April 25, 2011

U.S. Public Diplomacy

The U.S.’s opinion of public diplomacy in the past has been, “what for?” We saw it (and still do to some extent) as a non-issue because we are, well America. I have to admit, sometimes it is hard for me as an American to understand why people wouldn’t like us, and then on other days I want to apply for dual citizenship in another country. But every country has its ups and downs and most understand this due to past and current histories of struggle, experiencing being at the very top of the world in terms of international relations and being at the bottom. As a relatively young and successful country the U.S. has not experienced the bottom. We have not had the humbling experience losing majorly and licking our wounds and gaining perspective. Most of us are like rich kids who have never had to experience a struggle like the harsh political realities that most countries have had to, at least not within the past two centuries. That is not to say that we are perfect and have never lost a battle or been hurt badly (Pearl Harbor, September 11th), but we have not experienced military coups, genocides, complete economic ruin, famines, etc. We have had a good run. This mindset is what Zaharna labeled “American exceptionalism,” but what this term necessarily implies is “All other mediocrity” and its surprises us to see that people don’t like that!

OK so enough critiquing, what are we to do about it? Well I don’t recommend self-inducing famine or creating a military coup but there are people within this country that can empathize or even identity with those who do not have the opportunity to live in countries that have similar opportunities and safeties. In class we talked about the power of communication and how the government needs to use more communication strategies in reaching new publics such as revamping our international broadcasting. However, if there is one thing I take away from public diplomacy and all of the concepts and countries studied it is this: nothing beats personal communication. It’s the most long-term form of public diplomacy, but to me it seems to be the strongest. There is nothing more genuine that one on one interface with someone to create trust, credibility and legitimacy. Of course this can go wrong and politicians need immediate effects, but it doesn’t matter how much money we pour into communication outlets if it’s falling in deaf ears. Personal understanding is the most tedious but effective way to change minds. So I think that exchanges are my favorite form of P.D. and the U.S. should engage in these more. But it has to be reciprocal, there have to be almost as many Americans going to developing nations and there are people coming to the states. Empathy must be two may in order to build mutual understanding and in turn help us understand what kind of communication will be the most effective from home. Will this work? I don’t know, but I personally root for Switzerland after the U.S. in every Olympic or international sporting event I watch just because I lived there.


R.S. Zaharna “Grand Strategy: From Battles to Bridges” in Battles to Bridges: US Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy after 9/11 (2010)

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