Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Double Trouble: From Andrew Kuchins, writing for The Wall Street Journal: “U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney made clear last week in Vilnius that he is not pleased with Russia’s democratic backsliding, human-rights abuses and rough behavior in its neighborhood. And to hammer the point home Mr. Cheney then broke bread with the noted democrat, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazerbayev, who got a complete pass on his dubious record. Alert the media: We’ve identified double standards in U.S. foreign policy!”

Yes, there have always been double standards in American foreign policy… but that doesn’t mean we can dismiss them with the shrug that Kuchins offers, because we are currently trying to build a public diplomacy effort around the notion that America has strong, abiding values—including a commitment to democracy.

Communicating about values while acting in a way that contradicts those stated values doesn’t just render the communications worthless, it’s actually counterproductive. Better to say nothing at all than to be so transparently dishonest—because talking about the importance of democracy while supporting vile dictatorships simply reminds the audience of--and reinforces--all the reasons they don’t trust you to begin with.

Communications need to be aligned with behavior to be effective, which means we have to either (a) change our policy regarding countries such as Kazakhstan so that it’s consistent with the values we espouse; or (b) change our communications so that it’s as pragmatic as our policy: simply tell people up front that we’ll let them get away with whatever they want in terms of domestic abuses as long as they support us in the international realm.

The former approach would be ideal, but is almost unimaginable. The latter would be cynical in the extreme, but it has a chance of earning us fear and perhaps even a measure of respect—though little love. Even that would be better than the current situation, which earns us little more than contempt.

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