Musings From The Garden

Teaching Diplomacy at Eckerd College


With twenty-five years of experience as a Foreign Service officer and an additional twenty years as a college instructor, Eckerd College Diplomat in Residence Donna Oglesby is a firm believer in the value of simulations in the classroom. “Practitioners are granular. They want to get down into the weeds in the real world and come out of the abstraction of the academic realm,” she says. “Case studies give you that because they play to your strength—you’ve been there, done that. And you can bring that into the classroom.” For that reason, Oglesby found Model Diplomacy’s multimedia cases and adaptability to be especially rich material for fellow practitioners turned educators. “It’s right up their alley.”

A serendipitous meeting with The Council on Foreign Relations academic outreach staff at the International Studies Association conference in Baltimore in February 2017, led to an interview about my teaching of their Model Diplomacy Case material. The interview text went live on the CFR website yesterday. 

Illustrated with some great photos taken by Eckerd IRGA graduating senior Rob Weigel, the expansive interview offered me an opportunity to share some thoughts on pedagogy developed over twenty years of teaching in an undergraduate classroom. This semester marks the end of that joyful experience. I’ll be giving away the mini-whiteboards and hanging up the dry erase marker in a few weeks. It’s been a richly fulfilling second career. It’s been fun. (laughs)

Sowing The Seeds Of Diplomacy On Hard American Ground

The peer reviewed version of my research study on the teaching of diplomacy in the United States is now available In the Hague Journal of Diplomacy. Available on-line now and in hard copy later this year, the study compares how practitioners and academics teach diplomacy. Here is the abstract:

Diplomacy is a neglected field in American higher education. Both practitioners and academics have repeatedly cast the seeds to grow the discipline in the United States, but with limited germination. Although diplomacy curricula are rare, courses do exist. Following a review of 75 syllabuses and lengthy interviews with many of their authors, this article’s author finds that academics and practitioners teaching the limited number of diplomacy courses make very different choices in content and pedagogy. Drawing on over 25 years of diplomatic practice followed by twenty years teaching at the college level, she evaluates why the main institutions of American society do not support diplomacy as either a profession or a field of study. The article argues that the few ‘resident gardeners’ rarely stray from their own plots to ‘fieldscape’ together in hard American ground.

Diplomatic Language

Rhetorical technique is on my mind in this 2016 election season. The “I want to tell it like it is” blunt style of Donald J. Trump impresses many, largely uneducated white males, with its “authenticity.” The perfectly cautious speech of the lawyerly technocrat Hillary Clinton suggests deception to that same audience. For others, the intemperate language of the "short fingered vulgarian" drives them to the polls to pull the lever for the "cerebral, calculated, stripped of all spontaneity and risk," Hillary Clinton because she seems safer, and afterall, “the children are watching."

Addressing the shift in tone and the absence of a common public language, Mark Thompson, CEO of the New York Times Company argues in his new book:

What we have lost and must strive to regain is a conception of rhetoric that strikes a balance between the demands of reason, character and empathy, and that strives for genuine truthfulness rather than theatrical “authenticity.”

Diplomats have always worked towards balance in their rhetoric. They must manage cross-cultural relationships of enmity as well as friendship and doing so requires professional skill. Diplomats choose words to be precise enough to communicate clearly to diplomatic counterparts yet elastic enough to plausibly suggest the alternative meanings the diplomat’s political masters at home need to manage their increasingly entangled domestic and international politics. 

Diplomatic Language screenshot

Diplomats have to develop a stage voice to complement the clubhouse voice that soothes relationships within the diplomatic community. As I wrote last year before the advent of this election season, "They also need to share the stage, and the clubhouse, with political actors visiting from the domestic realms who have brought culturally contingent styles usually too hot for the cooling saucer of diplomacy.” Little did I imagine how hot that language would become!

sage handbook

Still, rereading my chapter on Diplomatic Language in The  Sage Handbook of Diplomacy, published June 2016, I recognize my work’s felicitous relevance to today’s intense focus on public rhetoric. In researching for the chapter, I became more deeply aware of the history of Diplomatic Language as an instrument of diplomatic society designed to minimize misunderstandings and miscalculations that give rise to conflict. I also became aware that cautious speech can look like deception to those unsympathetic observers unpacking meaning with a jaundiced eye. Investigating the diplomatic habit of using ambiguity to create the space for international agreement and room to maneuver politically at home and abroad, critical scholars, see in Diplomatic Language proof of ‘duplicity and theatrical play.’

Take some time off from the heat of campaign rhetoric this month and contemplate Diplomatic Language. Here is my Chapter 20 abstract:

The chapter Diplomatic Language examines the signals, codes and conventions constructed over time by diplomats to smooth and soothe the process of communication between states and the organizations created by states in the international political realm. It argues that Diplomatic Language is instrumental: it serves the purpose of allowing diplomats to form and maintain relationships with those who manage international relations. The chapter examines the theory and the practice of diplomatic speech acts through various theoretical perspectives. It explores the balance diplomats attempt to achieve between ambiguity and precision in the production of diplomatic texts. And, it considers how the expanded, and increasingly diverse, cast of actors on the diplomatic stage, with their contesting scripts and varied audiences, are changing the discourse patterns.

Given the handbook's institutional pricing, please let me know if you do not have access to my work. I’d love to have your reaction in 140 characters or less @WinnowingFan.

Diplomacy Education Unzipped


It’s wonderful to see the American Foreign Service Association turning its attention to diplomacy education with a cover focus in the January - February 2015 issue!

I was happy to be invited to contribute an article based on my research into the teaching of diplomacy by academics and practitioners in the United States. My article begins on page 27. For a more detailed look into the subject — with all requisite footnotes — see my academic paper, a Fine Kettle of Fish,  presented at BISA in Dublin in June 2014.

Gone Fishing!


Metaphorically speaking, of course. I’ve spent the better part of a year, neglecting Winnowing Fan and researching into the comparative teaching of diplomacy by academics and practitioners in the United States. I presented my findings at the British International Studies Association Conference in Dublin in June. Entitled, A Fine Kettle of Fish, here is the paper’s abstract:

This paper examines the teaching of diplomacy in the United States through a review of over five-dozen syllabi and lengthy interviews of many of their authors. By intentionally seeking out both academics and practitioners teaching diplomacy, including public diplomacy, to compare their choices in content and pedagogy, I find patterns of difference that exceed those expected by a close reading of the theory and practice “gap” literature. What the two distinct epistemic communities teach in terms of skills and procedures as well as the beliefs that inform them, the values that sustain them and the theories that lie behind them differ significantly. Drawing on the author’s three decades of diplomatic practice followed by eighteen years teaching at the college level, this paper attempts to explain why that might be the case.


This study is a work in progress and reader feedback is welcome.

The Political Promise of Public Diplomacy

At the invitation of Layalina Productions, I wote a Perspectives piece affirming the political nature of Public Diplomacy. Challenging the common vision of a universal global civilization in which the unified voice of the people rises above politics, I argue that Public Diplomacy should be viewed as a political instrument used to advance an actor's dearly held interests and values, which vie with the ideas of others who value differently in our pluralistic international society. 

Exploring the exchange and contestation of ideas in the media-saturated global public square, I call for diplomats to protect the free flow of information and therefore of politics at a time when some international actors seek to restrict the current "messy global marketplace of ideas." Read more

You can view this issue as a PDF and browse the Perspectives archives on The Layalina website.

"Big Dog That Can Hunt In The Tall Grass"


How could I resist? A metaphor, and a dog metaphor at that! Readers of the ill-attended Winnowing Fan will know that I am partial to canine behavioral explanations of international relations as my Dogma post will attest. So, I get it. I really do.  Matthew Barzun has been named America's Ambassador to the Court of St. James because he will get off the comfortable porch and wander the British Isles in search of prey in the tall grasslands. 

He knows how to hunt, we are assured, because Alec Ross personally trained him and 150 other Ambassadors over a four year period. Whoa!

Lots of tall grass in Sweden to be sure. I don't know Matthew Barzun or his service as the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden and he could be a very good man competent to represent the United States to the United Kingdom. He may be skilled at listening, engaging and gathering information about the country to which he is assigned to advise the president he serves. If he develops a good feel for the social and political context in which he will work, he may become a skilled negotiator. He may even intensify our bilateral collaboration on a range of significant global issues. Let's hope so. 

But Mr. Ross' testament to Barzun's qualifications lies elsewhere. We are being assured by Mr. Ross of digital diplomacy fame, that however skillfully Matthew Barzun might manage the core responsibilities of a diplomat, he will not loll around at court wearing pinstripes. We know this because he has forsaken the east and west coasts of his birth and fortune to dwell in the heartland of America.  He is well bred and well connected but certainly not elite. Moreover, we are assured that we can trust his hunting instincts because he is not of the State Department. He was chosen by the "young, technology-savvy and entrepreneurial" non-DC careerists of the West Wing because he too is "forward leaning." And, above all, he is so well trained by Mr. Ross that he can work off leash!  


Off-leash, in the tall grass


"Truth, Justice and the American Way"


The boy, Aaron Swartz, took his own life at the age of twenty-six a mere thirteen years after this picture was taken. The man, Lawrence Lessig, grieves and rages at the prosecutorial bullying that drove his young friend and collaborator to suicide.

Those of us in the public diplomacy community should care about this case for many reasons. Like Lessig, Aaron Swartz was an internet freedom pioneer. As a child, he gave us the RSS that allows us to track topics of interest on the web. Sitting here on my sandbar in Florida, I can still feel connected to the public diplomacy community around the world because my RSS feed brings me your news. If you are interested in my musings, RSS can bring them to you as well.

I remember as Counselor of USIA, fighting off the State Department's first grab for the Agency early in the Clinton Administration. We won that round, in part, by arguing that public diplomacy believes that information is power when you share it; use it to connect, inform and influence if you can. While the State Department at the time saw information as power if you controlled it; if you had information that others did not have. We believed in the public use of information; State held its information privately. Our incompatible operating philosophies, we argued, would not be conducive to a merger. As Nick Cull documents in his new history of The Decline and Fall of USIA, we finally lost the argument on the last day of September 1999.

The consolidation of USIA into State was muffling America's official information outreach just as the new age of open information was loudly dawning.  Then fourteen year old Aaron Swartz was a member of the working group that created RSS 1.0 to open the flood gates of information online. In some respects, Aaron Swartz had the soul and the operating philosophy of a public diplomacy officer. Listen to him:

His short life was about making information more accessible, making sharing and collaborating on-line easier.  The technical genius that gave us RSS when he was a child continued his contributions to the public good.  As David Weinberger, a senior researcher at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society wrote:

Aaron went on to make serious contributions to Creative Commons (an organization that releases licenses so authors can let their work be more easily reused), Open Library (a public library of online works), Reddit (an immensely popular open discussion forum), Markdown (a simple way to write Web pages), (making it easier for developers to create Web applications), (type-and-post website) and much more.

Unlike those engaged in public diplomacy however, in pursuit of his policy objectives, Swartz was apparently willing to engage in civil disobedience and break laws that limit access to information. It was his alleged action to liberate academic articles held by JSTOR that brought down the wrath of the U.S. government upon him. He had explained his purpose in an earlier Guerilla Open Access Manifesto. He wrote in part:

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.

Swartz' willingness to pursue unlawful means to share information is what sets him apart from the work of those engaged in public diplomacy. His internet freedom agenda was not the same as that articulated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton but the kinship is striking. Are the words she used at the News Museum in 2010 that different from his in the interview above? She said,

 We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it. Now, this challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic. The words of the First Amendment to our Constitution are carved in 50 tons of Tennessee marble on the front of this building. And every generation of Americans has worked to protect the values etched in that stone. 

Pfc. Bradley Manning made mockery of those words when he dumped his treasure trove of classified documents onto Wikileaks within a year of Secretary Clinton's Internet Freedom  speech. By doing so he placed America's diplomats and their interlocutors at risk and triggered his own arrest on charges of “aiding the enemy.”

Swartz' act of civil disobedience in liberating the JSTOR database while using guest access privleges at MIT was a far cry from the treasonous behavior alleged against Pfc. Manning whose trial is now set for June 3, 2013. Yet as a Manning supporter, Swartz had to have known that his own political activism would have its costs. As Orin Kerr writes on the The Volokh Conspiracy:

To my mind, this is one of the puzzles about Swartz. On one hand, he was deeply committed to civil disobedience and to the moral imperative of breaking unjust laws. On the other hand, he seems to have had his soul crushed by the prospect that he would spend time in jail. This is an unusual combination. Usually the decision to engage in civil disobedience comes along with a willingness to take the punishment that the law imposes.

Perhaps he would have been willing to pay a price proportional to the alleged crime. We will never know because the Department of Justice -- seeing his kinship with Bradley Manning, rather than Hillary Clinton -- charged him on 13 counts, including wire fraud and theft of information carrying the potential penalty of up to 35 years of jail. With a trial ironically schedlued for April 1, 2013 and a plea bargain effort dead, Aaron Swartz chose death. As the Economist said in a touching obituary, Aaron Swartz could accept death as he wrote in 2002, 

 as long as all the contents of his hard drives were made publicly available, nothing deleted, nothing withheld, nothing secret, nothing charged for; all information out in the light of day, as everything should be.

                          R.I. P. Aaron Swartz November 8, 1986 – January 11, 2013

Of Creepers and Trees

Even gods have their seasons. In summer one may be a pantheist, may consider oneself part of Nature, but in autumn one can only take oneself for a human being.   Karel Capek


New England glories in autumn. The riotous colors of fall invite walking across fields and into the woods. Our perspective on the landscape shifts. Trees that once sat quietly cloaked in green, call out in their reds, yellow and orange. They dress differently as winter comes: a final splurge before the last leaf falls to November's wind. The humble beauty of autumn offers particular solice this year as I seek some refuge from the relentless election season's assault on good senses.

I no longer teach in the autumn semester because I love this time in New England and want to stay on to enjoy the last roses, leaf piles and wood smoke in the air. Now, I pack for the journey back to Florida, go for long walks, come in for tea in the afternoon to read and prepare for the courses I will teach at Eckerd College during spring semester.  In addition to the stalwart "Media and Foreign Policy," I am bringing back my "Globalization Debate" after a five year hiatus.

Reading in on the scholarship written after the 2008 Great Recession changed our globalization expectations is a sobering experience. Hyper-globalizers are muted now.  Bruce Greenwald captures the mood by the title of his pro-globalization book: globalization: n. the irrational fear that someone in China will take your job. Rational or not,  American citizens currently think the most important foreign policy issue facing the country is "protecting the jobs of American workers." As evidenced in last night's foreign policy debate, both President Obama and Governor Romney seem to have read the data: 84 percent of respondents in both parties identified jobs as the most important foreign policy issue in the 2012 Chicago Council on Global Affairs Poll. 

Agreeing on the problem, American voters are dead evenly split on whether less or more government in relationship to market forces offers the best path to a solution.  We are not alone. Voters in Greece, Italy, France have already spoken this year, some repeatedly. Other elections follow, causing scholars to note the differentiated nation state responses to the pressures of economic globalization as their citizens demand protection from the negatives of an integrated global economy.  

What was once seen as a one size fits all inevitability, globalization is now being viewed, with greater frequency by skeptical scholars, as a process to be managed by the state. In The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy, Dani Rodrik (2011) insists on a new globalization narrative:

one that embraces an ineluctable tension: we cannot simultaneously pursue democracy, national self-determination, and economic globalization. When the social arrangements of democracies inevitably clash with the international demands of globalization, national priorities should take precedence. 

After all he says, it was the state, not global governance, to the rescue following the financial collapse of 2008. State directed capitalism like China's seemed to have weathered the storm blowing out of wall street with far greater ease than in the neo-liberal heartland of the West. Indications are that may not last, but I sensed the relative shift back to state power as the world pivots toward Asia and wrote about it in my 2009 SAIS Review piece, Statecraft at the Crossroads. Now, I am in more distinguished company.  It is as if we are seeing that old heirarchical tree in the landscape once again. Still, others like Manuel Lima, have their eyes on the powerful networking forces that lay waste to boundaries. 


Like Lima, my autumnal eye is not simply attracted to trees, it focuses on the creepers too. The benign and lovely Virginia Creeper reveals what she has been up to all summer by surprising from her perch on trees, shrubs, rocks and walls.


Even though Miss Virginia can be a bit unruly, when removing invasive weeds I leave a few of her tendrils to enjoy in this season. I am less kind to the ravaging English Ivy: a pest that will smother my woodland paths and choke my trees given a chance. When did that once properly behaved ivy become so vicious that people campaign to remove it from public lands? Now, a criminal invasive in some places, ivy is fair game for claw and snip. Eradication strategies abound.  

So, too, with that other ivy, the poison one thriving in conditions of global warming. In fall thankfully, there is no longer a chance of sneak attack. Now red and yellow, poison ivy does its creeping boldly, revealing where it has been hiding all summer to ambush me with rashes and welts. 


After my camera walk yesterday,  I now know my neighbor is the culprit. She seems to be harboring this fugitive in wooded areas on the other side of our boundary line. No wonder poison ivy finds its way easily around stone walls and trees. It isn't native in my garden but can it really be considered foreign? For an answer over a cup of Earl Grey, I read the great Wisława Szymborska's poem Psalm (1976):

Oh, the leaky boundaries of man-made states!

How many clouds float past them with impunity;

how much desert sand shifts from one land to another; how many mountain pebbles tumble onto foreign soil in provocative hops!

Need I mention every single bird that flies in the face of frontiers

or alights on the roadblock at the border?

A humble robin - still, its tail resides abroad

while its beak stays home. If that weren't enough, it won't stop bobbing!

Among innumerable insects, I'll single out only the ant between the border guard's left and right boots

blithely ignoring the questions "Where from?" and "Where to?"


Only what is human can truly be foreign.

The rest is mixed vegetation, subversive moles, and wind.

Coming back to the globalization literature this autumn is to be reminded of the human lives at the center of the swirling abstractions in the globalization debate. Katherine Boo (2012), author of the stunning Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity shows us how very foreign some human lives can be. Boo documented the Mumbai slum dwellers' lives because, she said, globalization was overtheorized and underreported.  Reading her is coming face to face with the diversity of human existence in our bewildering age of global change and inequality. One of the greatest early theoreticians of the networked society, Manuel Castells is now observing and reporting from the front lines too. He collaborates on a remarkable Aftermath Project with a companion book (2012) by the same title Aftermath

“This is a new beginning. The aftermath of the crisis is not only social devastation, it’s not only the political crisis, it’s not only Greece going down. It’s also an aftermath in the sense of a reconnection between society and the political system.”

Surprisingly perhaps, the aftermath of the crisis he chronicles is a plural one. There is no uniform human response to deepening spiraling crisis.  Robert Frost shows us the naturally conflicting world views in his poem Mending Wall:


...He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That wants it down.

Those of us who want walls and those of us who don't will work out our objectives politically. The politics will play out differently within our particular polities and among them globally, intensifying  plurality in world politics. The idea that globalization has or will produce an "undifferentiated universal human culture" is simply a rationalist illusion, writes Castells, who argues that, on the contrary, we are moving toward a more complex, plural but interdependent world. It is a world full of all manner of creepers and trees. We contending humans will wall or weed them out to check against the destruction and loses of history. Or, we will invite them into our garden existence, trying all the while to control the meaning in our lives. 


A Fine Edge

Since I send my plants off to their winter's nap in refreshed beds, I have had some slow time this month -- while working step-by-step along the bed lines -- to reflect on the ragged edges of the free speech -v- blasphemy clash left in the wake of the demonstrations of the last few weeks across the Muslim world. Slicing away bits of lawn with my Dutch step-on half-moon edger is more an exercise in humility than control.  With every step, I confront the reality that there is a lot going on out there. It is work to claw the soil apart from the cloven turf clumps, liberate the plump worms to live another day, haul the debris off to the compost pile and hollow the trough between beds and lawn. 


Experience in diplomacy as well as gardening has left me humble before the "just enough" reality of what can be achieved with the time and tools at our disposal in worlds with dynamics of their own. So I read, Governor Romney's VMI critique of President Obama's Middle East policy management with the seasoned eyes and body knowledge of one who has toiled in the trenches. The sharp line of Romney's attack is based on a simplified view of contending forces in the Middle East and our ability to influence outcomes. Recognizing messy complexity does not suggest we sit on our hands and let the weeds take over. But, it does argue for a bit more humility and respect for the job to be done.

For example, there were ragged factual bits about the "Innocence of Muslims" incident to be be cleared up by American public diplomacy over the last few weeks too. As Mary Jeffers wrote in a fine post on Take Five, the charged politics of the situation demonstrates, 

... that dense thickets of factual misinformation currently impede mutual understanding on this issue of media-government relationships, and it suggests that more work on clearing away such thickets is needed before debates about principles can take place in a productively open field.

In that regard, quick action public affairs efforts like Secretary Clinton's September 13, 2012 statement have been useful:

Clearing up the facts by issuing official statements on social media platforms or engaging opinion multipliers abroad however essential, would not have been sufficient to erase motivated bias on the part of Arab audiences processing that information if the Obama administration had not earlier been able to mitigate, in the words of Middle East expert Marc Lynch,

a seamless narrative of a war on Islam which makes sense to ordinary people. 

Dislodging an entrenched narrative by attacking its factual underpinnings is rarely an effective strategy at home or abroad. It is worth noting, for example, that in the United States, a stunning 17% of registered voters (30% of Republicans) believe that President Obama is a Muslim according to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life's July 2012 poll. So, even with four years controlling the powers of the presidency, President Obama has not been able to clean up factual misperceptions about his birth and faith among American voters.

How then could it be any easier to weed out falsehoods rooting in foreign soil where we have less leverage and when polls have consistently shown that in the Islamic sphere the underlying attitude toward the United States is negative? With negative favorability ratings of the United States slipping further this year in several strategically important Muslim dominant countries like Pakistan and Jordan according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, it is easy for political agents to gain ground by manipulating information about the United States.

While Lynch contends that Obama Administration support for the democratic transitions underway across much of the Middle East and North Africa, combined with withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, have weakened the narrative's purchase, the "war on Islam" narrative appears to be alive and well in Pakistan as events suggest. Steve Tatham consequently criticizes the Pakistan ad buy:

 is it really credible that a few words from the US President are going to appease an enraged mob? A mob galvanised by trusted messengers in the Mosques and communities from which the rioters are drawn.  

Perhaps not if the people are simply idle magma whose hot flow is so easily directed by handlers.  But as Tatham also noted and Marc Lynch insists, a very different political environment now appears to exist in the post Arab Spring world where, for example,

 tens of thousands came out in Benghazi in an inspiring rally against militias and against the attack on the U.S. consulate.

We can hope that Lynch is correct that the once powerful "clash of civilizations" frame no longer appears to have traction when wielded by extremists attempting to advance their own ideological visions in some particular national political cauldrons. Now that many Arab publics are empowered to determine their own political destinies, individuals process political action and rhetoric of those who seek to influence them by the logic of their local political environments. They have agency.

Still, within all of these varied environments individual freedoms are being negotiated within a context in which Islam continues to be central to the moral matrix of society.  The American public,  according to a poll released October 8increasingly sees a shift in Arab uprisings from ordinary people seeking freedom to Islamist parties seeking power.  French sociologist Olivier Roy (2012) writing in the Journal of Democracy explains that

What is at stake is the reformulation of religion’s place in the public sphere.

Roy insists that those of us in the political liberal West must recognize that secularization and democratization are not advancing hand in hand in the Arab world, as we might have expected based on our own history. Instead, religious norms are being recast as values and contested as democracy evolves. These struggles are playing out differently in the various states of the Middle East and North Africa because of their own particular histories and contexts.   

This does not mean, that taken as a whole, there are not profound differences in the value priorities held by political Islam and our own political liberalism. Yale comparative political scientist Andrew F. March (2010) writes in a dense but illuminating article on "Speech and the Sacred," 

The deepest incommensurability, rather, is between the belief that even painful speech about sacred matters may be a legitimate form of self-expression and social commentary and the contrary belief that certain sacred objects are more valuable than individual self-expression.

Evidence of these values differences were seen clearly September's UNGA speeches. Moving to assert Egyptian leadership of the "Arab world within the wider Islamic sphere," newly elected President Morsi suggested that the global public square should accommodate Islamic religious sensibilities by limiting freedom of expression even in Western liberal democracies. He argued for privileging the sacred, 

"The obscenities recently released as part of an organized campaign against Islamic sanctities is unacceptable and requires a firm stand. We have a responsibility in this international gathering to study how we can protect the world from instability and hatred."

President Obama, arguing for the prevention of harm, similarly condemed the "crude and disgusting" video but stressed the virtues of individual free speech and religious tolerance in a pluralistic world :

I know that not all countries in this body share this understanding of the protection of free speech. Yet in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete. The question, then, is how we respond. And on this we must agree: there is no speech that justifies mindless violence.

That a debate on whether either free speech or the sacred have priority rises to the level of contesting presidential rhetoric in our premiere international forum in 2012 demonstrates the domestic political power of the competing values at play as well as the potential intractability of the moral and political difficulties of reconciling them in the global context. 

Governor Romney wants to "win new friends who share our values in the Middle East."  Yet, if we were only to work with the secularists who "share our values" as presidential candidate Romney argues at VMI, we might find ourselves without working relationships with those who rise to power through the ranks of Islamist political parties in this strategically important region. The world as it is, is not the world those inexperienced in foreign policy might imagine. Public diplomacy evaluates audience mindsets as they are and tries to understand, inform and influence them.  

For those largely secular Muslims who struggle to relegate religion to the private realm within their own national democratic transitions, a new appreciation of the facts of our position on religious tolerance and free speech might improve their perception of the U.S. as it strengthens their hand. Tunisian secularists, for example, are contesting a draft law that the Islamist Ennahdha group introduced in the National Constituent Assembly on August 1, 2012. The bill would criminalize "offenses against sacred values." Given the politics within Tunisia, secularists might welcome our defense of both religious tolerance and freedom of expression because that could enhance their contention that pious observance of Islam by individuals does not require, and is not served by, state coercion. 

Paradoxically, reformist  members of the Muslim Brotherhood, like Egyptian President Morsi might also welcome American clarifications because their contention that democracy and Islam are compatible is under challenge from the radical Salafis who organized the protests in Cairo. By cleaning up the ragged bits and creating a clear line on the principles of free speech and religious tolerance, the United States afforded Morsi the opportunity to challenge the liberal principles the U.S. champions and assert Egyptian moral authority within the Islamic sphere at home and abroad. Weakening the most radical Islamists --  those who want to kill us --  in their contest for power with those reformers who are more open to reconciling the centrality of Islam with democracy and good governance surely is an American interest worthy of sustained diplomatic engagement. 

The result of our diplomatic efforts may not cleave the clear lines between friends and foes our Republican candidate for president imagines; but, sometimes, a deft wedge is the most effective play on an ultra fast green. 

H: red borders

Hidcote Manor

Except where otherwise noted, all original work produced by Donna Oglesby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License