Thursday, February 10, 2005

Do as I say... (cont.)

Question: How do you make someone "like" you?
Answer: They really need to like you for who you are.

Yesterday, I left you with,
"To summarize my point, people often say one thing and do another. In the context of the Public Diplomacy discussion, even though the expressed sentiment of the world is that the United States is pretty bad, how does that translate into action? People say they hate the United States but do they act like it?"

You first reaction may be something like, "Of course, they hate us! Don't you remember Sept. 11!" and I would agree that terrorism is certainly an overt act that indicates that someone actually does "hate" the United States. But take a moment to think about these items.

  • How many countries refuse our foreign aid?

  • How many countries refuse to trade with US companies?

  • How many countries are asking US companies to close up shop and leave?

  • How many countries will not ask for disaster relief from the US?

And before you say, "These questions are all about greed!" Think about this.

  • Has the increased level of hatred reduced tourism in the US?

  • Has the increased level of hatred reduced requests for visas?

  • Has the increased level of hatred reduced the rates of legal and illegal immigration?

  • Has the increased level of hatred reduced the ability of individual citizens to travel abroad?

I would submit that while many people say they hate the US, it hasn't changed the way people act towards us except in a few notable exceptions.

For the purposes of this discussion I also want to focus on individual or small group actions and not actions of a government. I think that for the sake of the discussion about Public Diplomacy, I want to focus on the “instinctive” reactions of the individual and not on the calculated reactions of a government.

So, now it is time for me to deal with what I have labeled the exceptions. Let me first say that there are really two different levels of "action" that I want to deal with. People who hate the US enough to write a newspaper column in their home county are far different from someone that hates the US enough to plan, implement and carry out a bombing on US soil. Someone who only "dances in the streets" on hearing the news that the World Trade Center fell is different from someone who knowingly contributes money to terrorist organizations. The former I want to label as passive participants. The latter I would like to label as active participants. This is an important distinction because moving from writing to acting requires a significantly different level of effort.

There actually is one other group of interest. We should label them asnon participants. In my estimation, the vast majority of the people in the world are actually non participants. These are the people who continue to travel to the US, request visas, and consume US goods. They may think that they hate the US but they are not even engaged enough to write a letter or change a flight reservation.

First, I want to address those people who actively participate in their activities that cause harm to US or coalition forces or directly on US soil. The nature of these activities has changed. It used to be that causing harm on foreign soil required a nation supporting a military force. With the rise of terrorism, however, small militant groups have become powerful enough to have a big impact. While the activities themselves have changed, our response should not change. For these types of threats, the only option is police and/or military force.

Active participants also have another role to play and that is one of spreading and reinforcing the negative perspective of the United States. This small group of individuals relies on activating people from the passive participant group. This activity is evidenced by the fact that suicide bombers are often new recruits.

The next issue is that of the passive participants themselves. My feeling is that the response to passive participants needs to be extremely measured and restrained. You see, it does not bother me that someone says they hate me. They can shout it from the rooftops and it really doesn’t bother me. Consequently, I do not feel that someone expressing dislike even needs to be acknowledged. It is also my feeling that the US media gives far too much attention to the passive participants of the world. Passive participation eventually dies without attention. And before you ask, I think that US citizens who simply bloviate (love that word) about hating other countries (France comes to mind) also receive too much media coverage.

Now I have laid the groundwork for a specific discussion about Public Diplomacy. Unfortunately I am off to a night meeting so I won't be able to finish tonight. I will be back later to continue how I feel we should tailor our Public Diplomacy efforts for each of the described groups.