January 2012 is the U.S. Department of State’s “21st Century Statecraft Month.”
What the State Department has in mind in this case is what former Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy James Glassman dubbed “Public Diplomacy 2.0”: using digital media to maximize outreach to foreign publics. Thus it is not a new concept but dates back to the second Bush term. However, the State Department has run with the idea, and today, believe it or not, State has more than 193 media accounts, and 100 embassies have Facebook or Twitter accounts.
“Throughout the month, officials in Washington and missions overseas will host digital engagements across multiple platforms on a wide of array of issues to directly engage publics, domestic and foreign, on the foreign policy issues that matter to them,” says the State Department’s press release. And last week, State Department “Spokesperson” Victoria Nuland kicked off the month with a Twitter session, answering questions submitted from State’s 10 official Twitter feeds.
Never one to miss an opportunity to unravel the mysteries of the Obama foreign policy, The Heritage Foundation submitted two questions:
- @StateDept: Given the failure of engagement policy w/ Iran, how can Obama hope that negotiations w/ the Taliban will be positive? #askstate
- @StateDept: What do you think of Russia’s missile activity since signing the New START—do we need to reset the reset? #askstate
Unfortunately, Nuland did not choose answer our questions. Five questions were featured: one on the U.S. refusal to intervene in Syria to stop the massacre of Syrians by their own government, one on the U.S. maintaining diplomatic relations with the Sudanese government despite its brutality, one on the moral or military nature of U.S. global leadership from China, one on Iran’s intentions to shut off the Internet and threatening the Strait of Hormuz, and one on the implications for NATO of the drastic Obama defense cuts. Pretty good questions, actually, all of which received standard bureaucratic answers.
Getting the U.S. government plugged into social networks is not a bad idea. However, until the State Department learns to tweet as good as it gets, it will not be genuinely participating in this particular discourse. So, please, when the next Twitter Q & A comes up, post the answers on Twitter. The whole point, presumably, is to have a dialogue in a social media context. Also, it would be interesting to see U.S. foreign policy explained in 140 characters. Could bring some much-needed clarity.