Friday, February 13, 2009

Public Diplomacy by Ordinary People

In a New York Times opinion piece (, Michael Holtzman, a PR firm executive, propagates the idea that the best public diplomacy can be done by ordinary people and the private sector. He suggests that public diplomacy from these sources is more likely to be effective because the hearts and minds we are trying to reach are closed to any government messages. There is a deep distrust of any messages coming from the US government and are perceived to be too suspicious to be considered. Any initiative by the US government is dismissed "in a region whose people have long perceived Washington's hand in their national affairs and for whom anti-Americanism is the only outlet for expressing strong political feeling." Instead, he suggests that we should use other avenues to create goodwill by building relationships in the everyday spheres of human life. Examples are teaching, sports (ping-pong with China), and arts (Arab music influence on Western pop and American performers in the Middle East).

Holtzman emphasizes the importance of two-way conversation and the necessity for the US to seek to better understand the peoples of the world, their fears and aspirations. This goes well with what we covered in class about soft power. For Nye, public diplomacy is the policy outcome of soft power. In order to make our values and culture attractive, what better carriers of the message do we have than ordinary people? In order to win hearts and minds, we need to make the message heartfelt which is by humanizing the message. A message carried by the government may be received with suspicion but the same message carried by everyday people may strike a chord as genuine. Instead of spearheading and being at the forefront of public diplomacy efforts, the government can instead empower and provide resources to ordinary people to be the face of the message. This way, we are not trying to push a message down people's throats but make it such that it is received willfully.

1 comment:

  1. Holtzman's comments reminds me of the ongoing debate about the public diplomacy power of "Japan Cool" and if it is even something that can be utilized by the government to create goodwill and increase global power. The question in that case is less how to gain interest in Japan, but rather, how to translate it into something that works for the government.

    There are several programs that employee so-called citizen diplomacy that the US engages in. One such program that came to AU two years ago is the Edward R Murrow program which brings groups of international journalists to the US to learn more about how American style journalism works and to learn more about the US in general through university and town visits.

    Knowledge about this program and others like it is sorely lacking among the general US population and the learning programs seem to be one-sided with most the emphasis on teaching about the US and not about the international countries.