Friday, 22 July 2011


US Public Diplomacy has gone 'Twitting', using Twitter, U-Tube, Facebook, & Flickr as means of instant global communication. A trend in its nascent stage, this is yet another case of technology influencing modalities in foreign affairs, and it is not necessarily 'more democratic' as government would like people to believe. But to what degree does techno-modality influence substance and to what degree does it yield the desired results, given that the web is a universe of disparate ideas and opinions from every conceivable side, one adding a different nuance or contradicting the other.

Although the origins are Wilsonian, American scholar-diplomat Edmund Guillon institutionalized public diplomacy in academia at Tufts University inauguration of the Edward R. Murrow Center for Public Diplomacy in 1965. He correctly argued that traditional diplomacy would be supplemented by public diplomacy intended to mold public opinion at home and abroad as significant foreign policy dimensions. While it may be very difficult for many people to accept, especially in the US, it is my view that Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci influenced the concept of western public diplomacy - a concept originated by Vladimir Lenin, influenced by Rosa Luxemburg. Gramsci argued that 'interests and the tendencies of the groups over which hegemony is to be exercised, and that a certain compromise equilibrium should be formed – in other words, that the leading group should make sacrifices of an economic-corporate kind." (Selections from Prison Notebooks). 
Agreeing with Gramsci, Louis Althusser adds that civil society institutions, which include the educational system, values, religion, political parties, etc. (Ideological State Apparatuses, ISAs), mold individuals to see themselves as 'free-willed subjects' when in fact they are molded by ISAs. "Soft power" influence by the state is exercised through ISAs and that is exactly where public diplomacy fits in and where 'Twitting' plays a role within that structure.

While technology is changing the modalities of foreign policy, the essential question to ask is the degree to which the web (short of sabotage acts and spying) has an impact on the substance of foreign policy and its targeted domestic and foreign audiences. Given that the US diplomacy has gone 'Twitting' to keep up with tech changes in mass communications, it would be foolish to expect the rest of the world not to follow America's lead in public diplomacy as well as web spying, sabotage and espionage - cyber-missile that may be more effective than a ballistic one. "Twitting" is a mechanism that allows foreign ministries to have instant response and to reach the world through the web on any issue, respond to any news or official publication, or promote any position to influence government policies, commodity markets, financial markets, etc. 
Whether it comes to responding to Wikileaks revelations, reacting to the volatile sociopolitical situations in Haiti and Tunisia, or trying to promote Hu Jintao's state visit, the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs has the web at his disposal as yet another tool of public diplomacy within the larger ISA structure. The beauty in 'Twitting' is that any government using it can claim that it is employing a 'democratic' process, intended to be 'open' with the public.

The case of China demonstrates how public diplomacy reflects the molding of mass public opinion ideological state apparatuses in both countries. Misconceptions on both sides are the result of ISA structures. For example, Americans generally admire China and its culture, but see it as an adversary at the very least and a threat at most. Chinese also admire America and its people but see it as an adversary if not a threat as well. While the Chinese believe they are a developing nation with a very large poor population, Americans generally see China as a wealthy overall, if not the wealthiest nation on earth trying to sideline the US.

Both Chinese and Americans see each other's country as very important - America is the most important country for the Chinese behind Russia, EU, and Japan. Nevertheless, the Chinese believe that the US is pursuing a containment policy - economic, military, and political containment - of China, and US is doing so by lining up other nations in the containment campaign. Most Americans polled believe that their country will become second-best to China during this century, a view that Americans entertained in the late 1980s and early 1990s about Japan. How does the common person formulate such views in China or the US, views that have some element of truth but which are largely the result of public diplomacy and ISA structures, which of course include "Twitting" as part of the 'open and democratic' process.

On the eve of Obama's State of the Union address one year before he would be nominee for president, it is of interest to ask how popular is Obama and the US in the rest of the world, and to what degree has public diplomacy helped his image as well as that of the US. While the US has a steadily positive image in the advanced countries (G-7), it is sub-Sahara Africa and the former Soviet bloc nations that see America in the best possible light and the Middle East that has the least favorable view of the US. A couple of months after Obama took office, about half of respondents in a global public opinion poll were optimistic overall, especially about US policy in the Middle East. A year later, only 16% remained optimistic. Even worse for the US, when Obama took office, 29% of respondents in opinion poll viewed Iran's nuke program as a positive development, while a year later 57% believed that Iran's nuke program would be a plus for the Middle East. 

Amid a very serious and deep global recession (2008-present), public diplomacy has not worked any better to convince the world that the market economy best serves the public interest. A BBC poll finds that in 27 nations only 11% believe free market capitalism works and oppose further government regulation, while 23% respond that it is a detrimental system and about half believe government regulation can address the market's flaws. Just as disappointing I am certain both to financial markets and governments, especially US & EU, the majority believe that globalization and foreign investment are growing too fast and not serving the broader societal interest. In some global and US public opinion polls, corporations are viewed as enjoying inordinate power over governments, in others, only a small percentage want greater government regulation to control the role of corporations in society. Naturally, those familiar with polling know that the types of questions and the way they are asked makes a big difference in how a person responds to secure the desired result for the sponsor of the opinion poll, which is itself a tool withing the larger framework of ISA structure.

For many centuries throughout much of the world, religion was at the core of ISA structure; religion intertwined with politics was the most efficacious instrument of influencing public opinion. In the age of high tech mass communications, the "Twitting" is not merely a new tool, but a new religion designed to capture peoples' hearts and minds. The question is for whose ultimate benefit is this new 'Twitting' religion working, and does it have any traces of 'democracy'?

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