Thursday, January 21, 2010

01:20:2010 - Public Diplomacy running out of time?

Unfortunately, I still hadn't got to Washington to be able to attend Obama's inauguration last year - I didn't even watch it on TV (I was too busy planning my Bachelor's Senior Thesis on Iran's Presidents, in the far-away Bulgaria). But later I found out that hundreds of millions around the world had tuned in to witness the event that was supposed to be a watershed in the course of global affairs. A year on, and well... things don't seem to have changed all that much. YET.

The last couple of days we all have been bombarded - quite literally - with analyses and assessments of Obama's first year in office. These, for most part, have not been positive, put mildly. There is general disappointment, disillusionment, and even, increasing hostility against many of the things he stands for (and Brown's victory in Massachusetts only underscores that). The case has been very similar - if not even more prominent - around the world, where hopes have been raised, but also swiftly destroyed by speeches such as those in Prague, Cairo, and Oslo... and certainly, by actions that were far from what was read into his words.

I cannot and do not want to get into trying to assess his successes and failures. I just wanted to share a great video from Al Jazeera's "Fault Lines," where, I think, Avi Lewis does a remarkable job of portraying some of the major issues involved, on the domestic front.



Now, turning over to the foreign policy domain.

Obama's presidency seemed to have given a new image - a new air of some sort - to the American policies abroad; or, at least, they were perceived as such. Yes, he might have had the best intentions last January, but just as with any official position, there are dozens of institutional constraints, unpredictable crises, and considerations that any president has to deal with (and you don't have to be the President to know: anyone, who has ever taken part in political simulations, such as the Model UN or European Parliament, can testify to this). Well, and we should not forget the financial crisis, which took things to a whole new level of "BAD," globally. It has just been a year, and, if he is lucky, circumstances might still come together to enable him to move forward with his own plans. We need to wait and see. The question is, however, who can afford the time?

Yesterday, Joseph Nye, in his lecture in London, talked of a three-tier view of soft power: the "matryoshka" approach (Russian wooden dolls that fit into each other). He differentiated between "rapid reaction," "strategic communication," and "building lasting relationships," time period required for each being the basic determinant of these differences (and, certainly, the approaches and means of their application varying accordingly). What he stressed specifically was the building of lasting relationships - which is not news, of course. And yet, it is interesting to see how this major factor is being mostly neglected by the public, as well as analysts, who want immediate, measurable results (the realm of "rapid response" and "strategic communication") almost upfront. But that is just how politics works; or, at least, the "right" political system that we call democracy.

It's easy to point fingers and find scapegoats. What's more difficult is finding socially shared patience and the political will to allow for some more room for maneuver. He came, carried in by all those who believed in the change he promised. He was the perfect and the highest ranking American "public diplomatist." But the thinking should focus on the longer term. He needs time and support, since he can't do it all by himself. Yet, it seems like neither the world, nor his own people are willing to grant him that...

Just to quote Dennis Kucinich, Democratic Congressman from Ohio, speaking in the end of the "Fault Lines" video:

"You hear people are disillusioned. Well, it's OK to be disillusioned, because it means that we are free of our illusions, so that we can look at things as they are, and look at people as they are. We did not elect the Wizard of Oz. We elected the President of the United States."

But then, seems like the world needs a wizard to be saved from itself...



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