Sunday, February 17, 2019

Heather Nauert Withdraws From Consideration For U.N. Ambassador


Emma Bowman, NPR, February 16; on Nauert, see below

Image from entry, with caption: Department of State Spokesperson Heather Nauert withdrew herself from consideration for the nomination of U.S. ambassador to the U.N. on Saturday.
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert withdrew herself from consideration on Saturday for the nomination of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
"I am grateful to President Trump and Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo for the trust they placed in me for considering me for the position of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations," she said, according to a statement released by the State Department. "However, the past two months have been grueling for my family and therefore it is in the best interest of my family that I withdraw my name from consideration."
President Trump picked the former Fox & Friends host to become the next ambassador to the U.N. in December. Had she been confirmed, Nauert would have replaced Nikki Haley, who resigned as ambassador in October.
But in the two months since her nomination was announced, Nauert's credentials for the position have been questioned.
Nauert had no government or foreign policy experience until she joined the Trump administration in 2017, NPR's Michelle Kelemen reported, beyond overseas stints for ABC, including in Baghdad. 
During her nearly two-year tenure in the State Department, Nauert worked alongside former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and then Pompeo.
"Heather Nauert has performed her duties as a senior member of my team with unequalled excellence," Pomeo [JB: sic] said in a statement. "Her personal decision today to withdraw her name from consideration to become the nominee for United States Ambassador to the United Nations is a decision for which I have great respect."
Her time at the State Department was not without controversy. As NPR's Kelemen noted following Nauert's nomination:
"She faced some criticism for a tourist-like Instagram post from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on a trip that was meant to focus on the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
"There have been other missteps, including the time when she cited D-Day — the Allied invasion of Normandy against the Nazis — as an example of America's strong relationship with Germany."
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino says Trump will pick a new nominee for the position soon. Before Trump picked Nauert, Trump had considered former White House aide Dina Powell.
There had also been rumors that his daughter Ivanka Trump was under consideration. NPR's Laurel Wamsley reported, that "when the president was asked whether he was considering nominating Ivanka Trump for the U.N. post. Trump replied that she would be 'dynamite' in the job, but he was concerned about being accused of nepotism."
***

Biography


Photo of Heather Nauert













Heather Nauert
Department Spokesperson
Term of Appointment: 04/24/2017 to present

Heather Nauert joined the State Department as spokesperson in April 2017 after a career in broadcast journalism. Ms. Nauert was designated as Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs on March 13, 2018 to October 10. 2018.
As a New York-based anchor and correspondent at the Fox News Channel, Ms. Nauert was responsible for overseeing breaking news on the top-rated US morning cable news show. She regularly solo anchored programs on Fox and contributed to every news platform, including radio and internet, covering global and domestic crises and interviewing senior elected and military officials. In 2016, she traveled to battleground states to report on the presidential primaries and election. She also reported from the Republican and Democratic conventions, presidential debates and the inauguration.
Previously, Ms. Nauert served as a network correspondent for ABC News where she traveled extensively for breaking news stories in the United States and abroad. She was also previously a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Prior to working as a journalist, Ms. Nauert served as a health insurance consultant in Washington, DC. She is a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and Mount Vernon College in Washington.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Blast from the Past: The Anti-Propaganda Tradition in the United States (2008)

PDAA graphic

Public Diplomacy Alumni Association
Formerly USIA Alumni Association
publicdiplomacy.org; see also (1) (2)

[JB note: Full text cannot be adequately formated on this blog; please note that the cited original article contains a link to references.]

Public Diplomacy Small Grants Program: Supporting Projects in Malawi


www2.fundsforngos.org

Image result for U.S. Embassy in Lilongwe, Malawi
image (not from entry) from, with caption: U.S. Embassy Lilongwe

Deadline Ongoing

The Public Affairs Section (PAS) at the U.S. Embassy in Lilongwe, Malawi of the U.S. Department of State is pleased to announce that funding is available through its Public Diplomacy [JB emphasis] Small Grants Program.
PAS awards a limited number of grants to individuals, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions to support exchange between the U.S. and Malawi with the aim of improving mutual respect and understanding between the people of the two countries.
Priority Projects
The Public Diplomacy Small Grants Program supports projects with the following themes and initiatives:
Funding Information
PAS will consider proposals up to $100,000, projects that are smaller in scope are more likely to be considered.
  • Minimum Individual Award Amount: $1,000
  • Maximum Individual Award Amount: $100,000
Eligibility Criteria
  • PAS encourages applications from organizations located in Malawi, the U.S., or abroad:
    • Registered not-for-profit organizations
    • Civil society/non-governmental organizations with at least two years of programming experience
    • Educational institutions
  • Only projects that take place in Malawi will be considered. PAS encourages applicants to provide cost-sharing from additional sources in support of the proposed project.
How to Apply
Interested applicants must submit their proposals at the address given on the website.


Big Opportunities for Small NGOs. Click here to learn more.

For more information, please visit Public Diplomacy Small Grants Program.

Blast from the Past: Obituary of the diplomat/scholar who introduced "Public Diplomacy" into the Cold War American diplomatic lexicon


"Edmund Asbury Gullion, 85, Wide-Ranging Career Envoy"


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Wolfgang Saxon, The New York Times, March 31, 1998; see also (1)

Edmund Asbury Gullion, one of the country's most accomplished career ambassadors and former dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he trained the next generation of Foreign Officers, died in his sleep the night of March 17 at his home in Winchester, Mass. He was 85.

The cause was apparently a heart attack, the Fletcher School reported.

Mr. Gullion earned his spurs in war-torn Europe and ended his diplomatic career in 1964 as United States Ambassador to the recently independent Congo, a flashpoint of the cold war. As an old hand on Indochina he was also deeply involved in the conflict that tore at Southeast Asia, whose reverberations followed him even after he settled into academe in Medford, Mass.

He was dean of the Fletcher School from 1964 until 1978.

The Murrow Center, named after Edward R. Murrow, was intended to establish direct communications with the peoples of other lands and to build mutual understanding.

It also fit nicely with Mr. Guillion's [JB sic] view, expressed just recently: ''I always thought journalists and diplomats could learn a great deal from one another.''

The present dean of the Fletcher School, John R. Galvin, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, Europe, called Mr. Guillion a role model and the driving force behind the Murrow Center.

''I was a fellow at Fletcher in the early seventies when Ed Gullion was the dean,'' General Galvin said Friday. ''His gift to us was the kind of leadership and vision that carried him to the top levels of the foreign service.''

In an interview with The New York Times in 1964, Mr. Gullion said that ranking diplomats should be treated like military battle commanders -- given a general mission but left relatively free to call the shots. He said he knew of no ''Pianola'' posts where ambassadors just appreciatively watch the keyboards playing; nor, he said, had modern communications turned them into striped-pants deliverymen.

Edmund Gullion was born in Lexington, Ky. At 17, while still in high school, he won an international oratorical contest presided over by President Hoover in Washington. His theme was ''The Influence of John Marshall on World Affairs.''

He graduated from Princeton University in 1935 and from the National War College in 1949. His first diplomatic mission took him to Marseilles [JB - sic] as a deputy consul in 1937.

He was a deputy consul in Salonika when Italy invaded Greece, and he watched the capture of Salonika by the Germans, who detained him until there was an exchange of consular personnel. He was also charge d'affaires in Helsinki in 1944 when the United States cut relations with Finland as a German ally and led the exodus of Americans from Finland to Sweden.

Fluent in French, he held senior positions at the American Embassy in Saigon from 1949 to 1952. It was the beginning of the Indochinese war, and he was a supporter of Vietnamese independence from France, as well as from Communism.

Before he went to Leopoldville in 1961 as Ambassador to the former Belgian Congo, later Zaire and now again called Congo, he was deputy director of the United States Disarmament Administration under John J. McCloy.

Although he was often considered a hawk on Vietnam, his position was complicated by his first-hand knowledge. As early as 1963 former colleagues recalled a discussion in which he looked at them and asked: ''Do you really think there is such a thing as a military solution for Vietnam.''

Years later it was reported that the Johnson Administration had recruited him in 1965 to send out feelers to North Vietnam, and he secretly met with its emissaries several times in Paris. The initiative failed because of the stumbling block that would persist for years longer: the question of who was to control South Vietnam.

Mr. Gullion led a group of prominent citizens who supported the Nixon Administration's policy of ''Vietnamization'' and gradual American withdrawals.

For him, the conflict spilled over to the Fletcher campus -- where antiwar activists accused the school, and him, of being in cahoots with the Central Intelligence Agency and of American interference around the world through the Agency for International Development.

Mr. Gullion is survived by his wife of 37 years, Patricia Palmer Gullion.

***
See also: Nicholas Nicholas J. Cull, "Before Gullion: The Evolution of a Phrase" (2006), uscpublicdiplomacy.org

My own piece pertaining to Gullion cites him as writing in Robert F. Delaney, John S. Gibson, editors, American Public Diplomacy: The Perspective of Fifty Years (1967):
Even beyond the organ of the Government set up to handle information about the United States and to explain our policies, what is important today is the interaction of groups, peoples, and cultures beyond national borders, influencing the way groups and peoples in other countries think about foreign affairs, react to our policies, and affect the policies of their respective governments.
To connote this activity, we at the Fletcher School tried to find a name. I would have liked to call it “propaganda.” It seemed like the nearest thing in the pure interpretation of the word to what we were doing. But “propaganda” has always a pejorative connotation in this country [JB see]. To describe the whole range of communications, information, and propaganda, we hit upon “public diplomacy.” 
FYI, The Gullion statement goes on to say (not cited in the above-mentioned piece):
Let me read the [Fletcher] school's definition of the term:
Public diplomacy is concerned with the ways in which governments, private groups, and individuals shape those public attitudes and opinions which influence the formulation and execution of foreign policy.
This is a short working definition. I hope it will suggest to you questions on the differences from formal diplomacy, the links with media, and the instruments of "public diplomacy."
JB comment: In the Fletcher school's definition, note that propaganda is tactfully, in a "public diplomacy" sorta way (?), not mentioned ...

An international approach to the cultural Cold War: public diplomacy towards Africa


Image result for keep calm and scholarship
image (not from entry) from
Zeitenblicke
Volume 12, 2013-09,
ISSN: 1619-0459
Publisher: Digital Peer Publishing NRW

An international approach to the cultural Cold War: public diplomacy towards Africa

Author:

Gerits, Frank

Abstract:


This article analyzes how the tactics behind French public diplomacy [JB emphasis] in West-Africa and Congo-Leopoldville/Kinshasa evolved between 1945 and 1965. To overcome the low appeal that French propaganda had for Africans, the French gradually integrated the successful methods that their competitors in Africa employed into their own strategy. It shows that the battle for African hearts and minds was global, that Ghana and Egypt were active, and that intercultural, propaganda agencies adopted and adapted each other's successful strategies. In doing so, it hopes to emphasize the explanatory potential of a genuine international approach to diplomatic history.

The norms of diplomatic culture are an emerging field of study in International Relations among English School and Constructivist scholars. However, there exists a more neglected piece of IR scholarship dedicated to diplomacy. While Nkrumah’s vision for union government was defeated by those leaders who sought a more incremental approach to integration, the significant evolution from the OAU to the AU in 2001 signaled a shift in goals for the organization. The importance that diplomats play in the move towards regional integration has not been explored at the AU, but the role that this community can play has been detailed by Mai’a Davis Cross at the European Union. In Africa, the diplomats are a hand-brake to the more integrationist Africrats. 2. Public diplomacy and cultural diplomacy. As R.Lawniczak noted in Poland until recently public diplomacy was understood in its narrower meaning as cultural diplomacy5. It is worth noting, however, that there are a number of theoretical approaches to the relationship between the two concepts. Before entering into discussing them I would like to focus on the concept of public diplomacy. The term public diplomacy was first coined in 1965 by E. Guillon [JB - sic]. He felt that public diplomacy is concerned with the influence of social standpoints have on the formulation and implementation of foreign policy. Public Diplomacy [:]  In essence Public diplomacy is seen by some analysts in the context of inter-cultural communication. Public Diplomacy [:] In essence, public diplomacy is “an international actor’s attempt to manage the international. environment through engagement with a foreign public” (Cull, 2009, p. 12). Yet, the nature of the “international actors”, of their “environment” as well as that of their “engagement” has undergone fundamental transformation since the term came about, and has been subject to much debate, both among academics as well as practitioners. important to pay special attention to the social constructivist approach, according to which individual state interests and strategies are established based on the historical, political and cultural contexts – domestic and international – within which the state operates (Katzenstein, 1996b).

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Using American Soft Power to Support Women and Girls


iop.harvard.edu



Guest: Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State of Cultural, Educational Affairs in the Obama Administration and now Executive Vice President at Axios.

Wise diplomats know that American power includes the ability to persuade others to follow our lead. The United States conveys and highlights our culture and values through a wide range of public diplomacy [JB emphasis] and exchange programs administered by the Department of State. In 2017, OMB Director Mulvaney announced a “hard power budget” which proposed dramatic cuts in State Department and USAID budgets. What is the value of soft power in promoting and supporting women’s rights? What programs have been most effective in conveying the important values of equality and opportunity?

Date and time: Thursday, February 21, 2019 - 4:30pm to 5:45pm
Location: Littauer L-166 (IOP Conference Room)

Fighting Misinformation: How to Build Trust in a World of Liars


cmds.ceu.edu

image from entry
Type: Panel Discussion
Audience: Open to the Public
Organizer: Center for Media, Data and Society
Building: Nador u. 15
Room: 101 (Quantum Room)
Academic Area:

Monday, February 25, 2019 - 5:30pm

Add to Calendar

Date: Monday, February 25, 2019 - 5:30pm to 7:00pm

Who produces misinformation, how and why? How do people perceive misinformation in Brazil, the US, Nigeria, India or Hungary? Is social media part of the problem or the solution? What is the role of regulators, civil society, journalists and corporations in fighting misinformation?

Experts and journalists discuss various aspects of the “misinformation” phenomenon: recent trends, forms of misinformation in different contexts and potential remedies.

Participants:
  • Daniel Funke, Poynter Institute
  • Anita Komuves, Atlatszo.hu
  • Oren Levine, International Center for Journalists
  • Krisztina Nagy, Budapest University of Technology and Economics
  • Charles Salter, The News Literacy Project
The event is organized in the framework of our Workshop on Disinformation and Propaganda for Hungarian Students. The program is funded by the Public Diplomacy Small Grants Program of the U.S. Embassy Budapest Public Affairs Section of the Department of State to be organized by the Center for Media, Data and Society at the School of Public Policy of Central European University in Budapest, Hungary.

Upgrading U.S. Support for Armenia’s Postrevolution Reforms


Ray Salvatore Jennings, carnegieendowment.org, February 14; original article contains links

Image result for us armenia
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Excerpt:
[T]he United States should increase its current military engagement with Armenian counterparts on disaster preparedness, improved interoperability with NATO forces, and defense reforms. Such moves will deepen ties with the West over time. Renewed public diplomacy  [JB emphasis] initiatives advancing English language training, U.S. values, and U.S. culture will both strengthen economic and cultural ties and help Armenians resist disinformation. Nuanced approaches like these, and the economic measures suggested below, will help Washington avoid openly provoking Moscow while enabling Yerevan to substantiate its multipolar orientation. ...

CONCLUSIONS

The global struggle for democracy is as difficult as it has been in decades. Democratic breakthroughs, however rare in recent years, are a reminder that well-organized and inspired citizens can reclaim control of their government and restore their faith in a better future. The political transition under way in Armenia presents an opportunity for the United States to assist an important ally and restore support for democratic partners abroad that are inspired by the same values that animate U.S. citizens’ own efforts to preserve their institutions at home.

Ray Salvatore Jennings is an independent scholar and development practitioner who has worked in societies undergoing democratic transition for more than twenty-five years. He currently advises the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World Bank on transitional development. The views expressed in this article are his own.

How a Pay TV Company Is Serving up a Soft Power Win for China in Africa


Angela Lewis, thediplomat.com, February 14, 2019

StarTimes is making inroads across the continent, and winning fans in the process.
How a Pay TV Company Is Serving up a Soft Power Win for China in Africa
Image from article, with caption: A StarTimes building -- and billboard -- in Tanzania. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Ali A. Fazal

According to BuzzFeed News, on February 1 Chinese state television broadcaster CGTN America registered as a foreign agent in the United States, to comply with the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). CGTN America director-general Jing Ma remained upbeat, claiming the registration was not a reflection on the editorial professionalism of staff, but it is bad news for China’s soft power efforts. Registration directly links CGTN America to propaganda messaging of the Chinese state, thereby weakening public diplomacy  [JB emphasis] objectives of building trust and credibility.
Unfortunately, this setback is part of a pattern of failure in Chinese media capacity building since the turn of the 21st century. In 2002, China designated “culture” as an industry and named it as integral to the “going out” policy of internationalization, with the aim of increasing Chinese soft power. Through media content that countered U.S.-Anglo cultural hegemony and anti-China news narratives, it was hoped that the soft power dividends would support China’s geopolitical and economic interests. According to David Shambaugh at George Washington University, China spends $10 billion a year on efforts to improve soft power, but thus far, the track record of the Chinese film and television industries has been abysmal. CGTN breaks no international news, not helped by the fact that content must be sanctioned by Beijing. With regards to cinema, ticket sales of domestically popular Chinese films were limp elsewhere in 2018, with films such as Operation Red Sea, Detective Chinatown 2, and Dying to Survive barely leaving an imprint on box offices of international markets. Chinese media is — generally speaking — considered neither attractive nor influential to non-Chinese.
But there is one continent where China’s international push for media influence is making inroads, with the help of a state affiliated but privately-held pay television company. StarTimes, with content focused on sport and entertainment, is partnering with African state broadcasters and other organisations to provide both new channels and digital satellite infrastructure. Its influence is only likely to increase, as research predicts that this company will be the biggest beneficiary of the pay TV market subscription growth in the coming years in Africa. Digital TV Research claims StarTimes subscribers, currently at around 7.75 million, will have jumped to 14.85 million by 2024. 
StarTimes, founded in 1988 in Beijing, is both a beneficiary of economic diplomacy and a creator of unprecedented access for African television consumers. Despite being private, it is funded to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars by Chinese state banks as part of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) agreements. It is contracted by Beijing to implement Africa’s ITU digital switchover process and provide new channels for African television, a sector characterized by poor resources in finances, staff training, and technology.
Aside from digital migration, to widen access, StarTimes money has been carving out the new subscriber landscape. The company traverses vast but previously disregarded territories in within countries such as Uganda, Zambia, Guinea, Botswana, Ghana, Senegal, and the Democratic Republic of Congo for an operation called the 10,000 Villages Project. This provides digital satellite television to rural regions of sub-Saharan Africa, venturing into parts of the continent left unserved by former colonial powers Britain and France. These populations were also not a priority for Cold War rivals the United States and the Soviet Union and were not a lucrative enough customer base during TV de-regulation and marketization in the 1990s, which delivered pay television to urban African elites. But now, in regions with deficient electricity, StarTimes partners with solar energy companies such as AzuriTechnologies and Mobisol in nations including Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Kenya, offering low-cost subscriptions and hardware installation packages. DStv, owned by MultiChoice which is part of South Africa’s Naspers, targets the most affluent viewers, offering the English Premier League and UEFA Champions League, but StarTimes is step-by-step making incursions at the cheaper end, providing the Europa LeagueBundesliga, and last year’s FIFA World Cup.
As a result of this economic diplomacy, China benefits in numerous ways. Local officials act as “borrowed boats,” praising China profusely when the 10,000 Villages Project reaches their region. This is a soft power drive that potentially delivers China intelligence gathering penetration deeper than any other foreign country. Additionally, it is snapping up broadcasting rights deals, which might reap intellectual property rewards in the future. It sponsors national leagues in GhanaUganda, and  Senegal, thereby creating leagues that it can broadcast on its newly created channels.
But this economic and soft power push has not been without controversy. While it curries favor by sponsoring sports writer associations, among those not drinking the Kool Aid is Gregory Chifire, a Zambian anti-corruption critic. He is particularly concerned about TopStar Communications, a partnership that hands StarTimes 60 percent of Zambia’s state-owned broadcaster, ZNBC, for 25 years. Chifire blasts the deal as “one of the biggest financial scandals in modern-day Zambia.” Meanwhile, the Guardian newspaper quotes the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) as warning that “If StarTimes is allowed to control Ghana’s digital transmission infrastructure and the satellite space … Ghana would have virtually submitted its broadcast space to Chinese control and content.”
In addition, as with other areas of China’s media internationalization, StarTimes has not met expectations. It was hoping for 20 million subscribers by 2019. Chief Executive Officer Justin Zhang was replaced on February 1 by David Zhang.
But others admire StarTimes’ contribution to change.partnership with charity SOS Villages helps boost the company’s credibility, while production companies utilize StarTimes’ resources for local language programming, encouraging Africans to take up subscriptions.
Since it is undoubtedly a state proxy for Beijing, this aiding of African broadcasting is a win for Chinese soft power. China would be better off continuing to deploy more non-state actors, another example being Alibaba Pictures, the Chinese backers of award season smash Green Book (30). While CGTN America’s state-owned status is a turn off, private content partnerships and collaborations are a model of soft power that any average American could warm to – and that people across Africa are already embracing.
Angela Lewis is a Ph.D. candidate in the International Communications department of Nottingham University in Ningbo, China.

The Politics of Embarrassment: Brand Failure in Canadian Foreign Policy



image from article

This is a guest post from Eric Van Rythoven. Eric Van Rythoven recently finished his PhD at Carleton University studying emotion, world politics, and security. His work is published in Security Dialogue and European Journal of International Relations.
The Trudeau government is in crisis.  Yesterday morning Jody Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s former Attorney General recently demoted to Minister of Veterans Affairs, resigned from cabinet.  The resignation comes on the heels of a Globe and Mail report that someone in the Prime Minister’s Office allegedly attempted to influence Wilson-Raybould in her decision to prosecute SNC Lavalin.

A politically connected and influential engineering firm based in Quebec, SNC Lavalin is currently mired in charges of fraud and bribery in relation to its work in Libya.  As recently as Monday night Trudeau expressed “full confidence” in Wilson-Raybould, saying that her continuing presence in cabinet “should speak for itself”.
By itself the allegation of political interference in a criminal prosecution has the potential to be a major domestic scandal.  But this scandal could come with serious international repercussions, especially given Canada’s increasingly troubled relationship with China.  To understand why, we need to step back and think about the role of brand failure in the politics of embarrassment.
How states manage their public image is a longstanding concern of International Relations.  During the Cold War competitive behaviour was commonly attributed to a desire for status and prestige (JervisGilpin).  Following 9/11 interest in ‘public diplomacy’ [JB emphasis] surged as Western countries sought to rehabilitate their public image in the Middle East through cultural outreach and savvy social media (GilboaSnow & Taylor). 

This literature overlaps with a broader interest in ‘national branding’ and ‘brand command’ focused on how states manage their public image in an increasingly informationally-dense environment (PotterMarland).  One could also add to this list the study of international activists using naming and shaming tactics to pressure governments on human rights (Hafner-BurtonRisse, Ropp, and Sikkink).
While these literatures are certainly useful, they can also lead to an overly optimistic view of image management.  What’s missing here are how attempts to craft a positive public image are often marred by struggle, ineptitude, and occasionally failure.  For Irving Goffman it’s precisely these situations when an actor presents conflicting public images that moments of embarrassment begin to emerge.  More than a hypocritical mismatch between words and deeds, or the shame of failing to abide by one’s moral ideals, embarrassment is most evident when an imagined competency is never delivered. 
When embarrassment occurs, Goffman recognized that some audiences would be merciful and help the embarrassed party conceal their failures.  Others, however, would exploit cracks in a fractured public image for gain.  The latter would lead to a struggle to regain and maintain composure over self-image—what we can call the ‘politics of embarrassment’.  Embarrassed parties and their allies look repair or minimize the apparent damage; political opponents look to make the embarrassment all the more pronounced. 
We can think of the dynamics of embarrassment as a play in three acts: the brand, the break, and the blame.  The ‘brand’ refers to a period of branding repertoires which projects a distinct image of competency.  The ‘break’ captures the period where a previous public image, and the competency it promises, comes into question through moments of off-brand behaviour.  The ‘blame’ comes when a break becomes apparent and actors formulate strategies to respond.  Here is when we can see various composure strategies, such as denial or deflection, are employed by the embarrassed subject and their allies to repair their public image.  By contrast, discrediting strategies, such as sensationalizing, are employed by political opponents and aim to widen and deepen the appearance of a break.  When taken together the brand, the break, and the blame capture how the politics of embarrassment represents a struggle to regain and maintain composure over self-image.
The Brand
Why does this matter for Canada?  Because the Trudeau government has worked very hard to project a specific brand rooted in respecting the rule of law.  As Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland argued in her signature June 2017 foreign policy speech: “…our values include an unshakeable commitment to pluralism, human rights and the rule of law.”
Freeland is not alone in this branding exercise.  Trudeau himself regularly cites the rule of law whether in discussing the shared values of the Commonwealth, in speeches at the UN, and even in pipeline decisions.
Last December this messaging took on a new urgency as Canada became involved in a serious diplomatic dispute with China.  At the request of the United States government Canadian authorities arrested Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Chinese flagship technology company Huawei, while she was traveling through Vancouver.  With the extradition of Wanzhou to the United States pending, the Chinese government has exerted immense diplomatic pressure and retaliated by arbitrarily detaining two Canadians and revising the criminal sentence for a third Canadian to the death penalty.  Throughout the dispute Trudeau has steadfastly maintained that Canada values an independent judiciary and the rule of law.  He even went so far as to criticize China for arbitrarily revising the third Canadian’s criminal sentence to the death penalty.
The Break
Yet now the Trudeau government’s rule-of-law brand appears to be suffering a decisive break.  The first signs of the break came when the Canadian Ambassador to China interfered in the Wanzhou case by suggesting Chinese-language media that she had a strong case against extradition.  Citing President Trump’s comments on using Wanzhou’s case as a bargaining chip in ongoing US-China trade negotiations, McCallum made the case that Trump may have unfairly politicized the process.  McCallum’s assessment about Trump may prove true, but it’s not the place for an Ambassador to weigh in on legal disputes unfolding in an independent judiciary.  McCallum was fired to protect the rule-of-law brand.
The break only deepened on news of allegations that someone from the Prime Minister’s Office allegedly attempted to influence Wilson-Raybould in her decision to prosecute SNC Lavalin.  And although the SNC Lavalin and Wanzhou cases are unrelated, they both signal moments of off-brand behaviour where the Trudeau government failed to deliver on its promised commitment to the rule of law.
The Blame
What this leaves is the question of the blame.  We can already see composure strategies aimed at steadying the government’s image: McCallum’s firing sent a clear signal that he was off message, and Trudeau himself has denied his office directed the Attorney General in any prosecutorial decisions (though the clarity of this denial is in dispute).  These are complemented by a range of discrediting strategies ranging from modest proposals for an ethics investigation to the more sensationalist declarations of a “coverup” by the Trudeau government.  The efficacy of these strategies, including what they reveal and conceal, will determine the severity of the break in the government’s public image and how long it lasts.  Both of these are crucial questions given the looming Federal election in the Fall of 2019.
Finally, perhaps the most important lesson we can take from this moment of crisis is that political branding is never a risk-free proposition.  Off-brand behaviour at home can have effects on foreign relations abroad.  As one columnist recently noted, after the Jody Wilson-Raybould affair “China might be right to wonder if Canadian justice can be bought”.  When the fragile tethers of a public image begin to slip, other states may be right to question who we really are.