Friday, November 19, 2010

Soft Power Failure!

As post 9/11 measure, the war in Afghanistan, Guantanamo prison, and the invasion in Iraq, the image of America in the world has changed dramatically, especially in the Middle East. In 2003, a cultural exchange program as a public diplomacy measure took place. My cousin who was a student at the King Fahad University for Petroleum and Minerals was among the host group, and he wanted to participate in the cultural exchange program. He applied for the program and he received the invitation. When he started the process of applying and issuing the visa, the US embassy in Riyadh had very strict procedures that caused delays, denials, or not responds to some individuals. My cousin applied for the visa 7 months before the day the Saudi team should have flown to the states. I remember how disappointed and frustrated was my cousin to not hear back from the embassy. He did not go on the program along with other friends of his whom visa were rejected or had not heard from the embassy as well. Despite the fact that my cousin has studied college in the US, and has been several times prior to the 9/11 hit.

Looking back at the incidence, I think that the US efforts in public diplomacy were completely failure at that time. To receive an invitation from the American government, and to receive a visa denial from the same part seemed very illogical paradox. It must have created different confusing perceptions about America among these people. Collaborative efforts should come about different governmental sectors working together in order to attain the wanted results of public diplomacy. Public diplomacy is a very strong and effective tool that governments use in order to create the image of their countries the way they want. But it needs strategic implementation. Arbitrary effort would definitely leads to nowhere if not fires back.

I think that the previous American administration caused a lot of deformation in the American global image at different levels. Fighting terrorism was urgently needed at that time in the American foreign policies, but I believe the government could have achieved that in a less radical measure that could have not distorted the American image. To many individuals around the world, America has become a country that only knows the language of war. Which is very hard and radical power, when in fact the American Government was trying to maintain soft power through Public diplomacy. That’s why many around the world appraised Obama’s announcement of the closure of Guantanamo prison, the US withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. These actions in a way sooth the flammable image, that can be improved with soft power influence in the long run. The US foreign policy with the new administration has been working at different levels to restore the US image around the world. I believe that different governmental sectors must work comprehensively together in order to succeed in public diplomacy and retrieve the image of the American dream.


  1. I think that a lot of this is true--the previous presidential administration took a very short-term look at foreign policy, and many times public diplomacy didn't even seem to enter the picture. The lack of consideration for other cultures and countries was portrayed, in America, at least, as acceptable in a time of war(post 9/11). Whether or not the American people really bought that argument is another issue entirely--domestic public diplomacy isn't what we're talking about. But the lack of foresight, or even hindsight (looking back at conflicts in Vietnam, which had real similarities between the US/Afghanistan war), has resulted in the situation the US faces today: not a lot of people support their efforts.

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  3. Nour, the story you shared about your cousin is both deplorable and far too common. I have a number of friends who are in the US Foreign Service and are responsible for adjudicating visa applications. They complain frequently that they don't have the information that they need in order to do their jobs properly, ie process visas for people who should be allowed and encouraged to visit the US, while at the same time keeping undesirable visitors out. There should absolutely be more collaboration between agencies of the same government to avoid exactly this type of situation where the negative actions speak much, much louder than the positive words. (I deleted my previous comment because I forgot a key point)

  4. I think it's very interesting to see the close relations here between soft-power and hard-power. Soft-power is seldom considered to have a direct effect on the international power relations but in times of war (or such as the case of 9/11) soft-power comes to play a more crucial role. Soft-power together with media will definitely influence more then the single individuals thoughts and views and since power has shifted somewhat from the nation-state to the civil society within the country a collective image of the bad guy and the good guy will definitely put pressure on the nation-state to act.