Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) will publish another major report on public diplomacy shortly. Written by Paul Foldi, senior professional staff on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, this report focuses on Chinese public diplomacy with the inevitable comparison to U.S. efforts. I was given a sneak peak at the report. It comes at a time when tough talk in Congress on the State Department’s budget could benefit from such an analysis of a country that is both a major competitor and partner across all aspects of national power and daily life.
This report is another in-depth investigation and commentary on a critical aspect of U.S. global engagement. It focuses on the China-United States exchange. This is the third report sponsored by Senator Lugar to reinvigorate public diplomacy. While the other two were on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (6/2010) and the American Centers (2/2009), this report focused primarily on China. The effect serves to expose not only the broad, extended, and expensive effort of the Chinese to engage foreign audiences, it also highlights opportunities and failed opportunities for the U.S.
Pop quiz: name three jazz artists under the age of 50. Maybe you named popular favorites Wynton and Branford Marsalis, but can you name any of their albums? Does anyone else spring to mind? No? You’re not alone – if anemic record sales are any indication, a majority of Americans would draw a blank at that question. As a trumpet player who graduated from a jazz school, I’m acutely aware of the fact that jazz is simply not as ubiquitous today as it was sixty years ago. Yet, it’s still the crown jewel in US public diplomacy efforts. We export it as representative of American culture, but it’s barely relevant in our own country.
Cultural diplomacy, according to the late public arts funding advocate Dr. Milton Cummings Jr, is, “the exchange of ideas, information, values, systems, traditions, beliefs, and other aspects of culture, with the intention of fostering mutual understanding.“ Governments utilize it in hopes of earning the support of foreign publics. Jazz, the status quo version embraced in government programs like Rhythm Road, doesn’t represent today’s America, but with the respect and press it garnered in the 1950s and 60s, the US Department of State’sBureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is hesitant to give it up.
For another perspective on the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, read Ambassador Cynthia Schneider’s description of her first meeting with him in 2000. The context Holbrooke’s arrival in the Netherlands for the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Holbrooke was the U.S. envoy to the UN and Cynthia was U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands. The result is a demonstration of a Renaissance Man.
Having heard about Holbrooke’s formidable reputation, I had prepared myself to answer any and every question about the Tribunal, but was completely taken aback when the man who had tamed Milosevic asked me about Rembrandt.
How should the United States use culture both to communicate and listen to other nations? The 2010 Aspen Cultural Diplomacy Forum will feature the political and cultural leaders who are now shaping the policies and practices of cultural diplomacy in the public and private sectors.
Keynote Speaker: Madeleine K. Albright, U.S. Secretary of State (1997 – 2001)
Other speakers include:
The Honorable John Brademas, President Emeritus, New York University Elizabeth Diller, Architect Eric Fischl, Painter Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (invited) Chairman Jim Leach, National Endowment for the Humanities Congressman Jim Moran, U.S. House of Representatives Dr. Azar Nafisi, Author of Reading Lolita in Tehran His Excellency Arturo Sarukhan, Mexican Ambassador to the United States His Excellency Sameh Shoukry, Egyptian Ambassador to the United States
In Conversations Moderated by: Michael Dirda, Joseph Duffey, Dana Gioia, Frank Hodsoll, Philip Kennicott, Dorothy Kosinski, Eric Motley, and Cynthia Schneider.
Lunch will be served in the Phillips Collection courtyard.
The U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy (USCCD), in partnership with the U.S. State Department and with the support of more than 1000 U.S. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) conducting citizen diplomacy activities, will convene a historic U.S. Summit for Global Citizen Diplomacy on November 16-19, 2010 in Washington, DC. The goal of the Summit and ten year Initiative for Global Citizen Diplomacy is to double the number of American volunteers of all ages involved in international activities at home or abroad, from an estimated 60 million today to 120 million by 2020.
Too little is known in the US about the history of Afghanistan. History is something Americans tend to ignore, often to our detriment. We forget our history and ignore the history of others. Precedence is, in the American mind, reserved only for the law and not to the shaping perceptions or forming public opinion. This is a defect in our approach to global affairs. Such is the case with Afghanistan, where we failed to grasp (and ignored sage advice on) the impact of history on modern events.
Enter The Great Game: Afghanistan, an epic 3-part play (nine hours total) from the UK’s Tricycle Theatre, which explores the “culture and history of Afghanistan since Western involvement in 1842 to the present day.” This play begins its US tour in Washington, DC, next month. It then goes to Minneapolis, San Francisco, and New York. (Why no Los Angeles date? SF does not count.) Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, the US tour is sponsored by the British Council in an example of cultural diplomacy.
In a recent Huffington Post article, 17-year old Maad Sharaf shares his thoughts about how a year abroad in the United States through the Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program has changed his life. Originally from Aden in the Republic of Yemen, Sharaf came to Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, where he quickly learned that the image he had gotten about the United States, based mainly on media coverage in Yemen, did not correspond to reality:
“I thought America was all about huge buildings, exciting places, drunken people everywhere and going to war with every country. That was what we saw every day on television and in American movies. Unfortunately, we never saw the nice things about it or the very respectful people.”
Sharaf also had to learn that many Americans had negative images of Yemen and the Muslim world in general that they, too, ascribed to the media. When realizing this, he felt he had to become active:
“It was then that I decided I was responsible for teaching the American people in my community who we (Muslims) are as real people, and showing them that we are not the bad people they see in the news. I felt like I was not only representing Yemen, but also the Middle East and all the Islamic countries in the world.”
As Sharaf explains, he never got over the culture shock entirely but nevertheless considers his travel to the U.S. to have changed his life for the better. He discovered “that the best way to reflect a good image of your country, your family and your religion to people who don’t have any idea about where you are coming from is to be who you really are, wherever you are.”
Earlier this year, the British Council co-hosted an event in Brussels with Security Defence Agenda and NATO to discuss how “cultural” projects facilitate dialogue between groups, play a part in preventing conflict, healing post-conflict wounds, and potentially avoid conflicts based on misunderstand or mistrust. The video below are the highlights from this conference that I attended. It includes a post-event interview with British Council Chief Executive Martin Davidson.
I strongly recommend it to those interested in creating and supporting culture-based engagement pathways that to some may be “alternative” but are ultimately fundamental. One cannot hope to successfully engage in a struggle of minds and wills if one does not understand or empower the actors or their solutions to their circumstances.