Monday, July 27, 2015

A public diplomacy lesson from Iran

Mojtaba Barghandan,

As the pivotal actor in global developments, the Islamic Republic of Iran has historically proven to be capable of applying public diplomacy tools; however, it has always been under a “cultural invasion,” alongside economic and political sanctions of the West, for nearly the last four decades ….
The U.S. has employed hard and soft power tools toward Iran, particularly since the administration of President George W. Bush, who approached Iran with a “two clock strategy.” That is, the U.S. government directed its policies at fulfilling two coercive objectives: changing both Iran’s behavior and its regime through instruments of hard and soft power. The change in behavior was geared at curbing Iran’s peaceful nuclear program, which was described as “non-peaceful.” Consequently, the U.S. government tried to slow down and/or reverse this clock (i.e., change behavior) through economic and political pressure. At the same time, it tried to speed up the clock of regime change through instruments of soft power and as a result there was a cultural invasion by means of employing some of the powerful radio and TV channels broadcasting in both the English and Farsi languages.
In light of the White House’s detrimental policies, Iran’s traditional diplomacy tools have not been helpful.
Iran began to believe that in order to win the diplomacy war, it should resort to comprehensive public diplomacy programs that attract, inform, persuade, and influence - that is, the necessity of public diplomacy became almost impossible to ignore and added more importance to digital diplomacy, as they recognized that continuing to practice diplomacy as usual without effective public diplomacy was like trying to run a car without an engine in the digital age of the 21st century. 
Faced with a challenging misinterpretation worldwide, Iran in the new era began its attempts to resolve it through new diplomacy tools based on maximum engagement, as well as employing a new rhetoric based on a “patience-oriented, friendly approach” towards diplomacy, which in many ways helped to harmonize and reconcile inconsistencies between its foreign policy and public diplomacy.
The U.S., on the other hand, reached the same level of understanding of the necessity of transformation through its coercive and sanction-oriented policies on Iran to a negotiation and soft diplomacy-based policy beginning in 2013. As U.S. President Barack Obama stated in an interview published in the Huffington Post, “We have done the same thing over and over again and there hasn’t been any change - [we] should try something different…” President Obama took charge of “trying something different” with Iran and Cuba, initiating discrete and patient diplomatic approaches and the world has witnessed the outcomes of its peaceful diplomacy with both countries. ... 

*Mojtaba Barghandan is a staff member of the Consulate General of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Istanbul. The content of this article is based on the author’s personal views

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