The Foreign Service Journal - March 2017
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MARCH 2017


macy was dead accompanied such innova-

tions. These predictions tend to be proven

wrong or at least grossly exaggerated.

Recent advances have certainly

increased the scope of international

relations and brought new actors and

influences into the realm of diplomacy.

But governments still largely continue to

conduct foreign policy in traditional ways

that limit broader participation.

In this context, statements like the

author’s assertion that “The new diplo-

macy must include a commitment to

provide the public with as much informa-

tion as possible as soon as possible” seem,

at best, optimistic.

Governments will continue to provide

the information they want to provide

when they want to provide it, and only if

it reflects well on the government, even as

they try to exploit new technologies. They

have to use such technologies, if for no

other reason than to contest the arguments

of terrorist groups like al-Qaida and ISIS.

Though one should not assume new

technologies have more power than they

do, Seib on occasion does that. He states,

for instance, that “finding a way to offset

the predisposition to rely on hard power

may be the most significant challenge

to public diplomacy in the years ahead.”

Public diplomacy is more likely to be used

as a tool to sell the idea of military action

than as an alternative to it. That is what the

Bush administration did in 2003, when it

was justifying the invasion of Iraq.

Those efforts were, of course, directed

mainly at American public opinion and

not at convincing the Iraqi people they

needed to be invaded. It would be nice to

think that turning the tide of public opin-

ion in another country could avoid war,

but it is not realistic to think that is going

to be an easy or feasible alternative.

In another part of the book, Seib

recommends that all USAID assistance

programs be under the under secretary for

public diplomacy and public affairs. This

seems to assume that the PD benefits of

development assistance are so great that

all such aid should be run as if that were

its main purpose. Such a move would

generate more suspicion than acceptance,

and there is no more reason to put the PD

under secretary in charge than there is for

letting that person run consular affairs or

military training programs.

The author also talks in terms that indi-

cate a lack of understanding of govern-

ment operations. He refers to the 250,000

State Department cables made public by

WikiLeaks as “emails.”

He notes that President Barack

Obama’s use of political-appointee

ambassadors, as of December 2014, was

35 percent: much higher than either of

his two predecessors at the same stage in

their presidencies. That was true at that

moment—but it was also meaningless,

because political appointees are always

front-loaded in any presidential term. The

percentage for Obama’s entire second

termwas 28.5 percent.

Seib is also off the mark when it comes

to some of his comments about how

other countries use public diplomacy. He

offers the following description of Ethio-

pia: “Today it is no longer a supplicant

nation. It is ratcheting up its international

involvement, reaching a new level of

diplomatic self-sufficiency. Ethiopia’s

economy and civil society are still under

construction, but its diplomatic efforts

create balance between its domestic tasks

and its broader ambitions.”

This rosy thumbnail characterization

contrasts with the one offered by Freedom

House, whose reports describe how auto-

cratic that country’s government is. Ethio-

pia’s public diplomacy abroad is simply a

smokescreen behind which it ratchets up

its repression at home.

Seib is also too charitable in his

description of the impact of Washington

politics. “Partisanship can impair effective

diplomacy, but it can also provide essen-

tial democratic balance to the mandate

under which diplomats work,” he states.

The reality is that the toxic, hyperpartisan

politics within the Beltway today is much

more effective at impairing diplomacy

than it is at creating any balance.

Despite these reservations, Seib’s book

is an interesting and useful read. He clari-

fies the differences among digital diplo-

macy, e-diplomacy and public diplomacy.

And he covers a wide range of topics in

an extremely well-written book. It won’t

be the last word on the question of how

diplomacy will be affected by technology;

no book on such an elusive and ever-

evolving phenomenon could ever claim to

be that.


Dennis Jett is a professor of international

affairs at Pennsylvania State University. A

retired FSO, he served as ambassador to Peru

and Mozambique, on the National Security

Council and on assignments in Argentina,

Israel, Malawi and Liberia. He is the author

of three books:

Why Peacekeeping Fails, Why

American Foreign Policy Fails



Ambassadors: The Past, Present and Future

of America’s Diplomats

(all published by

Palgrave Macmillan). He is an occasional

contributor to the



Philip Seib sees a future where public diplomacy, conducted

through digital platforms, will profoundly affect how foreign

affairs are conducted.