Trump & Obama: A Tale of Two Speeches



Trump’s Statesmanlike Speech in Riyadh

Elliott Abrams, National Review, May 21, 2017

 … any balanced strategy will require continued close partnerships with our regional allies to expand and improve the effectiveness of counter messaging programs, especially online. The inclusion of the Saudi Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology on the president’s itinerary was a good sign, but since September 11, 2001 we have seen far too many such initiatives fall short…. Although counter-messaging and counter-radicalization programs are not a cure all, they are a vital part of any strategy especially as America invests in its more military-focused initiatives.

Trump Changed His Tone on Islam—Will He Change Strategy?

Michael Leiter, The Atlantic, May 22, 2017

But the President’s address reflected a more substantive break. By focusing on Muslim governments rather than people, and by focusing on terrorism rather than the broader conditions of the Middle East that catalyze volatility and violence, he broke with his two immediate predecessors’ strategies for engaging the Muslim world.

Trump’s Speech in Riyadh Puts Ball Squarely in Court of Muslim-Led Governments to Fight Terrorism

Eric Trager, The Washington Institute for Near East Studies, May 21, 2017

Most important was Trump’s willingness to point to the ideology of Islamism as the enemy. This matters exceedingly for, just as a physician must first identify a medical problem before treating it, so a strategist must identify the enemy before defeating it. To talk about “evildoers,” “terrorists,” and “violent extremists” is to miss the enemy’s Islamic core.

‘This Wasn’t a Speech About Islam’

Mustafa Akyol and Wajahat Ali, The New York Times, May 21, 2017

I’m not a naïve, wide-eyed idealist and I didn’t drink the Halal Kool aid. I knew the bar was exceedingly low, so all Trump would have to do is stay on script, not say anything egregiously offensive and it would be considered an “improvement.” Which it was.  Mustafa Akyol: … I agree that it definitely did not come out as advertised…. This was a more modest, narrow and pragmatic speech, mostly appealing to Muslim leaders — in fact, only Sunni ones — for more cooperation against terrorism. But given Mr. Trump’s earlier views on Islam, it could have been worse!



Is America on track to be the Great Satan again?

Is America on track to be the Great Satan again?


This week I published an essay in The Japan Times about the perception some have of America as a Great Satan. This piece explores the nomination of Donald Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, the largest oil company in the world. Is this a sign of a Trump administration embrace of corporatization of foreign policy? I’ve always been troubled by too much top-down, for-profit focus in American foreign policy. This was the subject of my first book, Propaganda, Inc.: Selling America’s Culture to the World.

Clinton Towers Trump in First Debate

hillary-clinton-in-shinkansenIt’s too early to call the election but if the vote were held in Japan, Hillary Clinton would win by a landslide. This is a non-scientific poll since I’m basing this on the audible gasp from my students when the race was reported “neck and neck” before the Hofstra debate.

[If you are in the mood for a lengthier treatise on the first debate, check out my Clinton Towered Trump Huffington Post blog.]

What did Hillary Clinton do right? Plenty. She was calm in Trump’s storm. She was prepared and full of pokes and zingers to get Trump off his game.

Two weeks ago it was Hillary Clinton unsteady on her feet. In Hempstead, New York, it was Trump looking and sounding frustrated and unfocused.

What did Donald Trump do wrong? He was too “Donald being Donald.” He interrupted. He forgot (God forbid) that he was always on camera, thanks to that pro-Hillary split screen. In the general election season, all six weeks of it left before November 8, Trump will need to act more like what too many are frightened to imagine: President Trump.

It’s still possible for him to TRiUMPh, but he will have to be more disciplined, calm, and steady in the next two debates. He is now facing a candidate who doesn’t fear him, is not intimidated, and is red power suit ready!


Caroline Kennedy’s Japan Greeting (US Embassy Tokyo)

In this video message, the new ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, delivers a personal “Ohayo Gozaimasu” from her home in New York. She studied Japanese history in college, traveled to Hiroshima with her Uncle Ted when she was 20, and spent part of her honeymoon in Nara and Kyoto. I welcome her as America’s newest ambassador and believe that she will be an excellent cultural mediator between the U.S. and Japan.

Public Diplomacy is Flourishing–Spread the Word


This funereal op-ed is so fundamentally flawed that it is more like a drive-by shooting.  Shooting USIA in the back is an unfortunate metaphor for the context of public diplomacy since many of us who engage in public diplomacy think of it in terms of ballots over bullets and swords into ploughshares.  Even those who don’t like this tender-hearted approach view it in the tougher-minded context of political campaign strategies.  October 1, 1999 is not a day that should live in public diplomacy infamy, as much as I wax nostalgic for my former employer.  (I worked at USIA in the 1990s.)  Many of us are more active in the field of public diplomacy than ever, USIA’s “death” notwithstanding.  I’ve taught courses in public diplomacy from Beijing, China and Tel Aviv, Israel to Tokyo, Japan.  I’m now living in Tokyo as an Abe Fellow conducting research on Japan’s image in the world since 3/11.  I have seen many of my students find successful work in the field, not only in Washington but also in the nongovernmental sector.  These are social change agents deeply committed to using public diplomacy for the common good.  Their efforts shouldn’t be made light of by an op-ed mired down in inside-the-beltway politics of the 1990s.  It’s like evaluating Bill Clinton by his Lewinsky days and never by the Clinton Global Initiative.

 There are more talented people engaged in public diplomacy than ever.  There is recognition of public diplomacy in the academy with graduate programs and courses proliferating (USC, Syracuse, George Washington, American University to name a handful).  There are titled careerists in public diplomacy that weren’t around in the 1990s.  (Schadler identifies himself as a senior fellow in public diplomacy.) To bemoan a talent loss from the demise of the United States Information Agency’s dismantling under Bill Clinton is specious.  In sheer numbers and recognition, public diplomacy is flourishing.

Whatever you think of their politics, Bill and Hillary Clinton represent the more formal faces of public diplomacy, but there are as many unsung public diplomats in the 21st century as there are non-traditional journalists blogging and tweeting their information and influence.

The whole spirit of this article reminds me of those Beatles fans who never got over the band’s breakup in 1970.  USIA was dismantled in 1999, but what the agency was all about then in centralizing the process of public diplomacy is a global social network of activity today.  The whole world is buzzing with public diplomacy in this age of decentralization where a visit by Lady Gaga to Japan after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011 garnered media attention historically reserved for a visiting head of state.  Yes, Russia, the People’s Republic of China and jihadi radicals are all “in the game” of effective public diplomacy, but so are Japan, South Korea, the European Union, among many others.  Japan’s Cabinet just set September 18, 2013 as the effective date of the establishment of the Japan Brand Fund, a nation branding initiative that comes on the heels of Japan’s winning bid to host the 2020 Olympics.

In the 21st Century, we all are public diplomats.  It is no longer the precious reserve of a few.  It’s better to have more “in the game” than fewer if one wants to challenge the narrative of those organizations and individuals who are using public diplomacy as a tool for more harm than good.

Hollywood and Brand America



Richard Wike, Associate Director of the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, takes quite a sanguine view of Hollywood’s impact on the world.

Surveys consistently show that movies – and more broadly, American popular culture – are a strong suit of U.S. soft power. And, while studio executives spend considerably more time thinking about box office returns than public diplomacy, Tinseltown is actually pretty effective at nudging America’s international image in a positive direction.

There is no question that Hollywood, and its advertising counterpart, Madison Avenue, are Brand America bookends to the US national image in the world.  What’s not explored in this piece is the cultural hegemony that the US has over nations.

Many global populations support Hollywood film and television because it’s what they have come to know through its ubiquitous presence.  The omnipresence of American culture, and its homogenizing presence on native cultures, is downplayed here.

And what of Americans who wish to see non-US global media film and TV productions?  For a nation with so much influence in the world, we are woefully ignorant about the lives and lessons from many who do not ascribe to the pro-Western, pro-American way of life.

I wish this article had included more nuance and not so much ‘hooray for Hollywood’ absoluteness.  Alas, this is more of an advertising promotional piece for the Academy Awards, better known as The Oscars.

The Economic Brand War Between Japan and China

A major conflict between the region’s two largest economies would not only impose a harsh dilemma on U.S. diplomats, but also have a significant impact on the entire global economy. It is in every nation’s best interest that the Chinese and Japanese settle their territorial dispute peacefully. (

Trashing Brand America


The United States of America is now the leading consumer nation and its number one export is trash.  The largest employer in the United States is Walmart.

“Grappling with a Garbage Glut” (Edward Humes, Wall Street Journal, April 18, 2012)

American communities on average spend more money on waste management than on fire protection, parks and recreation, libraries or schoolbooks, according to U.S. Census data on municipal budgets.

The U.S. doesn’t have to handle trash this way. Other countries with big economies and high standards of living have rejected the disposable products that make up so much of America’s garbage—in part because European countries hold manufacturers, not taxpayers, responsible for the costs of packaging waste. With that sort of incentive, toothpaste tubes need not come in redundant cardboard boxes and television sets can leave the store with no boxes at all. The average Dane makes four pounds of trash a day, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; the average Japanese generates 2.5 pounds.


No Longer Made in America

In 2011, “ABC World News with Diane Sawyer” launched a series, Made in America, focusing on American manufacturing and the American economy.

The facts show that our nation is addicted to imports. In 1960, foreign goods made up just 8 percent of Americans’ purchases. Today, nearly 60 percent of everything we buy is made overseas.

The following broadcast story from the “Made in America” series, captures the chronic public concern about the decline of the American brand and the promise that new markets in the Middle East may offer.

American Manufacturing: Did You Know?

A look at the state of the manufacturing industry in the United States as seen at the Second Annual “Conference on the Renaissance of American Manufacturing: Jobs, Trade and the Presidential Election” on March 27, 2012.  These are shocking statistics about the once leading manufacturing nation on the planet.