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Public Diplomacy vs Political Campaigns

June 17, 2010

Reading the Lord and Lynch CNAS report about Obama’s public diplomacy strategy crystallized a couple thoughts about the differences between public diplomacy and election campaigns.

  1. (Some) Election campaigns have a lot more money.  On the first page of Battles to Bridges Rhonda Zaharna says that the US Shared Values advertising campaign in the Islamic World in 2001-02 cost $12m.  The Obama Campaign spent $730m to influence a much smaller number of people.  (Yes I know I’m not talking constant dollars)but this comparison is misleading because political campaigns are much easier than public diplomacy.
  2. Election campaigns only have one objective: to produce a victory on election day, having said that campaigns regularly fail because of their inability to focus on the objective and maintain a coherent strategy.  Public Diplomacy frequently lacks such a clear focus.  Lynch and Lord list seven objectives of the US engagement strategy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  3. Producing an action (voting) is often easier than changing somebody’s attitude or opinion.  A vote cast by somebody acting on impulse or out of ignorance counts just as much as one cast on the basis of a rational consideration of the alternatives. The effect of an electoral campaign can be quite short lived by still effective.

In considering PD activities the relationship between the desired effect and the necessary resources is a central strategic question.

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