1. George Floyd and America’s Image
The tragic, painful, and unprecedented events surrounding the murder of a black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white policeman in Minneapolis continue to deeply affect the country and damage America’s image around the world. Our ambassadors and PD officers are surely being challenged to explain how such chaos, racism, and anger could happen in America. As always, they need to be credible by presenting facts and putting the complex, rapidly changing situation into perspective so foreigners understand not only official U.S. policy but also complex American society and values.
Amidst all the disturbing video and 24/7 traditional and social media coverage, one incident deserves special attention because it is quite unusual and hard to fathom, especially in a country claiming First Amendment rights. It was the early morning, May 29th Minnesota State Patrol’s handcuffing and arrest on live television of Omar Jimenez, a CNN journalist of color, who was simply doing his job covering the street protests in Minneapolis. Minnesota Governor Tom Walz took full responsibility and apologized profusely after CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker complained.
Washington Post critic Philip Kennicott, in an May 30 analysis, explained why the abuse of power incident is so significant.
“The arrest of the CNN crew cannot compare, by any moral calculus, to what the camera caught on Monday: bystanders pleading with the police to stop killing a man, bystanders who very likely knew their own cameras offered little protection if the police were indifferent to the cries of man begging them to let him breathe. But it is another epochal moment in the disintegration of American public life, and its consequences could be profound.”
For the Voice of America’s (VOA) coverage of the incident, go to voanews.com/press-freedom/arrest-cnn-crew-minneapolis-violation-first-amendment.
2. Clash of Civilizations Redux
Old PD hands will recall the heated, infamous “clash of civilizations” debate, which the longtime Harvard Political Science Professor Samuel Huntington encouraged in 1993 to predict the post-Cold War world. In his classic “Foreign Affairs” article and later a book, Huntington argued that conflict would develop around cultural and religious differences rather than ideological ones.
Huntington’s work frequently came up in scholarly and other discussions of post-9/11 policy and programs, particularly as they related to Islam and Muslim outreach. Huntington died in 2008, but his controversial theory seems to be getting renewed critical attention, as “It’s Time for the U.S. to Rethink Huntington’s Philosophy: Part II,” a May 26, 2020 “Critical State” newsletter analysis by Sam Ratner, shows. For the text, see pri.org/people/sam-ratner.
3. Aussies’ TV PD
Amidst all the increasing talk of a new Cold War, this time between the U.S. and China, an American ally has made a “soft power” move out in the Pacific using commercial TV as a PD tool. The Australian federal government, in partnership with Free TV Australia, the industry body of free-to-air networks and other content providers, has undertaken an effort to counter China’s growing influence in the region. Called “PacificAusTV”, it is funded under the “Amplifying Australia’s Voice in the Pacific” initiative started by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in January 2019.
It entails Australia giving 1,000-plus hours of commercial television programming each year for the next three years to broadcasters in seven Pacific Island nations, starting with Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Later, the initiative will roll out in Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Nauru.
The announcement made no reference to China, but it is no secret that Australia has become increasingly concerned that China is using disinformation and economic pressures against it and accusing Australia of being “America’s lackey”. The varied content is so-called “premiere” Australian drama, children’s programming, sports, and lifestyle shows, and each national broadcaster will decide for itself what programs are appropriate to carry. The content will be provided via either “a file-based internet distribution portal or satellite” depending on each nation’s requirements. So far, the initiative is only one-way – Australia to each partner country. For details, go to pacificaustv.com or to freetv.com.au.
The initiative brings to mind many efforts over the years by U.S. public diplomacy and international broadcasters to strategically place U.S. Government and private content on foreign stations.
4. Remembering a Canadian “Social Convener”
Being an Ambassador — or a public diplomacy officer — assigned to Washington is not an easy job. The U.S. is a large, complex society, and getting anyone to listen is a challenge. One legendary Canadian Ambassador, Allan Gotlieb, who represented Ottawa during the Reagan Administration, passed away recently back home in Canada. Remembered as a master of how a savvy diplomat and power-broker should operate in the tough Washington environment, he thoroughly understood his country’s unique “brand” and “special relationship” with the U.S., and he knew the importance of personal relationships and face-to-face communications.
Stressing his role as a “social convenor,” the Ambassador and his wife Sondra threw memorable parties that drew “A List” guests, and he knew the importance of developing American contacts, such as Congressmen, journalists, and environmentalists, who went far beyond State Department officials.
The Wilson Center, one of the few U.S. think-tanks to have a Canada-focused program, honored Gotlieb in a May 27, 2020 article by former Canadian diplomat Roy Norton, who had four assignments in the U.S. and is a fellow in the Center’s Canada Institute. He credits Gotlieb with changing advocacy forever. See the text at: wilsoncenter.org/article/advancing-canadas-usa-practitioners-take-how-allan-gotlieb-changed-advocacy. Gotlieb published his memoirs under the title “The Washington Diaries 1981-1989”.
5. … and Nabeel Khoury Remembers
Many PD professionals dream of writing their memoirs, but few get around to doing it.
Therefore, it is encouraging when a Foreign Service PD officer – at the end of a successful, 25- year career in the Middle East that he obviously enjoyed – does exactly that. Nabeel Khoury recently authored “Bunker Diplomacy: An Arab-American in the U.S. Foreign Service.” Covering his personal and policy reflections as an FSO within both the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) and the State Department, the book explains what it is like to come from his ancestral home of Lebanon and serve as an American diplomat in places like Yemen, Morocco, Egypt, and Iraq. For an Atlantic Council conversation between Khoury and foreign affairs columnist Tom Friedman, see: atlanticcouncil.org/content-series/strategic-insights-memos/a-conversation- with-nabeel-khoury-reflections-on-25-years-of-us-policy-in-the-middle-east/.
Dr. Michael H. Anderson is a public diplomacy and Asian affairs specialist with nearly 30 years of Foreign Service experience serving in the US Department of State and the US Information Agency (USIA) and working in South Asia and Southeast Asia. His Public Affairs Officer (PAO) postings included New Delhi, Jakarta, Karachi, Singapore, Manila and Port Moresby. He also has been a journalist, a teacher, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia, an information officer with UNICEF, and an East-West Center grantee. He is a member of the PDC Board.