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John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review

Flip-Flops and Foreign Policy: How American Tourist Behavior Hinders U.S. National Security

Posted: 19 Jul 2018 02:25 PM PDT

Elise Carlson-Rainer,

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Dear American tourist,

When you are in great European cathedrals, palaces, and important historical sites, would it be possible for you to leave your flip-flops at home? Your shorts and T-shirts could stay as well. If you can afford to bring you and your family to a European palace, I am assuming you could also afford close-toed shoes and proper pants. I do not expect you to be fluent in German, or French. However, it is not too much to ask for you learn how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the native language. You are not at home: please reflect that you are in a different country, attempt to assimilate, and show a modicum of respect for where you are – it is in your national interest to do so.

Recently, in Vienna, Austria – one of the global centers of high culture, music, and art – I dined at the famous Belvedere Palace’s bistro. During the middle of my meal, a family sat down at the table next to me, with the telltale signs of coming from the United States. All four were wearing flip-flops, they spoke two decibels higher than anyone else at the restaurant, and all were wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Not used to Viennese cuisine, at one point the mother exclaimed loudly, “I believe this gazpacho has turned!” I am guessing many readers have had a similar experience while traveling abroad, as this is sadly not a unique encounter with American tourists. This overall attitude can easily make locals feel annoyed and insulted. While seemingly harmless, these types of interactions can leave a lasting impression about the United States and hurt U.S. diplomacy.

It is important for tourists to realize that they do not come as individuals. Rather, they are seen as “Americans.” As a former American diplomat, it is exhausting and hard to explain the unmeasurable time-consuming taskpublic diplomacy [JB emphasis] programs spend in combating negative stereotypes of the United States[1]. Beyond showing respect for other nations in places such as Europe, these programs aim to explain to predominately [sic] Muslim nations that Americans do not hate Muslims, that our streets are not lined with gold, and that Americans value ethnic and cultural diversity. These efforts in diplomacy work to strengthen ties with would-be skeptical trade partners, and enable carrying out critical U.S. security interests. A nation must build trust to create allies. Currently, the U.S. is in an existential crisis regarding our national values. As tourists are informal representatives of our nation, they can help, or jeopardize, the complex project of American diplomacy in communicating who we are as a people.

When one is dressed properly, as I always do while traveling, one earns respect from locals. I take great pride when I am asked for directions, or locals start conversations with me in German, Swedish, or French, etc. It is a small victory when they realize that I too am an American, but present myself differently than the cafe neighbors I referenced above. It does not matter what you look like, your heritage, or ethnicity. It matters how you present yourself while traveling abroad. There is a universal quality that results in responding back positively when one feels respected. No matter the country, I work hard to give a different impression: that of an American who values local customs and mores. When American tourists show blatant disregard for the country they are visiting, at best it leads to annoyance, at worst, anger and a lasting ill-impression of whom we are as a people.

I recognize that this is a negative generalization of American tourists. Different, but similarly harmful norms can be seen from Australian, English, or German tourists, to name a few examples. Their behavior abroad can also hurt their counties’ national image. Also, it is important to recognize the many tourists – from America and beyond – that come to foreign countries and assimilate beautifully. Thus, tourists are like a toupee; you only see the bad ones.

Scholars such as Jonathan Mercer demonstrate how important reputation is for international relations[2]. Mercer and others argue that countries sign trade agreements, enter into peace deals, and trust the lasting impact of an international negotiation, largely based upon a countries’ reputation. While I recognize that it is not the foreign minister or secretary of state one is interacting with in a café, but rather likely a nice family from Florida, California, or North Carolina. Still, it is not necessarily high level people who carry out the lion-share of trade deals between the United States and foreign countries. It is small and large business partnerships on either side of the Atlantic. These interactions matter: they impact how, and to what extent, foreigners are willing to negotiate, trade, and make security partnerships with the United States.

While encounters like this are frustratingly common in tourist sites across Europe, many do not realize how much it hurts American public diplomacy. Diplomats spend years learning languages. Beyond language, they immerse themselves in local customs. There is a reason for this: understanding other cultures and languages importantly enables foreigners to understand us. It is a way to bridge cultures, discard stereotypes, and defeat ignorance about the fascinating and important peoples that are beyond our borders. When Americans show disregard for host nations and peoples, it makes our diplomatic efforts to build long-lasting bridges and permanent connections – whether for business, security, values, or broader international relations – monumentally more complex and difficult.

When traveling abroad, why not show locals great things about American culture? For example, our strong value of customer service, world class technology, or our ability to make connections and meet strangers openly? There is a plethora of wonderful things about American society that becomes hidden behind distracting Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops. Therefore, leaving your cut-offs at home and learning a few words of the native language is in your country’s national interest. It will help foreigners you meet feel respected and valued. It is in all of our interests to communicate attitudes that inspire people to want to create partnerships with us across the Atlantic.

Danke et Merci!

[1] U.S. Department of State. Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs on July 3, 2018.
[2] Mercer, Jonathan 1997.Reputation And International Politics. Cornell University Press | Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, New York.

The Trump-Putin Summit Made a Mockery of Public Diplomacy

Posted: 19 Jul 2018 02:18 PM PDT

Tara Sonneshine,

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The Russian may at least have projected strength, but the American delivered a dangerous muddle.

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump sure know how to play to their respective bases. But they’ve got a long way to go in the conduct of public diplomacy [JB emphasis].

Coming out of the Helsinki summit, Putin was able to show his Russian audience that America respects the former Soviet Union and acknowledges its place in the world as an equal power, despite having lost the Cold War and being kicked out of the Group of Seven, or G7. Russians like having a strong leader; Putin’s genuine popularity (as distinct from his almost-certainly manipulated election margins) stems from his ability to portray himself as strong in the face of a hostile world. So when Monday’s joint press conference came across as a lovefest, the only contest being which leader respected the other one more…well, if Putin were running for office anytime soon — he just won a 6-year extension — he’d be re-elected just on the basis of the last 24 hours.

Truth be told, Russia got even more than it bargained for out of Trump’s trip. Russian diplomats are long accustomed to making the case against NATO and the EU, those Western clubs that Putin views as threats to be undermined, but the U.S. president took on that job and did it well.

Donald Trump supporters may also be happy. They saw the President they know and love in action, standing up to U.S. allies whom they have come to think are robbing Americans of their rightful wages. In his public and private treatment of UK Prime Minister Theresa May and her German counterpart Angela Merkel, Trump managed to stoke the anti-feminist emotions of some in the hard right. And in Helsinki, the presidents shared their disdain for the press, finding common ground in hating journalists.

Will any of this U.S.-Russia business matter? Recent polls suggest that hardline Trump supporters are softening on Russia, even warming to the notion that maybe the Russians didn’t meddle in our elections. In Helsinki, Trump let Putin deliver a lecture to Americans on “democracy.” That’s a first. The notion that these two leaders are going to work together to investigate Russian influence in our elections would be comedic, if not for the seriousness of the issue. It will be interesting to watch Congressional reaction.

The goal of good public diplomacy is to inform citizens overseas about your country’s interests, values, and objectives. On that score, Putin may have convinced the world to take him seriously. He certainly seemed in control. Trump may have convinced Russians and others that he is on Putin’s side, but the rest of the U.S. government likely doesn’t agree with him. That makes the message both muddled and dangerous. Moreover, policy and public diplomacy need to go hand-in-hand. These two leaders seem more interested in the public part and left little in the way of a U.S.-Russia policy.

As pundits, scholars and politicians dissect this summit and wonder about its consequences, one thing is clear: Putin and Trump danced in Finland to the same tune and it sounded discordant to everyone except their own fans.

Tara Sonenshine, a former U.S. Undersecretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs, is a senior career coach at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

3 charts explain how Russians see Trump and US

Posted: 19 Jul 2018 01:50 PM PDT

Erik C. Nisbet, Olga Kamenchuk,

Just before the one-on-one summit between President Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump held on July 16, Russian pollster VCIOM asked the Russian public how they viewed the American president and U.S.-Russian relations.
Though an authoritarian country, public opinion is still an important factor that the Russian government takes into account when making policy.
On one hand, VCIOM’s poll shows a Russian public with rather negative views of the American president and the United States. However, the majority of Russians want ties with the United States to strengthen and a sizable portion are optimistic that U.S.-Russian relations will improve.

Dangerous Donald

When asked how much they liked Donald Trump, 10 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion as opposed to 71 percent who had an unfavorable one. Nearly 1 in 5 had no opinion of the American president.
Russians were also asked what they thought of Donald Trump. Large percentages of Russians view Donald Trump as “self-centered” (77 percent) and “dangerous” (58 percent). About half would characterize him as “charismatic” (49 percent). A minority of Russians believe Trump is “strong” (34 percent) and very few would describe him as “trustworthy” (16 percent).

Aggressive and meddlesome US

In comparison to Trump, Russians have a more favorable opinion of Americans, though it is still overall negative. About one-third (30 percent) of Russians view Americans favorably, 44 percent have an unfavorable opinion of Americans, and 27 percent have no opinion. The large percentage of Russians who expressed no opinion indicates a great deal of ambivalence toward Americans as a people (as opposed to the government).
However, when asked about the image of the United States, the picture that exists in the minds of most Russians is not pretty. Russians overwhelmingly describe the United States as “interfering with other countries” (86 percent) and “aggressive” (76 percent). Few Russians believe the United States is “trustworthy” (13 percent), “open to the world” (26 percent) and “democratic” (37 percent).
On the positive side, large percentages of respondents do describe the United States as having “advanced science and technology” (73 percent), being “influential” (66 percent) and having a “high standard of living” (57 percent).

Strengthen or weaken ties?

A slim majority of Russians want ties between the United States and Russia to strengthen, rather than weaken, in most areas of potential cooperation. Strengthening cultural ties with the United States has the greatest support among the Russian public (54 percent), followed by cooperation on security (52 percent) and political issues (51 percent).
The least support among Russians is for greater economic ties between Russia and the United States (46 percent), supporting strengthening economic ties as compared to 13 percent who wish to weaken ties in this area.

Stoicism vs. hope

Does the Russian public expect the July 16th Trump-Putin summit to change U.S.-Russian relations?
The majority (59 percent) of Russians believe nothing will fundamentally change after the summit. Yet a sizable portion (40 percent) of the Russian public is hopeful that the U.S.-Russian relationship will improve due to the summit meeting.
Now the question is whether the summit will be a success or failure in the eyes of the Russian public.
The summit is already a success for Putin no matter the outcome. And if it fails to improve relations between two countries, additional polling by VCIOM suggests that Donald Trump will take the blame as the Russian public is already suspicious of his goals.
This indicates the summit is a risky enterprise for U.S. public diplomacy [JB emphasis] and outreach to the Russian people. It may set back some recent thawing in negative opinions of the United States since the 2014 Crimean crisis and the cautious hopes of many Russians for better relations with the United States.