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U.S. diplomacy is outdated

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In 2005, Karen Hughes became George W Bush's undersecretary of public diplomacy. Her charge, both poorly defined and ill-timed, was to improve America's international image in the years after the country had launched two wars. "Other countries will side with us and do what we want if only we better explain our point of view," the thinking went, "and make them see us as we see ourselves." By the time Hughes left office in 2007, international opinion of the U.S. was no higher than it was when she arrived, according to polls.

And yet, this kind of if-we-say-it-clearly-enough-they-will-listen diplomacy is not exclusive to the Bush administration. It has carried over into the Obama White House. So when an Obama administration official says that Washington welcomes a "strong, responsible, and prosperous China" that plays a "constructive" role in regional and global institutions, Chinese officials are left to wonder who gets to decide what the words "responsible" and "constructive" mean for China's foreign policy. Responsible and constructive for whom?

And when senior U.S. officials describe their relationship with Iran as "marked by open hostilities since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran," they are insulting the intelligence of the men they've been negotiating with. From the Iranian perspective, bad relations with the U.S. didn't begin in 1979. They started back in 1953, when Kermit Roosevelt Jr., grandson of Teddy, led a CIA-backed coup to remove an Iranian prime minister - proving that Americans would violate Iran's sovereignty to ensure its favored politician ruled the country.

This dissonance between what's presented and what's perceived is a problem, especially in a new world order that lacks order. More than ever, the U.S. needs help and cooperation from other countries to manage challenges like Syria, Libya, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership - but its diplomacy is outdated. Americans have never been willing to understand how their actions are received by others and to accept the consequences of those actions. The country was once powerful enough to get away with that myopia. It's not anymore.

Take, for example, the repeated suggestion that China become a "responsible stakeholder" in international politics, a phrase made famous by then-Deputy Secretary of State (later World Bank President) Robert Zoellick during the Bush years. The Obama administration has embraced this view - but Beijing sees itself differently. Beijing wants international institutions capable of seeing the world from a Chinese point of view. It feels like it's in a different position than the U.S., still radically poor per capita and therefore not responsible for expensive heavy-lifting in the world at large, as we saw last week with its meager response to Typhoon Haiyan. When the U.S. demands that China behave like the superpower it's becoming, it fails to recognize how China regards itself.

It's tough to be self-aware in negotiations when you're also hypocritical. That's what we've seen with America's insistence that other countries give up cyber-warfare and surveillance while it continues to dodge serious questions about the capabilities and actions of its National Security Agency. Several months of headlines have made clear that the U.S. is demanding a kind of cyber-disarmament while keeping its own spying capabilities within reach.

This is still a relatively new position for the United States. Historically blessed with a resource-rich terrain, and protected by two oceans, the U.S. had structural advantages that carried it through two centuries of prosperity. But those oceans don't separate America from the rest of the world anymore - globalization saw to that. Now every country is connected, and Western powers have lost many of their traditional advantages. The sooner the U.S. becomes aware of that, the sooner it can engage in the kind of diplomacy that a G-Zero world requires.

The most effective American emissaries are now the ones who aren't just hyping America's view - they're the ones who understand the historical, economic, and political circumstances of their partners. This sounds like common sense diplomacy, but it's clear that for America, it's radical. As John Kerry moves around the world, trying to negotiate peace treaties in Israel, nuclear deals in Iran, and pivots to Asia, it's something to keep in mind.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2013.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

8 Comments
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One of the better balanced and well thought out pieces to appear on JT in a long time.

The sentiment is well embedded in US mindset that if the world does not see things their way then the world is wrong. I once pointed out on these boards that only 30% of congress hold passports. One response was that's because everyone visits us. Yet politicians that have never travelled outside their borders feel qualified to dictate to the rest of the world how to behave - which inevitably is to America's best interest.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

It will be difficult to do as this guy recommends with the Chinese. If you meet a real die-hard communist as I have, they learn a totally different history and it is like talking to an autistic person who inputs what you say but outputs in a totally unexpected and illogical way. Best way to deal with China is judicious force.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Best way to deal with China is judicious force

Judicious: having, showing, or done with good judgement or sense.

America Judicious? Iraq? Afghanistan? And yes,judicious force solves most of the world's problems doesn't it? If it had not been for America's "Judicious" force in Vietnam they would still be communist....oh, hang on a minute......

0 ( +3 / -3 )

It will be difficult to do as this guy recommends with the Chinese. If you meet a real die-hard communist as I have, they learn a totally different history and it is like talking to an autistic person who inputs what you say but outputs in a totally unexpected and illogical way

Sounds like the reaction one gets when trying to tell Americans about their actions in the world.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

The author has hit the nail on the head with this article.

It’s tough to be self-aware in negotiations when you’re also hypocritical.

The essence of the U.S. is hypocrisy.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Sounds like the author is a China apologist.

It feels like it’s in a different position than the U.S., still radically poor per capita and therefore not responsible for expensive heavy-lifting in the world at large, as we saw last week with its meager response to Typhoon Haiyan.

So while China is happy to rape Africa of its resources and maintain the largest trade surplus in the world thanks to neo-mercantilism, it also gets to play the poor-card when it comes to international disaster relief and economic negotiations. How convenient. The communists in China know exactly what they're doing, and it has nothing to do with concern for their fellow countrymen.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

"it is like talking to an autistic person who inputs what you say but outputs in a totally unexpected and illogical way. Best way to deal with China is judicious force."

Its not only China, many Japanese are the same way.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Sounds like the author is a China apologist.

He may be, but the group he founded isn't. From their "Top 10 Risks in 2013":

2 - China vs information

Take a serious look at China and the risks come faster than you can process: labor scarcity, pensions, inefficiency of state owned enterprises, conflicts in the East and South China Seas, clean water availability, clean air, food and commodity scarcity (and prices). Take your pick, there's more than enough worry about.

None of these are new. More importantly, none of them are imminent threats to stability. As the Chinese government has shown--very effectively for more than three decades--they can manage a wide range of risks for longer than we think. Except one. The flow of information...

http://www.eurasiagroup.net/pages/top-risks-2013#11

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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