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Archive for the ‘International’ Category

When an ally goes rogue… words matter. They really matter.

Beginning with the deliberations that culminated in the U.S. constitution, human rights has been a major feature of American exceptionalism. It is the core idea that resulted in a war to eliminate slavery, and what countries the world over have come to count on as the lead idea of U.S. foreign policy.

The recent crisis with Saudi Arabia certainly tests this core American value. Even with periodic sanctions, there is little doubt that financial benefit is replacing human rights as the primary concern of the current U.S. administration.

Words matter a great deal when it comes to establishing a country’s brand identity. The words you lead with are the ones that define you. It makes a big difference whether you lead with human rights concerns and follow later with protecting your financial interests, or whether you lead first with your financial priorities and add a few sanctions later.

And what makes matters worse with the Saudi’s is that constant lying and disdain for journalists on both sides raises serious questions about the overall autocratic interests of both leaders.

It therefore is critically important right now for Americans who understand their heritage, and want to preserve those basic values, to speak out in support of universal human rights. 

With this Saudi situation, the rest can play out later. But it will only do so if Congress finally performs its proper checks and balances duties.

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A recent program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, cosponsored with the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at TCU, explored the theme “Promoting Democracy and America’s Global Leadership.” While the program examined the news of the day, it also demonstrated how organizations are able to continue promoting a more traditional idea of America, even when the administration in power is not.

Susan Glasser, staff writer for The New Yorker, moderated a conversation with Daniel Twining, President of the International Republican Institute, and Derek Mitchell, President of the National Democratic Institute. And while the names of these organizations obviously convey a partisan bent, the conversation that evening clearly demonstrated that both organizations continue to promote very traditional ideas of America.

Just imagine the impact that concerned university presidents, business executives, NGO chief executives, executive directors of nonprofit, and active volunteers can have… all still operating effectively in today’s America. By merely promoting their cultures, values, visions, and societal initiatives they demonstrate their freedom, and the essential role they play in American enterprise. In fact, these institutions and leaders are what really make America great, and truly distinctive in the world.

We must therefore encourage everyone to take every opportunity to speak out on behalf of democracy and our institutions. We must encourage our friends to do it. And we must let journalists know that we expect the same from them. Telling more success stories about American institutions and individuals will provide much-needed context for our daily diet of negative news.

And word-of-mouth is still our most powerful form of communication. In today’s digital world it’s called “buzz.” But no matter the name, it remains super powerful. So get out there… and keep talking!

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The good news is that cities have been rarely divided by political extremes. Many have stories far more promising than today’s politically tainted supreme court hearings and presidential tweets.

While the nation and many states slosh around in mean-spirited ideology fights, city officials generally don’t have that luxury. They are just too busy. Every day most cities face both legal and illegal immigration issues, demands for affordable housing, homeless people living on the streets, unemployment problems, factory closures, pockets of serious poverty, children coming to school hungry, gangs and racial violence, deteriorating infrastructure, continuing police controversies, global warming consequences, aging water pipes, industry produced air pollution, and both international and homegrown terrorism threats.

But cities are also getting practical help from serious-minded professional associations, expertise sharing conferences, networks of experienced professionals, and problem-focused partnerships, all helping them bypass their politically paralyzed national and state governments.

For example, New York has been able to resist much of the pressure of Washington’s hard-line immigration and police program funding to address its problems more collectively. An active terrorism prevention partnership with Paris, France is but one example. L.A. is engaged in a wide variety of public diplomacy exchanges through its international office, and Fort Worth Texas is using citizen diplomacy to exchange ideas through its award-winning Sister Cities organization. These are but a few examples.

Many smaller cities are also dealing with both local and global issues more pragmatically. Highly experienced neighborhood volunteers, seriously concerned businesses, community problem-focused non-profits, public and private school outreach initiatives, university research and subject-matter experts, and urban-savvy arts organizations, are all becoming willing and engaged resources.

When cities face their issues head-on they also find counterparts all over the world with the same problems. An innovative city manager in Oregon is likely to find a counterpart in Asia with the same planning problems. A small town mayor in Nebraska may find a counterpart in Africa with a similar water problem. And Orlando officials are likely to find help in Amsterdam when it comes to dealing with both international and homegrown terrorism.

So while political parties fight and autocrats play bully games, imaginative cities are finding that citizen action, public-private partnerships, and public diplomacy initiatives can get the job done. You might want to read Our Towns by James and Deborah Fallows for more examples to renew your hope.

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A big media revolution lesson: Daily lying and exaggerating destroys credibility for when things really get serious.       

Mr. Trump seems to be on a roll at home. But with his longstanding record of lies and unethical behavior, attempts to befriend an experienced and cunning manipulator like Putin will likely unleash a carefully calculated response that will cleverly tuck Mr. Trump neatly under Putin’s wing.

A baby-faced dictator in North Korea is already showing the world how gaining such an upper hand with Trump can work. It’s called, “sound cooperative and then ignore him.” And you can be sure that cool-operator Putin will have a well thought-out and ultimately Trump-ignoring plan ready to go. Putin is an old hand at this game, and a rookie foreign affairs deal-maker will very likely meet his match. Trump may be much easier to trump than Trump thinks.

Trump is not the first to argue that it’s a good idea to meet and talk with adversaries. Often this is so. But in Trump’s case the odds are not on the side of a good outcome. Dictators like Putin are obsessed with maintaining their power and are constantly collecting embarrassing information about adversaries as a matter of routine. They store it, and respond with it very strategically when the need arises. And their response is not always immediate, or obvious, or even highly visible.

Putin is an experienced political enemy crusher with a passionate commitment to bringing back Russia’s national pride. Believe me, being a trustworthy and loyal friend to Trump is not in Putin’s game plan.

In the days ahead it looks like Trump will face big disappointments in both North Korea and Russia, proving that admiring sleazy dictators is no pathway to global prominence. The bottom line here is that the best way to achieve competitive advantage for the United States is to once again proudly champion the founder’s values-based “idea of America,” the “big idea” that the world still most admires.

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President Trump declared a win-win agreement following his recent North Korea Summit. Since friendly handshakes and generous praise might keep war from breaking out during future conversations, shouldn’t the president be given an enthusiastic pat on the back?

To be sure, many journalists believe that the only “fair and balanced” thing to do is to report any positive outcomes they see. And so isn’t it only fair to give credit to the president for improving his personal relationship with this dangerous dictator?

On the other hand, isn’t it also fair and balanced that every time the Singapore friendship is reported, his administration’s daily trade wars and other attacks on our allies and friends are also reported? And isn’t it also fair that every time the Singapore handshake is shown, his strutting around on the stage showing off his instinctive bully body language and puffy facial expressions to his allies is also reported? And isn’t it also fair that every time his defense of Putin is reported, examples of damages to human rights and values-based democracies are also reported?

And isn’t it also fair that every time his statements about the North Korean leader’s extraordinary talents are run, stories are also run about his abruptly ending the long negotiated agreements on trade, climate change, nuclear weapons (Iran), and his lack of knowledge and respect for the leadership and scientific talent that it took to create those agreements?

And shouldn’t photos of his schmoozing with “rocket man” be shown side by side with photos of the other dictators and autocrats he collaborates with more comfortably than with his own allies, clearly conveying his undeniable me-first, autocratic ambitions?

So if everyday is all about Trump… his tweets and pronouncements. Then all about Trump needs to be told everyday… in side-by-side stories and photos. 

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Is this actually possible? Could we be sliding toward a world ruled by autocrats? Could we be at the beginning of a new world order, one without much concern for individual freedom, human rights, and justice? I hate to say it, but the signs are not good.

What makes such a horror feasible is the unexpected outcome of a media revolution. Daily information clutter created a pervasive fog of confusion. Repeated lies began to sound true. Facts got lost in extremism. Expert debates made us confused. Excessive bad behavior no longer was shocking. Politics degenerated into television entertainment. Personal attacks were awarded with headlines. Outrageous bragging became acceptable. And it was in the growing density of this fog and confusion where a disruptive and unethical candidate could actually win… and where autocrats elsewhere in the world could also gain in influence and power.

Here is a “what if” scenario to think about: What if recently announced “attitude” changes produce a super friendly atmosphere for the North Korean talks? What if the primary outcome of these talks is a declared mutual admiration? And what if future meetings are set, invitations to visit each other are extended, and each party reports back to their constituents that they achieved something no one else has ever been able to achieve?

Can such an outcome be genuine? The problem is that in this new media ecosystem there is no way to know for sure. Truth is in verifiable details, not in the hazy fog of ego-centered double-speak. The fog has become our reality. Most of the time we can’t separate fact from fiction.

Now combine this scenario with the US president’s pronouncement that Russia should be a member of the G-7. Now also add this to recent schmoozing and friendly gestures toward autocrats in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, Italy, etc. Now imagine the possibility of a new world order based on an alliance of these autocracies, with the fog of the media-ecosystem hiding the process.

Finally, picture an annual Summit attended only by these autocrats, chaired by the U.S. president. Will issues such as human rights, free trade, climate change, immigration, conservation, and clean air even be on their agenda? And what will happen to the decades old Western values of freedom, opportunity, and justice for all?

With respect to the U.S. president, a happy friend in North Korea, with photo ops to prove it, will look to his base like a huge nuclear talks victory. And flattering front and center pictures of him gloating will be all that matters to this unbridled foreign policy day-trader.

Is a new world order run by autocrats possible? The signs are not good.

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I taught international communication in the UK during summers for almost 20 years. Truthfully, I found the Royals mostly amusing, much like watching a fairy tale live on TV. And many of the British academics I knew regarded them as very expensive relics. So I guess I was never sure of their cost-benefit.

But “Prince Harry the Maverick” might have actually pulled off something quite spectacular, and just when the world needs it most. My take is that we witnessed in this wedding a game-changing inclusive coming together of many cultures, not just a Royal marrying an American. I think it’s very likely that the Harry-Meghan partnership will go on to produce other events and projects that will put human rights back on the agenda with worldwide visibility and praise. No racism! No divisiveness! No arrogance! And no Trump.

What we witnessed Saturday was a blending of some of the pomp, pageantry ,and horse-drawn carriage Royal traditions, with a more contemporary less formal wedding ceremony staged in a more comfortable chapel. Surprising many, an African-American Episcopal Bishop from Chicago delivered a very lively and quite dramatic sermon… pleading for more love in the world and an end to hunger and poverty. But the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Church of England, administered the marriage vows in a more traditional tone. Contrasts continued, however, with a beautiful classical cello solo contrasted with a loud toe-tapping gospel music choir. When all was said and done I think most of this mixing of cultures and styles worked fine. Diana’s boys obviously had already worked their magic and the Royal family was far more ready for change than most of us realized.

So we now have a new mixed-race Royal who took off her American Hollywood makeup, exposed her natural freckles, and demonstrated that she was ready to quit her movie star job and join a full-time partnership with a different kind of Prince… a partnership with the real possibility of changing the world agenda. After all, she majored in both theater and international affairs at Northwestern University, and has already led many human rights projects in Africa and other places in the world. It’s obvious from her past volunteer projects that Meghan shares Harry’s passion for realistic world problem-solving.

So I am betting that Harry and Meghan have many more surprises up their sleeves. It should be really exciting to see what they do next. And you can be very sure the television cameras will follow wherever they go, and the news reports and tweets won’t be fake!

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