Nov 27, 2009

An Open-Source Approach to Afghanistan

In "Music for the Jilted Generation: Open-Source Public Diplomacy," Ali Fisher speaks a great deal about new approaches to public diplomacy which are more inclusive of a collective group and take into account how much each culture can learn from one another.

As Fisher points out, the critics of the traditional idea of public diplomacy as a "cathedral" run by a very insular, hierarchical group of elites who formulate their own ideas of success, speak a great deal about interaction openness among different cultures. The critics of the Cathedral emphasize the importance of cultures listening to one another, what can be learned as a result of said listening, and the value of interaction with other groups in general.

To Fisher, public diplomacy goes far beyond the traditional notions of warfare and hearts and minds. In fact, Fisher's most important statement outright refutes all of those traditional notions. "Public diplomacy is not necessarily merely about persuading people to adopt your goals. It is about achieving your goals through helping others achieve theirs," says Fisher.

This statement reminded me a lot of what many, many Afghans have been saying about the U.S. Mission in Afghanistan. Whereas Secretary of State Clinton recently said that the United States' sole goal in Afghanistan is to disband and disempower Al Qaeda in the nation, former Afghan Presidential candidate, Dr. Ashraf Ghani went on CNN to state outright that, that goal cannot be achieved without creating a safe, stable Afghanistan.

“In the process that threat cannot be eliminated unless Afghanistan is made stable. And it cannot be made stable unless a process of state-building is made in earnest“

To Dr. Ghani, current Afghan Ambassador Jawad, and many others, the United States cannot reach its goal in Afghanistan without first giving the Afghans the safety, security, stability, jobs, education, and basic infrastructure they have been waiting 30 years for.

In fact, when I appeared on the AU Observer web show a couple of weeks ago, the other panelist (a PHD student in International Relations at AU) agreed with me that the primary goal of the Americans should be to ensure the Afghans a functioning nation that meets their basic needs:

If the United States were to act properly in Afghanistan in giving the Afghans the basic things they want, it would prove Fisher's statement that "it is action that has an impact on the international environment" true.

Fisher also talks about the importance of information in open-source diplomacy, " it is important to consider information alongside other pillars of power, but also to consider a shift in the development of public diplomacy initiatives," says Fisher of open-source diplomacy. Fisher later compares this idea to Linux challenging Microsoft and the Wikipedia challenging traditional encyclopedias like the Britannica.

Of course, this idea notion of an inclusive and collective public diplomacy only works where access to information is readily available. Though even the United States' foreign policy can be seen as a giant cathedral, the people of the United States (for the most part) enjoy great access to unlimited streams of information. But what of the people in Iran, China, and North Korea where there is both censorship and government spying of information flows? What of Afghanistan where there is true pluralism in terms of media (over a dozen public and private owned TV stations, hundreds of radio stations, and dozens of newspapers operating fairly autonomously with little government interference). but the literacy rate is only 28%?

Also, as many people have noted, including Senator John Kerry, the United States has not done an adequate job in communicating its mission to the both Afghans and Americans - despite the various media outlets in both nations.

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