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FP flashback: Gingrich on reforming the State Dept. in 2003

Back in June, 2003, current GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich wrote a piece for Foreign Policy titled, "Rogue State Department," which accused the department of undermining the Bush administration's foreign policy and argues that it needs to "experience culture shock, a top-to-bottom transformation that will make it a more effective communicator of U.S. values around the world." (As far as I can tell, this makes Gingrich and Ron Paul the two past FP contributors in the race. 

Published just weeks after Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech, the piece feels a like a bit of a relic of the short-lived triumphalism of the early Iraq war. For one thing, it, just a tad prematurely, refers to the war in the past tense and mockingly notes a leaked internal State Department memo that worried that "liberal democracy would be difficult to achieve [in Iraq]".

Gingrich's thoughts on global media coverage of the Iraq war are interesting:

Moreover, the rise of a global anti-American network of activists and nations -- including left-wing non-governmental organizations, elite media, and most of the elite academics around the world (including in the United States) -- further increases the country's need for a comprehensive communication and information strategy. The British Broadcasting Corporation, according to some observers, was at least as hostile to the United States as Al Jazeera was during the entire Iraqi conflict. Today, the United States does not have a strategy, structure, or resource allocation capable of dealing with this sort of opposition. That must change if the United States is to gain sufficient popular appeal with ordinary people around the world, such that their governments will in turn support U.S. policies.[...]

[T]he U.S. government should commission a comprehensive study on the international press coverage of the United States leading up to and during the war in Iraq. The study should encompass state-owned media in the Arab world to determine if those outlets are a major contributing source of anti-American hostility. Private media organizations attacking the United States represent a different phenomenon from state-owned media attacking the United States. The latter is a government-sponsored act of hostility and should be dealt with accordingly. 

Government-sponsored act of hostility? Does that mean sanctions on Qatar? Or Britain, for that matter?

It's also interesting to note that Gingrich believes the success or failure of U.S. diplomacy should be judged on the basis of global public opinion: 

An independent public affairs firm should report weekly on how U.S. messages are received in at least the world's 50 largest countries. One can hardly overstate how poorly the United States communicates its message and values to the world: Large majorities in France, Germany, and South Korea opposed the U.S. perspective on Iraq -- not to mention the 95 percent disapproval rate in Turkey. Without external professional help and guidance, internal efforts by the State Department will be a waste of time. Wherever possible, U.S. chambers of commerce should help explain and develop the rule of law, transparency and accountability in government, and free markets across the globe. And business advisory groups drawn from effective, internationally sophisticated corporations should advise the State Department on how to improve U.S. communication strategies.

The president should receive a weekly report on U.S. successes and failures in communicating around the world from a special assistant for global communication, a new post with coordinating authority over the State Department, the Defense Department, and other agencies engaged in international communication efforts. Only by raising this critical challenge to the level of presidential concern will dramatic improvements ever materialize. And progress should be gauged with measurable improvements in public and elite understanding of U.S. values and positions around the world -- not by how much money is spent on the communication program.

The ultimate thrust of the piece is that the poor international reception for the Bush adminsitration's policies -- particularly the war in Iraq -- was not inevitable and should have been counteracted by aggressive public promotion by the State Department. 

The notion of creating a "special assistant for global communication" and judging the success of U.S. diplomacy, presumably, by looking at how U.S. policies are viewed in global opinion polls, seems like a pretty novel notion and I'd be curious to know if Gingrich still supports it eight years later. Perhaps some fodder for discussion in his upcoming "Lincoln-Douglas-style" foreign-policy debate with Jon Huntsman.  

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China's quid pro panda

The web's buzzing this week about the Edinbugh Zoo welcoming a pair of giant breeding pandas from China's Sichuan province. "Since the 1950s," Reuters explains, "China has given away pandas as gestures of goodwill in what has come to be known as 'panda diplomacy.'" Or, as the Independent exuberantly put it, "Pandaplomacy! Eats shoots and and helps ease global tension."

Ah, if only it were that simple. To be sure, the arrival in Scotland of Tian Tian and Yang Guang (or Sweetie and Sunshine, for Anglophones) has been accompanied by a flurry of diplomatic activity. During a happily timed visit to China this week, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond thanked Chinese officials for the pandas and announced a raft of bilateral agreements, including plans to digitally map China's ancient Eastern Qing Tombs and possibly establish direct flights between the two countries.

But underlying these friendly overtures is the stark truth that China's panda diplomacy just isn't what it used to be. According to the Guardian, the origins of the practice actually stretch  all the way back to the Tang dynasty in the seventh century, when the Empress Wu Zetian dispatched two pandas to the Japanese court. The Chinese government revived panda diplomacy in the 1950s, sending 23 pandas as "state gifts" and "friendly ambassadors" to nine countries through 1982, according to the China Internet Information Center.

In perhaps the most famous example, Mao Zedong presented Richard Nixon with two pandas after their groundbreaking summit in 1972 (Nixon, in turn, gave Mao a pair of America's greatest zoological treasure: musk oxen). In Nixon and Mao, Margaet MacMillan describes the moment at which China's premier offered the pandas to Pat Nixon:

Chou En-lai, who was smoking Chinese cigarretes, turned to Mrs. Nixon and gestured to the picture of two pandas on the package. "We will give you two," he said. According to Chinese sources, Mrs. Nixon screamed with joy.... Giving the right presents, not too lavish and not too simple, has been an art, one that the Chinese had traditionally excelled at.

These days, however, there's simply no such thing as a free panda (unless you're Hong Kong or Taiwan, which rejected a panda present in 2005 as an infringement on its independence). In the 1990s, as China flexed its economic muscle, Chinese conservation and zoological groups shifted gears and decided to loan the rare animals in pairs to other countries for 10 years of "cooperative research" with Chinese scientists and a hefty fee, with the pandas and their offspring remaining the "property of China during the loan period," according to the China Internet Information Center.

In fact, the arrival of Sweetie and Sunshine in Scotland is the product of five years of byzantine negotiations with Chinese authorities following the Edinburgh Zoo's decision to bid for pandas as a way to stem financial losses -- not some grand goodwill gesture from the Chinese government. And Scotland, banking on increased tourism to recoup its expenses, will pay China a cool $1 million a year for the honor of hosting its pandas, with most of the money going toward conservation and genetics research to help China preserve its panda population.

This new arrangement can lead to some awkward situations. According to a Washington Times report, the State Department suggested in 2009 that President Obama personally lobby Chinese President Hu Jintao to have Tai Shan, a cub born to leased pandas at Washington's National Zoo, stay in the capital for a bit longer. "We think there might be a good chance that President Hu would agree, purely as a diplomatic goodwill gesture," State explained. While Tai Shan's parents were permitted to stay in Washington under a five-year extension of the lease, the effort to keep Tai Shan in town ultimately failed. Diplomatic goodwill gesture? Please. A deal's a deal.

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