. And there is still plenty of reason to question the government's continuing incompetence.

But the underlying reason may have more to do with a seismic shift in government's leverage on complex problems.   

In a seminal 1996 article in Foreign Affairs, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, posited that the new world order proclaimed after the fall of the Soviet Union would have a very different character than generally thought. Slaughter_main She warned it would not be "a world in which international institutions, led by the United Nations, guaranteed international peace and security with the active support of the world's major powers." The centralized rule-making authority such an arrangement would require was clearly beyond reach.

On the other hand,  the revolution in information technology was causing power to shift within every human institution -- from hierarchies to networks, from centralized compulsion to voluntary association. Why would government be immune?  The result would not be world government, but global governance -- cooperative problem-solving by a changing cast of characters. "The result is a world order," she wrote, "in which global governance networks link Microsoft, the Roman Catholic Church, and Amnesty International to the European Union, the United Nations, and Catalonia."

Slaughter expanded on these ideas in her 2004 book, A New World Order (Princeton University Press), suggesting that the most effective public-sector initiatives, are those that take place quietly through networks of professionals working on common problems. And in her new book, The Idea That Is America (Perseus, 2007), she argues that if governments can use networks to become more responsive, collaborative, and flexible, they will more closely embody the ideas and principles that fostered modern democ­racy in the first place.

If government power is shifting on the international stage, maybe something very similar is happening at the local level.  Maybe the real problem in the government's response to Katrina is that it leaned too heavily on the usual suspects -- the Army Corps of Engineers, government loan officers, and emergency management officials -- rather than on an imaginative alliance of private industry, non-profits and local citizens.   

Are there lessons here for our international public diplomacy?

Hughes' Legacy

Hughes_2 In Rebuilding Brand America, I suggested that Karen Hughes represented the best available opportunity to improve America's public diplomacy.

After a rocky start -- at least in U.S. media coverage of her Middle East "listening tour" -- she has delivered on that promise, as this interview by Robert McMahon of the Council on Foreign Relations demonstrates.

Hughes hasn't improved America's reputation in the Middle East or in Europe. I doubt anyone could.  But she has won a seat at the table for our public diplomacy professionals, ensuring that they participate in the "take offs" as well as the "crash landings" when policy is decided.  Plus she has significantly expanded funding for proven programs such as educational and cultural exchanges, as well as language training. All of which will give her successor something to build on.

Whose story will win?

Narain Batra is a professor of Communications at Norwich University in Vermont. I've never met the man but I am a regular reader of his weekly column in The Statesman of India, which is reprinted on his insightful blog. Batra

Batra's latest column ruminates on the power of "narrative" in shaping people's perceptions. He suggests that Al Quaeda's communications success owes less to its publicity savvy than to its skill in using local clerics to tell its version of the American "story." Indeed, we even make it easy for them when our actions confirm their storyline. No amount of "branding," he says, can counter the image of America that emerges from its actions.

My only quibble with his thesis may be entirely semantic.  If by "branding," he means "messaging," whether by advertising, publicity agents or do-good emissaries, count me in.

But in my own lexicon, a "brand" is the product of people's experience. To me, Rebuilding Brand America means realigning America's actions more closely with its ideals. As Batra points out, this is not easy in an open society where independent actors can tell a different story than the official line.  Some elements of U.S. popular culture, for example, reflect poorly on America.   

On the other hand, "Wal-Mart, Microsoft and Warren Buffet embody as much of what America stands for, as does Hollywood," Batra says. "America is what Americans do at the workplace, its ultimate source of strength." And that is the ultimate argument for "corporate diplomacy," not as a promotional lever for the State Department, but as a true reflection of American ideals.

Global Consumers Sour on U.S. Brands

Research firm GFK NOP has gone through several name changes in the past few years as it acquired and merged with other companies, but one constant has been a steady stream of studies documenting a relentless souring of sentiment towards American brands.Uncle_sam_sells_2

The latest study, reported by CNN Money, asked consumers in other countries about 60 brands, including 33 made in the U.S.A. About half of the American brands, including icons Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Nike, showed year-over-year declines in attributes important to sales growth: including likeability and consumers' inclination to say good things about the brands.

Out of Tune

An army employment ad illustrates one of the most basic problems with U.S. public diplomacy efforts. In the course of advertising for piccolo and tuba players, the ad points out that U.S. Army bands employ more than 5,000 musicians around the world.  Tuba_lge

Assuming the navy and air force bands include a similar number of musicians, that means there are more people serving in military bands than in the entire foreign service, which counts just 8,000 people in the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

No wonder we're out of tune.