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We often get reminders that a new Administration in Washington means new leadership at U.S. Embassies overseas. Within a year of taking office, an incoming President generally will have nominated (and the Senate approved) new Ambassadors for all major overseas postings. In many foreign government establishments, these appointments are highly anticipated events, more closely watched than any foreign envoy’s arrival on Washington’s Embassy Row.
Further evidence that President Obama is prepared to take some political heat at home in order to improve America’s standing abroad comes in the form of his decision on torture photos.
Barack Obama soon will make his second overseas trip as President, visiting Egypt, Germany and France. Although Obama differs from his predecessors in many respects, some things are true of any Presidential visit to a foreign country. The people at the White House who plan the trip want to set a theme, they want a memorable speech or public event, and they want good images. There is no reason for Obama’s media advisers to think any differently.
Or is there?
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good patriotic cry. Russians and like-minded Ukrainians are lining up these days to see a movie, “Taras Bulba”, that allows them this public pleasure while undercutting Ukraine’s separate national identity. A real “twofer” for the movie’s sponsors, the Russian government.
This may turn out to be a footnote in the annals of public diplomacy, but it is an instructive one nonetheless. The Amerika Haus in Berlin, a symbol of U.S.-government public diplomacy throughout the Cold War, has been quietly resurrected by a German-American not-for-profit to serve as a venue for America-related events in the German capital.
For all the brainpower that Barack Obama has brought to Washington, the only senior official with the right touch for articulating policy via the media seems to be the President himself. Last week he scored big in two TV firsts — a taped for broadcast greeting to Iran and an appearance on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show.
Now is the time for all good men — and women — to come to the aid of public diplomacy. I have in mind citizen travel to countries that, until recently, were off-limits to Americans, like Iran, Libya or Syria. Or Cuba, the only country that Americans need a “license” from their own government to travel to. There are now hopeful signs, often tentative and always reversible, that the avenues to citizen diplomacy are becoming less cluttered and more welcoming. Americans should take advantage of these opportunities and thereby assist the improvement of U.S.
The news out of Philadelphia is that there is no news — no newspapers, that is. The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News have joined the swelling ranks of American print media that have gone bankrupt. Last month, it was the Star Tribune of Minneapolis. Late last year, the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, owned by the same parent, declared their insolvency. The two newspapers in Detroit, the News and the Free Press, now have home delivery only three days a week. The print version of the Washington Post is stagnant.
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