Foreign Policy Blogs

Year in Review, Part 1

I am posting my thoughts on the Year in Review for issues most relevant to Global Engagement.  However, this is part 1 of 2 – Annie White will also post her thoughts.  Between the two of us you should get a pretty good sense of the year just ending and the one soon to begin.

Overview:  Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 was a watershed moment in many ways and offers great promise in the reform and restructuring of U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance – with special emphasis on public diplomacy.   As we reach the end of the Obama administration’s first year we still do not have a USAID Administrator in place but Rajiv Shah was nominated last month and his confirmation by the US Senate is likely to come soon.

Rajiv Shah

Rajiv Shah

2009 also saw the kick off of two major executive branch initiatives that have the potential to change the landscape for and structure of US foreign assistance and public diplomacy: the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) and the National Security Council’s Presidential Study Directive on Global Engagement (PSD-7).   Add to that the legislation working its way through the U.S. Senate,  the Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act of 2009 (S.1524), that would add funding and policymaking capacity to USAID.  Combined, these three items offer great potential for reform, but if not coordinated they could  further muddle the current confusing situation with State, USAID, NSC and DOD as to who is taking the lead on defined elements of foreign assistance and public diplomacy.  
Person of the Year:  The single most noteworthy public diplomacy moment of the year was by President Obama himself – his speech in Cairo.  It was masterful in both tone and substance.  One can debate its lasting effects on US relations in the Middle East but it created a sea change in the tenor of US diplomacy in the region and beyond, no mean feat.   The stakes and the risks of giving such a speech were very high yet it came off as well as could have been expected.  It was not received enthusiastically by all, as is to be expected of any American president carrying the baggage of decades of  US policy with him.  Change in long-term US policy in the region has been much more difficult to achieve, as the second half of 2009 has demonstrated.  Still, the Cairo speech was a remarkable event and showed that most powerful public diplomacy tool available to the US is Barack Obama. 
President Obama at Cairo University

President Obama at Cairo University

Most Unexpected Event:  The protests in Iran in June were startling, compelling and highlighted for many both the role and limits of social media in fueling and coordinating protest movements.  As people took to the streets to protest what was seen as electoral fraud and to support the challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Twitter and Facebook social media networks allowed protesters to communicate with one another and to be joined – virtually – by supporters around the world.  At one point it was reported that the US State Department contacted Twitter and urged them to delay any cuts in service to Iranian protesters. Then the Obama administration sought to strike a balance and assure the Iranian government that the US was not meddling in internal affairs but that  “people’s voices should be heard and not suppressed” in Iran. The diplomacy of social networking was shown to be as complicated as any other kind of diplomacy.  See what one US blogger notes about the double-edged sword of social networking:
As the government began a full-scale crackdown on the protests, the reality of bullets and batons versus social networking became painfully apparent.  Nevertheless, the events in Iran in June marked an important moment in Iran and in the use of social networking as a powerful tool of social protest.
The Fingers are Green...the Thumbs are for Texting
The Fingers are Green…the Thumbs are for Texting
What to Watch for in 2010: The following issues have a potentional to reshape the overall contours of US Global Engagement in the coming year:
  • Inside baseball: as noted above, in 2010 we will start to see outcomes from the QDDR, the NSC review, the USAID reform legislation and the leadership of Rajiv Shah.
  • Outside analysis: A new book will come out in 2010 from Janine Wedel, Confronting Corruption, Building  Accountability: Lessons From the World of International Development Advising(with Lloyd J. Dumas and Greg Callman), Forthcoming, Palgrave.  Wedel’s work on the intersection of foreign assistance, contractors, public/foreign policy and corruption has been hard-hitting and extremely important work.  This book promises the same in a field that needs all the rigorous and unbiased analysis it can get.
  • Wild Card: In 2010 Egypt will begin a two-year period of elections (parliamentary in 2010 and presidential in 2011) and it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds in terms of domestic Egyptian politics, US policy, opposition parties/movements and the use of social networking.  I am not going to fall into the trap of making any predictions but I do think it will be fascinating to watch.
"Can I follow you on Twitter?"

"Can I follow you on Twitter?"



James Ketterer

James Ketterer is Dean of International Studies at Bard College and Director of the Bard Globalization and International Affairs program. He previously served as Egypt Country Director for AMIDEAST, based in Cairo and before that as Vice Chancellor for Policy & Planning and Deputy Provost at the State University of New York (SUNY). In 2007-2008 he served on the staff of the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education. He previously served as Director of the SUNY Center for International Development.

Ketterer has extensive experience in technical assistance for democratization projects, international education, legislative development, elections, and policy analysis – with a focus on Africa and the Middle East. He has won and overseen projects funded by USAID, the Department for International Development (UK), the World Bank and the US State Department. He served on the National Security Council staff at the White House, as a policy analyst at the New York State Senate, a project officer with the Center for Legislative Development at the University at Albany, and as an international election specialist for the United Nations, the African-American Institute, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He is currently a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Association and has also held teaching positions in international politics at the New School for Social Research, Bard College, State University of New York at New Paltz, the University at Albany, Russell Sage College, and the College of Saint Rose.

Ketterer has lectured and written extensively on various issues for publications including the Washington Post, Middle East Report, the Washington Times, the Albany Times Union, and the Journal of Legislative Studies. He was a Boren National Security Educational Program Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and in Morocco, an International Graduate Rotary Scholar at the Bourguiba School of Languages in Tunisia, and studied Arabic at the King Fahd Advanced School of Translation in Morocco. He received his education at Johns Hopkins University, New York University and Fordham University.

Areas of focus: Public Diplomacy; Middle East; Africa; US Foreign Policy

Contributor to: Global Engagement