Archive for the ‘International’ Category

Three people with three knives and a van are able to able to achieve 24/7 nonstop visibility. Are cable channels just handing terrorist organizations the publicity they seek, or is all this coverage essential information that the public needs to have? This is one of the dilemmas of the “reality television” world we now inhabit.

Cable news has the technology to provide immediate and ongoing coverage, and along with that comes a business model that requires them to use it. So here is the way such coverage unfolds:

Getting there first with the most technical and human resources is an important competitive advantage. Keeping the audience engaged becomes critical. Losing viewers is counterproductive to their purpose. Witnesses in the street are the first available interviews. So early death and causality numbers will come from their speculation and hearsay. These numbers are always wrong, but are reported anyway. Ongoing casualty reports now become an unmentioned “keeping the audience engaged” factor. It will take a while for investigating and political officials to make more accurate statements.

Soon retired FBI and other experts are brought in to review once again the steps that investigators follow to identify potential accomplices. They tell us that investigators go to where the terrorists live, find their family members, locate their friends, identify previous travel and possible training, etc. The audience will likely hear this process described over again by several different retired experts.

Reporters also will describe once again where victims are taken, explaining that several hospitals are always used. As witnesses who were inside the event (or are now in the hospital) can be found, they are also asked to tell their stories in as much emotional detail as they are willing. These tragic human interest stories become the final step in continuous coverage, and potential followup stories later.

Both recent London bridge events are examples of how these events unfold for long periods of time with very little new information reported along the way. Cable channels cover it because they can, and it simply is what they do. It is good reality television. But how much of it is news? And how damaging is it to be giving terrorists the publicity they so desperately crave?

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The John V. Roach Honors College at TCU hosted the 2nd Honors International Faculty Institute. Honors faculty attended from all over the U.S, with representatives from the European Honors Council in The Netherlands. I gave a talk on the globalization of higher education, and conversations that followed centered on the exciting possibilities of developing the leadership potential of the most gifted and talented of the world’s students.

The timing was perfect for me. In previous blog posts I had already referred to the potential of international higher education to develop leaders with cross-cultural experiences and global savvy.  I had also imagined the possibilities of aiming higher education’s research and consulting expertise toward helping to solve many of world’s problems. So continuing to explore the concept of “talent development” as a part of honors education is indeed exciting.

The “Brexit” vote in the U.K. to leave the E.U. and the election of Donald Trump as President in the U.S. revealed a significant number of people in both countries who blame globalization for their economic distress. And while their distress is real and needs to be addressed, global economic forces are already irreversible. Technology has made the world smaller. Commerce is already global. And much of higher education is already international.

This reality is why this institute was so meaningful. It made it completely clear that existing honors programs and talent development initiatives around the world all have their work cut out for them. Finding the best talent on the planet and developing it is our ultimate challenge.



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Consistent behavior patterns either establish credibility or eliminate it entirely. Without credibility there is no reliability or trust.

Not too long ago I found myself explaining to a colleague how “credibility” functioned in foreign policy, and why it is so important. When expectations are for advancing individual freedom, democracy and justice, but the behavior is collaboration with dictators and autocrats, credibility suffers… to say the least.

Expectations in the Middle East are for the U.S. to champion human rights, gender equality, and peace. But when that is exchanged for imagined security established with a $110 billion arms deal, the confusion inevitably will lead to a significant loss of U.S. credibility.

Consistently telling the truth, collaborating with allies, demonstrating informed expertise, and honestly consulting with experts, all contribute to credibility. A long history of lies, bullying, attacking critics, a string of broken promises, and off-the-wall tweets, all raise real questions about motives and credibility.

As I listened to the new secretary of state describe how he was going about discussing issues such as Syria with Putin and why this is important, I was beginning to think this man is making some sense. But the Russian behavior of the president, coupled with his otherwise lack of communication credibility, raises serious questions about likely outcomes.

When it was reported that Trump gave away classified secrets to the Russians in a private meeting in the Oval Office I actually found myself  thinking, “Yep, that sounds like him.” Boasting about knowing inside secrets with people he wants to impress seems consistent with the Trump I have come to know. It’s not scientific, I know. But this is how communication works.

Former defense secretary Gates recently said he thought the firm responses to North Korea and China were appropriate. He also added, “But it’s absolutely essential to know when not to go too far.” Can we trust this president’s judgement in such a crisis?

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius recently reported on Face the Nation that a number of longtime members of Congress who have not yet spoken out told him that “this man scares me.”  An increasing number of everyday Americans are also feeling this way… all based on past and ongoing erratic communication behavior.

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Can a large increase in the defense department budget compensate for a large decrease in the state department budget? Or to put it another way, are strong military threats more effective than strong diplomacy and soft power public diplomacy programs? And what does this have to do with education?

Experience suggests that the effectiveness of military threats depends on the country, its leader, and the circumstances of the moment. And a miscalculation can be devastating. Failure in diplomacy, however, is less risky. And while it takes more time, it certainly is preferable. And here education, especially higher education, can be helpful.

For the most part, “diplomacy” is government-to-government communication. Embassies basically function as strategic communication agencies. Foreign service officers collect vital intelligence, conduct volumes of important research, collaborate with foreign officials, champion democratic values, develop many other in-country contacts, and also can be very helpful to universities going global.

“Public diplomacy,” is people-to people communication. Its primary purpose is to facilitate private citizens in different countries getting to know each other and finding common interests… in business, the arts, education, social services, and everyday life. And they usually find they want the same basic things… food on the table, opportunities for their children, individual freedom, honest elections, a safe place to live, justice for all, and colleagues with common interests. Public diplomacy is very effective soft power, especially when funded properly and sustained.

International higher education can become an extremely effective partner in soft power public diplomacy. It is people-to-people communication. It achieves many of the same outcomes. For example, international leadership development is all about cross-cultural understanding. Many universities have researchers and experts who can help rebuild devastated nations and institutions. And there are numerous other scientists and experts who can focus their work to help solve other world problems… i.e. poverty, food, public health, water, climate change, energy, and more.

So now we return to the impact of Trump budget cuts: This administration’s plan to significantly cut the state department’s budget inevitably will have terrible consequences for vital intelligence gathering, in-country economic and other trend research, diplomacy effectiveness, soft power public diplomacy programs, and the enormous help embassies can give to universities as they seek to become productive global citizens.

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Strategy is defined as “a plan or set of maneuvers for obtaining a specific goal or result.” Tactics without strategy leaves people confused and feeling vulnerable. For some this may seem desirable. Keep them guessing, or as a colleague of mine once put it, “Don’t show your hand before you are ready to play it!”

This might work for a card game or short-term real estate games.  But in the game of world politics it can become very dangerous. Bold initiatives or tactics require context in order to be understood and trusted. Clear strategy provides context. Endless surprise initiatives do not. This is communication 101.

Allies and potential allies require knowing and sharing a set of governing strategies, having similar ideas about handling the big issues, and being able to trust commitments when the going gets rough. Playing the foreign policy game solely from the keep-them-guessing perspective eventually doesn’t work. Allies not only begin to feel uneasy, they may even soon begin to talk about erratic mental stability. Then, there is no rational basis for making crisis decisions.

And by the way, no lies please. This is also communication 101. Lies cannot remain hidden for long. And they inevitably signal someone with an insatiable ego, no consistent set of governing values, and eventually even the possibility of mental problems. One thing is for sure, constant lying never conveys superior intelligence and competitive cleverness, as every perpetrator wants you to believe. Rather it conveys a significant lack of knowledge and experience.

The bottom line is that allies need to know they can count on the leaders with whom they collaborate on serious matters. So far Mr. Trump continues to demonstrate a strong preference for throwing people off guard and tweeting off-the-wall comments. He might win a game of poker this way, but in the world of foreign policy he is on his way to having no set of informed ideas around which to bring allies together to address the world’s most pressing problems.

Be certain that nothing here has anything to do with politics or the Republican party. Everything here, however, has to do with fundamental communication dynamics and lessons learned from experience.

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Since the election it has become even more apparent that Mr. Trump’s primary communication talent is as a dramatic performer. He simply never developed an intellectual frame of reference that brings consistency to his rhetoric, and his actions.

Simply put, Mr. Trump appealed to his base by combining entertaining one-liners with promising quick fixes as fast as people brought him problems. His audiences then evolved into a base of supporters who enjoyed his entertaining and outrageous performances, and chose to believe he could help them. And he was certainly helped by the fact that no one else better informed was addressing their problems.

Sometimes it takes a while for audiences to recognize that would-be political leaders are more entertainers than problem-solvers. But eventually the public will begin to see that such people work for applause and will change on a dime. And in time their inconsistencies will be disrupting, and eventually can be frightening.

For example, many of the promises Mr. Trump made during the campaign about healthcare and manufacturing made him sound like a populist Democrat who felt his audiences’ pain. Once in office, however, he instantly switched and sounded more like a conservative Republican who was willing to cut benefits. But then a quick defeat on healthcare had him talking again more like a Democrat.

The bottom line is that Mr. Trump has no basic frame of reference that defines where he is coming from. Repeating the one-liner “Making America Great Again” says nothing about how he will go about improving democratic institutions, or advancing American values, or helping all levels of society share in the American dream.

What’s more, the absence of an intellectual frame of reference, combined with Trump’s daily communication inconsistencies, is already leaving a growing number of people trembling about how he will go about making many of the life and death decisions he inevitably will have to make.


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In the foreign policy world “hard power” is military strength and “soft power” is diplomacy, public diplomacy and all those communication initiatives related to building understanding between countries and cultures. Hard power deters potential enemies and confronts them when necessary. Soft power builds international relationships, increases cross-cultural understanding, and helps solve global problems.

Soft power diplomacy is government-to-government communication, and soft power public diplomacy is government-to-people communication and people-to people communication. People to people communication carries the most credibility because of its genuine authenticity.

A  number of years ago there was an agency of the U.S. government that was responsible for soft power. It was the United State Information Agency (USIA). It developed programs to communicate and demonstrate the exceptional “idea of America” around the world. Artists, scholars, and musicians were sent abroad to show their talents. Groups and individual exchanges were arranged to encourage continuing dialogue. Libraries of materials were established. Films were produced and distributed. And the Voice of America (VOA), broadcast trusted news and information programs 24 hours a day all over the globe.

But, during a widespread austerity move, the Clinton administration eliminated the USIA and moved its programs into the Sate Department. As a result, soft power funding was dramatically reduced and programs and projects were eliminated. The negative consequences of this mindless move have never been remedied.

For about a year I was a part of many discussions (including a project at the Wilson Center think tank) that brought together legislative staffers, government professionals, educators, and politicians in Washington who were concerned about the diminished state of public diplomacy communication in the state department. It was a concern strongly reinforced by several staffers from the defense department. They told us that the Defense Department was sponsoring public diplomacy projects only because soft power initiatives were urgently needed in places where hard power was not appropriate… and because the state department did not have the resources.

The PBS News Hour recently reported that the Trump administration is working on a budget that reduces state department funding by another 37% in order to help pay for dramatic increases in the defense budget. Can you imagine the devastating impact this will have on soft power public diplomacy communication?

No matter your politics, the need for significant increases in soft power initiatives to communicate the “idea of America” and enhance cross-cultural understanding has never been stronger. To ignore this urgent need is not only short-sighted, it is a major threat to our national security.

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