Musings From The Garden

Musings From The Garden

This Is [NOT] Diplomacy

A chance visit to the Dali/Duchamp exhibit in the Dali Museum set my mind afire with the possible parallels between the Dada Movement and the Age of Trump. This essay is cross-posted on the CPD blog. Thanks to the USC Center on Public Diplomacy for the hospitality.

Enter the exhibit. It’s 1917. The Dada Movement has freed language from traditional syntax and semantics; rebelling against those who weave devious tapestries of words to perpetuate their power. Join them: toss the words, cast them adrift, promote confusion and nonsense. 

In this revolutionary space, language no longer provides a common world in which to take your bearings. Nor does art. The art within is anti-art. It is [not] art. The mission of the artists is to have no mission at all. They are anarchists.  Theirs is a political act. They destroy in order to create anew. They provoke, mock, pervert and insult. There is no decency here. No reverence. There is only crude spectacle and novelty. Mona Lisa gets a mustache, a hand full of filthy lucre, and Dali’s face. Gender is bent liberally to blur identity, and punched up to the point of erotica. Scientific certainty is challenged. What is truth?  

The artists here are global nomads: anti-culture, anti-nationalism. They belong nowhere and everywhere.  Craft, skill, expertise have no meaning here. The idea for a work is considered more important than the finished product. Buy a urinal, for example; flip it and render it useless. Call it art. In the category of art, anti-art is art, you know. The category ennobles the vulgar commodity, makes it a message.

The brazen artists ask “Why should we respect prevailing aesthetic and moral standards? How can we have confidence in our enlightenment culture when the institutions, museums — arbiters of good taste — have brought us war, economic stagnation and death?” The established rules-based order is irrelevant.  Take a chance and rebel. Blow it up. Give the smug art world something to gab about and make money from. People are so easily duped. As Duchamp himself said when Fountain, his urinal, was celebrated as a major piece of 20th Century art, “I was drawing people’s attention to the fact that art is a mirage. A mirage exactly like an oasis appears in the desert. It is very beautiful until, of course, you are dying of thirst.”

Now, leave the exhibit. It’s 2018 – a hundred years later. In the post-fact world outside, lies are not penalized. Crudity is authenticity. Say something; then deny you said it – no problem. Make things up on the fly – that’s something to brag about. The world is rotten to the core.  Assault the prissy political correctness that prevents us from telling it like it is. There is no right and wrong; there are only winners and losers at home and abroad. 

A fabulist in a ready-made red baseball cap, loose blue suit and flapping red tie, leans across the threshold: “I have the best words. I am your voice.” Then: “Lock her up! Drain the swamp!”  It is not what the words say, it is how the words feel, what the words do, that matters. Tell bald-faced lies and win the presidential sweepstakes. Speech acts are a game. Play to win. Then, take the act onto the global stage. Call it public diplomacy. 

In our domestic environment, illusions are made vivid, persuasive and realistic, so we can live within them. It helps when we avoid certain words:  vulnerable, diversity, entitlement, transgender, fetus, evidence-based.  It helps when we remove references to climate science from the EPA web site and tout “alternative facts.”  Saying a whole lot of nothing is a way of not saying. Denying that words said were said makes the possibility of a meaningful political dialogue impossible. Bunk is the point. Step outside the lie into the real world however, and disenchantment awaits.Donald J. Trump is the anti-politician who entered a political contest and won the presidency. In not being a politician he became a politician, changing forever the category itself. He created an image, branded it, and embodied it. The intentional image has effect and affect. It is skillfully executed. The execution of the image fascinates the media, apparently much more interested in what is seen, than what is really there. It is a show, we know. Politics is performance; it is [not] politics. It is [not] art. And, it leads to anti-diplomacy by commemorative coin.

President Trump’s verbal and non-verbal language is certainly public. It gets the world’s attention. With cameras clicking he refused to shake the German Chancellor’s hand when first they met. The world also knows he hung up on the Australian Prime Minister after chewing him out on their first get-acquainted call.  He told Chinese President Xi Jinping about American airstrikes in Syria while eating “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen” in the Mar a Lago restaurant. 

Now, the summit spectacle in Singapore is the newest, and perhaps most dangerous, on again, off again illusion of diplomacy. Twitter bluster and gushing “Dear Kim” letters must be what National Security Advisor John Bolton had in mind when he said, “My belief is diplomatic crises, 99 and 44/100ths percent of them, can be resolved with public diplomacy.” 

When anything can be said and everything can be unsaid, nothing that is said matters. When what words say no longer matter, the meticulous word work with a life and death purpose that is diplomacy cannot exist. Act quickly, “the Korea Peace Talks and eventual, we pray, Summit Commemorative” coin is now on sale in the official White House Gift Shop.  It is [not] diplomacy. It is [not] art. 

Teaching Diplomacy at Eckerd College


With twenty-five years of experience as a Foreign Service officer and an additional twenty years as a college instructor, Eckerd College Diplomat in Residence Donna Oglesby is a firm believer in the value of simulations in the classroom. “Practitioners are granular. They want to get down into the weeds in the real world and come out of the abstraction of the academic realm,” she says. “Case studies give you that because they play to your strength—you’ve been there, done that. And you can bring that into the classroom.” For that reason, Oglesby found Model Diplomacy’s multimedia cases and adaptability to be especially rich material for fellow practitioners turned educators. “It’s right up their alley.”

A serendipitous meeting with The Council on Foreign Relations academic outreach staff at the International Studies Association conference in Baltimore in February 2017, led to an interview about my teaching of their Model Diplomacy Case material. The interview text went live on the CFR website yesterday. 

Illustrated with some great photos taken by Eckerd IRGA graduating senior Rob Weigel, the expansive interview offered me an opportunity to share some thoughts on pedagogy developed over twenty years of teaching in an undergraduate classroom. This semester marks the end of that joyful experience. I’ll be giving away the mini-whiteboards and hanging up the dry erase marker in a few weeks. It’s been a richly fulfilling second career. It’s been fun. (laughs)

Sowing The Seeds Of Diplomacy On Hard American Ground

The peer reviewed version of my research study on the teaching of diplomacy in the United States is now available In the Hague Journal of Diplomacy. Available on-line now and in hard copy later this year, the study compares how practitioners and academics teach diplomacy. Here is the abstract:

Diplomacy is a neglected field in American higher education. Both practitioners and academics have repeatedly cast the seeds to grow the discipline in the United States, but with limited germination. Although diplomacy curricula are rare, courses do exist. Following a review of 75 syllabuses and lengthy interviews with many of their authors, this article’s author finds that academics and practitioners teaching the limited number of diplomacy courses make very different choices in content and pedagogy. Drawing on over 25 years of diplomatic practice followed by twenty years teaching at the college level, she evaluates why the main institutions of American society do not support diplomacy as either a profession or a field of study. The article argues that the few ‘resident gardeners’ rarely stray from their own plots to ‘fieldscape’ together in hard American ground.

Diplomatic Language

Rhetorical technique is on my mind in this 2016 election season. The “I want to tell it like it is” blunt style of Donald J. Trump impresses many, largely uneducated white males, with its “authenticity.” The perfectly cautious speech of the lawyerly technocrat Hillary Clinton suggests deception to that same audience. For others, the intemperate language of the "short fingered vulgarian" drives them to the polls to pull the lever for the "cerebral, calculated, stripped of all spontaneity and risk," Hillary Clinton because she seems safer, and afterall, “the children are watching."

Addressing the shift in tone and the absence of a common public language, Mark Thompson, CEO of the New York Times Company argues in his new book:

What we have lost and must strive to regain is a conception of rhetoric that strikes a balance between the demands of reason, character and empathy, and that strives for genuine truthfulness rather than theatrical “authenticity.”

Diplomats have always worked towards balance in their rhetoric. They must manage cross-cultural relationships of enmity as well as friendship and doing so requires professional skill. Diplomats choose words to be precise enough to communicate clearly to diplomatic counterparts yet elastic enough to plausibly suggest the alternative meanings the diplomat’s political masters at home need to manage their increasingly entangled domestic and international politics. 

Diplomatic Language screenshot

Diplomats have to develop a stage voice to complement the clubhouse voice that soothes relationships within the diplomatic community. As I wrote last year before the advent of this election season, "They also need to share the stage, and the clubhouse, with political actors visiting from the domestic realms who have brought culturally contingent styles usually too hot for the cooling saucer of diplomacy.” Little did I imagine how hot that language would become!

sage handbook

Still, rereading my chapter on Diplomatic Language in The  Sage Handbook of Diplomacy, published June 2016, I recognize my work’s felicitous relevance to today’s intense focus on public rhetoric. In researching for the chapter, I became more deeply aware of the history of Diplomatic Language as an instrument of diplomatic society designed to minimize misunderstandings and miscalculations that give rise to conflict. I also became aware that cautious speech can look like deception to those unsympathetic observers unpacking meaning with a jaundiced eye. Investigating the diplomatic habit of using ambiguity to create the space for international agreement and room to maneuver politically at home and abroad, critical scholars, see in Diplomatic Language proof of ‘duplicity and theatrical play.’

Take some time off from the heat of campaign rhetoric this month and contemplate Diplomatic Language. Here is my Chapter 20 abstract:

The chapter Diplomatic Language examines the signals, codes and conventions constructed over time by diplomats to smooth and soothe the process of communication between states and the organizations created by states in the international political realm. It argues that Diplomatic Language is instrumental: it serves the purpose of allowing diplomats to form and maintain relationships with those who manage international relations. The chapter examines the theory and the practice of diplomatic speech acts through various theoretical perspectives. It explores the balance diplomats attempt to achieve between ambiguity and precision in the production of diplomatic texts. And, it considers how the expanded, and increasingly diverse, cast of actors on the diplomatic stage, with their contesting scripts and varied audiences, are changing the discourse patterns.

Given the handbook's institutional pricing, please let me know if you do not have access to my work. I’d love to have your reaction in 140 characters or less @WinnowingFan.

Diplomacy Education Unzipped


It’s wonderful to see the American Foreign Service Association turning its attention to diplomacy education with a cover focus in the January - February 2015 issue!

I was happy to be invited to contribute an article based on my research into the teaching of diplomacy by academics and practitioners in the United States. My article begins on page 27. For a more detailed look into the subject — with all requisite footnotes — see my academic paper, a Fine Kettle of Fish,  presented at BISA in Dublin in June 2014.

Gone Fishing!


Metaphorically speaking, of course. I’ve spent the better part of a year, neglecting Winnowing Fan and researching into the comparative teaching of diplomacy by academics and practitioners in the United States. I presented my findings at the British International Studies Association Conference in Dublin in June. Entitled, A Fine Kettle of Fish, here is the paper’s abstract:

This paper examines the teaching of diplomacy in the United States through a review of over five-dozen syllabi and lengthy interviews of many of their authors. By intentionally seeking out both academics and practitioners teaching diplomacy, including public diplomacy, to compare their choices in content and pedagogy, I find patterns of difference that exceed those expected by a close reading of the theory and practice “gap” literature. What the two distinct epistemic communities teach in terms of skills and procedures as well as the beliefs that inform them, the values that sustain them and the theories that lie behind them differ significantly. Drawing on the author’s three decades of diplomatic practice followed by eighteen years teaching at the college level, this paper attempts to explain why that might be the case.


This study is a work in progress and reader feedback is welcome.

The Political Promise of Public Diplomacy

At the invitation of Layalina Productions, I wote a Perspectives piece affirming the political nature of Public Diplomacy. Challenging the common vision of a universal global civilization in which the unified voice of the people rises above politics, I argue that Public Diplomacy should be viewed as a political instrument used to advance an actor's dearly held interests and values, which vie with the ideas of others who value differently in our pluralistic international society. 

Exploring the exchange and contestation of ideas in the media-saturated global public square, I call for diplomats to protect the free flow of information and therefore of politics at a time when some international actors seek to restrict the current "messy global marketplace of ideas." Read more

You can view this issue as a PDF and browse the Perspectives archives on The Layalina website.

"Big Dog That Can Hunt In The Tall Grass"


How could I resist? A metaphor, and a dog metaphor at that! Readers of the ill-attended Winnowing Fan will know that I am partial to canine behavioral explanations of international relations as my Dogma post will attest. So, I get it. I really do.  Matthew Barzun has been named America's Ambassador to the Court of St. James because he will get off the comfortable porch and wander the British Isles in search of prey in the tall grasslands. 

He knows how to hunt, we are assured, because Alec Ross personally trained him and 150 other Ambassadors over a four year period. Whoa!

Lots of tall grass in Sweden to be sure. I don't know Matthew Barzun or his service as the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden and he could be a very good man competent to represent the United States to the United Kingdom. He may be skilled at listening, engaging and gathering information about the country to which he is assigned to advise the president he serves. If he develops a good feel for the social and political context in which he will work, he may become a skilled negotiator. He may even intensify our bilateral collaboration on a range of significant global issues. Let's hope so. 

But Mr. Ross' testament to Barzun's qualifications lies elsewhere. We are being assured by Mr. Ross of digital diplomacy fame, that however skillfully Matthew Barzun might manage the core responsibilities of a diplomat, he will not loll around at court wearing pinstripes. We know this because he has forsaken the east and west coasts of his birth and fortune to dwell in the heartland of America.  He is well bred and well connected but certainly not elite. Moreover, we are assured that we can trust his hunting instincts because he is not of the State Department. He was chosen by the "young, technology-savvy and entrepreneurial" non-DC careerists of the West Wing because he too is "forward leaning." And, above all, he is so well trained by Mr. Ross that he can work off leash!  


Off-leash, in the tall grass


"Truth, Justice and the American Way"


The boy, Aaron Swartz, took his own life at the age of twenty-six a mere thirteen years after this picture was taken. The man, Lawrence Lessig, grieves and rages at the prosecutorial bullying that drove his young friend and collaborator to suicide.

Those of us in the public diplomacy community should care about this case for many reasons. Like Lessig, Aaron Swartz was an internet freedom pioneer. As a child, he gave us the RSS that allows us to track topics of interest on the web. Sitting here on my sandbar in Florida, I can still feel connected to the public diplomacy community around the world because my RSS feed brings me your news. If you are interested in my musings, RSS can bring them to you as well.

I remember as Counselor of USIA, fighting off the State Department's first grab for the Agency early in the Clinton Administration. We won that round, in part, by arguing that public diplomacy believes that information is power when you share it; use it to connect, inform and influence if you can. While the State Department at the time saw information as power if you controlled it; if you had information that others did not have. We believed in the public use of information; State held its information privately. Our incompatible operating philosophies, we argued, would not be conducive to a merger. As Nick Cull documents in his new history of The Decline and Fall of USIA, we finally lost the argument on the last day of September 1999.

The consolidation of USIA into State was muffling America's official information outreach just as the new age of open information was loudly dawning.  Then fourteen year old Aaron Swartz was a member of the working group that created RSS 1.0 to open the flood gates of information online. In some respects, Aaron Swartz had the soul and the operating philosophy of a public diplomacy officer. Listen to him:

His short life was about making information more accessible, making sharing and collaborating on-line easier.  The technical genius that gave us RSS when he was a child continued his contributions to the public good.  As David Weinberger, a senior researcher at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society wrote:

Aaron went on to make serious contributions to Creative Commons (an organization that releases licenses so authors can let their work be more easily reused), Open Library (a public library of online works), Reddit (an immensely popular open discussion forum), Markdown (a simple way to write Web pages), (making it easier for developers to create Web applications), (type-and-post website) and much more.

Unlike those engaged in public diplomacy however, in pursuit of his policy objectives, Swartz was apparently willing to engage in civil disobedience and break laws that limit access to information. It was his alleged action to liberate academic articles held by JSTOR that brought down the wrath of the U.S. government upon him. He had explained his purpose in an earlier Guerilla Open Access Manifesto. He wrote in part:

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.

Swartz' willingness to pursue unlawful means to share information is what sets him apart from the work of those engaged in public diplomacy. His internet freedom agenda was not the same as that articulated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton but the kinship is striking. Are the words she used at the News Museum in 2010 that different from his in the interview above? She said,

 We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it. Now, this challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic. The words of the First Amendment to our Constitution are carved in 50 tons of Tennessee marble on the front of this building. And every generation of Americans has worked to protect the values etched in that stone. 

Pfc. Bradley Manning made mockery of those words when he dumped his treasure trove of classified documents onto Wikileaks within a year of Secretary Clinton's Internet Freedom  speech. By doing so he placed America's diplomats and their interlocutors at risk and triggered his own arrest on charges of “aiding the enemy.”

Swartz' act of civil disobedience in liberating the JSTOR database while using guest access privleges at MIT was a far cry from the treasonous behavior alleged against Pfc. Manning whose trial is now set for June 3, 2013. Yet as a Manning supporter, Swartz had to have known that his own political activism would have its costs. As Orin Kerr writes on the The Volokh Conspiracy:

To my mind, this is one of the puzzles about Swartz. On one hand, he was deeply committed to civil disobedience and to the moral imperative of breaking unjust laws. On the other hand, he seems to have had his soul crushed by the prospect that he would spend time in jail. This is an unusual combination. Usually the decision to engage in civil disobedience comes along with a willingness to take the punishment that the law imposes.

Perhaps he would have been willing to pay a price proportional to the alleged crime. We will never know because the Department of Justice -- seeing his kinship with Bradley Manning, rather than Hillary Clinton -- charged him on 13 counts, including wire fraud and theft of information carrying the potential penalty of up to 35 years of jail. With a trial ironically schedlued for April 1, 2013 and a plea bargain effort dead, Aaron Swartz chose death. As the Economist said in a touching obituary, Aaron Swartz could accept death as he wrote in 2002, 

 as long as all the contents of his hard drives were made publicly available, nothing deleted, nothing withheld, nothing secret, nothing charged for; all information out in the light of day, as everything should be.

                          R.I. P. Aaron Swartz November 8, 1986 – January 11, 2013

Of Creepers and Trees

Even gods have their seasons. In summer one may be a pantheist, may consider oneself part of Nature, but in autumn one can only take oneself for a human being.   Karel Capek


New England glories in autumn. The riotous colors of fall invite walking across fields and into the woods. Our perspective on the landscape shifts. Trees that once sat quietly cloaked in green, call out in their reds, yellow and orange. They dress differently as winter comes: a final splurge before the last leaf falls to November's wind. The humble beauty of autumn offers particular solice this year as I seek some refuge from the relentless election season's assault on good senses.

I no longer teach in the autumn semester because I love this time in New England and want to stay on to enjoy the last roses, leaf piles and wood smoke in the air. Now, I pack for the journey back to Florida, go for long walks, come in for tea in the afternoon to read and prepare for the courses I will teach at Eckerd College during spring semester.  In addition to the stalwart "Media and Foreign Policy," I am bringing back my "Globalization Debate" after a five year hiatus.

Reading in on the scholarship written after the 2008 Great Recession changed our globalization expectations is a sobering experience. Hyper-globalizers are muted now.  Bruce Greenwald captures the mood by the title of his pro-globalization book: globalization: n. the irrational fear that someone in China will take your job. Rational or not,  American citizens currently think the most important foreign policy issue facing the country is "protecting the jobs of American workers." As evidenced in last night's foreign policy debate, both President Obama and Governor Romney seem to have read the data: 84 percent of respondents in both parties identified jobs as the most important foreign policy issue in the 2012 Chicago Council on Global Affairs Poll. 

Agreeing on the problem, American voters are dead evenly split on whether less or more government in relationship to market forces offers the best path to a solution.  We are not alone. Voters in Greece, Italy, France have already spoken this year, some repeatedly. Other elections follow, causing scholars to note the differentiated nation state responses to the pressures of economic globalization as their citizens demand protection from the negatives of an integrated global economy.  

What was once seen as a one size fits all inevitability, globalization is now being viewed, with greater frequency by skeptical scholars, as a process to be managed by the state. In The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy, Dani Rodrik (2011) insists on a new globalization narrative:

one that embraces an ineluctable tension: we cannot simultaneously pursue democracy, national self-determination, and economic globalization. When the social arrangements of democracies inevitably clash with the international demands of globalization, national priorities should take precedence. 

After all he says, it was the state, not global governance, to the rescue following the financial collapse of 2008. State directed capitalism like China's seemed to have weathered the storm blowing out of wall street with far greater ease than in the neo-liberal heartland of the West. Indications are that may not last, but I sensed the relative shift back to state power as the world pivots toward Asia and wrote about it in my 2009 SAIS Review piece, Statecraft at the Crossroads. Now, I am in more distinguished company.  It is as if we are seeing that old heirarchical tree in the landscape once again. Still, others like Manuel Lima, have their eyes on the powerful networking forces that lay waste to boundaries. 


Like Lima, my autumnal eye is not simply attracted to trees, it focuses on the creepers too. The benign and lovely Virginia Creeper reveals what she has been up to all summer by surprising from her perch on trees, shrubs, rocks and walls.


Even though Miss Virginia can be a bit unruly, when removing invasive weeds I leave a few of her tendrils to enjoy in this season. I am less kind to the ravaging English Ivy: a pest that will smother my woodland paths and choke my trees given a chance. When did that once properly behaved ivy become so vicious that people campaign to remove it from public lands? Now, a criminal invasive in some places, ivy is fair game for claw and snip. Eradication strategies abound.  

So, too, with that other ivy, the poison one thriving in conditions of global warming. In fall thankfully, there is no longer a chance of sneak attack. Now red and yellow, poison ivy does its creeping boldly, revealing where it has been hiding all summer to ambush me with rashes and welts. 


After my camera walk yesterday,  I now know my neighbor is the culprit. She seems to be harboring this fugitive in wooded areas on the other side of our boundary line. No wonder poison ivy finds its way easily around stone walls and trees. It isn't native in my garden but can it really be considered foreign? For an answer over a cup of Earl Grey, I read the great Wisława Szymborska's poem Psalm (1976):

Oh, the leaky boundaries of man-made states!

How many clouds float past them with impunity;

how much desert sand shifts from one land to another; how many mountain pebbles tumble onto foreign soil in provocative hops!

Need I mention every single bird that flies in the face of frontiers

or alights on the roadblock at the border?

A humble robin - still, its tail resides abroad

while its beak stays home. If that weren't enough, it won't stop bobbing!

Among innumerable insects, I'll single out only the ant between the border guard's left and right boots

blithely ignoring the questions "Where from?" and "Where to?"


Only what is human can truly be foreign.

The rest is mixed vegetation, subversive moles, and wind.

Coming back to the globalization literature this autumn is to be reminded of the human lives at the center of the swirling abstractions in the globalization debate. Katherine Boo (2012), author of the stunning Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity shows us how very foreign some human lives can be. Boo documented the Mumbai slum dwellers' lives because, she said, globalization was overtheorized and underreported.  Reading her is coming face to face with the diversity of human existence in our bewildering age of global change and inequality. One of the greatest early theoreticians of the networked society, Manuel Castells is now observing and reporting from the front lines too. He collaborates on a remarkable Aftermath Project with a companion book (2012) by the same title Aftermath

“This is a new beginning. The aftermath of the crisis is not only social devastation, it’s not only the political crisis, it’s not only Greece going down. It’s also an aftermath in the sense of a reconnection between society and the political system.”

Surprisingly perhaps, the aftermath of the crisis he chronicles is a plural one. There is no uniform human response to deepening spiraling crisis.  Robert Frost shows us the naturally conflicting world views in his poem Mending Wall:


...He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That wants it down.

Those of us who want walls and those of us who don't will work out our objectives politically. The politics will play out differently within our particular polities and among them globally, intensifying  plurality in world politics. The idea that globalization has or will produce an "undifferentiated universal human culture" is simply a rationalist illusion, writes Castells, who argues that, on the contrary, we are moving toward a more complex, plural but interdependent world. It is a world full of all manner of creepers and trees. We contending humans will wall or weed them out to check against the destruction and loses of history. Or, we will invite them into our garden existence, trying all the while to control the meaning in our lives. 


Except where otherwise noted, all original work produced by Donna Oglesby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License