Monday, June 4th 2012
There has been a war going on for quite some time, but it's one that has been conducted largely out of sight. This is the war being fought on the digital front: cyber-spying, cyber-theft, and cyber-sabotage.
Up until last week, the U.S. has been engaging in this war fairly discreetly. Most of the news reporting about it has focused on how citizens in our country have been the target of enemy probes, and the government’s public pronouncements have mostly been about the need for all of us to protect our personal information and our national critical infrastructure.
One reason for the official discretion is that we don’t like to let our adversaries know when they’ve found a vulnerable spot. But another reason is that we don’t want to brag when we’ve hit one of theirs, since uncertainty is also a weapon in this war. Yet the fact is, the people who are responsible for protecting our nation would be irresponsible if they weren't also strengthening our offensive capabilities – and you can be sure that, on that front, they haven’t been irresponsible.
Until last week.
Monday, April 23rd 2012
I had an opportunity recently to meet Tara Sonenshine, the newly appointed Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and I came away both impressed and hopeful that she will bring a fresh, informed perspective to this important position.
We certainly need it.
The United States seems to have more than its share of image problems these days, from the Secret Service scandal in Colombia and the partying and flagrant disregard for the taxpayer’s dollar by the General Services Administration, to the latest batch of embarrassing photos to emerge from the Afghanistan battlefield.
All of these are public diplomacy problems in the sense that they conspicuously contradict the values of anti-corruption and human rights that we embrace for ourselves and advocate for others. So when we fall short, everybody notices.
Most Americans aren’t surprised by that. We know we’re far from perfect, and we’re also a nation that believes in forgiveness and second chances. (For proof of that, just look at our politicians.) But because of our history, our achievements, and, let’s face it, our occasional lecturing to others, we’re sometimes held to impossibly high standards.
The most surprising example of this that I ever experienced occurred in, of all places, Iran.
Tuesday, January 4th 2011
Two expatriate Iranians are attracting big television audiences in their home country with a weekly Voice of America comedy program, “Parazit,” that satirizes the ludicrous aspects of life in Iran. Not what some might expect to find in the VOA’s carefully designed arsenal, right? “Frankly,” as VOA’s executive editor says, “Parazit doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of VOA programming. But it does go to the mission of informing and engaging our audience.” And it holds nothing sacred. If Ahmadinijad’s chief opponent was in charge in Tehran, says one of the program’s creators, “we’d go after him.”
According to the Washington Post, “Parazit” is one of VOA’s most popular programs. Posts from its Facebook page were viewed 17 million times in December alone, the paper reported, and the program’s You Tube channel gets 45,000 hits a week. In satiric impact, the program has been compared to Jon Stewart‘s ”Daily Show.”