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.


Debbie said...

Talking, listening, understanding others is of course very important... for both parties in a diplomatic discussion. Somehow I don't think people like Iran's Ahmadinejad does much listening or hearing.

Debbie Hamilton
Right Truth

Jungle Mom said...

I watched as the opinion of Venezuelans changed towards Americans over a ten year period.

I must say that negative media from our own country encourages a lot of this perception.

Karen said...

Great post, Otto! I agree, listening is important and I also agree that public diplomacy is crucial. I think the biggest hurdle the Bush administration never overcame was the one of poor communication skills. Had Bush hired strong, talented people in his communications department, the true facts and reasons for everything from the Iraq war to post 9/11 intelligence methods and the true nature of the economy would have been at least given a shot.

As for foreign perception of the U.S., it's never as it should be, if you ask me. We help everyone and yet there has always been the European arrogance, the Asian arrogance, and now the arrogance of Muslim countries. True, we are viewed as arrogant but I think much of the perceived arrogances are simply national pride, no matter which country it comes from.

Z said...

Jungle Mom beautifully and eloquently stole my thunder. I was about to remind you all that the English speaking news all of Europe and Asia gets is the VERY liberal (more than here) CNN INTERNATIONAL on television AND The International Herald Tribune in print, solely owned now by ....THE NEW YORK TIMES!

THEY hate us, how could anybody feel warm and fuzzy about us with these two venues working so hard against us? Impossible.

Eastern European countries still love us because they KNOW socialism and they admire our capitalism...plus, we've helped them a lot. Talk to a Hungarian, Pole, Lithuanian, etc...here in the State..OH, do they LOVE America! And OH, do they vote REPUBLICAN!!

Also, ask any American who's lived abroad...they'll always finally acquiesce that it's a little JEALOUSY that plays into this America dislike. TRUST me, that's true. They might not LIKE the Iraq war, but they see that, yet again, America is doing the heavy lifting for the world.

Glad to see you back, Otto!! z

David Schantz said...

Great post Otto. How could anyone find anything wrong with the United States when we have you as our PR man. I think our own media has been one of our biggest problems for quite some time.

God Bless America, God Save The Republic.

WomanHonorThyself said...

Otto..great piece!..I just wish Americans werent consumed with others esteem of them~!..arg!..lol..:)

The Lonely Conservative said...

Welcome back. I agree that our own media helps fuel anti-american sentiment in the world.

Layla said...

I am so happy to see you are managing to still post despite your busy schedule. Great post and so true.

Keep them coming my friend!

MK said...

Maybe i'm being arrogant or something, but the way i see it, the nations that dislike America have to ask themselves, before they excitedly tell that pollster how much they despise America, why is America a superpower while my nation is not? Why am i being asked for my opinion on America and not on India or Brazil, why isn't this pollster asking people over in Kenya what they think of my nation? The answer i think is not all that comforting.

America's bad rep in my opinion is a lot due to them not selling themselves very well, a hate-America [because of the failure of socialism and communism] leftie infestation of the MSM and the fact that most people are too lazy to do any searching and looking themselves and are happy to be spoon-fed any old nonsense the biased media feed them. The absurd thing about this world we live in is that if America wants to be liked, then they should just do nothing.

Bush has given more aid to Africa yet he is a racist bastard. America fought back against al-qaeda and they are the meanies for not telling terrorists you have the right to remain silent. America liberated Iraq and Afghanistan from tyrants, yet they are imperialistic and the world's number one terrorist. Well then i'd like to see all the millions of America-haters band together and equal the aid given to Africa, i'd like to see them reach out to terrorists who bomb and murder them, I'd like to see them liberate N. Korea, Burma, Tibet, Zimbabwe, Sudan etc, out of the goodness of their hearts with zero casualties on all sides.

From my view, the fight is not so much to win over those that hate America but those that are in the middle. The ones that hate America will only be won over if America becomes just as useless, impotent and irrelevant as they are, so there is no point. The ones in the middle, don't really dislike America but they don't appreciate her either, perhaps it's time for them to learn what life is like without America.

Aurora said...

A young man raised in Mexico (half French) is visiting the place where I work at the moment. He absolutely loves America and one day we were talking about the movie Forest Gump which is his favorite movie. He sees the movie as the innocent American Dream where anyone, even a retarded man, can be something and do something. He points out the era that the movie covers, Vietnam and Korea. While most people bash America over these wars, he points out that had America not fought where noone else would, we would be under the boot of Russia right now and he'd rather be under the boot of America any day. He pointed out how America's intervention was responsible for the introduction of democracy in South America and that is the only reason why South Americans have the privilege of voting in people like Chavez. Because they have the choice now.
As he talked about Forest Gump and its positive portrayal of America and the American dream, I thought of the many other movies where Hollywood has bashed its own nation and denigrated it before the nations of the world, worked to tear down her reputation and to destroy the very cradle that birthed it (Hollywood).
As z says, there are those who know the truth and love America and there are many who believe the lie and hate us. It's just a shame that that lie should ever be spoken by fellow Americans themselves.