Reaching a wider audience (above: a cat listens to the live broadcast of the BBC Today Programme on Radio 4 at the British base in Basra Palace, 2006)

Thursday, 22 May 2008

"Rice urges Arabs to support Palestinians"...should she?

OK so it is not just the celebrities doing the patronising finger wagging. You would think Condi Rice would be better versed in public diplomacy (it was pretty public, right? She didn’t take “the Arabs” aside and have a quiet word in their shell likes?) Did anyone else feel slightly uncomfortable this week when the great lady herself sent a “strong message” to the Arab world on increasing their support to the Palestinians? If the objective of the statement was to show folk’s back home that the US are “doing something” then I guess a few voters might have been convinced. As with my Clooney rant (below) I am not convinced that this form of pressure is going to inspire the honouring of financial pledges – in fact I think it will damage US-Middle Eastern relations further (No! How so?)

I can’t help thinking that the US should be removed entirely from the whole brokering peace in the middle east thing. As Morgan Spurlock has found out lately, Americans are not exactly popular round them parts (no shit, Sherlock). They are hardly viewed as impartial - last week Rice stressed that "America's commitment to Israel is unwavering" and it has been for 60 years. And the whole 60 year thing is something that should send Britain’s crusading Mr Blair scurrying for cover - yes remember them terrorist Irgun what bombed the King David Hotel? (OK pedants I know that was 62 years ago), let alone delving deeper to Balfour’s was him what started it wasn't it? Just a polite suggestion – like Rice, perhaps Blair isn’t the best man for the job?

Is this causing anyone else to cringe….? Someone give them some effective public diplomacy advice, please.

A Cross Government Approach - Starting with Afghanistan

The Times today talks about connecting military and reconstruction roles in Afghanistan (Afghanistan: joined-up thinking). You may have noticed I had a small rant in responseSurely an exclusively military solution to the conflict isn't the aim of any of the parties? I concede that the MOD, FCO and DFID should work better together, but in Iraq I saw the CIMIC team working in reconstruction. And I could positively rant about the UK learning from the US comment!But I didn’t and couldn’t (word count restriction) say enough. So some further points in turn:
1. I am convinced that forces in Afghanistan including the Afghans of course understand that an exclusively military solution to the conflict is not the answer (US Defence Secretary Robert Gates "we must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military" in November last year, and last month the UK Defence Minister told the Telegraph that we should “talk to the Taliban” )

2. Since trying to develop a cross government (and even bolder, a “cross-coalition”) communications strategy in Iraq a couple of years ago, I have become passionate about joined up thinking. This article does not go far enough. To muse that DFID and should work together with the military on reconstruction efforts is true, but the “working together” thing starts way before that – and in Afghanistan in particular it spans the whole of the international community (at least those signatories to the Compact) AND the Afghan government. Unless there is a clear vision for the future of Afghanistan and a unified approach, progress will be slowed. Paddy has said this of course (not that it got him very far - read Sharif Ghalib for more).3. The UK learning Hearts and Minds from the US government? Perhaps I shall open that to the floor. Why is General David Petraeus deemed to be a success, and exactly what hampered British reconstruction efforts in Iraq? And why are Brits chosen to be deployed to Helmand and Basra? Discuss……

Celebrity Backers?.....Public Diplomats

(photo by Albany Associates)

Inspired recently by
Mark Naylor's blog on Celebrity and Diplomacy - I would like to have a mild rant. It is my pet subject of today as I work with a company who are tasked with advocacy and public information campaigning in Darfur.Here is what I said to Mark:Celebrity Diplomacy is not as effective as at first appears. Often the main driver behind participating in ethical awareness raising campaigns has far more to do with the agent and PR team working for the celebrity and charities are often hand picked to show said idol in the best light. A genuine public diplomacy initiative for a cause will have the betterment of the cause at heart and not the image of the celebrity. We should be addressing the issues of the world in proportion to needs and not for quick wins and quick spins.Sometimes celebrity endorsement can have an adverse effect too….for example spouting off about problems in Darfur without having a clear understanding of the issues or sensitivity towards the leaders involved. I am not convinced that a bout of arrogant finger wagging from a Hollywood movie star is the most diplomatic way of inspiring change from a regime where face-saving is inherent. So what do you think? Is it helpful if a celebrity pleads with you to part with your well earned to buy food and medicine for needy populations? Or has Mia got it right - we need to lobby the governments of the needy populations to bring about change.....or, are both approaches wrong? Do we need to have a serious rethink about how we INSPIRE actions needed to bring about LONG LASTING change. After all, everyone needs an incentive to change.