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The Failure of USA Public Diplomacy in the Post – Cold War Era

by on April 2, 2012

The public diplomacy has a unique feature to shape opinions of foreign public audiences and to create receptive environment for a state’s foreign policy goals among them. While the use of hard power strengthens the feelings of revenge and hatress among  public, the smart public diplomacy may promote peaceful cooperation. The US military campaign in  Afghanistan and persisting negative perceptions of USA worldwide, and especially in the Arab world suggests that the state has failed to use the potential of soft power.

The conflict in Afghanistan between NATO and Taliban troops has shown , that modern wars can not be won solely by using hard power anymore . NATO forces have been for almost ten years in Afghanistan now, but the great instability and anarchy remain the reality of the state. Bombs and guns are simply not effective enough, because, as D.Hofman notices, “the more force is used to retaliate, the more fuel is added to terrorists” ( Hofman,83, 2002). Many people in the Muslim world still consider O.bin Laden to be “a holy man” . (Hofman , 83, 2002). Meanwile , USA remains an evil enemy. Unless these perceptions are overcomed, the victory against fundamentalism is impossible. Therefore the outcome of the war on terrorism depends not on the successes or failures in the battlefield, but on ability to win people hearts and minds.

The solution is using “soft power”, which is about changing people minds and perceptions. It is about getting others to want same outcomes you want. “Soft power “ can be exercised in many different ways, such as supporting democracy, civil society and economic growth in the Muslim world. H. K . Feinn argues , that cultural exchanges and reforming educational systems in Arab states are of paramount importance( Feinn, 16-17, 2003) . Nye argues, that many Arabs misunderstand , fear or oppose American policies, but they share values such as religious belief, family and desire for democracy( Nye,121, 2004). In other words, all the necessary conditions to exercise “soft power” in the Arab world exist.However, USA failes to use this opportunity.

In order to shape positive image of USA and Western world , words are no less important than actions. In 1930’s Roosvelt administration realised that “ America’s security depended on its ability to speak to and to win support from other countries”( Nye, 101,2004) . As a result intstitutions , responsible for public diplomacy were established ; Radio American Voice and Radio Free Europe were set up . After 9/11 G.W. Bush attempted to revive this policy , but he failed. Firstly, G.W. Bush Administration’s public diplomacy was based on counterpropaganda (Hofman, 85, 2002). However, propaganda may have been effective in the Cold War era, but not in “the age of information” anymore. Secondly , President’s words differed from his actions( hard power). Finally, the President’s Administration failed to understand that public diplomacy is a two-way process, which involves not jus talking, but also listening. On the whole, public diplomacy was used as tool to support government’s policy. The fact, that in the eve of the invasion to Iraq, 88% of Americans believed that Baghdad supported terrorist organizations is a shocking proof…( Dumbrell,2005, 36).

However , media remains the vital tool to pursue  public diplomacy. According to Hoffman , the key in the fight against terrorism is supporting open media( Hofman, 88, 2003). Thefore , USA should support independent media in all Muslim states, including Afghanistan . These channells may not be very friendly to the USA. However, objective and independent journalism is able to refute anti- American propaganda, which is created by some Muslim states’ national televisions . Besides, the freedom of expression and independent media creates conditions for democracy, or at least reduces extremism. It encourage people to think critically , and to get rid of ideological indocrination. Also , the USA should broadcast its own programmes such as American Radio, which would be free of open counterpropaganda.

In conclusion, all three scholars , who were cited in this blog(J.S. Nye in the book “Soft Power: the means to success in world politics” , D.Hoffman in article “ Beyond public diplomacy” and H. K. Finn in article “Case for cultural diplomacy – engaging foreign audiences ) agree, that USA has reached so little progress on the war on fundametalism because it failes to use the opportunities of “soft power” and public diplomacy. One of the reasons why it failes is lack of financial investment after the Cold War.Even though the blog examined the policy of USA , the conclusions can be applied to every state worldwide. Every dollar spent on public diplomacy today, may help to save hundreds of dollars on military budget tomorrow, as the one may help to prevent military conflicts.


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