June 28, 2008

American Power and Compassion

"As former, U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld once said , “U.S. service members helping out around the world show America's compassion and the missions also can help to change local attitudes about the United States and its people.”

It is generally agreed that the U.S. is the only nation whose influence is global. When the Soviet Union crumbled in the 1990’s it was left without a military rival and not surprisingly, its international role today is increasingly depicted in terms of empire. I am not suggesting nor implying a rule analogous to past empires such as the British, Ottomans, or Romans where territorial conquest was a core characteristic, however, the term provides a useful premise with which to consider the U.S. and its sundry role in the construct of the contemporary world.

America’s global footprint is unmatched and made possible by its military and economic strength united with the force of its culture and ideas. Of the almost US$1,200 billion in circulation in 2006 over a third were held outside America. Its share of Gross National Income (Global wealth) is above 30 percent whereas the collective GNI of the U.K., China, Germany, and Japan combined is around 27 percent. It has free-trade agreements with many major economies and is a key architect and force of a global free-trade regime. Moreover, a third of all multinationals are based in the U.S. with the proportion rising.

Its military expenditure remains more than the next five largest spenders and gives the U.S. an incomparability in this area alone, that is greater than its domination of world markets and matters economic. It also bestows America a military profile that is qualitatively poles apart from most other states.

However, U.S. power is projected by a range of instruments, militarily on one end and domination of the globes financial institutions on the other though it also partakes in non-economic agencies as in, for example, the United Nations. Another instrument through which the U.S. exercises power albeit soft power, is through the intangible force associated with winning hearts and minds, thus compelling other states and its peoples to share in U.S. values and extend its legitimacy. America’s foreign aid level is without comparison and even as its detractors rush to tell us that, security and economic imperatives drive this, we must not undervalue the humanitarian relief made possible through U.S. compassion, generosity and ultimately power. Besides, make no mistake; America is by far the largest donor of official development assistance of any OECD nation.

However, to often American power is only linked with military might while humanitarian assistance is overlooked. In the image above, you will note the U.S. Navy T-AH 19 Mercy, along with its sister vessel the USNS Comfort they are floating hospitals not least huge soft power assets. On June 19, the Mercy anchored off Vietnam is what was the first military humanitarian mission in that part of the world since 1975. Said Capt. William A. Kearns, Pacific Partnership mission commander, "In the weeks ahead we will host medical and dental clinics in communities. We will refurbish clinics and schools together, but most importantly our people will work side-by-side”. Read more here

Before docking in Nam, it visited the Philippines and is later due to sail to East Timor and Papua New Guinea.

As former, U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld once said, “U.S. service members helping out around the world show America's compassion and the missions also can help to change local attitudes about the United States and its people.” He was also referring to improved public views in Pakistan following the Kashmiri earthquake and Indonesia following the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Read more about the USNS MERCY here

See also, Pacific Partnership 2008

Interestingly China is presently building a very similar class of vessels. See images and read more here

Media Bias

It’s worthy of note that world media interests rarely if ever, report on this characteristic of U.S. diplomacy. Moreover media bias seeks to tarnish Americas reputation, recall that following the 2004 Asian tsunami, the “anti-Bush” and “blame America first” machine went into action within barely 24 hours when the Washington Post ran an article, "Aid Grows Amid Remarks About President's Absence" citing complaints from anonymous sources "that the vacationing president has been insensitive to a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions." There was also media bias coming from the CBS network with some very inaccurate coverage of White House statements following the disaster. To understand the hatred that exists in the Arab and Muslim world, consider that an Egyptian weekly magazine reported that the tsunami was actually caused by a nuclear test involving "Israeli and American nuclear experts”.

Read: Tsunami of Media Bias Hits America

Only America

Now and then U.S. power engenders international resentment but let us not forget, America still embodies the aspirations of much of the world and its people. Only U.S. power can provide rapid, flexible, mobile acute care coupled with surgical facilities in the form of a 1,000 bed, 12 operating theater floating hospital (with its own helicopter and pad in addition to water purification plants), to the shores of nations in need.

June 25, 2008

R.I.P. George Carlin

I came across this gem over at therightwife. Watch it here or there it don't matter, just watch it. Like her, I have never subscribed to everything George Carlin has said, but as the British would say, this one's a "ripper".

He hits the spot about all the environment nonsense out there ...

Blessings to George, his family and fans!

June 23, 2008

China now leading emitter of Climate Change ...

"With bated breath we wait for Gore and DiCaprio’s upcoming films critical of China."

Here’s a quick one. If it hasn’t gained official status yet, it will soon. Yet another source reports that China has now “officially” and “clearly” surpassed the United States as the world’s leading emitter of purported climate warming gases.

“Worse, China's emissions are likely to continue growing substantially for years to come because they are tied to the country's strong economic growth and its particular mix of industry and power sources, the researchers said.” Read the rest here

It is now estimated that China's CO2 emissions are about 14% higher than those of the U.S. putting it at the top of the list of CO2 emitting countries with about a quarter (24%) share in total global CO2 emissions. Imagine of you will, the likely Chinese figure in say, 2025?

Can I be bold enough to suggest that apart from the warm and fuzzy emotions it elicits amongst greenies, Kyoto is now – officially - superfluous?

"With bated breath we wait for Gore and DiCaprio’s upcoming films critical of China."

CONGRATULATIONS China, on winning the first Gold Medal of 2008 …

For my previous postings on Climate Change click here, here and here ...

See also: China's Olympic Nightmare: What the Games Mean for Beijing's Future

Thanks to Donald Douglas over at American Power ...

June 18, 2008

McCain, Obama and Global Attitudes and plain Ignorance

"I admit to being a tad despondent about this global belief that Obama would be better in managing world affairs. Let’s be clear cut, you want to talk to anyone including America’s sworn enemies without pre-conditions, you want to pull back forces from overseas, draw down the military, move money away from military programs, retire carrier battle groups, pull away from hot spots.... and this will not impact America's and the world’s better interests … Don’t think so."

Well it’s a good thing the citizens of the world are not voting in the upcoming Presidential elections, after all no-one likes a foregone conclusion of this magnitude, Obama would win in a landslide.

People around the world are hoping a new president in the White House will bring positive change to US foreign policy — and more trust Sen. Barack Obama rather than Sen. John McCain to, "do the right thing" in world affairs, according to an international survey of 24 countries by the Pew Research Center. The world loves Obama," said Moises Naim, editor of Foreign Policy magazine. "If the election was held today in the world, Obama would win." Read more here

The latest Pew Report only confirms what I had suspected for over a year now. The world loves Obama and has little time, understanding or even knowledge of McCain.

Late last year a local (Australian) current affairs program conducted street interviews about Presidential hopefuls. Not surprisingly, nearly all preferred Obama without I might add, adding any worthy reason their preference - more on this later. Several even incorrectly cited Hillary as his opponent come November ’08 … D’oh! Moreover, just a few weeks back, while at a dinner table, a couple of the guests were talking about Obama and Hillary and while once again favoring the former, I ventured to ask what they thought of his, “republican opponent”; they struggled to name him. This is what happens when mainstream media continues to focus on one candidate. I hope this is not happening in the U.S.!

Perplexing how people around the globe express more confidence in Obama in relation to foreign policy and world affairs when in fact this remains his most fallible area. Back to the current affair interviews, I recall some of the week responses some gave about Obama and the war in Iraq, (he) "knows what he’s doing,” "can be believed,” “I don’t think America would be in Iraq if he were President.” Now all this was interesting, as I recall, Obama was dithering all over the place about Iraq, so I scrounged around and found an interesting timeline of his changing positions:

  • October 2, 2002: In Chicago wearing a “war is not an option” pin, he thrilled the anti-war rally by disparaging the Iraq war as a "dumb war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle, but on politics."
  • The Audacity of Hope: When America was obtaining clear victories on the ground in Iraq, Obama wrote, "I began to suspect that I might have been wrong [about the war]"
  • March 28, 2003: On CNN, Obama claimed that he, "Absolutely wants to make sure that the troops have sufficient support to be able to win."
  • Democratic National Convention July 2004: His only mention of the war was, "There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it." The day after his speech, Senator Obama told reporters that the United States had an "absolute obligation” to remain in Iraq long enough to make it a success. He stated that failure of the Iraqi state would be a disaster and would be a betrayal of the promise that we made to the Iraqi people, and it would be hugely destabilizing from a national security perspective".
  • Same month: He was no longer certain how he would have voted. "I'm not privy to Senate intelligence reports. What would I have done? I don't know." (The New York Times on July 26.)
  • 2004 Election: To keep in line with his party's candidates Kerry and Edwards, who had voted for the Iraq War, he told The New York Times, "I'm always careful to say that I was not in the Senate, so perhaps the reason I thought [the war] was such a bad idea was that I didn't have the benefit of U.S. intelligence."
  • After the election: Obama regained his certainty on the Charlie Rose Show. When Rose asked him if he would have voted against the Iraq War resolution had he been in Congress, Obama's answer was a simple, "Yes."
  • July 2004: Obama told the Chicago Tribune "[t] here's not that much difference between my position [on the war] and George Bush's position at this stage."
  • November 2005 speech: He called for a gradual withdrawal of forces. "Notice that I say 'reduce,' and not 'fully withdraw".
  • December 2005: He told the Chicago Tribune, "It is arguable that the best politics going into '06 would be a clear, succinct message: 'Let's bring our troops home...But whether that's the best policy right now, I don't feel comfortable saying it is."
  • January 2007: (just before announcing his run for the Presidency), for example, he outlined a plan to begin "redeployment of U.S. forces no later than May 1, 2007" and "remove all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008."
  • In July 2007: The AP reported it this way, "Presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems and that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn't a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces there."
  • March 2008: He vows to "immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq."

I admit to being a tad despondent about this global belief that Obama would be better in managing world affairs. Let’s be clear cut, you want to talk to anyone including America’s sworn enemies without pre-conditions, you want to pull back forces from overseas, draw down the military, move money away from military programs, retire carrier battle groups, pull away from hot spots.... and this will not impact America's and the world’s better interests … Don’t think so.

As the earlier piece concluded:

“Judgment is surely one of the qualities we need in our next President. We are all called upon to make our own judgments in the months leading to the November election. One judgment we need to make is whether we want the Oval Office to be the world's most dangerous classroom?”

Forgive me for weighing into U.S. politics just this once, but in view of the imbalanced and partial coverage out there …

Finally, you might want to read this and, watch this 2004 you tube clip.


June 12, 2008

Selling America through effective Public Diplomacy

... "But just how effective is U.S. public diplomacy? Critics have suggested that it is simply a packaged ad campaign; a critique that has some merit ..."

In an era where both the divisions among us and the source of international friction is increasingly cultural, the maintenance of U.S. leadership rests more or less as much on ideas and there promotion, as it does on military and economic strength. Anti-Americanism is real, and guarantees that no matter how hard America works to convey a positive image through diplomacy, its status as the paradigm of civilized modernity is diminished. Besides, liberal leftist media ensures that when America confronts other nations even for perfectly valid and righteous reason, the resultant and often-graphical dissemination of disinformation works to erode any legitimacy, but that’s another story. Little wonder the gap between national self-concept, and how the rest of the world sees America has broadened. Defense is deemed and reported as aggression, frankness and even tolerance as narrow-mindedness and arrogance.

I have bandied the term Anti-Americanism many a time in this blog but how do we define it? Sure, it includes broad antagonism and/or resentment of American culture, foreign polices and people however, I am partial to the definition offered by Barry and Judith Rubin authors of Hating America: A History who view anti-Americanism as “systemic antagonism, exaggeration of America's shortcomings for political ends, or mischaracterizations of American society, policies, or goals as ridiculous or malevolent.” They also note the difference between resistance, which may be (but is not always) justified, and anti-Americanism, which they term as illegitimate and extremist. While specific opposition to elements of U.S. foreign policy may be palatable, anti-Americanism is not because ultimately, America is not an evil society seeking world domination and one that takes pleasure in injuring members of other states.

In 2005, nearly $1.6 billion was spent on a range of activities fashioned to improve America’s interests abroad. To combat forms of disinformation and anti-Americanism U.S. embassies now have active public diplomacy programs in place as part of the brief. While certain elements of the wider media see this as propaganda, I believe that when the information circulated is based on truth and fact, then it may be considered benign and just. But just how effective is U.S. public diplomacy? Critics have suggested that it is simply a packaged ad campaign; a critique that has some merit. In a recent foreign policy discussion paper Nancy Snow, an Associate Prof. of Communications at Cal State Fullerton noted, “U.S. promotion of the universality of democratic values like equality, egalitarianism, and rule of law, human rights, civil liberties, and freedom are problematic, particularly in the Middle East,” she was right. But why problematic, after all, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with such values. It soon became apparent that technique was one of the problems. Charlotte Beers, who worked as Under Secretary of State in the aftermath of 9/11 and soon to be known as America’s promoter in chief at one stage drew criticism during her tenure. A former advertising guru, having worked for JWT, America’s largest and world’s fourth biggest advertising agency and who’s resume includes having packaged such brands as Jaguar, Uncles Bens rice and a host of other Fortune 500 brands was rebuked for her style and technique. Said John Brown, at the time a Foreign Service officer, “remember that America is a country, not a product, and that it can't be ‘sold' to the rest of mankind like a brand to be consumed. Leave marketing to the business sector ... listen to what they have to say.” Nancy Snow also noted:

“This advice to listen, rather than simply push a product, is central to salvaging the international reputation of the United States. John McDonald, a 40-year veteran of the State Department, points to three areas of concern in traditional U.S. international negotiation style and attitude: arrogance, impatience, and lack of listening. The arrogance is a result of a combination of being the world's sole superpower with an over 50-year legacy of American supremacy. Yet American negotiators don't believe that they come across as arrogant, even though McDonald states that “most diplomats from other nations believe that the United States is the most arrogant nation in the world.” By bristling at such a characterization and then discounting it altogether, American negotiators only reinforce global perceptions. Americans are also notorious for wanting change to happen almost overnight, when the world seems to operate on a much slower timeline.”

This advice about listening resonated with me. Throughout the 1980’s and well into the nineties, I enjoyed great success in sales related roles. Although very successful, I wanted to take my skills to the next level. A friend at the time suggested I sharpen my listening skills and advised me to read one of the bestsellers of the day, Robert Bolton’s People Skills. I vividly recall my reaction when first holding the book, amazed that the author could generate no less than 5 chapters or nearly 130 pages on listening skills alone. I soon absorbed the message and needless to add, the skill improved markedly and so did sales.

As we stand, negative attitudes toward the U.S. remain pervasive in parts of Europe, nearly all Muslim nations, the Far East and China with a majority of people in many of these nations favoring the emergence of a competing superpower. On a positive note, the negative attitudes focus more so on U.S. Government policy than on American people, although this is of little consolation when America’s sworn enemies attack civilians, as in 9/11. Find below a prĂ©cis of feelings for America for particular nations.

UK: While over 60% view, the U.S. positively the figure dropped markedly since the invasion of Iraq.

Germany: At the time, most of the population thought it right to distance itself from U.S. Policy in relation to Iraq.

Turkey: Most of the population views Americans as deceitful and corrupt.

Spain: Only around 25% have a positive view of America

India: many have a positive view especially the young who see America as a good place to visit and settle in.

Russia: many have an unfavorable opinion but astonishingly they are more positive that some European nations.

China: No surprises here, the Chinese aspire to superpower status and accordingly view Americans as aggressive, greedy, and deceitful.

Poland: An exception to the rule. Most Polish hold Americans and there policies, in high regard.

France: The majority resist American political and cultural influence

Canada and Australia: There is great cultural similarities that ensure a favorable view but notably this is dropping here too.

There is nothing wrong with the U.S. State Department overtly endeavoring to shape the international environment and attempt to sway public opinion and promote its national interests and ultimately, world security. Indeed it is hoped that this policy continues to be well resourced and managed in accordance with the simpler forms of civic diplomacy that embrace all the skills of big ticket sales people for there is no bigger ticket than the United States of America. Once again Nancy:

The American habit of not listening to global criticism is related to impatience and arrogance. As McDonald characterizes the typical American response, “‘Why should we listen carefully? They ask, ‘We already know what is good for you, and we will be pleased to tell you what your needs are and how we can fix those needs.' Because we have not developed good listening skills, which require patience, American diplomats are perceived as superficial”. Even Thomas Friedman, the darling of foreign policy opining, urged the Bush administration to show more active listening in diplomacy: “Listening is a sign of respect. It is a sign that you actually value what the other person might have to say. If you just listen to someone first, it is amazing how much they will listen to you back.”

I do not need to be convinced of America's judgement of what is good for other nations but to communicate this judgement requires amongst other qualities, good policy and effective listening. NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH FORMS OF APPEASEMENT, effective listening means so much more than simply hearing, put into proper practice in diplomacy and the end result for both Government and non-Government American representatives and mediators will include greater understanding and acceptance, ultimately who knows, a “sale” may just be made, so to speak.