Thursday, January 6, 2011

Goodies to Watch

I finally got to see National Geographic's "Inside the State Department", detailing some of what goes on behind the scenes: Secretary's mission, her travels, speeches, etc. Obviously, the global organization that the US DoS is, it needs not just domestic PR and selling, but also public diplomacy, so as to explain its own mission to Americans and foreigners alike. National Geographic, given its worldwide reach, popularity and seeming absence of political affiliation, was obviously a great partner in that sense.

Here are two excerpts from the National Geographic Channel:


What struck me most - to be honest - was the great emphasis put on the DoS's mission in terms of public diplomacy. Wow, indeed. So much talk of "direct conversation" and "candid effort" to reach out directly to the foreign publics.

And yet, the demanding me couldn't ignore the fact that the movie didn't really address the major root causes of anti-Americanism in the "hostile" region(s) of the world. To take the examples of Pakistan and Afghanistan, for instance: the issue of the drone attacks and the deaths of innocent civilians was only mentioned in passing, while the entire focus was on the "one-woman" show so wonderfully performed by the Secretary.

Oh well. I can't help but refer to Zogby's take on Charlotte Beer's experience. Although the film does a pretty good job in terms of PR, I'm afraid it falls short of being a good public diplomacy tool (i.e. in terms of speaking to foreign audiences). There is a lot of emphasis on the stated intent of addressing the grievances and concerns of the foreign publics; however, when it comes to doing that, one can only see the assertive one-way communication coming from one person. Which reminds me: the total absence of Judith McHale, the UnderSec for PD and PA, is also noteworthy. (Granted: 1) no other Undersecretary was featured either, while 2) she is probably considered a much less-recognizable face to represent the DoS.)

But that's just a thought. Overall, I do recommend seeing the film. Just don't forget the grain of salt. (In the worst case, you'll know you watched less of some other contaminating programming that you would have otherwise got from that evil screen.)

And while I am at the "Clinton" subject, I also wanted to suggest another movie I recently saw (came across it by mere accident - love Red Box!). "The Special Relationship" looks at the story of personal "friendship" between Clinton and Blair (but of course), providing a great portrayal of the individual characters of the two leaders - their takes on the historical relationship between their countries, on their national interests, prospects, ambitions - as well as their respective relationships with their wives. (It's not a documentary, but the research and detail are stunning!)

Obviously, this is very much a "high-diplomacy" related film - i.e. nothing much to do with public diplomacy, per se. And yet, it provides a close look at the role and significance - as well as the shortcomings - of the much-acclaimed "relationships" in the conduct of international affairs. If only forging such friendships with other publics was as easy...

(Interesting to note, though, that earlier this year the Foreign Affairs Committee in the British House of Commons issued a statement discouraging the use of the term "special relationship", due to what it called "potentially misleading" connotations it carries:

British and European politicians have been guilty of over-optimism about the extent of influence they have over the US. We must be realistic and accept that globalisation, structural changes and shifts in geopolitical power will inevitably affect the UK-US relationship.

Nonetheless, the US-UK relationship, whether between leaders or publics, has been and will most probably remain - inevitably - one of the closest in modern international affairs.)

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