Global Ethics Corner: McCain and Obama: The Public Diplomacy Dance

October 24, 2008

The presidential candidates assert that America must renew its global moral authority, but they dance, offering no solutions. Let's take a closer look.

One view is that we have to communicate better. Unilateralism is dysfunctional, dialogue is good. America must reengage with allies and even enemies. But, what if policies are incompatible, what if we find we despise each other!

Another position is that moral authority can't be built on ineffective policy. Maybe policy has to change? How we act should match how we speak. Perhaps, but practical diplomatic choice often involve shades of gray, a lesser of two evils. How do we square that circle?

Third, maybe we need to change structure? How can the State Department be responsible for implementing and explaining administration policy and also for asserting America's moral role? Maybe we need institutional separation between attempting to influence others' policies and speaking to global audiences about American values?

Finally, perhaps you simply have to live with some tensions? For instance, American policies in the Middle East undercut American moral standing with Arabs. Maybe the contradiction is inevitable?

What do you think? Change the communication? The policy? The government structure? Live with the tension? All four? America's public diplomacy and its moral authority rest on the choice.

By William Vocke


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