On Diplomacy and Willy Loman

Does it matter whether or not the United States is “well-liked” in the world?

I heard another rehashing of this discussion on talk radio today.  It’s been a common one in recent years and certainly one of the least productive.

Both sides use this question as a platform from which to lash out at what they consider to be the worst traits of their opposition. The Right, charges the Left,  doesn’t care at all — reflecting its dogmatic, autocratic, my-way-or-the-highway approach to dealing with the world. And the Left, mocks the Right, cares too much — reflecting its weak-kneed, appeasing, Pollyanna views on diplomacy.

What I don’t hear much in these heels-dug-in exchanges is much reference to the basic, strategic importance of tending to one’s reputation, whether you’re a nation, a company or a lemonade stand. Like any entity, the United States has things it wants, and how others perceive the U.S. has some operational bearing on how well it can have or do those things.  It’s smart to pay attention to it. That holds true equally for international aims formulated on either side of the aisle.

Should the U.S. act to preserve its international approval rating at any cost? Of course not. But neither should it act as though it doesn’t matter, or equate a concern with the care and feeding of a national reputation with weakness. What we say and how we say it does matter — just maybe not always for the reasons we tend to rely upon when we’re yelling at each other on the radio. In the polarization of politics, there’s a middle ground here that both sides could benefit from remembering.

— Hornseth

4 thoughts on “On Diplomacy and Willy Loman

  1. jloveland says:

    Though they don’t use the reputation management lingo, lots of people in the public sector share your viewpoint Gary.

    Every private sector PR person has probably been in a situation where they favor a particular approach because of reputation management considerations, but they are overruled by leaders and/or operations people who “don’t get it” and hold sway. That happens in the public sector too. It happens to Democrats who agree with what you’re saying and to Republicans who agree with what you’re saying.

  2. bbenidt says:

    I had a Somali cab driver last week bringing me back from the airport, and we talked about Somalia and all of Eastern Africa. He said America could have more influence there if we “put a good face” toward the region and tried to make friends.

    Cab driver wisdom. Often right on. We don’t have to put away our values or our guns to turn a good face to the rest of the world. That little idea of John Kennedy’s, the Peace Corps, made a lot of people around the world feel better about the U.S., and helped a lot of Americans realize there’s life beyond our borders.

  3. As an American living abroad since mid-2001, I’ve often been struck by 2 things in our post9/11 world. First, is the on-going love affair with almost all things American, particularly in Britain where I live. Second, is the perception of Americans I encounter while visiting the states, that “everybody hates us.” Almost completely, I’ve found that Europeans are able to make the distinction between Americans and the politics of the Bush administration. The same is not true for the Americans I have this conversation with (and I have this conversation ALOT). In short, it’s the politics, not the people who are disliked. So, come on over – you Yanks are most definitely welcome on this side of the Atlantic.

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