public diplomacy

This category contains 214 posts

Facebook Meets Global Agitprop

By Rob Cline and Olivia Dupree

Facebook has come under fire by Washington lawmakers and the American public in recent
months for their apparent involvement in the 2016 election. It has been discovered that Russian
disinformation operations paid for targeted Facebook ads that promoted Donald Trump and
sowed divisions in the electorate by touching on cultural wedge issues.

Facebook’s leadership failed to identify and curve these propaganda operations on their site, raising questions about
the company’s ability to independently maintain a truthful and fair media platform for Americans to get information.

While this problem seems uniquely American, we need to point out that Facebook is a global
website. Nations across the world have experienced Russian disinformation campaigns through
Facebook over the past two years. It has been discovered that the Brexit campaign in the UK was
plagued by Russian social media influence, as well as the French presidential campaign.

While it’s majorly important that Russian intelligence is interfering in the elections of Western
democracies, there are places in the world where groups utilize Facebook for much more
dangerous outcomes. In Myanmar, the militant government in power is engaging in ethnic
cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims. This brutal violence against the Rohingya has been fueled,
in part, by misinformation and anti-Rohingya propaganda spread on Facebook.

In countries like Myanmar, social and governmental instability means that traditional news
outlets like newspapers and cable TV have much less sway with the public, something both
Patricia Kabra and Louisa Williams spoke to when visiting our class. Without these forms of
media, the public forum moves to open social media platforms like Facebook. Facebook has
become the primary news source for most citizens of Myanmar.

This sets up a huge problem: Facebook creates a massive, open public sphere and leaves
everyone else to deal with the consequences. As the New York Times put it: “Correcting
misinformation is a thorny philosophical problem for Facebook, which imagines itself as a
neutral platform that avoids making editorial decisions.” Unfortunately, like we saw with fake
news in the US presidential election, people seem to have a willingness to accept what they see
on Facebook as true. This means the government of Myanmar has been extremely successful in
alienating the Rohingya through misinformation campaigns.

For PD practitioners, this represents an information crisis. On one hand, Facebook is an essential
tool in the modern age to reaching broad audiences that you would normally not reach with
traditional media. On the other hand, Facebook is an untrimmed landscape ripe for
misinformation and deceit by those who want to manipulate public opinion.

Battling social media disinformation will likely become a common practice of public diplomats
around the globe. US envoys who want to maintain the US’s image abroad will most likely have
to deal with Russian backed anti-American propaganda campaigns. Additionally PD
practitioners will have to learn how to deal with the social and political upheaval that comes
when disinformation campaigns are successful in their host countries.

Resource: Facebook as a Tool of Global Propaganda

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s). They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.


The Peace Corps and Public Diplomacy Connection

by Samantha Cookinham and Meredith Hessel

Washington Post Contributor Bren Flanigan feels that the importance of the Peace Corps’ role in public diplomacy is forgotten with the budget cuts that President Trump proposed in the spring.*

Flanigan finds he, along with others in the Peace Corps are cultural ambassadors for the country showing interest in other cultures, showing the truth about American culture and showing a memorable impression of America.

While in Benin, he found that food was key to sharing culture. He cooked pizza for his host
family and celebrated the Fourth of July with A1 steak sauce and the Whitney Houston version
of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

These interactions helped with cultural diplomacy by “addressing questions like these gives Peace Corps volunteers the opportunity to shatter the stereotypes about the United States portrayed in television and movies.” Flanigan wants to influence societies not solely through intimidation or economic isolation, but through integrated cultural exchange because this will “endure through political administrations and fluctuating diplomatic relations.”

Our thoughts:
Soft power may be difficult to measure, but it is effective because it is memorable and able to
shatter stereotypes about America. These cultural exchanges are necessary to share diplomatic
relations through experience and genuine interest in cultures and traditions. People in the Peace
Corps are cultural ambassadors.* Flanigan’s reflection that Peace Corps volunteers are “for many communities… the real American ambassadors, the only ones they will ever meet, and the only ones they will remember.” This is similar to how Flanigan was welcomed by his host family in Benin with questions about the 2016 election. Their questions showed that they were looking for a refreshing first-hand account of what Americans think and if they agree with the rhetoric of the

Further, this emphasizes the importance of face-to-face or person-to-person public
diplomacy, as Peace Corps volunteers represent America and are “direct extensions of American
values and principles.” In all, Peace Corps volunteers strengthen an understanding of people and
cultural values between the U.S. and the country they are volunteering in.

* The Peace Corps “is a service opportunity for motivated changemakers to immerse themselves
in a community abroad, working side by side with local leaders to tackle the most pressing
challenges of generation[s].” As  an independent agency within the executive branch that was
established by President John F. Kennedy through an Executive Order in 1961, the Peace Corps’
mission is to promote global world peace and friendship. The President appoints the Peace
Corps’ director and deputy director and the appointments must be confirmed by the Senate. As
an agency, it has bipartisan support in Congress, as both Democrats and Republicans and even
representatives and senators have served as volunteers. The Peace Corps’ budget is 1% of the
foreign operations budget and the annual budget is determined each year by the congressional budget and appropriations process.

You can learn more about the Peace Corps’ leadership and initiatives at

*Bren Flanigan contributed to the Washington Post’s Global Opinions section on August 31
the-peace-corps-in-u-s-foreign-policy/?utm_term=.df698d912f8f) with his insights from serving
as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Benin.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s). They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

Formation of race stereotypes is undermining Chinese effort in Africa


A well-intentioned Chinese Central Television (CCTV) comedy show went horribly wrong last month.  CCTV brings out its best programming during the peak Chinese new year’s holidays, but one comedy sketch this year earned wide international media criticism for its portrayal by a Chinese actress in blackface portraying an African mother with stereotypical curves and mindset.  Her appearance—coming at a time when China is actively building its business and diplomatic presence in Africa—was followed with another “African’ actor with monkey-like features. A single sketch threatens to damage the goodwill China has built up in Africa and has become a tempting target for international critics who claim that China is showing its traditional world view.  The incident reflects two threats that the Chinese government faces as it tries to expand its global influence: its lack of racial education, and its own colonial tendencies.

This is not the first time that the Chinese media have been called out for racism.   Another controversy in 2016 involved an advertisement for a laundry company that stuck an African-American male in a washing machine and made him paler and Asian-looking.  While it is tempting to think that the PRC is deliberately inconsiderate, the closer truth is that the Chinese government—which supervises CCTV, the country’s most influential network—may not even know its flaws because there is no history of understanding racial context.  And without that understanding, its censorship system doesn’t catch race-related mistakes.   Since the Chinese government is focusing right now on its investment in Africa, the government doesn’t want to disrupt relations with the Continent by showing prejudice or discrimination. There’s simply too much at stake for China to have its central message of friendship and partnership distorted by racist stereotypes in its official media.

This kind of misguided humor should be taken seriously. As a society, China has stepped onto the world’s stage through its dramatic growth and prosperity of the last two decades, and its naturally increased global role in trade, politics, and humanitarian issues.   Chinese media are also no longer just domestic.   Maybe a couple of decades ago media could echo parts of society with derogatory terms for Japanese (ri ben gui zi) Koreans (bang zi), or Westerners (bai gui zi). Now the situation has changed as more foreigners starts to follow the activities of the Chinese society and media, but a lot of people in Chinese society have still not realized just how much some jokes and metaphors hurt other people. While many Chinese feel angry when foreign media or people use stereotype to describe Chinese, they don’t connect that with how other races feel when they are portrayed as monkeys.

Perhaps an even more serious problem is the colonialist tendency that has started to form in the Chinese mind. In the controversial sketch I mentioned above, Africans actors praised the railroad that the Chinese government built in Africa and expressed how much Chinese investments helped Africa. There are sentences such as, “When I became a train attendant, I have a different identity. I am so beautiful right now and I am able to marry a nice man. My life will be good from now on!” and “I want to study in China. I want to be like Chinese!” Chinese actors are teachers and travelers, while African actors are just students and servants. If we read the history of colonization of African in 19th century by English and French, we can find a similar theme and propaganda as the Chinese government is promoting now: we bring civilization to Africa and we are their savior. After one hundred years of humiliation by imperial countries, Chinese are becoming like their humiliators after Chinese are able to expend their power.

Du Mu, a Chinese poet in Tang (唐) dynasty, use the story of the rapid collapse of the Qin (秦) dynasty to warn people who do not learn the lesson from history: As the rulers of Qin were too busy  to mourn their own destruction , posterity must mourn for them; but if in mourning the destruction of Qin posterity fails to learn the lesson, then posterity’s posterity will have to mourn for posterity itself. If the Chinese government cannot prevent the formation of an colonist mindset in Chinese people’s own hearts, the Chinese government will not only fail to “rise peacefully” but will also repeat the mistakes of the English and French colonialists.

Caveat: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

Fashion in Public Diplomacy: Why Symbols are the Key to Acknowledging Identity

Recently, Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, gathered his wife and kids for a state trip to India. The picturesque man and his picturesque family flew halfway around the world for a week of meetings and dinners with everyone from Indian government officials to Bollywood movie executives. What should have been an easy win for the young Trudeau government, turned into one of the biggest embarrassments of his administration.

Trudeau has all too frequently reached beyond sympathy to aggressively empathize with communities that he is not part of. He cried when he apologized on behalf of the Canadian Government to the LGBTQ community though he is not part of that community. He cried when he apologized on behalf of the Canadian Government to the First Nations, though he does not share their identity.

But on his trip to India, his attempts at joining in on local culture were taken to a new level of embarrassment. It would have been one thing for him and his family to wear traditional Indian clothes when they attended traditional events or visited traditional sites. Instead, the Trudeaus dressed in traditional attire for most of the entire trip.


The Trudeaus were criticized because most people in India do not dress that way anymore. They were criticized because their clothing was more ornate than what most own or can afford. They were criticized for wearing the traditional clothes everywhere. The most embarrassing moment came when Trudeau met with Bollywood moguls. While he and his family donned traditional Indian garb, the moghuls wore suits and ties. And they were not quiet about their criticism on social media.

Practitioners of public diplomacy face a tough challenge. As outsiders, they need to show that they acknowledge the local culture without implying ownership over it. They need to gain trust without appearing as a threat. They need to understand their audience’s identity without assuming it. They can do this the clothes that they wear. But going too far can lead to a costly blunder. Let Trudeau stand as a warning.

What you wear is an instrumental way of representing who you are, what you believe, and what you represent. We use clothing as an indicator to judge people we do not know every day. You walk past someone on the street wearing ripped jeans and a tanktop and you immediately make a judgement about who they are. The same goes for the person you pass in the expensive tailored suit.

In American politics, judging politicians by their clothing is an extremely common practice. Who could forget the Barack Obama “Tan Suit Incident?” In an effort to dress for the season, President Obama wore a tan suit while giving a press conference about national security in August 2014. Few remember the details of what he said at the press conference but the tan suit lives on. “How could he be serious about national security in a Tan Suit?” many claimed.

So how can those in public diplomacy dress in a way that acknowledges local identity without being overbearing or inappropriate? The secret is in symbols.

In her recent book, The Extreme Gone Mainstream, Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss examines the clothing associated with the recent white nationalist movement in Germany. Among her many findings, her discoveries around symbolism are striking.

In Germany, there are strict censorship laws around using Nazi Symbols, language, and references. So white nationalists have moved toward insider symbolism on their clothing or symbols for which only those the group understand there meaning.

For example, the number “88” is a symbol for the phrase “Heil Hitler.” Because 88 cannot be printed on clothing (per German law), shirts that say “89-1” or “87+1” have become popular.

Even culturally deeper, Nordic symbolism has made a revival in white supremacist clothing. Nordic folklore represents the rise of those with Nordic roots above all the rest. It equates to Nordic superiority.

This is a prime example of insider symbolism. To the untrained eye, the number 88 means nothing. But to those inside the group, it has meaning. To a German, they may see Nordic symbolism and think nothing beyond its significance to all German culture. A non-German might see it and just think it is cool looking. If I was shopping in Germany, I might easily accidentally buy extremist clothing. But to an insider, the symbolism has a different meaning.

Symbolism ties into national identity. Groups of people have shared history. This shared history is common among all members of the group. It evolves and is passed down from generation to generation. Narratives become part of this national identity. The idea of the “American Dream” is one example.

Symbolism too evolves as part of shared history. This can be the case at all community levels: a village, an entire country, an entire religious group.

It is tapping into symbolism where public diplomacy practitioners can acknowledge local culture without going overboard. A flower is important to a town that you are visiting? Wear it on your suit lapel. A color has a particular meaning? Wear a tie of that color. A local soccer team is playing a big match? Put on their scarf.

And do your research! Understand what certain colors represent to certain people. Learn what symbols your audience might find offensive. Dig deep into local history. Often these symbols are insider symbols so they require work and local expertise to uncover.

Using insider symbolism can have additional benefits. Your audience will be impressed that you understand their culture well enough to have tapped into them. On a subconscious level, they might even partially accept you as part of the community. Additionally, you evade criticism back at home for adopting part of local culture because these symbols are likely to go unrecognized by outside audiences.

The bottom line is that you should always wear the traditional clothes of your home culture. With the exception of participating in traditional ceremonies where it is expected that you wear a certain type of clothing, by going too far and completely adopting local garb, you will likely embarrass yourself and lose local credibility. Instead, by acknowledging a symbol within your clothing, you maintain your identity while showing that you recognize theirs.


DisclaimerThe opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

How Anti-Americanism in Pakistan can be mitigated through Diplomacy and Public Diplomacy


Image Source: “U.S. – Pakistan Relationship.” Chappatte Globe Cartoon, Chappatte in International Herald Tribune, 30 May 2012,

Pakistan is the 7thlargest country in the world in terms of its population and a country that holds a negative view of the United States.  The United States and Pakistan have been strategic allies on multiple occasions; however, the increasing distrust between the two countries due to conflict of national interests in the war on terror in Afghanistan has caused tensions in their pre-existing complex relationship.

The U.S. was among the first of nations to ally with Pakistan after its independence in 1947.  The United States provided economic and social assistance to the newly independent country and still maintains vital military relations. In return, Pakistan proved to be a valuable strategic ally of the United States in the cold war against the Soviet Union and helped the U.S. in driving Soviet forces out of Afghanistan. Pakistan continues to hold a strategic position in the United States’ interests in the Central and South Asia region. However, unlike prior to 1980s where the relationship was based on mutual benefits and good will, the post 9/11 basis of partnership has been mainly transactional between the U.S. and Pakistani military, which is given aid by the U.S. to support its efforts in Afghanistan. This transactional relationship stemmed from a trust deficit caused by the both countries’ conflict of narratives as a result of their history regarding their national interests and motives in the region.

The growing perception of “Anti-Americanism” in Pakistan is primarily due to the U.S. security strategy concerns in Afghanistan and Pakistan that Pakistan feels undermine Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorism, leaving the country feeling underappreciated by the U.S. This contributes to fostering a negative image of the United States in Pakistan. In current circumstances, with Pakistan being a strategic ally, the U.S. can use diplomacy in conjunction with public diplomacy to turn the tide in a relationship with Pakistan.

Currently, there is a decline in Pakistani public support of American cooperation with its military and for U.S. assistance and humanitarian aid in areas where extremist leaders operate. Also, there is less inclination towards the U.S. to continue providing intelligence and logistical support for Pakistani troops fighting extremism. Pakistanis feel that the U.S. doesn’t take Pakistan’s national interests into account and doesn’t give it sufficient credit for its contributions to the war in Afghanistan.

The U.S. led drone strikes are a major contributor to this sentiment. According to Pakistan, drone strikes targeting extremist leaders result in more collateral damage of civilians and are mostly carried out without the consent of the Pakistani government that threatens country’s sovereignty. Regardless of how the U.S. views drone strikes in North Waziristan area and how effective they are in targeting extremists, the collateral damage in form of civilian causalities and social structure raises questions about the outcomes of drone war on Pakistani soil. The unified objection of the unauthorized U.S. led drone strikes from the Pakistani government and the Pakistani military further fuels the Pakistani narrative that the U.S. only cares about pursuing its own objectives even at the cost of threatening country’s sovereignty.

To mitigate this major issue, the U.S. needs to work with the Pakistani government and its military on a new bilateral drone strikes strategy that considers both countries security concerns in mind so the major point of tension between them is resolved – the public diplomacy alone will not solve the problem. Despite of the U.S. and Pakistan history of distrust, consensus on drone strikes strategy may have a positive effect on their relationship.  Once a consensus is reached, the U.S. can work with the Pakistani government to gain public support by communicating the drone attacks in a way that is transparent to the Pakistani public. The U.S. can also work with the Pakistani government to prevent civilian casualties or find/invest in alternatives to drone attacks such as Aware Girls to combat extremists, which instills a positive sense of perception in Pakistani public that the U.S. is not showing negligence in addressing their concerns. So far all the public diplomacy efforts made by the U.S. in Pakistan through bridging cultural gaps with programs like Fulbright Scholar Program and funding literacy education for underprivileged children or providing social and economic development opportunities to the private sector have been ineffective due to focus on the drone strikes. Mutual agreement of the countries on the use of drone strikes will pave the way for the better reception of the U.S. public diplomacy efforts in Pakistani public.

Over the years the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has been complex and ridden with distrust due to conflict of narratives regarding history and their roles in addressing security concerns in the region. The U.S. engagement in Pakistan is mostly highlighted in relations to the military, so every shift in that relationship affects the perception of the U.S. in Pakistani public. To counter the negative image building, the U.S. can use public diplomacy to mitigate Anti-Americanism caused by the U.S. foreign policies by reaching consensus on drone strikes with the Pakistani government and highlighting its role in social and economic development in Pakistan, thus signaling the desire for improving relationship to the Pakistani public.

DisclaimerThe opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

Venezuela and its ‘’victim’’ narrative


The Washington Post reported a couple of weeks ago that Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, referred to the international coverage of Venezuela and its problems as ‘’propaganda against our country’’ and that international media is waging a ‘’psychological war’’. This language sounds familiar when one thinks about how similar regimes usually refer to the United States and the ‘’West’’ as ‘’interventionist’’ or ‘’imperialistic’’. However, it is not by coincidence that a country like Venezuela, with a tight relation of coexistence with Cuba, would construct such a narrative portraying Venezuela as the ‘’victim’’ of the United States and the West.

As Miskimmon and O’Loughlin argue, Strategic Narratives are ‘’a means for political actors to construct a shared meaning of the past, present and future of international politics to shape the behavior of domestic and international actors’’. In this shared meaning, the Venezuelan regime aims to extend its influence at home and abroad by portraying the United States and the ‘’West’’ as the bad guys, and countries like Venezuela as the ‘’victims’’. From an initial analysis, the United States’ strategy, from a communications point of view, does not help counter the Maduro regime’s narrative as recent sanctions to key Venezuelan politicians feed the discourse of ‘’victimization’’. However, it is difficult for any country to avoid policies, in such circumstances as Venezuela is facing today, which will not have an impact in the country’s victim narrative.  In my opinion, as the situation in Venezuela keeps deteriorating and the regime’s policies have caused the crisis to become not only political, but most importantly humanitarian, countries’ foreign policies’ towards Venezuela will inevitably become stricter as a response. Although these needed reactions will feed the ‘’victim’’ narrative that the Venezuelan regime will tighten its grip to, as it will not take the blame for what’s happening, weaker or subtle actions by foreign countries are not sufficient any longer.

Since 1999, Hugo Chavez – who is Maduro’s predecessor, leader of the ‘’Bolivarian Revolution’’ and of the ‘’Socialism of the XXI Century’’-, started developing a victim narrative that would grow stronger as his policies converted the country into the dictatorship that it is today. Chavez took direct advice from Fidel Castro and the Cuban regime to shape many policies and characteristics of the Venezuela he wanted to create. Among these, was the victim narrative in which the United States and the West are to blame for a big part of the country’s problems. Although for many years Chavez was able to not only convince a large part of Venezuelans that his policies were ideal and that the United States and the West were at fault for many of the country’s problems, he was also able to gain followers across the region who used the same policies and narrative. However, this is not the case anymore. With Maduro, the situation in Venezuela has deteriorated and the support from countries across the region has decreased, as many blame the Maduro and his regime for the crisis.

Such was the case of last week’s Summit of the Americas, where Bolivia and Cuba were among the few countries that backed up the Venezuelan president and rejected all the other countries’ declarations against the regime. Although Maduro’s allies were loyal to the Venezuelan government in the Summit, there was a majority of opposition to the current policies by the Venezuelan regime, as well as to the upcoming elections for being unconstitutional and in favor of the regime. Maduro was disinvited to the Summit of the Americas by the host country, and although he had previously said that he would still attend, Maduro announced a couple of days before that he would not be attending. Peru disinviting him, the U.S. and regional countries’ declarations during the Summit against the regime and upcoming sanctions by the U.S., EU and other countries from the region, all feed the ‘’victim’’ narrative that the Venezuelan government is using more and more. However, such policies are what neighboring countries should keep doing to allow for democracy to be restored in Venezuela.

The next few months will be crucial to Venezuelans, and to the country’s relations with the region and the world. Moreover, the next few months will be critical for the international community to establish appropriate policies against the Venezuelan regime and in favor of its people.  As Venezuelans are fleeing the country in mass, the crisis keeps deepening and spreading across its borders. It will become very hard for the Venezuelan ‘’victim narrative’’ to keep being successful, especially as so many Venezuelans, now considered refugees, have migrated to the region, the U.S and Europe, and are giving first hand testimony of the miserable conditions in which Venezuelans are living. If Venezuelans were happy and able to lead normal lives in their home country, they wouldn’t be leaving Venezuela to find opportunities elsewhere. Although policies against the Venezuelan regime might seem to help the ‘’victim narrative’’ this narrative is no longer sustainable and foreign countries should follow the steps of those countries that rejected the Venezuelan dictatorship at the Summit of the Americas.


DisclaimerThe opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

I Spy With My Little Eye – How U.S. Surveillance Punctured German Trust


us-de-dartsImagine being a 25-year-old adult who has moved out of your parents’ house and is successfully living on your own only to find out that your parents are spying on you and reading your text messages.  It’s pretty egregious and a violation of trust.  That is exactly how Germany feels toward the United States.

The pinnacle of relationships in the international community built from decades of diplomatic partnerships, economic growth, and most importantly, trust, is now chipped away because of American surveillance scandals.

Trust began to fade precipitously around the time of the Edward Snowden leaks, and the policies and political behavior of the Trump administration further aggravate the U.S.-German relationship.  It is becoming increasingly difficult for the German public and leadership to trust American messages, which can make it difficult for U.S. public diplomacy officials to succeed in their work.

The State of Things

There are two stark perceptions of the U.S.-German relationship among both national publics.  A Pew study conducted just this past February shows that while 68% of Americans view the relationship between the United States and Germany as good, 56% of Germans view the U.S.-German relationship as bad.  And to make matters worse, Germans now trust the United States as much as they trust Russia (which is a stunning low of 21%).  Over the past few years, German public opinion of America is dwindling, threatening the stability of diplomacy in the international community.  As grave as that is, not all hope is lost. A significant portion of Germans still believe that the U.S. is an important partner in foreign affairs.  But if the Germans don’t trust us, how can we succeed in bolstering a relationship that is faltering?

Growing Up, Germany

 In Germany’s “coming of age” story, the United States played a big role in developing this now European powerhouse.  Germans widely trusted the United States and creating a quasi-parental narrative, as America offered guidance to help rise from the ashes of a nation divided.  As the country grew to once again become a prominent force in European politics, Germany also became one of the United States’ closest and strongest allies in Europe.

Though relations between the U.S. and Germany started back in 1790, the modern U.S.-German relationship began with the implementation of the Marshall Plan providing economic aid to Western Germany, but not the East.  That parental aspect comes really kicks into gear during the Cold War, where the U.S. acted as the protector from the Soviet Union and developed West Germany into a budding democracy.  The U.S. seems to always have had Germany’s best interest at heart as evidenced by the Berlin Airlift.  Here, Western allies airlifted supplied to West Germany in response to the Soviet blockade of Berlin, keeping Berliners equipped with daily necessities such as food and fuel until the Soviet Union lifted the blockade in spring 1949.

While the U.S. had a helping hand of grooming Germany to take the lead in European politics and be a democracy on its own, today the U.S. seems to be overstepping their stake in the relationship.  Due to recent surveillance efforts by the United States, that alliance might not be as strong and close as we would like.  Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency employee, leaked information showing that Germans had been a target of American surveillance programs, spurring outrage and distrust among the German people.

The Parental Image, Quashed

Unsurprisingly, Germans were angry that one of their closest allies was spying on them.  Matters only worsened when it was revealed that the Obama administration listened in on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone calls.  This struck a chord with the Germans as they viewed the U.S. favorably and in the parental role, but now—this was a breach of moral authority – the parent now ceased to be the guiding hand and is now the overbearing dad overstepping boundaries.

More so now in the Trump era, German trust in the United States is on a steady decline, coming to an all-time low. President Trump’s “America First” and nationalist policies threaten the international balance in the global economy, which would directly affect German economic stability. In his first year in office, he has demonstrated unpredictability and his lack of experience in political affairs worries the German public.  The actions from Washington in conjunction with the surveillance efforts now leaves the role of the trustworthy parent in shambles and now means nothing to the Germans.

The United States is now attempting to transform the parental narrative to be more of a partnership rather than something hierarchical.  An example of this is the Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative, a State Department and German Marshall Fund effort to develop and cultivate relationships among emerging European and American leaders.  Even though this initiative includes young leaders from many European countries, for Germany, this conjoined effort is meant to evoke the spirit of the Marshall Plan and strengthen transatlantic cooperation.

And with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s planned visit to the White House this week, it seems like an ideal opportunity for the United States to further articulate a long-standing alliance and interest in Germany’s well-being.  Even still, the balloon of trust between these two nations has a small puncture hole and is deflating – merely putting tape over it won’t gain that trust back.

DisclaimerThe opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.


The Pyeongchang Narrative Olympics: Win, Lose, or Draw?

The Olympics are known for bringing the world together. They unite people of all demographic backgrounds and nationalities around sport.

While most people are focused on the sports, world leaders are focused on the politics. This is especially true of the host country. If they are smart, the host country will use the world stage to promote their strategic narrative. A strategic narrative is constructed by political actors to form a shared meaning of international politics. An example of this is President Trump’s “America First”.

South Korea hosted the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. They used their platform and the opening ceremony to promote their image as a major player (pun intended) in the international arena. However, they weren’t the only ones. Since the best part of the Olympics is the competition, let’s keep score of the narrative competition.

The First Quarter: Pre-Olympic events

North Korea and South Korea got a lead early on. By choosing to unite and form a joint women’s hockey team each promoted the narrative they wanted to dominate the Games.  In a time where tensions with their Northern neighbor were high, South Korea presented themselves as a mediator and key player on the international stage. +1 point South Korea

Joining the South Koreans, North Korea presented itself as cooperative and willing to participate in the international arena. This was important on multiple levels. First, forming a team with the South Koreans helped form a relationship and cut tensions (at least briefly) on the peninsula. Second, it sent a message to the international community that North Korea is willing to participate in international events. Third, the new story gave North Korea positive media coverage. +3 points North Korea.

The United States spent the time up to the Olympics threatening North Korea with “fire and fury” and referring to Kim Jong-un as “little rocket man”. -1 points United States.

Picture1Wikimedia Commons—A united Korean team enters the opening ceremony

The Second Quarter: The Opening Ceremony

South Korea put on an elaborate opening ceremony. The event depicted the history and culture of the host. It reminded the world that South Korea is a legitimate player on the international stage. Again, South Korea portrayed its role as a mediator when a South Korean and North Korean athlete carried the torch to the Olympic flame together.  +2 points South Korea.

North Korea gained media coverage by sending Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong to attend the ceremony. Again, pairing with South Korea assisted the North in international reputation. +2 points North Korea.

The Trump administration sent Vice President Mike Pence to represent the US at the ceremony. Pence made the news cycle for snubbing Kim Yo-jong.  -1 points United States.

Halftime Score

South Korea +3

North Korea: +5

United States: -2

The Third Quarter: During the Games

South Korean athletes performed well with their home-court advantage. Overall, they came in sixth in the medal count. The performed especially well in speed skating and short track. Off the court, South Korea also succeeded. Between attending the competition, President Moon held diplomatic talks which ended with North Korea being willing to sit down and further discuss its nuclear situation. +2 points South Korea

North Korea did not perform well but did gain media attention for its unique cheering section. Also by engaging in diplomatic discussion with the South they appeared more reasonable than President Trump portrayed. +1 point North Korea

The United States performed well placing fourth in the medal count. However, any diplomatic action occurring at the Olympics was over shadowed by domestic news of was overshadowed by the resignation of Rob Porter and the democratic memo on FBI surveillance of the Trump campaign. These cancel out, 0 points United States.

The Fourth Quarter: The Closing Ceremony to Today

South Korea hosted a successful Olympics. Media coverage was generally positive and did a good job of spreading the narrative of unity and South Korea as an international actor.  After the Games a delegation from South Korea met with Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang. The Olympics and this meeting set the stage for the current condition of relations. + 2 points South Korea.

North Korea successfully participated in an international arena. They may not have won any medals but they were successful in the diplomatic arena. They created a new narrative portraying themselves as rational actors. Since the Games they have met with South Korea and have agreed to meet with President Trump. This has caused the US to switch to a more diplomatic approach and President Trump to soften his tone. +2 points North Korea.

The United States big play came late in the game. A softer approach and assistance from South Korea led to the current situation. Until the outcome says otherwise, the possibility of a meeting between Kim Jong-un and President Trump should be counted as a positive. As of early this week Mike Pompeo, current CIA director and future Secretary of State, had met with the Kim Jong-Un +2 point United States.

Final Score

South Korea: +7

North Korea: +8

United States: 0

South Korea used their arena(s) to remind the world of their relevancy. Not only with gold medals and K-Pop performances, but with strategic diplomatic action. Acting as a unifier, and using the Olympics to discuss greater issues with visiting representatives, opening the door for further discussion.  The home team was only beat by their neighbor to the north.

North Korea won the Olympic narrative game because they were able to change their image. They went from being portrayed as a rogue nation to being cooperative. The media still cited the strict nature of the state, but it came as an afterthought.  Successfully changing their narrative and setting themselves up to continue this route in the future was a winning game plan.

The United States lost because it did not take advantage of the Olympic stage like its competitors did. However, it should not be counted out. Its success will be determined by the outcome of the next meeting in the form of diplomatic talks, or lack thereof.

Caveat: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

When a Handshake Isn’t Just a Handshake: Breaking Down the New French-American Dynamic

It was the cracking of knuckles heard around the world. During a visit to France, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron put their relationship on display for the entire world as an extended, strong handshake exemplified the close bonds between France and the United States. as well as the opposing points of views held by the two leaders—at least, that’s how the internet saw it.

That handshake went viral, with many seeing it as an example of how the two Presidents were in opposition to one another. After all, each had been a part of a contentious election that pitted ethnonationalism against traditional liberalism. Each represented a different side of that fight, and each had come away with the win.

However, time has shown that the handshake was not a display of anger or contention—it was two men showing their respect for one another, as Macron and Trump have defied the narratives put on them by so many citizens of their respective countries, surprising the world with their close relationship.

The French and U.S. alliance traces all the way back to when the French supported the American revolutionaries and were then inspired to have their own Revolution, establishing their own democracy, even if in a slightly bloodier manner. Over the centuries, the countries have worked together time and time again, teaming up in the World Wars, officially allying through NATO, and working together in the Persian Gulf war. While relations fluctuated, the friendship has been generally strong with each country having its own political dynamics but working together and remaining allies. It is a historic friendship, with connections that go back centuries.

The United States elected Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016, a win for populist nationalism and a defeat of a liberal dynasty. And France, not even a year later, elected Emmanuel Macron over Marine LePen, a rebuttal of her nationalist politics and a win for centrism. Many Americans discussing the French election seemed to be living vicariously through it, seeing Macron’s win as a rebuttal of Trump’s. While that does not necessarily make logical sense, the emotions are understandable. People were so shocked by Trump’s election that they wanted to see something that fit into their schematic perspective of the world around them. Macron’s win made sense, made them happy.

It was that same emotional attachment to the election that made so many Americans sure that Macron and Trump would be bitter rivals. But that narrative, of the French election as a direct rebuttal of the American one, was simply false. Taking a step back, it makes sense that no European leader, particularly not a young newcomer like Macron, would ever seek to make an enemy of the United States. Upon his first visit to France, Trump and Macron shared the infamous handshake, and while the internet read it negatively, it has proven to have been the beginning of a strong relationship. It was not unintentional. Macron understood that it was the small things that would gain Trump’s respect—things like a tough handshake with unbroken eye contact.

It did not happen by accident. Macron has been said to have studied videos of Trump’s handshakes and greetings, so he knew exactly what the man was looking for. He even has aides monitoring the most accessible thermometer of Trump’s mood, his infamous Twitter feed, so that he is constantly aware of the mood of the President.

Macron understands Trump, potentially better than many American liberals do. He loves the pomp and circumstance of the presidency more than the actual lawmaking, so Macron made sure to pull out all the ceremonial stops for him on the first visit. The trip included everything from a tour of Napoleon’s tomb to a military parade. Additionally, that handshake showed Trump that Macron was not the weak sort of liberal he so often decries, but a man worthy of his friendship, one who would not break a handshake.


This week, Macron is on his own visit to the United States, and already Trump is replicating the ceremony of his own trip to France, welcoming Macron and his wife with open arms, presenting him with a ceremonial welcome that includes a “Review of the Troops,” complete with 500 American service members, and a tour of Mount Vernon.

Now, Trump probably thinks this displays his own strength to Macron. However, Macron has quickly taken on the title of the Leader of the Free World, and his youth, good looks, and close relationships with both Trump and his predecessor, Barack Obama, show that Macron is clearly the one in control of this relationship. This further empowers Western Europe, who is now the world leader in the main issues of the 21st century, such as climate change, on which the United States is lagging desperately—and obliviously—behind.

Their physical closeness has continued, with Trump even feeling comfortable enough to flick a piece of dandruff off of Macron’s suit—and announcing it to the room, and then saying: “We have to make him perfect,” he said. “He is perfect.” Donald Trump, who has struggled to find allies among his friends and advisors, is showing an affection for the French President that virtually no one else gets, and it is all because Macron played his cards perfectly.

Emmanuel Macron seemed to many like a neophyte who happened upon a moderately powerful job, but he has shown himself to be much more masterful than that. And his surprise friendship with the President of the United States shows that he is creating personal allies that will serve him well as he seeks to increase France’s power on the world stage.

Caveat: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

5 Ways to Talk about Trump: Explaining President Trump through Metaphor Analysis

Metaphor is a central part of how national narratives are constructed. If, as cognitive linguist George Lakoff suggests, we view the United States (US) as a family and the world as a community, then public diplomacy professionals are like family counselors and town criers rolled into one. US public diplomacy (PD) professionals are dedicated to the important task of informing and influencing foreign publics about American values, culture, and policy goals and objectives. In our current moment, however, this task is at perhaps its most challenging.


Wikimedia Commons | President Donald Trump evokes the Nation as a Family metaphor common to American political rhetoric.

In recent years, diplomats have seen, among other startling developments, a proliferation of media sources and communication tools, the rise of anti-globalist movements, and the election of Donald Trump. How can these professionals continue to strengthen “the relationship between the people and Government of the US and citizens of the rest of the world” under a globally unpopular president who defies norms, shirks protocol, and governs through tweets?

Using Lakoff’s body of work on metaphor as a guide, PD professionals can find a way to positively convey the US and President Trump himself to the global community. Metaphors work by framing abstract or complex ideas in terms of concrete and relatable concepts. They are understood by the individual experience or quality they evoke. For example, while international relations (IR) realists might view the world as a chess game, IR liberals view it as a marketplace.

The current Administration poses a challenge for diplomats in its external unpredictability and internal inconsistencies. However, Lakoff’s metaphor model and analysis reveal that core to President Trump’s messaging and policymaking is the American Conservative concept of the Nation as a family led by a strict parent. The following is a list of metaphors that stem from the Conservative strict parent concept.

1. Moral Strength: The strict parent must teach morality to their dependents. The concept of moral strength centers on self-discipline and dominance over “evil.”

What Trump says: In an April 2018 speech on Syrian military strikes, President Trump said, “The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children thrashing in pain and gasping for air.” Within the moral strength metaphor, President Trump is taking action against evil and demonstrating self-discipline.

What you can say: “The US is dedicated to promoting a world in which all citizens feel protected and secure.”

2. Moral Authority: The strict parent must project the values it teaches dependents: morality, self-discipline, and strength.

What Trump says: At the 2016 Republican National convention, then-candidate Trump said, “I will work with, and appoint, the best prosecutors and law enforcement officials in the country to get the job done. In this race for the White House, I am the Law And Order candidate.” By framing himself as the law and order candidate, Trump claims his moral authority as a leader.

What you can say: “President Trump serves his role as Chief Executive by working to ensure the safety of US citizens.”

3. Moral Self-Interest: The strict parent family emphasizes personal responsibility and interest in one’s own well-being. Within this framework, if everyone seeks their own well-being, well-being will be maximized for all.

What Trump says: During a 2016 campaign rally in Arizona, then-candidate Trump argued, “Let me tell you who [the US immigration system] doesn’t serve: it doesn’t serve you, the American people. When politicians talk about immigration reform, they usually mean the following: amnesty, open borders, and lower wages. Immigration reform should mean something else entirely: it should mean improvements to our laws and policies to make life better for American citizens.”

What you can say: “The Trump Administration emphasizes personal responsibility and economic opportunity for all US citizens.”

4. Moral Order: The strict parent teaches respect for authority figures and hierarchy. Failure to obey this teaching results in immorality. In US Conservatism, this hierarchy typically follows the traditions of Western Christianity.

What Trump says: In the 2018 State of the Union Address, President Trump evoked the nation as a family metaphor directly when illustrating his concept or moral order, “In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life. Our motto is “in God we trust.” And we celebrate our police, our military, and our amazing veterans as heroes who deserve our total and unwavering support.”

What you can say: “The US is home to a diverse group of individuals all committed to higher values and objectives, including justice and freedom.”

5. Moral Health: The strict parent may compare immorality to a contagious disease. To avoid raising immoral children, strict parents closely monitor the types of people and information their children are exposed to.

What Trump says: While attending a 2018 law enforcement roundtable, President Trump discussed “removing” members of the MS-13 gang from the US, making comments such as, “MS-13 recruits through our broken immigration system, violating our borders. And it just comes right through — whenever they want to come through, they come through.” This presents the gang as an invasive disease, poised to overtake American “health.”

What you can say: The Trump Administration is committed to maintaining the ideals that form the foundation of US democracy, including the concept of ‘domestic tranquility’ outlined in our constitution.”

Although President Trump often rocks the diplomatic boat with inconsistencies and improvisation, he mostly adheres to the metaphors that have long governed American Conservatism. Diplomats should focus on the metaphorical thread that connects President Trump’s messaging rather than the unconventional way in which he might project it. Doing so will make explaining Trump’s behavior and comments much simpler for diplomats working in a variety of cultures and contexts.


Caveat: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

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