Foreign Policy Blogs

Comparing the Candidates: Listening

According to public diplomacy expert Nicholas Cull, (see this review of his new book) the very act of listening is one of the primary functions of public diplomacy. As an example Cull cited the US Information Agency's research and analysis of foreign opinion, which the director shared with policy makers.

More recently, former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes frequently conducted “listening tours” in regions of strategic concern for the US. Hughes explained: “I ]believe public diplomacy is a dialogue, not a monologue, and I have actively continued my "listening tours."

In a separate speech she said : “An important part of telling America's story is learning the stories of others. Our interaction with the rest of the world must not be a monologue. It must be a conversation.” Out of the two candidates running for President, who, once in office, will be a much more important listener that the mere Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy, how well might he listen to foreign publics?

Both Senator McCain and Senator Obama recognize that the world's opinion of the US (Pew) and its foreign policies are at an all-time low. That's an important first step. But what else do we know thus far in the campaign?

Senator Obama said during a speech to the Unity Conference in July:

“[We must] make certain that we project ourselves on the world stage with a sense of humility, a sense that we are listening to others”.

ANd then there's Senator McCain. Here's an excerpt from an article founding his foreign policy platform , titled "An Enduring Peace Built on Freedom," published in Foreign Affairs’ Nov/Dec 2007 edition:

"Polls indicate that the United States is more unpopular now than at any time in history and increasingly viewed as pursuing its narrow self-interest. The people who hold these views are wrong."

Wrong, huh? So it appears that McCain listens, but that does't mean he's going to accept what he hears. Deep sigh. One might take this to mean that the Undersecretary of Public Diplomacy will have a tougher job to do under a Republican administration than a Democratic one.



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.