Burn the Books: What China’s decision on Google reveals about the PRC

By Carson Thomas Checketts

“When ideas fail, words come in very handy.” – Goethe

Something or someone in the PRC has failed. China’s attempts to attack Google betray a deep discomfort with the PRC’s own decision to ban the worlds leading technology leader from its shores. Perhaps, given Goethe’s insight, it’s fair to say that the PRC’s “ideas” have failed so it is now resorting to all it has left: words. Despite a widely shared international consensus among academics[1] that an industrial revolution remains hollow without a transition to a services and information based economy, China has turned its back on its own modernization. This change has many implications for the world, but perhaps the most significant is that the Google decision shows who really holds the cards in the PRC’s inner circle. It would appear the less educated military may have moved from a position of moderate influence into the inner circle, where their paranoia has apparently convinced China that technology is what ancients called a “Greek gift,” intended to harm rather than enlighten the recipient.

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Event: Engaging Iran: Challenges and Opportunities for Civil Society


This forum will assess past and current efforts for improved dialogue and exchange and examine the possible roles for civil society. In this time of intensified diplomatic action, what are the opportunities and obstacles for strengthening a citizens’ dialogue and building exchanges and institutional linkages between Iran and America? What do Americans need to understand better about Iran, and vice-versa? What communication pathways and innovations in the digital era could better convey ideas and values and support long term relations? Can civil society here and abroad contribute to the protection of human rights in Iran without endangering Iranian citizens? Are there multi-lateral, as well as bilateral, avenues for contact that might prove more effective in the long run, or possibilities to explore long-term collaboration and institution building?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010
4:00 – 8:00 pm

Meridian International Center
Meridian House
1630 Crescent Place, NW
Washington, DC 20009

RSVP by April 5 to
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Recalling History: the Government will step down as private media step up

In an article written for The New York Times Magazine December 2, 1945, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs William Benton described the purpose and need for what we know refer to as public diplomacy. This article came less than two months after HR 4368 was introduced in the House, a bill on extending and broadening the “existing programs for the interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills between” the US and foreign countries.

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Mobile Phones Combat Taliban’s Afghan “Information Wastelands”

From Bloomberg-BusinessWeek:

“We found that Afghans in the most-troubled, insurgent- held areas lived in information wastelands dominated by militant propaganda,” [U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke] said March 17. “We are fighting back with a revamped strategy that puts the people and their ability to communicate at the forefront of our effort.”

Joanna Nathan, author of a 2008 report on Taliban propaganda for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, cautioned that expanding mobile-phone capacity isn’t enough to counteract the Taliban. They have dominated the war of words by exaggerating victories and fueling conspiracy theories, she said.

“It’s not the words, but how credible is your message,” said Said Jawad, Afghan ambassador to Washington. The U.S. must not only “respond to propaganda but deliver and make a difference in people’s lives.”

The Role of Cultural Relations in Conflict Prevention and Resolution

Culture is how people think, says Martin Davidson, CEO of the British Council. Thinking of culture in this way creates the necessary intellectual space to conceive of cultural relations and cultural diplomacy as something more than engagement that a payoff that is subtle and decades away. It is a way to create pathways that can be leveraged to prevent or resolve conflict in the short term.

On March 2, 2010, the British Council, with NATO and Security Defence Agenda, hosted a conference in Brussels at the Bibliothèque Solvay titled “Conflict Prevention and Resolution: the Role of Cultural Relations.” The purpose was to discuss the value of building dialogues between groups that can be non-linguistic – such as sport, art, or civic development – to create opportunities for engagement, understanding, with goal of, as the title said, preventing and resolving conflict.

Knowing how people think, how they relate to one another, and how they communicate is essential within and across cultures. Cultural activities may be expressed in terms of exchanges of teachers, students, sports, languages but there is more to it then exchanging art work. We take for granted the vocabulary and points of contact even as understanding culture is ingrained in our daily lives. In corporate America, for example, this can take the form of participating in office betting pools during college basketball finals to playing golf with the boss or clients.

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Looking for blogs by Foreign Service Officers?

I have to admit that I’ve been lax (to put it mildly) on maintaining my blog roll. Once upon a time it was something I minded very carefully. Now, to be honest, I’m not even sure who is on it as I haven’t looked at in a very long time. In the past, the platform that managed my blog reading also managed the lists on this site (there were two, a “short list” of essential reads and a longer list of recommended reads). After that service was discontinued, I hard coded the lists and moved them to their own page and promptly forgot about them.

Why am I telling you this? Because if you’re looking for a recommended list of blogs, at this time MountainRunner is not your resource, but I do have a suggestion for you.

If you seek blogs by Foreign Services Officers, go to Life After Jerusalem (LAJ). I met one of the authors – Digger – recently and we had a great chat about blogging (while insisting I have a beer while we talked) and she actively collects blogs by members of the Foreign Service. LAJ now has 200 blogs (active and inactive), not including those on a “Future FSO” list. So if you’re looking for first-hand thoughts and accounts, check out LAJ.

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Event: Global Internet Freedom as a foreign policy imperative in a Digital Age

On March 24, 2010, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) will hold an event to mark the public launch of the U.S. Senate Caucus on Global Internet Freedom. Caucus co-chairs Senators Ted Kaufman (D-DE) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), and other Senate caucus members including Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Robert Casey (D-PA) and make remarks. Following the Senators’ remarks will be a panel discussion:

  • Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor;
  • Ambassador Mark Palmer, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs;
  • Alan Davidson, Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs at Google;
  • Richard Fontaine, Senior Fellow at CNAS;
  • Daniel Calingaert, Deputy Director of Programs at Freedom House; and
  • Rebecca MacKinnon, Visiting Fellow, Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University and Co-Founder, Global Voices Online.

Visibly absent from this discussion is the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, which has a strong vested interest in the subject. Posner leads “DRL”, which is in the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.

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The Men with Large Necks and Democracy


Every Armenian, I’m told, knows about the unidentified individuals whose job is to scare away election observers and monitors during elections in Armenia. Referred to as the “men with large necks,” these individuals generally work as bodyguards for the local oligarchs or businessmen. After the January 10, 2010, parliamentary elections during which a well known opposition candidate was defeated by an unknown pro-government candidate, the US embassy in Yerevan had this say about the “men with large necks”:

Embassy observers found numerous irregularities, including intimidation of voters, verbal and physical threats directed at journalists and observers, and in some cases the presence of uncredentialed, non-voting individuals sympathetic to the National Unity Party candidate, who appeared to be managing the electoral process in lieu of the authorized members of the local electoral commissions,” the embassy spokesman, Thomas Mittnacht, said in response to a question from RFE/RL.

Sixty-eight year-old veteran of the Information Wars confirms to NATO ally that he is still ‘Vividly Alive’

Today, in an example of the lasting power of USIA Public Diplomacy and the new power of social media, Harry Kuiper, a former Dutch journalist, posted a question about an American embassy Information Officer he knew in the 1970’s:

Is Mr. Woody Demitz still vividly alive and looking as he likes?

In less than two hours, Woody responded.

Dag Meneer Kuiper! Hoe gaat ‘t met jouw? Ik voel me niet zo slechts. En jij?

MountainRunner: the hub for public diplomacy.

Lynne Weil goes to USAID

One of public diplomacy’s best friends on the Hill, Lynne Weil, is going to USAID. Al Kamen writes about this move:

The beleaguered Agency of International Development is awaiting the arrival of some assistant administrators to give the new boss, Rajiv Shah, some help in restoring the dysfunctional shop to at least some semblance of robust health (he is a doctor, after all). …

Now comes word that he’s tapped veteran Hill foreign policy insider and media maven Lynne Weil to shore up the AID press shop as its director and to be the agency spokeswoman. Weil, who spent 15 years as a reporter, much of that time overseas, has worked on the Hill for nearly nine years , including stints for then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden and then for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, for the late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and more recently for Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.).

The House Foreign Affairs Committee and Chairman Berman’s loss is AID’s gain. This move should help USAID in ways more than just press relations. Lynne won’t check her public diplomacy legislative experience at the door.

As a result of the wonderful world of dysfunction created by Senator Jesse Helms when he abolished the United States Information Agency, Lynne will report to PJ Crowley. Yes, that PJ, State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. More on that when I write on the State Department Inspector General inspection report on the Bureau of Public Affairs. I’ll include comments from my sit down with PJ last week – after participating in a little send off of Ian Kelly to from State to Vienna – when we discussed this report.

Revisiting House Armed Services Committee Report 111-166 on NDAA FY2010

The House Armed Services Committee Report 111-166 on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 intentionally, as confirmed by this blogger, used the phrase “military public diplomacy” to describe certain activities of the Defense Department based on effect. For your reference, the relevant section of the report is below.
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Public Diplomacy: Iranian singer headlines VOA concert

The Voice of America’s Persian News Network will broadcast a three-hour concert for Persian New Year this weekend.

The singer-songwriter considered Iran’s Bob Dylan makes his international live television concert debut this Saturday on a three-hour Persian Nowruz, or New Year’s, special that will be broadcast on the Voice of America’s Persian News Network and beamed into Iran by multiple satellites.

Mohsen Namjoo, sentenced in absentia to five year’s imprisonment for his music, is among several entertainers and other celebrities appearing in the VOA Nowruz special.  Also on stage live from the Newseum in Washington D.C. will be Persian rap artist Shahin Najafi, who fled Iran after coming under pressure from government authorities to remove political messages from his music, and the 127 Band, which merges Iranian and other music influences to create a unique sound.

Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi will deliver a special New Year’s message during the show.  Other guests will include Anousheh Ansari, the world’s first female private space explorer and the first astronaut of Iranian descent; Oscar nominee and Emmy award winning Iranian-American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo; award-winning filmmaker and photographer Shirin Neshat; and exiled Iranian novelist, poet, critic and political activist Reza Baraheni.

The live special will be hosted by Kambiz Hosseini and Saman Arbabi, the hosts of VOA Persian News Network’s popular satirical show “Parazit.”  Besides entertainment, Saturday’s show, dubbed “Norouzit,” will take a look back at the tumultuous events of the past year in Iran, especially the disputed Presidential election of last June and the protest movement that grew in its wake.

VOA’s PNN is, interestingly, rarely mentioned when mentioning successful public diplomacy programs. The above show is a superb example of using culturally-aware means to engage an audience to open a channel to communicate information and ideas.

Also this Saturday, VOA launches a new English-learning website for Farsi-speakers, http://farsi.goenglish.me/.

See also:

New Caucus To Probe Strategic Communication, Public Diplomacy

Inside the Pentagon reports on the new caucus on the Hill that shows the level of heightening interest in improving America’s global engagement. In “New Caucus To Probe Strategic Communication, Public Diplomacy”, dated 11 March 2010, reporter Fawzia Sheikh writes:

A new Capitol Hill caucus focused on strategic communication and public diplomacy officially launched last week and plans to study the latest government efforts in these domains during its inaugural meeting later this month, according to a congressional source.

A new Pentagon report on strategic communication, a State Department plan on public diplomacy and a National Security Council framework outlining how agencies will collaborate in these areas will be among the discussion topics, the congressional source said on the condition of anonymity. (See related story.)

Reps. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Mac Thornberry (R-TX) are heading the caucus, which is still being rounded out, the source told Inside the Pentagon. Organizers have collected the names of three other Republicans and three additional Democrats interested in joining, said the source. There has also been “a lot of interest at the staff level,” including the House Foreign Affairs Committee, defense authorizers and “other elements of the congressional staff,” the source said.

“Given the interest in this issue,” added Michael Amato, Smith’s spokesman, “we expect a significant number of members to join the caucus.”

The rest of the article follows.

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Comment by Phil Seib draws comment by Jim Glassman

Last week, Phil Seib, professor of journalism and public diplomacy at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and director for the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, posted a short diatribe on the new State Department ‘framework’ for public diplomacy created and shared by the Office of the Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Phil’s post, his second on the framework, followed a (too) short conference call with Judith McHale the day after a Senate hearing chaired by Senator Kaufman (D-DE) that included Judith and three of her predecessors (Lieberman, Hughes, and Glassman). Also on the call where Spencer Ackerman, Helle Dale, Mark Dillen, and myself.

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Kaufman’s opening statement at the hearing on the Future of US Public Diplomacy

Last week, Senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE), chaired a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee titled “Future of US Public Diplomacy”. The purpose was to explore how “the United States’ global message can be communicate most effectively, and how achievements of the past can be used as models for future public diplomacy activities.” Attending where the current Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Judith McHale, and three of her predecessors: Evelyn Lieberman, Karen Hughes, and James K. Glassman. (See also this chart for when the Under Secretaries served.)

Before becoming Senator, Kaufman served on the Broadcasting Board of Governors from 1995 to 2008. He opening statement to the hearing is below.

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Is Tehran intercepting RFE/RL communications?

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) strongly believes the Government of Iran has tapped its phones, intercepting email, and surveilling its activities. RFE/RL, a US government broadcaster, cites recent attempts to recruit 8 Iranian journalists inside Iran. Six of the journalists were detained before they could exit the country while the other two had their passports confiscated.

According to a senior official at RFE/RL, the Iranian government’s policy towards journalists is to “arrest some, execute some, release some.” Fortunately, those journalists RFE/RL was engaging are just in the first category.

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