Saturday, September 25, 2010

Obama, Ahmadinejad, and... RT!

I had a very lengthy post a couple of days ago about Ahmadinejad's UNGA speech this week. Quite obviously, his comments raised quite a storm in the international media (and American/Western, especially), prompting a response from Barack Obama. In an extensive interview with BBC Persian, he condemned the Iranian President and went a long way to reach out to the people of Iran and Afghanistan. (Well done, on public diplomacy! But there's the ever-present need to remember that people there will judge things based on what they see done, on the ground.)

Here's a small excerpt from that interview:

Interestingly, however, Ahmadinejad made sure to defend his comments (perhaps, a preemptive move of some sorts?) at a press conference. Here's how Iran's PressTV covered it:

Of course, it is funny to see the spin he has tried giving to the whole issue:
"I believe this is assistance to [Americans]. I've tried to open the way for them, so they leave Afghanistan and Iraq respectably. Is this bad? This is very good assistance. It's certainly humanitarian. It's assistance to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, and it's also assistance to the soldiers of America and NATO, who are getting killed; and also to the people in the West, who are paying the taxes while their soldiers are getting killed. This is assistance."

I wonder if he really, genuinely thinks this is working...

Of special note, however, is a statement he made "by the way": something American public diplomacy practitioners and thinkers have been emphasizing over and over again:
"[Americans] are accustomed to talking all the time. They're not accustomed to listening."

Wow. Now, it is even coming from the Iranian President himself...!? Perhaps it's high time to give it a serious thought?

And of course, I can't leave this post without the spice. Although, on multiple occasions before, I had promised to stop complaining about Russia Today TV (RT) - their content, framing, approach - the temptation to go back is just too strong. So, I just decided not to resist - at all - especially given the whole new propaganda era that Russia's international broadcaster seems to have got into recently: RT America. (There will be much more on this over the coming weeks...)

Here's a piece they had last evening. I'm sure you will find it at least as amusing as it was for me...


  1. Since my comment is too long, I will post it in 2 installments.

    I am somewhat confused. Has RT-bashing become the latest fashion?
    I don’t watch it but the pieces you include in your posts are quite interesting.
    Do you call them propaganda? That may well be the case. But just turn on CNN or even BBC (their radio programs, I admit, are more balanced) and you will see the same. I will not going even to start discussing the VOA.
    Or take print media. Just open almost any issue of the NY Times or Washington Post and you will find propaganda aplenty, at least what I see as propaganda.
    This is not to exonerate RT, ORT or Iranian TV or anyone else. My point is that labeling is not a particularly good practice and one would probably do her best to try to avoid it.
    The fact is that within just one week I had one my comment lost and second almost lost while I was making them online. One was recovered almost miraculously. That did not teach me a lesson, though.
    My comment on your piece about Ahmadinejad’s speech at the UN was lost. Not that it was important, simply too many coincidences.
    In my comment I tried to make the case for not distorting peoples’ names, be they Presidents or no Presidents. The simple rules of civility should apply across the board.
    We can easily give way to temptations but that can be the end of a serious discussion.
    Secondly, I criticized the walk-out at the UN in general. While representing the governments, the delegations also should not forget that they in fact should represent people. I am sure a lot of people in those countries would like their representatives to sit and listen attentively to what the Iranian President or any other dignitary for that matter has to say. The UN GA claims to be a global forum. Delegations keep saying about a dialogue. How can you get to a dialogue, when you do not want so much as listen to what the other party is saying? Our personal (and official) likes and dislikes notwithstanding, we should do our best to reach out and to understand. It is all too easy (although counterproductive) to feign a hurt pride and to walk out (often following the suit).

  2. Representatives from many of those countries travel around the world aiming to teach people the culture, ideology and methodology of a dialogue. I guess they might want to teach their diplomats first. I guess freedom of speech is seen as an inalienable human right and a great virtue to cherish and protect. Why would we expect others to say only what we want to hear.
    He said what he wanted. Did I like what he said? For the most part, no. But that’s the way he sees the matters and, yes, the way he wants us to see them.
    In terms of effectiveness of the walk-out tactic, I guess it backfired. But that is my personal opinion. The media and governments are going out of their way to convince us that that was not the case…
    Finally, the nukes issue. I guess your analysis is correct. Much of the confrontational rhetoric and logic comes from distrust and insecurity. But are the distrust and insecurity totally unwarranted? Not only Iran but in fact almost any country (with the exception of the chosen few) can be attacked at any time and reasons would be stated later (and, as experience shows, be “approved” by the UN Security Council in most cases). It is only natural that each nation should be anxious about its security. Who isn’t?
    As we all know, nuclear weapons are the best deterrent. Why would some countries (including Israel) be entitled to them, while others denied? Should I recall Orwell’s immortal words that “All animals are equal but some are more equal”?
    Finally, it is very sad that instead of meaningful discussions that we have the right to expect from world leaders when they get to the UN GA we see pathetic shows.
    While our collective IQ may have been falling in recent decades, still it is not productive to insult our intelligence…

  3. You have raised many great points. I'll try to address them all:

    - Why am I unhappy with RT? They are SUPPOSEDLY doing public diplomacy. But for it to be AT ALL effective, they need to make sure they are reaching out to their audience, right? The audience of their English-language broadcasts is primarily the Western (and especially, American) public. Given the pre-existing stereotypes and hostility, and general anti-Russian feeling, such OPEN AND BLUNT propaganda not only does NOT convince the viewers, but also turns them off (i.e. backfires). BBC or CNN, and ESPECIALLY VOA or RFE/RL do tend to 'proselytize' too, but at least theirs is more subtle, and often considered as more credible by their audience (now tell me, who listens to RL every evening, huh?! :))) RT just needs to change their tactics, for the strategy to work.

    - The walk-out? Cannot but agree. They could and should have done better, but as you said yourself, UNGA has long stopped being a "forum for dialogue" and is more of a theater, where various actors compete for attention, publicity, and appeal. They also get entangled in such stupid PR wars...

    - As for Ahmadinejad's stance... honestly, I wouldn't want to go into a discussion of what I think about it all - too long and too convoluted. What I meant to bring up in my post was just an analysis of the public diplomacy aspect of it. The more I study the subject and the more 'case studies' I look at, the more obvious it becomes that effective PD ALWAYS depends on cultural/contextual appropriateness (going back to the 1st point on RT) --> you need to talk to your audience IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE, and obvious, Ahmy failed to do that, at least in the U.S. I'm sure he might have struck a chord with SOME at various corners of the world, but in no way has he made his job (in terms of enhancing his foreign policy) any easier...

    He got all the spotlight - yes. It's just that I'm not sure in this case "Bad PR is still PR" approach is applicable. The more hostility and anti-Iranian rhetoric in the US, the tougher it will be to get to a compromise (no matter how willing the Obama administration is), and the greater the chance that the Neo-Cons will have it their way, again... That's all.

  4. nader paul kucinich gravel mckinneySeptember 26, 2010 at 1:00 PM

    everyone knows the dirty 9/11 secret
    why do people keep playing dumb ~

  5. i believe the more correct question here would be - whose interests does this or that stance (on 9/11) serve?