Ryan J. Suto's Blog

19 January 2012

A quick note on Hinchey’s retirement

Maurice Hinchey announced today that he will not seek re-election in 2012. I was once an intern for Representative Hinchey, and have fond memories of the people with whom I worked and I share values which much of Hinchey’s voting record. I for one will miss his presence in politics. His retirement from Congress will likely have interesting consequences on redistricting in New York, as the state redraws the Congressional map.

This may prove to be a strong move for Democrats. The next Congressional election coincides with the presidential election—which means that voters will be strongly influenced by which party they vote to the presidency. While Obama’s poll numbers and approval rating are both mixed right now, betting on an Obama win is smart money—presidential incumbency advantage has been so strong that we’ve had a single one-term president since 1980. So if Obama does win, that makes 2014 is 2nd mid-term election—a historically dangerous one for the president’s party (think 2006 for the Republicans).

Thus, by Hinchey retiring, New York politicians won’t have to protect his seat from redistricting. This year, New York will lose 2 seats in the House of Representatives—such loses usually end up endangering newly elected representatives. Thus by not seeking reelection, Hinchey will protect younger incumbent Democratic seats elsewhere in the state from the redistricting process this year, and giving them one more term of incumbency going into what would be likely be a difficult 2014.

Hinchey's current district may look nothing like it does now by the end of next month. Presently the 22nd snakes around the Pennsylvania border to cover cities like Ithaca, Binghamton, Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Middletown, and Newburgh. The district is currently packed, that is, it snakes around to contain all the democratic areas in one district. In fact, the currently blue 22nd is in a sea of red: the 19th to the south, the 20th to the east and north, the 24th to the north and the 29th to the west are all held by the GOP. So, my guess is that the current 22nd will be cracked—so that Ithaca and Binghamton will no longer be connected to Ulster County, Sullivan County, and the surrounding areas. This will be done to protect Democrats elsewhere in the state.

What does this mean for Hinchey’s home Ulster County? My best guess would be that it will get split between the 19th and the 20th. If that happens, it may be a long time until another Ulster County Democrat gets to Washington.

13 January 2012

Keep Tuesday

A big question in American electoral administration is to what extent voter turnout is affected by the day of the week we vote; Tuesday. As the U.S. faces low voter turnout, any administrative barriers to voting should be reformed.

Yesterday the GAO released a report titled Views on Implementing Federal Elections on a Weekend. However, the first sentence of the concluding paragraph of that report begins with “Weekend elections have not been studied, but studies of other voting alternatives determined that voter turnout is not strongly affected by them.” So, apparently when the GAO discussed elections on the weekend, it doesn’t study weekend elections. Fabulous.

So why do we vote on Tuesday in the first place? I’ll let WhyTuesday? answer that one. But the important question remains: would voter turnout increase with a move on the calendar? I’m not so sure.

As the Washington Post reported, South Carolina has moved its attempt to vote on Saturdays out of respect for the Jewish community in that state. That makes sense; while overall turnout may possibly increase, alienating an entire religious group is generally not advisable for democratic governance. That takes Sunday and Friday out, as well. But the bigger point about the weekend is that Americans love their weekends. We work a lot, and perish the thought of adding duties to our weekends. We have children to spend time with, projects to continue, football to watch, and many other things. Using about as much empirical evidence as the GAO, I would not favor a move of Election Day to the weekend.

However, the huge problem with voting during the work week is that many people, uh, work. Many can’t afford to leave their jobs or children and go and vote. As such, whichever day we vote should be a federal holiday, with as many establishments open as would be on Thanksgiving. But even so, which day? The first logical answer may be Monday—presently we have several holidays observed on Mondays. The problem is that creates a three-day weekend. Who’d want to lose a three-day weekend by staying home and voting, when that’s the perfect opportunity to take a small vacation? That’s what Americans do: the only thing we love more than weekends are longer weekends!

I think you get the point. We’ve arrived where we started. While the reasons for voting on Tuesday are horribly anachronistic, the real evil for voter turnout is that Election Day is not a federal holiday with most public and private establishments (including schools) having the day off. While Wednesday and Thursday are both still on the table, I don’t see an advantage to those days over Tuesday.

Voter turnout should be primarily concerned with equally increasing the number of people willing and able to vote. I think the best way to do this is to in fact keep Tuesday, and make that day a less busy one, allowing working Americans across the board to commit to their civic duty.

05 January 2012

Beijing’s New Year’s Eve Diplomacy?

This year for our New Year’s Eve festivities, my girlfriend and I decided to finally go to Times Square to watch the ball drop. It was a lot of fun. However, I couldn’t help but see certain festivities in the light of public diplomacy.

To start, I’ll let the Times Square site describe the events:

Opening Ceremonies – Chinese Cultural Performance, Lion Dance
 The Sino-American Friendship Association (“SAFA”) presents a spectacular Chinese cultural performance of the Lion Dance to begin the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration on the Nivea Countdown Stage at Duffy Island between 46th and 47th Streets. The Lion Dance is a popular Chinese New Year tradition bringing good luck in the upcoming year. The SAFA President, Peter Zhang and Executive Vice-President Li Li will be joined by Tim Tompkins, President of the Times Square Alliance to participate in the eye dotting ceremony that awakens the spirit of the Lion prior to the start of the Lion Dance. The Lion Dance will conclude with red and gold pyrotechnic effects atop One Times Square.

Before the performance and display, representatives from the Sino-American Friendship Association spoke of a desire for a strong friendship between China and the U.S., as well as China’s strong culture. Also representatives from the city of Beijing noted that Beijing and New York are sister cities, and spoke of the beauty and history of Beijing. Lastly, employees or volunteers of the Times Square Alliance handed out tourist maps of Beijing to the audience. I obviously had to grab one for research for this important blog post.

While I didn’t hear the group from Pittsburg in front, the group from Japan to the side, or the couple from Australia behind us say it, the whole time I was thinking, is this public diplomacy? It certainly felt like public diplomacy. However, it was presented as a collaboration between the tourism bureau of a city and a (presumably) non-profit organization, neither being a national government (of course I don’t know whether the Chinese national government was involved at all).

While I have discussed models of public diplomacy elsewhere, I think the question of whether this constitutes public diplomacy is unique. From the point of view of the SAFA, this is merely issue advocacy, at best cultural diplomacy. From the point of view of the government of Beijing, this is merely tourism advertising, at best public relations. While these things are all related to public diplomacy, they aren’t public diplomacy. But, does the label public diplomacy inherently depend on the intent of the utterer? Or, does it merely depend on the nature of the utterance? Or, even perhaps the point of view of the observers of the utterance?

Here, I think we have a coordinated effort by different entities which have different, but aligned, goals. The SAFA would like positive sentiments toward China and Chinese among Americans, while Beijing would like to increase the desire of Americans to visit Beijing and spend money in their city. Using the definition of public diplomacy I have used elsewhere (public diplomacy is the image of a state or its people, as maintained by a government, organization, or people, and held by international publics), both goals (positive sentiments and the desire to visit a foreign place) are clearly public diplomacy goals. To say that this utterance was outside the definition and scope of public diplomacy would be an artificially narrow conception of the idea.

Thus, I assert that in order for an action or utterance to be considered public diplomacy, the action or utterance itself must be coordinated and intentional, and have goals in line with the definition, concepts, and values of public diplomacy. The actor or utterer needn’t consciously decide to engage in public diplomacy as such, merely consciously decide to engage in actions which could reasonably be construed as public diplomacy. As such, the New Year's Eve actions and utterances by Beijing and the SAFA does constitute public diplomacy.

Thanks for reading. I’m wondering how much of all this was broadcast on TV or the internet? I’m wondering how many of you out there saw this and have thoughts about it. I look forward to your comments.

P.S. Chinese New Year is January 23rd this year.

04 January 2012

Part III: Short-term: Mediated public diplomacy


Part I

Part II

Mediated public diplomacy is messaging, image control and relationship building through third-party media. This style of public diplomacy is effective, efficient, and greatly important in the Middle East and North Africa.     

First, it is important to note that the U.S. has established media in the Middle East and North Africa on which it can conduct public diplomacy; Radio Sawa and Al Hurra television. However, these media have little credibility in the region, and thus far have not improved views of America (el-Nawawy, 2006). Radio Sawa and Al Hurra continually ask people of the region to take the effort to listen or watch an American-sponsored medium, as opposed to a native medium. This is problematic when the audience may already be skeptical of, and experienced with, state-sponsored media and the U.S. in general. It would be much more reasonable to find the publics the U.S. wishes to reach where they already are: regional media.

Al Jazeera has emerged in as the most influence medium in the Middle East and North Africa. By simply being a satellite television station, Al Jazeera has already challenged the control on the flow of media that Arab states traditionally had (Lynch, 2006). It’s most popular format is the debate between strong advocates on either side of a sensitive topic. This is not only highly entertaining, but it has created a cultural acceptance for civic discussion and disagreement is a prerequisite for multiparty democracy. (Id.). Of course, as the Hostile Media Effect would predict, Al Jazeera has been charged as being a propaganda piece for everything from the West to al Qaeda. (Id.). The U.S. simply must be an active participant in this conversation. Al Jazeera, Al Arabia, and other regional networks garner the lion’s share of viewership in the region—and the U.S. must meet the publics where they are, not where the U.S. would like them to be. While quasi-independent regional media in no way suggests the sprouting of liberal democracies throughout the region, the cultural needs for acceptance of opposition and the desire to project political opinions may go a long way in establishing Arab democracy, which has been a long-time goal of the U.S (Lynch, 2006). The U.S. should support such media by buying ad space and sending guests to discuss, debate, and explain key aspects of American life and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa. This is mediated public diplomacy.

While mediated public diplomacy seeks to address the publics of the region where they already are viewers, it will require extensive training for the individuals who will appear on such programming. These media operate in local languages, such as Arabic, not in English. The subtleties of language and cultural must be understood in order to properly and accurately explain policies and values without mistake or misunderstanding. Indeed, those representing the U.S will likely be faced with antagonistic hosts and audience skepticism (Sheafer and Gabary, 2009). The best way to do this effectively would be to engage in extensive, regions-specific training and to utilize the diaspora communities already here in the U.S. This will show the publics of the  Middle East and north Africa that Americans care about learning their  language, culture,  and customs, and that their relatives here in the U.S. are appreciated, accepted, and represent America just as much as anyone else. Compared to the exchanges discussed above, the impact of mediated public diplomacy is largely short-term. Policy decisions can be explained quickly and as events unfold in the region.

And in the end…

In this post series I recommended that the US Department of State concentrate new funding and resources on two areas, one long-term and one short-term. The long-term policy focus should be on sending Americans to the Middle East and North Africa to engage in educational exchanges as well as professional and development support. This will result in long-term relationships which will create benefits for years to come. The short-term policy focus should be on mediated public diplomacy: traditional public relations, crisis management and marketing of the United States by Americans on popular regional media. This will expose the publics of the region to U.S. policy explanations and Americans who know and understand their language and culture. While other current public diplomacy efforts in the region should be maintained, these foci present the U.S. with the most efficient forms of American advocacy in the Middle East and North Africa. Thanks for reading!


el-Nawawy, M. (2006) US public diplomacy in the Arab world: The news credibility of Radio Sawa and Television Alhurra in five countries. Global Media and Communication.

Lynch, M. (2006). Voices of the new Arab public: Iraq, Al-Jazeera, and Middle East politics today. New York. Columbia University Press

Sheafer, T. and Gabary, I. (2009) Mediated Public Diplomacy: A Strategic Contest over International Agenda Building and Frame Building. Political Communication.

Part II: Long-term: Exchange-based public diplomacy


Part I

Exchanges between states have the greatest potential to create lasting relationships between people. While they often impact a limited number of people, the impact is real and can spread more reliably by word-of-mouth and peer-to-peer communication than mass messaging can. Exchange-based programs, then, focus more on depth than breadth. Traditionally exchanges most occur in the educations setting; high school and university students from the Middle East and North Africa would come to the U.S. for a period of time while our student would go to that region, as well. While both of these directions, a cash-strapped Department of State should concentrate more on sending American Students to the Middle East and North Africa than bringing their students here. While this may sound unbalanced, the reasons for this emphasis are sound.

First, when the U.S. sends an American abroad, that American will come into contact hundreds of citizens in the host state. Each citizen with which that student interacts will have meet an American, and would thus have first-hand experience of what an American is like and how Americans act. Each citizen may then communicate this experience to others, and such experiences will be trusted as genuine. In contrast, when those from abroad visit the U.S., they too come into contact with hundreds of Americans, none of whom are selected for any required cultural sensitivity of meeting an individual from the Middle East or North Africa. In the end, if any one of these interactions is unpleasant, it could sour the entire experience for our guest, as negative impressions have stronger impacts on the human mind than positive ones. Even if the experience is a positive one, when our guest returns home, there is only one person who has first-hand experiences with Americans. While the word-of-mouth transmission is the same, there are fewer sources in this scenario. Thus, sending Americans abroad is more cost-efficient; the U.S. government would pay less money for each first-hand impression that those abroad would have with an American. Of course, these Americans are public diplomats of the highest importance, and should be selected carefully to ensure those are sent abroad who can shoulder such responsibility.

Second, sending Americans abroad will educate our own people about the cultures of the Middle East and North Africa. While public diplomacy is ultimately about ‘selling America’, America must first be worthy of sale. Today the U.S. is exporting culture and images around the world. Young people in Egypt, Tunisia, and even Iran are familiar with American music and movies. What is also visible in the Middle East and North Africa is the obvious lack of understanding and knowledge that Americans have about them. How many Americans have heard or seen music or movies from any state in the Middle East or North Africa? Very few. This cultural communication is not two-way. As such, sending Americans abroad to experience other cultures will introduce our people to different worldviews and lifestyles. This is greatly important because for each Katy Perry song which is sought out in Lebanon, a headline about an American burning the Quran is read. For every Brad Pitt movie seen in Turkey there is a story of racial profiling in American airports. And, as noted above, since negative stories resonate more than positive ones, these instances create serious and long-term harm to America’s image abroad. By sending Americans abroad the U.S. can educate its own people, creating a much more informed and value asset to ‘sell’ to the Middle East and North Africa. Relatedly, by sending more Americans aboard, foreign language acquisition will be encouraged. Learning the language of another people is key to understanding that people, and by encouraging a more understanding American people, fewer knee-jerk reactions to foreigners will occur and be depicted around the world. While it certainly is important for people of the Middle East and North Africa to learn English in order to understand the U.S., we as Americans must show initiative by learning Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, etc, instead of expecting the people of the Middle East and North Africa to take the time to learn about us.

Lastly, sending Americans abroad is more politically palatable for legislators at home. In times of tight government budgets both at home and aboard, attention must be paid to the economic and political realities of policies when proposing new or altered agenda. Cash-strapped constituents have increasingly been holding Congressmen and women accountable on votes for new spending. As such, this policy would be mindful that it would be easier for a congressman or woman to say ‘I voted for a bill which will pay to send Americans abroad’ than ‘I voted for a bill which will pay to bring foreigners here’. This is because the first statement will feel much more like a benefit for those sent abroad, whereas the latter sounds like the taxpayers are bestowing a benefit on the foreign traveler. While the American people are generally generous, this would likely be a less popular allocation of tax dollars.

The reasons for sending Americans to the Middle East and North Africa are strong. Classic educational opportunities for study and research abroad give Americans incredible opportunities to discover other cultures and discuss and exemplify American values in the Middle East and North Africa. However, the U.S. Department of State should not limit such programs to classic educational exchanges and study abroad. In the wake of the Arab Spring North Africa has seen historic elections in both Tunisia and Egypt. More elections are planned in Egypt, and soon Libya should be joining in holding elections. The U.S. has a clear opportunity to offer to these states individuals with years of experience running elections to help in the logistics and implementation of free and fair elections. The U.S. can also send professionals to the Middle East and North Africa, such as lawyers, journalists, public administrators, and civil society support. Along with the research mentioned above, the U.S. Department of State should seek out the needs of the states in the region and offer each state American human capital to assist in their pursuits, courtesy of the U.S. government. Such programs would help both formal and personal relations between the U.S. and states in the Middle East and North Africa.

Part I: Why conduct public diplomacy in the Middle East and North Africa?


Since 2001 the main public diplomacy strategy of the United States has been to win the “hearts and minds” of the people of the Middle East and North Africa. This was a direct response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, after which Americans were told, “they hate our freedoms”. This has been termed ‘Anti-Americanism’—the idea that foreign peoples, especially those in the Middle East and North Africa, hate what America is and that for which it stands. So in order to decrease this hatred for the U.S., it has been felt that our government should actively engage in building positive relationships with people and governments in Middle East and North Africa, as well as portray the U.S. as a necessary force for positive change in the region. Thus, by selling the idea of America to the people of the Middle East and North Africa, fewer of them would become terrorists, or would tolerate, support, or assist the goals and organizations of terrorism.

However, Anti-Americanism isn’t as simple as that. The negative sentiment toward the U.S. in that region most often comes from strong disagreements with our foreign policy than actual hatred of the American people. For example, since 2001 the U.S. has engaged in military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Moreover, we have placed heavy sanctions on Iraq, Iran, and Syria. The U.S. is elbow deep in the honey jar. However Anti-Americanism is more complicated still: often the U.S. is used as an anti-political device; a distraction from disagreements and problems much closer to home. The details of the image of the U.S. must be known in order to engage in successful public diplomacy in the Middle East and North Africa. Nonetheless, it can be done. Despite the complications of many states, ethnicities, religious groups, and conflicts, the U.S. can conduct a consistent, effective public diplomacy strategy in the Middle East and North Africa.

In order to conduct effective public diplomacy in the Middle East and North Africa, the U.S. must coordinate official rhetoric, funding, hard power (economic trade, sanctions, military intervention, etc.), and messaging. All of these elements are extremely visible to the people of the Middle East and North Africa and must be connected closely with American values and ideals. Through government-funded research and private research the U.S. Department of State must identify the primary values and goals of the next generation of leaders in the Middle East and North Africa. As the population there is notably young and the Arab Spring has swept through the region, the opinions of young adults and new leaders are increasing more important. Increasingly the citizens of the Middle East and North Africa hold political clout with their governments. Thus, the perceptions of the U.S. held by the people in that region will increasingly affect the policy positions governments take, ultimately affecting diplomacy and trade with the U.S.

Thus, to court these groups U.S. foreign policy must make clear the relationship with the effects of U.S. policy seen on the ground in the Middle East and North Africa and the ideal of our founding documents and our legal order. Moreover, our motivations and methods of execution of specific policies must be transparent so as to promote the view of a trustworthy America. Any reputation of transparency and value-based foreign policy the U.S. may have had has been undermined by what was leaked to the world on WikiLeaks and hesitancy of support of revolutions during the Arab Spring. As such, working to build American transparency and consistency is of great importance. Such transparency, consistency of message, and faith to American values will allow the following specific policy proposals the best chance of success.

Part II

Part III

U.S. public diplomacy recommendations for the Middle East and North Africa

For my 25th blog post, I wanted to discuss U.S. public diplomacy in the Middle East and North Africa. However, it's a bit too long. As such, I will post the discussion in three parts.

Part I: Why public diplomacy in the Middle East and North Africa? To cover this topic I first need to discuss the reasons behind the importance of U.S. public diplomacy in the Middle East and North Africa for public diplomacy skeptics out there.

Then, I will suggest two foci for U.S. public diplomacy; one long-term and one short-term.

Part II: The long-term. The U.S. should increase the number of Americans sent to the region to engage in exchange, professional and governmental support programs.

Part III: The short-term. The U.S increase training to engage in mediated public diplomacy on the popular regional media. Together, these goals will work to help “win the hearts and minds” of the publics of the Middle East and North Africa while at the same time helping develop the region and educating Americans about the people of that region.