Pitfalls of Public Diplomacy Through the Media

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http://www.zimbio.com/Afghanistan/articles/tcNI-RXSAAl/Troop+downsize+Afghanistan+2014+under+consideration

A recent NPR radio piece detailed the difficulties that the U.S. has had in brokering an agreement for troops staying in Afghanistan after the 2014 deadline. The two governments have been at odds with each other about the way forward for GIRoA. Karzai is making decisions in a black hole while getting terrible advice from his inner circle. He hasn’t been on the same page as the White House for quite some time and doesn’t believe that the U.S. will leave Afghanistan despite its constant threat. However, the biggest factor compounding the problem has been the White House using the media to conduct public diplomacy.

Instead of closed-door meetings and one-on-one diplomatic efforts, the back-and-forth threats have been playing out in the public sphere of the media. That is no way to conduct diplomacy. Governments shoot themselves in the foot each time they let their enemies or allies know of their intentions through the media. That’s like hearing about a friend that’s been lying to you from the playground gossip queen. It always feels like a low blow and can never amount to any positive reconciliation on each entities behalf.

Karzai hasn’t been making the right decisions, but he is being publicly criticized in the media by the White House. That further distances himself from reaching an agreement. The NPR piece mentioned that the “two governments don’t understand each other’s politics and don’t know how to talk to each other.” However, it is a more deep-rooted problem in public diplomacy today. Governments are not using the media to their advantage. Instead, the push for 24/7 instantaneous coverage has been a detriment to building strong, lasting state-to-state bonds. Throughout the semester, this is probably going to have a lasting impact on different state-to-state relations. However, the immediacy of the media can have huge positive impacts on state-to-non-state relations. For example, the White House can reach the people of Afghanistan in their homes through the media. The question is: Does this ability to reach the people help or hurt the White House’s ability to close a deal with GIRoA?

Only time will tell and the clock is ticking…

NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – An Afghan boy, who fell a few days ago, is held by his father as U.S. Army Pfc. Jonathan V. Bachtel, a forward observer from Burleson, Texas, assigned to Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Raider, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Task Force Bronco provides security during a patrol in Rodat District in eastern Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province, July 18. The boy is related to a wood worker who just received news that his business will receive a small business grant to help stimulate the economy and provide for his family. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell, 210th MPAD)
NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – An Afghan boy, who fell a few days ago, is held by his father as U.S. Army Pfc. Jonathan V. Bachtel, a forward observer from Burleson, Texas, assigned to Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Raider, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Task Force Bronco provides security during a patrol in Rodat District in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province, July 18. The boy is related to a wood worker who just received news that his business will receive a small business grant to help stimulate the economy and provide for his family. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell, 210th MPAD)
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One thought on “Pitfalls of Public Diplomacy Through the Media”

  1. I really enjoy this case study as a means of analyzing nation-states and governments struggle to effectively and efficiently use the developing mass communication technologies of the day. Cull’s article “Listening for Hoof Beats” refers to this issue almost directly and I think certain sentiments from that article help articulate the current situation for US-Afghan relations and foreign policy. During this time, the Internet and communication technologies, especially social media, are rearranging the traditional power structures of media and information flow. “The most successful exponents of new technology in the world of public diplomacy and soft power are not nation-states but other voices…whose outreach is not restrained by being inconveniently tethered to a geographical unit that is divided by contradictory internal opinion and inconsistent behavior” (cull, pg 3/4). In this regard, your idea that news media and broadcasting platforms are not an effective way in conveying foreign policy because the way in which the information is being delivered no longer meets the continually changing perceptions of credibility, which is in large part a result of expanding mass communications via the Internet that connect like-minded people and encourage speculation of information sources. The Cull article makes a suggestion for alleviating the controversies of governments’ slow adjustment to the use of media and communication technologies in public diplomacy saying, “public diplomacy must seek out people within the network they wish to engage who will be credible to their peers and empower them to speak.” In today’s world, where mass populations now have direct access between countless individuals across the globe, governments must be aware of the importance of playing an integrative role within these budding sub-communities, as opposed to striving to keep up with developing technologies with blanket, above the chaos, public diplomacy via mass media outlets and traditional persuasion enterprises.

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