Where Morozov is Wrong

In the Hutong
Recovering from Food Poisoning
1518 hrs.

Georgetown fellow Egveny Morozov wrote a must-read op/ed piece for The Wall Street Journal that is being Twittered a lot today, and deservedly so. He takes to task those who believe (including, apparently, the U.S. Secretary of State) that the route to global democracy is digital openness. This is little more than wide-eyed, hopeful utopianism, and Morozov makes a clear case for the Obama administration to back away from its current approach to Internet freedom around the world.

Where Morozov and I part ways is toward the end of the piece, where he notes:

“Diplomacy is, perhaps, one element of the U.S. government that should not be subject to the demands of “open government”; whenever it works, it is usually because it is done behind closed doors. But this may be increasingly hard to achieve in the age of Twittering bureaucrats.”

I disagree. While it would be undesirable to make Twitter and Facebook de-facto extensions of U.S. government policy, the role of public diplomacy (defined as the conduct of foreign policy by direct engagement with foreign audiences) in an increasingly transparent world is well appreciated by leaders of many of the worlds governments, including China’s. They understand that public support for the relationship between countries is increasingly as essential to strong international relations as whatever happens behind Morozov’s “closed doors.”

Public diplomacy has been dying in the United States since the fall of the Berlin Wall. This has been a foolish oversight, and Morozov is shortsighted to so lightly consign it to the dustbin just as the international relations experts are starting to ask how to most effectively update and use the tools for direct “G2C” outreach.

With public diplomacy in the early stages of a renaissance, the digital means of conducting such efforts will undoubtedly be awkward at first, but this is no reason to warn the U.S. government off of experimenting with such channels. As U.S. military and economic power wane, the Obama administration would be foolish to cast off whatever tools are available to ensure the continued influence of the United States in world affairs. We can be sure that the governments of India, China, and Russia, to say nothing of a host of non-state actors, will not do so.