Friday, February 20, 2009

Clinton and soft power

There is a transcript of Clinton's remarks en route to South Korea yesterday posted on the State Department website. The remarks are label "Putting the Elements of Soft Power Into Practice".

Clinton remarked that she and her delegation had engaged in both government-to-government relations as well attending civil society gatherings and appearing on television shows.

And I really believe that it's that kind of outreach that we've got to do everywhere. Some settings are more susceptible than others, but there's a real hunger for the United States to be present again. I was so struck when the Secretary General at ASEAN said that he thought that the United States had just been absent. And showing up is not all of life, but it counts for a lot. And especially when you are the most powerful country in the world, if you're not paying attention, people are going to feel like somehow they're not important to you.

Her use of the term "susceptible" strikes me as a bit of wanting to have it both ways. To describe places as more susceptible than others seems to indicate a monologue, rather than dialogue, approach to public diplomacy which the target is to full or trick the receiving country into accepting the accepting US outreach. Yet, she goes on to remark how the US needs to rejoin the world table, pay attention to what the rest of the world's countries have to say, and general show the world that we care.

At the end of the remarks is where she really gets into her perception of soft power and the use of public diplomacy by the US.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Indira, I think that every one of those events had a much broader audience. Obviously, the Tokyo town hall was on Tokyo television. The program this morning is one of the most popular programs in Indonesia. And so everything that I do, which does connect with people who are receptive has ripple effects. And Andrea said something about public diplomacy. We haven't done a very good job. And we have such a great story to tell about who we are as Americans and what we believe in and our desire to help other people be empowered.

Some of you walked through that neighborhood with me, I mean the United States aid programs, paid for by American taxpayers, are hooking people up to clean water, for example. And it's the kind of incremental change that if properly explained and highlighted, can give meaning to what America is to people who may have no opinion or a slightly negative opinion. We are in a struggle over ideas. And one of the points that the civil society people were making to me last night is that Indonesia is going to turn into a real battleground for the future of democracy and Islam and women's rights. And we need to be there. We need to be supporting the forces within Indonesia who care deeply about all of those values.

And I think our failure to engage on that level going back years, partly because we didn't realize it was going on right underneath our noses, and then when we did, we didn't exactly connect with the right messages for people in a way that they accepted. So we've got a lot of work to do. I mean, I have no illusions about how high a hill we have to climb here to inspire confidence and respect in people's minds again.

But I have found that in not only my personal encounters, but in every public research survey I've ever read that anybody's ever done, that people still really want to like America and they want to know what we're doing and what we stand for.

And take Indonesia; because of the war in Iraq and some other things, the attitude of people in Indonesia toward the United States was very negative. And then the tsunami hit, and we helped. You know, the United States showed up. The Navy showed up with supplies. President Bush sent my husband and his father, and they were visibly there, and then Bill went back time and again. And all of a sudden, people said, "Oh, well, they don't need to do this, but here they are, they're helping." And favorability toward the United States went up.

I mean, in Africa, in some of the sub-Saharan countries, where the favorability toward the United States has remained high, it's because of President Bush's PEPFAR program, that "the United States is here to actually do something good for us." So this to me is what diplomacy is about, because it doesn't just operate, as I said, government-to-government; it operates people-to-people. And when every single person that I met with said to me they wanted more student exchanges so that Indonesian students could study in the United States, or the President would say, "I studied in the United States, "or the Secretary General of ASEAN said, "I was an AFS student," – you know, for a lot of people those were transformative events. And we kind of cut back on that and we made it very difficult for people to get visas after 9/11, and so instead of coming to the United States, ambitious students went elsewhere.

So we have to rethink this and try to get back on the track of reaching out and being inclusive and giving more people a chance to see who we are.

How do you think of Clinton's explanations of soft power, public diplomacy, and how the US utilized them in the past and should utilize them in the future?

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