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Archive for the ‘International’ Category

The real crisis is not the U.S. southern border. Rather, my ongoing study of media, politics and social change has yielded a list of much more serious concerns. Here are a few:

Most policy decisions are now being made by one person, the President… whose behavior is consistently autocratic, and who is most comfortable in the company of other autocrats.

Social media is being used as a weapon… individuals and governments are using new media to generate chaos, create confusion, attack enemies, and bring about social unrest.

Growing widespread anger is causing dangerous social division… in congress, political extremism is causing the parties to focus on battling each other. At the same time, virtually all areas of the executive branch are issuing directives that create social division and disrupt whole communities.

Institutions important to a democracy are under daily assault… rather than setting up nonpartisan study commissions, members of the administration and their partisan supporters are focused on discrediting the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, the office of the attorney general, education institutions, and more.  A republic is only as strong as its institutions, and leadership must be about making them stronger.

Deregulation has been extreme … public health and the overall environment are being threatened every day. Business leaders are encouraged to ignore interest group pressures… thereby maximizing corporate profits at the expense of public health.

Allies have become confused about U.S.policies… presidential attacks on NATO allies damage U.S. and European security, and advance the causes of our adversaries.

Scientific findings about the impact of climate change have been rejected by our partisan leaders… thereby insuring that weather catastrophes will multiply, that natural landscapes will be destroyed, and lives will be upended.

Media revolutions are changing everything… a new media ecosystem is creating information clutter and confusion, making it almost impossible to separate facts from fiction. Digital media has also changed the way politics, families, and even religion function. Resulting individual isolation is also beginning to reveal behavior and mental health issues. More media and civic literacy education in schools and elsewhere is urgently needed.

The constitution-protected role of the press has been upended… a proliferation of competing broadcast channels, print organizations, and social media platforms, has created problems related to commercial influences, intended biases, and unintended mistakes.

Generally accepted morality is being lost… leaders without moral character, or qualifications for the office they hold, or personal ethics, or capacity for empathy, are initiating reforms based on the belief that “ends by any means” are now acceptable. Simply put, when their “means” are filled with lies, deceptions, and gross exaggerations, our values-based American culture is being corrupted. This is the real American crisis.

 

 

 

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The resignation letter of General Jim Mattis will quickly become an important document in American history, and will be read by students around the world for years to come. This carefully thought out statement describes “the idea of America,” that Americans have shared since their country’s very beginning: No nation can go it alone for very long; every nation must respect and work with its allies and partners; foreign policies must identify threatening adversaries and call for appropriate actions; and basic human values are the bedrock of American exceptionalism.

Despite Trump’s “we won” pronouncement to justify pulling out of Syria, those who serve on the ground in the military know better. Actually, the autocrats in Russia, Iran, Turkey and China are the ones who won the day. Terrorists will likely take advantage of what looks like a U.S. government in turmoil. And our long-standing allies and partners already know that our collective security is very fragile.

Wall Street is also going crazy trying to process all this… the president’s continuing tariff wars, his affinity for autocrats and dictators, his endless White House scandals, his foundation forced to shut its doors, criminal investigations and indictments all around him, and now staging a government shutdown over a five billion-dollar border wall that the majority of Americans don’t support. We not only have a stock market problem… we have an economy that’s beginning to look unstable.

Except for a few self-serving talk show hosts, a handful of right-wing extremists in the House of Representatives, and family members who always had to do what daddy said, the president pretty much stands alone. “Only I can do it,” might be the most stupid remark ever uttered in a presidential campaign… except maybe for “the Mexicans will pay for it!”

Using “making good on campaign promises” as a reason to reject the advice of experts on life and death situations has no credibility, especially when uttered by someone who lies everyday about everything. What we have here is a bully who knows no other way.

Many of today’s wisest and most experienced thinkers are now concluding that this presidency (and possibly even the nation) is beginning to unravel. So, during this Christmas season I will be praying hard for “peace on earth and goodwill to humankind,”  and maybe you should be doing the same.

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Digital technology and new media permanently changed the dynamics of international relationships. Here are some of the realities:

  • Suddenly anyone with a laptop could do business with anyone else in the world.
  • A global economy quickly evolved as a result of rapidly developing technology… revealing countries where labor is cheap.
  • Businesses began to plan their growth beyond their national borders.
  • Most industries that leave their towns will not find it economical to return.
  • Thus, people lost their jobs. Globalization failed them. And they were also forgotten in Washington.
  • Trump promised them jobs, healthcare, and more. So they became his base.
  • But his promises cannot be kept. Updated training and education are the only solutions.
  • Many corporations have been operating beyond national borders for years. They see themselves as above any one government.
  • Thus, nations now shape their foreign policies to operate in an already interconnected global economy.
  • Clear national identities require constantly repeated simple messages. But in the final analysis, a nation’s identity is what is perceived by other nations and people.
  • And the behavior of partners and allies either reinforce or undermine that identity.
  • Foreign policy understanding requires government officials to speak from the same page. The larger the government, the more complicated this becomes.
  • Diplomacy is defined as nation-to-nation communication and is conducted by departments of state through embassies.
  • Public diplomacy is defined as people-to-people and government-to-people communication and is conducted by departments of state, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), various associations, educational institutions, and citizen travelers.
  • Digital technology and new media could enhance global understanding. But so far they have mostly magnified differences. Anger around the world seems to be increasing.
  • Question One: Can the current rapid expansion of international education, cross-cultural people exchanges, and overall foreign travel, eventually produce a more peaceful world?
  • Question Two: Is there a leader somewhere out there capable of bringing the heads of influential nations together under one common cause… freedom and justice?
  • Question Three: Maybe the next American president?

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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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