by Latoya Peterson
Earlier in the month, I had spotted a Fast Company article discussing the changing nature of diplomacy in the Obama White House. Alex Ross, the Senior Advisor for Innovation for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, granted a sprawling interview to Fast Company which addressed embracing transparency and collaboration in a mistrustful global environment.
Some interesting bits:
Upon entering office, Obama vowed an end to cowboy diplomacy. Ross says the U.S. is exercising influence “on a more multilateral basis, and doing so under the frame of global citizenship, less than quote ‘America’s Values’.”
“The language matters,” continues Ross. “We live in such an interconnected world.”
While, to some, talk of interconnectedness may seem like political pandering and boilerplate, to a large swath of the country, it’s an aggressively contentious worldview. Former UN ambassador John Bolton recently called Obama the “most radical president who has ever been elected,” in a speech pointedly titled “the Case against Global Citizenship.”
For instance, while Bolton and other conservatives slammed Obama for prioritizing Egyptian democracy over an America-friendly despot, the State Department was been busy supporting overtly subversive technologies.
[D]irect access to senior officials has been traditionally been reserved for voting constituents–i.e., American citizens. Yet, after the Egyptian revolution, Secretary Clinton held a YouTube-like press conference, especially targeting the tech-savvy activists angry at the U.S. for years of supporting Mubarak.
“The way this would have been done 10 years ago,” says Ross, “is we would have spent a week pre-screening a dozen a Egyptian youth who could have sat with Hillary Clinton around a mahogany table and they would have asked polite questions and we would have gotten a photo op, and we would have had a handful reporters in the room writing nice stories about it.”
Instead, what the below video reveals, are candid responses to hard-hitting questions that include, surprisingly, some unequivocal admissions of failure. When one video commenter asked why the United states “shook hands” with a known dictator, Clinton’s said that the United States had attempted to influence human rights through appeasement and back-door channels, “we were not successful, I will be very honest with you,” she said.
The State Department has limits–and, Wikileaks is one of them. “We don’t believe in radical transparency,” concedes Ross. “Diplomats cannot conduct business in an environment of total transparency”
As an example, he notes, “one of the most effective members of the diplomatic core, Carlos Pascual, our Ambassador to Mexico” had to resign in the wake of leaked cables.
“While I come from a community that implicitly embraces tools and organizations that can open up historically closed institutions and processes, that has its limits, and I think Wikileaks bore that out.”
Ross is cognizant, however, that the level of secrecy has permanently changed. “Going forward, that transparency is only going to increase. The ubiquity and power of the networks and the tools that attach to the networks is only going to increase.”
In our conversations on racial dynamics and oppression – both Stateside and around the globe – we often touch on the issue of global power dynamics. The way in which nations pursue power has long lasting effects, and when we discuss ideas like colonialism, colonization, globalization (and its discontents, to crib from Stiglitz), policy shifts like this one have a major impact on how people relate to each other and how policy is formed.
Readers, what do you think about Ross’ comments?