My recent discussion with John Brown about Pubic Diplomacy at the Department of State on HuffPo is, I hope, interesting reading. Like any such discussion, the point is to raise issues, take positions, generate thought on the readers’ part, that sort of thinking stuff. John Brown is one of three courageous Foreign Service Officers who resigned rather than support the Iraq War. He has over 20 years in the Foreign Service. I am whatever it is I am now, but also have over 20 years experience. Both of us are in a position to have opinions about public diplomacy. All of this should be sort of obvious, and it was to most readers.
But not to a State Department Foreign Service Officer who’ll we’ll call “Dan” (which is his name), who wrote to John Brown:
I’m personally saddened and disappointed by this. Van Buren can say what he wants, but what makes him qualified for a single-source extensive presentation on public diplomacy? I know you are an expert historian, and would have expected better from you. Speak only as a private individual, but thought you would want honesty. Sincerely, Dan
Ah, yes, the old attack ad hominen, one the limpest forms of argument: attack the person and ignore the things the person said. I wrote back to “Dan” telling him this, and offering him space on this blog for a factual rebuttal. Dan said:
If John Brown or anyone else wishes to interview you and put out that interview, that is up to you, him, and whoever else you might wish/need to deal with. If John wanted to present an interview with you as a discussion of diplomacy, or diplomacy’s use of social media, then fine. But for him to prominently present this interview in a way that suggests it is a description of American Public Diplomacy — as practiced in the past or as it is being practiced today – is, in my mind, a disservice to former and current Public Diplomacy officers. John has both the extensive knowledge and connections to ask the same questions of a variety of individuals with experience at different periods and in different parts of the world, which could have resulted in a very interesting discussion of those topics — he chose a very different, and less fruitful, approach by simply publishing the interview with you. I regret this decision, and the opportunity that was lost by it. Sincerely, Dan
Now we are into primo State Department Public Diplomacy strategy: waive the flag. Still without saying a word about my arguments and points, Dan has now declared that the whole thing is a disservice to the thousands of Pubic Diplomacists beavering away in obscurity at State. If you think you’ve seen this kind of thing before, you have. It’s called the Otter Defense:
So I tried again, writing to Dan:
Still haven’t heard a word about what I said. This has been my unfortunate experience with State in recent months, all attacks ad hominen and not a peep about what I have to say. It is a cheap way to argue, and all too typical of State’s failing to connect with the world. Such inward viral reactions are what my interview focused on, so thanks for helping demonstrate my point. State’s social media thrives in a controlled environment; I bite back.
If you can construct an argument, I’d be happy to put it on my blog as well. Unlike State, I thrive on the give and take and do not fear others’ well-argued ideas. John has the courage to present varied points of view, and the interview clearly was labeled as mine. If you prove me wrong, I learn something. Put up or shut up. If you can get something cleared, of course.
And finally, because I got bored, I let Dan wrap up the intellectual discourse he started on behalf of his colleagues in Public Diplomacy:
I can only be bemused (and amused) by your histrionics. Your individual opinions concerning the Department of State, foreign policy, or social media are of little interest to me. But social media do not equal public diplomacy, and John’s decision to present his interview with you as a serious discussion of public diplomacy results in a distortion of what American public diplomacy really is, and thus is a slap in the face to past and present practitioners of public diplomacy.
So, for those wondering why the US is losing the propaganda war in Afghanistan to a bunch of hillbillies in turbans, or why Congress wants to cut the State Department budget by $5 billion, well, it’s all about the quality of the people, no doubt, in Secretary Clinton’s own words, “our greatest asset.”
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