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Posts For: December 26, 2013

Is Christie’s Old School Style Marketable?

Even some of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s biggest supporters have always understood that one of his greatest strengths is also a potential weakness. The governor’s blunt manner and the delight he takes in personally taking on opponents helped make him a YouTube star and fueled the talk about a 2016 presidential run. But the same quality that makes people cheer his angry dismissal of foes can also seem overbearing or the mark of a bully. I’ve often wondered whether Christie’s in-your-face style would play as well outside of New Jersey and the New York media market, especially once he began to receive the kind of micro-coverage from the national press corps that any presidential candidate must expect. So while one must take the New York Times’s Christmas present to the governor in the form of a highly critical feature focusing on stories about Christie taking revenge on his foes in the context of liberal fears about his popularity, the article also illustrates how tales of his temper can catch up with him.

The piece, which graced the front page of the holiday edition of the Times, is a compendium of stories about how Christie treats those who cross him. Like many another powerful politician, the governor does not hesitate to use his power to punish critics and political enemies and to reward his friends. In that sense, there is nothing unique about Christie’s behavior. But placed in the context of his well-publicized lack of tolerance for opposing views, it is not entirely unfair to assert that it comes across as bullying. However, the question for Americans about Chris Christie is not only whether they like his personal style but also whether they are ready for a president who embraces the perks of power with the kind of gusto that he exudes.

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Even some of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s biggest supporters have always understood that one of his greatest strengths is also a potential weakness. The governor’s blunt manner and the delight he takes in personally taking on opponents helped make him a YouTube star and fueled the talk about a 2016 presidential run. But the same quality that makes people cheer his angry dismissal of foes can also seem overbearing or the mark of a bully. I’ve often wondered whether Christie’s in-your-face style would play as well outside of New Jersey and the New York media market, especially once he began to receive the kind of micro-coverage from the national press corps that any presidential candidate must expect. So while one must take the New York Times’s Christmas present to the governor in the form of a highly critical feature focusing on stories about Christie taking revenge on his foes in the context of liberal fears about his popularity, the article also illustrates how tales of his temper can catch up with him.

The piece, which graced the front page of the holiday edition of the Times, is a compendium of stories about how Christie treats those who cross him. Like many another powerful politician, the governor does not hesitate to use his power to punish critics and political enemies and to reward his friends. In that sense, there is nothing unique about Christie’s behavior. But placed in the context of his well-publicized lack of tolerance for opposing views, it is not entirely unfair to assert that it comes across as bullying. However, the question for Americans about Chris Christie is not only whether they like his personal style but also whether they are ready for a president who embraces the perks of power with the kind of gusto that he exudes.

The problem that this story, and the scores like it that will follow from a national media eager to take Christie down in the years that still separate us from the formal start of the 2016 campaign, is that there is a fine line that separates a truth-telling man of the people, as the governor’s friends think of him, from that of the public bully that comes across in the Times story. Voters love it when Christie tells his critics to go to hell not just because they often agree with him but because they like the authenticity he projects. Unlike so many in our political class, there is no deception or posing with Christie. He tells us what he thinks and dares us to disagree in a manner that speaks well for his integrity, especially when compared with most of the products of a political culture in which every utterance or gesture is poll-tested before being trotted out. If he thinks someone is misrepresenting him or his policies, he says so in unvarnished terms that leave little doubt of his opinion. His willingness to say what he thinks and to show his emotions and even his disdain gives him credibility because what Americans most want from their political leaders is honesty.

But it must be admitted there is a point when such conduct can cross the line into rudeness and ill humor that speaks more to Christie’s natural irascibility than it does his candor. That is a danger to his prospects in 2016 simply because likeability often counts more in presidential politics than anything else. That means that if Christie is to succeed, in the next two years he’s going to have to work just as hard at showing the more attractive aspects of his personality than in lashing out. That shouldn’t be a problem, as he has already shown us that he has a good sense of humor, including the ability to laugh at himself (as his pulling a donut out of his pocket on David Letterman’s show illustrated), as well as having the kind of quirks (such as his struggles with his weight and his devotion to Bruce Springsteen) that will humanize him in ways that Mitt Romney was never able to do. But it is an open question whether the examples of temper tantrums and exaction of revenge on political critics and foes will outnumber the instances of the more appealing aspects of his personality as the run-up to the primaries continues.

But just as important is the question of whether we are really ready for an old-school style politician who isn’t shy about using raw power in open view. While all of our recent presidents have sought to help their friends and to punish their enemies, modern national political figures have preferred to pose as being above such petty concerns. We haven’t had a president who consistently allowed himself to be seen acting in this manner since the days of Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson. Needless to say that is not the sort of comparison Christie or any other 2016 contender would like and it is exactly the reason that the Times and other mainstream liberal outlets will work hard to establish this image.

Yet in an era in which the most popular complaint about Congress and other branches of government is one of dysfunction, there may be an opening for a candidate who is not ashamed of exercising power. Christie’s brand is not just that of a tough-talking guy but also as a man who can get things done even if means ruffling feathers and stepping on toes. Whether such a stance will play well in Middle America, especially in southern and western states where conservatives are already skeptical about Christie’s supposed moderation, is open to question. But since a shift to a cuddlier Christie is unlikely and liable to be viewed as fake, if he is to be elected president it will have to be on his own terms. 

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The Problem of the Middle East’s First Sons

The Turkish corruption scandal continues to boil as, in Ankara, the ministers of finance, interior, and environment have resigned. The latter, Erdoğan Bayraktar, went even further, calling on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also to step down. Bayraktar is not simply spitting into the wind. A cabinet reshuffle also claimed Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s widely disliked European Union affairs minister. As I wrote here last week, the investigation also appears to be closing in on Prime Minister Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan.

That rumors of shady business surround the prime minister’s son surprises no one. Years ago, as Prime Minister Erdoğan sought to explain his sudden increase in wealth that far outpaced his salary by suggesting that his mansions and millions of dollars were due to wedding gifts given to his son. Alas, when it comes to the Middle East—and, make no mistake, Erdoğan has moved Turkey so far from Europe and into the Middle Eastern sphere that it cannot be extricated—the problem of first sons is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

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The Turkish corruption scandal continues to boil as, in Ankara, the ministers of finance, interior, and environment have resigned. The latter, Erdoğan Bayraktar, went even further, calling on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also to step down. Bayraktar is not simply spitting into the wind. A cabinet reshuffle also claimed Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s widely disliked European Union affairs minister. As I wrote here last week, the investigation also appears to be closing in on Prime Minister Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan.

That rumors of shady business surround the prime minister’s son surprises no one. Years ago, as Prime Minister Erdoğan sought to explain his sudden increase in wealth that far outpaced his salary by suggesting that his mansions and millions of dollars were due to wedding gifts given to his son. Alas, when it comes to the Middle East—and, make no mistake, Erdoğan has moved Turkey so far from Europe and into the Middle Eastern sphere that it cannot be extricated—the problem of first sons is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

Moammar Gaddafi had Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, held by the new Libyan government and wanted by the International Criminal Court; and Hosni Mubarak had Alaa and Gamal Mubarak, both awaiting trial on various corruption charges (despite being acquitted in one case last week). Ailing Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s eldest son Bafil is facing trial in Great Britain for defrauding investment partners in Iraqi Kurdistan, while younger son Qubad is neck deep in the family business. Iraqi Kurdish regional president Masud Barzani’s eldest son Masrour is, in theory, the intelligence chief for the autonomous Kurdish government. In practice, according to conversations with human-rights monitors, he uses his position and the security forces he has under his control to ensure businessmen understand that he and his family should get a piece of the pie. When Masud Barzani’s second son Mansour Barzani lost $3.2 million gambling in one of Dubai’s illegal casinos, the Kurdish leader quickly cut short an official visit and left the United Arab Emirates. The pattern continues: Iraqis resent the involvement of Ahmad Maliki, the son of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in businesses which benefit from his father’s position. Such business dealings and relationships go without saying in the monarchies of the Persian Gulf with the exception, of course, of Oman whose ruler Sultan Qaboos is unmarried and has no children.

It is true that such a pattern is not limited to the Middle East. While his father Kofi Annan was secretary-general of the United Nations, Kojo Annan sought to profit from UN deals. And both Africa’s dictatorships and its nascent democracies also see sons of presidents and rulers seeking to cash in on their fathers’ positions.

It may be fashionable to look the other way and pretend such corruption does not occur. Western universities go farther and happily welcome donations of questionable money to honor dictatorial dynasties. But building false images of such countries does no favors, nor does it reflect well on a new generation of rulers that they encourage their sons to accumulate as much money as possible rather than distinguish themselves as doctors, lawyers, or other professionals.

Erdoğan has been fond of describing Turkey as a democracy and bragging for more than a decade about the reforms he claims to have implemented. If attorneys are allowed to question Bilal Erdoğan and, if warranted, force him to face justice as a man equal to any Turk or Kurd in Turkey, then he should be congratulated for standing on principle. If he wants his son to stand above justice, however, then Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirms the notion that Turkey is no democracy and  he himself is little more than yet one more self-important Middle Eastern potentate.

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The President Who Lost Iraq

The New York Times reports that the United States is quietly rushing dozens of Hellfire missiles and low-tech surveillance drones to Iraq “to help government forces combat an explosion of violence by a Qaeda-backed insurgency that is gaining territory in both western Iraq and neighboring Syria.” 

This happens in the context of the deaths of more than 8,000 Iraqis in 2013, the highest level of violence since 2008. The Times’s Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt write, “Al Qaeda’s regional affiliate, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has become a potent force in northern and western Iraq… The surge in violence stands in sharp contrast to earlier assurances from senior Obama administration officials that Iraq was on the right path, despite the failure of American and Iraqi officials in 2011 to negotiate an agreement for a limited number of United States forces to remain in Iraq.”

This was all so predictable, and all so unnecessary. Thanks to the Anbar Awakening and the surge ordered by President Bush, Iraq by 2008 was relatively stable and al-Qaeda was decimated. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that was being renegotiated in 2011 was meant to lock in those gains. It would have created a strategic alliance with Iraq that would have kept a residual American troop presence there. Yet the Obama administration botched the negotiations and Mr. Obama simply fled Iraq, leaving that fledgling Arab democracy to the tender mercies of Iran and Islamists in the region. (Read this 2011 column by Charles Krauthammer to see how thoroughly the president has made a hash of things.)

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The New York Times reports that the United States is quietly rushing dozens of Hellfire missiles and low-tech surveillance drones to Iraq “to help government forces combat an explosion of violence by a Qaeda-backed insurgency that is gaining territory in both western Iraq and neighboring Syria.” 

This happens in the context of the deaths of more than 8,000 Iraqis in 2013, the highest level of violence since 2008. The Times’s Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt write, “Al Qaeda’s regional affiliate, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has become a potent force in northern and western Iraq… The surge in violence stands in sharp contrast to earlier assurances from senior Obama administration officials that Iraq was on the right path, despite the failure of American and Iraqi officials in 2011 to negotiate an agreement for a limited number of United States forces to remain in Iraq.”

This was all so predictable, and all so unnecessary. Thanks to the Anbar Awakening and the surge ordered by President Bush, Iraq by 2008 was relatively stable and al-Qaeda was decimated. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that was being renegotiated in 2011 was meant to lock in those gains. It would have created a strategic alliance with Iraq that would have kept a residual American troop presence there. Yet the Obama administration botched the negotiations and Mr. Obama simply fled Iraq, leaving that fledgling Arab democracy to the tender mercies of Iran and Islamists in the region. (Read this 2011 column by Charles Krauthammer to see how thoroughly the president has made a hash of things.)

It’s unclear whether America’s “patchwork response,” in the words of the Times, will make any real differences when it comes to pacifying Iraq. And one gets the sense that the outcome doesn’t really matter to Mr. Obama. In his make-believe world, the president actually counts Iraq as a success on his watch. 

As we have seen in Syria, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, when the president loses interest in foreign events, he simply deems them to be successes. If they don’t interest him, they shouldn’t interest us. So civil wars, mass death, the collapse of central governments, the weakening of pro-American regimes, and the rise of militant Islamic forces are perfectly acceptable. As long as we avert our eyes from what’s happening, all will be right with the world. Or so Mr. Obama seems to believe.

He’s wrong about this, as he is wrong about so many other things. After hard-earned and heroic gains, Barack Obama is the president who lost Iraq.

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Why Do Christians Tolerate Palestinian Historical Revisionism?

Christmas this year brought the usual spate of Palestinian historical revisionism, including the by-now routine claim that Jesus was a Palestinian. This, as Jonathan Tobin noted, tells us a lot about the Palestinian mindset and prospects for peace. But to me, the most striking aspect of this story is that objections to such historical revision come almost exclusively from Jews, whereas many Christian churches and organizations seem to have no problem with it. After all, it’s not only Jewish history and the Jewish religion Palestinians thereby erase; they are also erasing Christian history and the Christian religion.

What, for instance, becomes of the famous scene of Jesus evicting money-changers from the Temple if, as Palestinian officials claim, the Temple never existed? (They refer to it strictly as “the alleged Temple”; for examples, see here and here.) Or what becomes of Mary’s husband Joseph, who was “of the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4), if, as Palestinians claim, the Davidic kingdom never existed?

Even if you want to claim, in defiance of all the evidence, that Jesus himself wasn’t a Jew, his entire story as related in the Gospels takes place in a Jewish state with a largely autonomous Jewish political and religious leadership, albeit subject to some control from the Roman Empire. According to the Gospels, it is this Jewish leadership that arrests and tries Jesus, though the Romans ultimately crucify him. If no Jewish state with the power to arrest and try ever existed (as Palestinians, again, routinely claim; see here or here, for instance), how did this most foundational of all Christian stories ever occur?

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Christmas this year brought the usual spate of Palestinian historical revisionism, including the by-now routine claim that Jesus was a Palestinian. This, as Jonathan Tobin noted, tells us a lot about the Palestinian mindset and prospects for peace. But to me, the most striking aspect of this story is that objections to such historical revision come almost exclusively from Jews, whereas many Christian churches and organizations seem to have no problem with it. After all, it’s not only Jewish history and the Jewish religion Palestinians thereby erase; they are also erasing Christian history and the Christian religion.

What, for instance, becomes of the famous scene of Jesus evicting money-changers from the Temple if, as Palestinian officials claim, the Temple never existed? (They refer to it strictly as “the alleged Temple”; for examples, see here and here.) Or what becomes of Mary’s husband Joseph, who was “of the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4), if, as Palestinians claim, the Davidic kingdom never existed?

Even if you want to claim, in defiance of all the evidence, that Jesus himself wasn’t a Jew, his entire story as related in the Gospels takes place in a Jewish state with a largely autonomous Jewish political and religious leadership, albeit subject to some control from the Roman Empire. According to the Gospels, it is this Jewish leadership that arrests and tries Jesus, though the Romans ultimately crucify him. If no Jewish state with the power to arrest and try ever existed (as Palestinians, again, routinely claim; see here or here, for instance), how did this most foundational of all Christian stories ever occur?

Granted, the Christians most sympathetic to this Palestinian revisionism generally represent liberal churches that aren’t wedded to a literal reading of the Bible. Nevertheless, belief in Jesus is ostensibly fundamental even for liberal Christians–and absent the historic Jewish kingdom of the Gospels, there quite literally is no Jesus.

This ties in with a related issue: Many of these same liberal Christian groups have also turned a blind eye to the ongoing slaughter of Christians in Syria and Iraq, the worsening persecution of Christians in Egypt and various other anti-Christian atrocities worldwide, preferring to focus all their energies on vilifying the one Middle Eastern country where, to quote Israeli Arab priest Father Gabriel Nadaf, “We feel secure” as Christians. As I’ve noted before, this contrast between the terrible plight of other Middle Eastern Christians and the safety they enjoy in Israel is increasingly leading Israel’s Arab Christians to rethink their former identification with the state’s opponents; one result is that the number of Arab Christians volunteering for service in the IDF shot up more than 60 percent this year (though given the minuscule starting point, the absolute numbers remain small). But no such rethinking has occurred among anti-Israel Christians in the West.

In short, the leadership of groups like the Church of Scotland or the Presbyterian Church seem prepared to sacrifice both historical Christianity and real live Christians on the altar of their single-minded obsession with undermining the Jewish state. The million-dollar question is how long their rank-and-file memberships will continue tolerating this travesty.

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Euro Bris-Banner’s Dishonest Argument

American Jews received an odd Christmas message from one of the country’s most prestigious newspapers yesterday. The Washington Post published an article by Swiss parliamentarian Liliane Maury Pasquier titled “Is circumcision a right?” The piece was a disingenuous defense of the resolution passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, which she chairs, to endorse children’s right to physical integrity. The purpose of the vote was to give a crucial boost to efforts to ban circumcision throughout Europe, a heretofore-marginal cause that has recently gained ground in Germany and Scandinavia.

Pasquier claims the uproar over the vote is based on misunderstandings. Calling herself a “pioneer” who only wants to promote debate, she says those who charge her group with promoting hate are dishonest or ignorant and mocks the notion that their action can be connected with hatred or violence against religious minorities. But she then goes on to state that her ill-founded beliefs about “integrity” fueled by misleading arguments about harm to children trump the rights of Jews and Muslims while failing to note the context of her efforts at a time of rising anti-Semitism and the dubious origins of the anti-circumcision cause rooted in hate.

But perhaps even more troubling than Pasquier’s weak defense of a spurious cause is the curious decision of the Washington Post to promote it on Christmas Day. The paper may claim that it, like Pasquier, is only trying to promote debate, but by giving a platform to an advocate for a cause that is supported only by marginal cranks and hate groups in this country, it has given the virus of European anti-Semitism a beachhead in America that it doesn’t deserve.

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American Jews received an odd Christmas message from one of the country’s most prestigious newspapers yesterday. The Washington Post published an article by Swiss parliamentarian Liliane Maury Pasquier titled “Is circumcision a right?” The piece was a disingenuous defense of the resolution passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, which she chairs, to endorse children’s right to physical integrity. The purpose of the vote was to give a crucial boost to efforts to ban circumcision throughout Europe, a heretofore-marginal cause that has recently gained ground in Germany and Scandinavia.

Pasquier claims the uproar over the vote is based on misunderstandings. Calling herself a “pioneer” who only wants to promote debate, she says those who charge her group with promoting hate are dishonest or ignorant and mocks the notion that their action can be connected with hatred or violence against religious minorities. But she then goes on to state that her ill-founded beliefs about “integrity” fueled by misleading arguments about harm to children trump the rights of Jews and Muslims while failing to note the context of her efforts at a time of rising anti-Semitism and the dubious origins of the anti-circumcision cause rooted in hate.

But perhaps even more troubling than Pasquier’s weak defense of a spurious cause is the curious decision of the Washington Post to promote it on Christmas Day. The paper may claim that it, like Pasquier, is only trying to promote debate, but by giving a platform to an advocate for a cause that is supported only by marginal cranks and hate groups in this country, it has given the virus of European anti-Semitism a beachhead in America that it doesn’t deserve.

Let us dispense with Pasquier’s claim that her committee is acting on the basis of science. There is no evidence that circumcision causes any harm to boys or men and while it is always possible to find outlier cases in which an accident occurred during the ceremony, that is true of any procedure, including those carried out in hospitals. Nor is the notion that infants have a right not to have non-life preserving procedures performed upon them a serious argument when balanced against the right of religious freedom.

Stripped away of the veneer of “children’s rights” or medical concerns, the attack on circumcision is a manifestation of an age-old European malady: religious hatred. While affecting Muslims as well as Jews, at its core the anti-circumcision campaign in Europe stems from a desire to stigmatize Jewish religious rites and to brand them as unwholesome. It takes no leap of imagination to understand the connection between those who promote theories that depict rabbis who perform circumcisions—the bris or rite of circumcision is an integral aspect of Judaism that reaffirms Abraham’s covenant—as harming infants and traditional blood libels. The purpose of such efforts is to slander Judaism and deprive Jews of their rights.

It is no accident that such arguments are coming to the fore now in the midst of what the U.S. State Department rightly termed a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” in Europe. Pasquier’s specious arguments about children’s rights provide a fig leaf of respectability for leftists who might otherwise be ashamed to associate themselves with open religious prejudice. Responsible political leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel have tried to spike such efforts, but they continue to gain ground in a Europe in which the post-Holocaust fear of anti-Semitism has given way to the return of such sinister sentiments. Along with attempts to ban kosher slaughter and the demonization of the State of Israel by both the left and the right in Europe, the anti-circumcision movement must be seen as an unfortunate symptom of the return of Jew-hatred to the European public square.

It is a measure of the importance of American exceptionalism to note that such efforts have virtually no support in the United States. Even in a leftist enclave like San Francisco, the anti-circumcision efforts to promote a ban flopped badly in 2011 after an association with open anti-Semitism discredited it.

While those who advocate for this hateful cause have the right to say what they like, we have to wonder why the WaPo would give Pasquier its bully pulpit on Christmas to promote it. Outside of the fever swamps of the far left and far right, there is no debate in the U.S. about circumcision or the right of the state to ban Jewish religious practices. Dishonest claims of “irreversible harm” to children or of the need to overrule religious freedom in the name of a spurious “right” of children do not deserve the credibility of the Post’s pages any more than those who would promote racism against African-Americans. It is sad to see an important American publication falling prey to the efforts of European intellectuals and activists to grant respectability to a campaign that deserves none.

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What’s Wrong with U.S. Public Diplomacy?

I had written a couple months ago about the seemingly uncoordinated and scattershot approach in which U.S. embassies engage in the name of public diplomacy. An interlocutor pointed me to a speech delivered by retired Foreign Service officer Donald Bishop to the Council of American Ambassadors earlier this fall. While so many practitioners of public diplomacy circle the wagons to protect budgets and the system they know and in which they thrive, Bishop speaks directly:

Public diplomacy makes less difference in spite of the many studies and reports that proclaim its importance, despite the many new programs in the graduate schools, despite words of praise on all the appropriate public occasions, despite Congressional support for exchanges, despite Secretary Clinton’s decree that “every officer is a Public Diplomacy officer,” and despite the fact that Public Diplomacy officers are working harder than ever.

Bishop continues to suggest three separate problems, or rather clusters of problems. The first is organizational. Public diplomacy has been shunted aside to a bureaucratic corner. “The appointment of well-spoken Under Secretaries from related fields has not worked as intended. They have had scant bureaucratic power and no real sway over the allocation of Public Diplomacy people and money,” he writes, adding, “Public diplomacy training has become too brief. Many experienced Public Diplomacy officers no longer aim to lead large country programs, hoping rather to be DCMs [Deputy Charge of Missions], DAS’s [Deputy Assistant Secretaries], and Ambassadors, and this shifts their professional focus away from communication.”

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I had written a couple months ago about the seemingly uncoordinated and scattershot approach in which U.S. embassies engage in the name of public diplomacy. An interlocutor pointed me to a speech delivered by retired Foreign Service officer Donald Bishop to the Council of American Ambassadors earlier this fall. While so many practitioners of public diplomacy circle the wagons to protect budgets and the system they know and in which they thrive, Bishop speaks directly:

Public diplomacy makes less difference in spite of the many studies and reports that proclaim its importance, despite the many new programs in the graduate schools, despite words of praise on all the appropriate public occasions, despite Congressional support for exchanges, despite Secretary Clinton’s decree that “every officer is a Public Diplomacy officer,” and despite the fact that Public Diplomacy officers are working harder than ever.

Bishop continues to suggest three separate problems, or rather clusters of problems. The first is organizational. Public diplomacy has been shunted aside to a bureaucratic corner. “The appointment of well-spoken Under Secretaries from related fields has not worked as intended. They have had scant bureaucratic power and no real sway over the allocation of Public Diplomacy people and money,” he writes, adding, “Public diplomacy training has become too brief. Many experienced Public Diplomacy officers no longer aim to lead large country programs, hoping rather to be DCMs [Deputy Charge of Missions], DAS’s [Deputy Assistant Secretaries], and Ambassadors, and this shifts their professional focus away from communication.”

The second problem, he observes, is the fact that there is “division among the American people over our nation’s purposes in the world.” Bishop is correct, even as so many ignore this basic fact. As national security becomes a political football, partisan and philosophical divisions undercut the ability to advance a coherent strategy. Another point Bishop makes but is so often overlooked is the impact of rancorous American political debate on our adversaries’ propaganda:

If I know anything from three decades of reading foreign editorials and columns, it’s that indigenous foreign criticisms of the United States are quite rare. Rather our critics rewrite, repackage, and amplify what they hear in our own domestic debates. Division and rancor in our domestic politics ricochets back to us from abroad, and we live in rancorous times.

This doesn’t mean that Congress should temper its debate, but in a globalized age it behooves our elected officials to recognize that hyperbole might end up fueling those who seek not to craft a batter strategy, but rather defeat America entirely. Simply looking back at some of the rhetoric aired regarding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and how congressional statements were picked up and recast on insurgent media should give pause to the bipartisan array of officials who were quick to declare new Vietnams or allege ill motives on the part of national-security leaders.

A subset of division about disputes regarding America’s role in the world is religion. Again, Bishop addresses the issue head on:

In the war on terrorism, however, we confront an ideology based on extreme religion. Americans have always been ginger about discussing religion, and too often I have seen officers turn away from opportunities to discuss faith by simply saying “in America, we have separation of church and state.”  This is a non-starter for dialog with religiously motivated people. My point is that because religion and its role in society are domestically contentious, we have been unable to agree among ourselves how to discuss religion with foreign audiences. This hurts us in the current struggle.

American officials so often misinterpret separation of church and state. While the U.S. government should certainly support no official religion, diplomats must understand that the word secular, when translated into Arabic, has a negative connotation suggesting the notion of being against religion. To avoid the subject of religion and religious ideology when operating in religiously conservative societies is to surrender credibility and forfeit the battle of ideas. Discussing religion need not be synonymous with proselytizing.

For Bishop, the third set of problems revolves around strategy. He quotes an Inspector General report on the Bureau of International Information Programs which posed basic questions:

What is the proper balance between engaging young people and marginalized groups versus elites and opinion leaders? Which programs and delivery mechanisms work best with which audiences? What proportion of PD [public diplomacy] resources should support policy goals, and what proportion should go to providing the context of American society and values? How much should PD products be tailored for regions and individual countries, and how much should be directed to a global audience?

To this, Bishop adds a few questions of his own:

  • What’s the value of venue-based Public Diplomacy — American Centers or American spaces — in an age of distributed information? 
  • When the internet and DVDs make high and low American culture available throughout the world, what’s the value of traveling jazz trios? 
  • How does the nation that stands for religious liberty communicate with international actors whose fundamental premises are religious? 
  • In war zones, how can Public Diplomacy work with the influence disciplines in the armed forces — information operations and the discipline formerly known as psychological operations? 

It seems that secretaries of state in recent administrations have sought to compete with their predecessors in mileage traveled, as if logging miles somehow became a metric of wisdom or diplomatic success. Leadership is not simply about free travel and five-star hotels, nor should an appointment to lead the State Department be the ultimate perk. Rather, being secretary of state should be about management and implementing a coherent strategy. Until a president appoints a secretary of state who takes seriously his or her responsibilities to answer fundamental questions and make diplomacy part of a coherent strategy, the State Department and American diplomacy are destined to flounder as an expensive failure.

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