Open Thread: On “Radical Global Citizenship”

by Latoya Peterson

global citizenship

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?

  • PatrickInBeijing

    I want to disagree with Mr. Ross. First of all, Wikileaks did not release everything. They redacted anything that might cause physical harm to individuals. The newspapers that published the information also had the chance to further remove damaging information. They sought the advice of the US government, which refused to cooperate because it didn’t want ANYTHING released.

    Mr. Ross says they can’t work in an atmosphere of “radical transparency”, which means “honesty”. So, what he and the US government are saying is that without being able to lie, America can’t deal with other countries.

    No one will deal with us unless we are willing to lie.

    It seems to me that one of America’s problems is that we lie all the time. We sign treaties, and don’t keep them. We make promises and don’t keep them. We lie to others and ourselves about our history, both recent and distant. Frankly, I fail to see how our history of lies has benefited us. It seems to me that many of our problems come from leaders believing that they can tell whatever lies they want and get it away with it.

    Do I need to make a list? It would be a long one. Starting with lies about the people who were living in America when our ancestors arrived, including lies about slavery and most of our wars, lies about …………. well, about pretty much every thing that I can think of.

    We see the atmosphere of lies in the birther movement, and the cheating of poor people by bankers, and on and on and on.

    Frankly, lying all the time has created a mess. Perhaps some “radical transparency” should be tried by Americans. After all, we jump down the throats of every other country in the world if we think they are lying. The idea that American Exceptionalism allows us to lie to others (and ourselves) at will, seems to me to be built on the same bizarre foundation as white and male supremacy.

    Free Bradley Manning.

  • Anonymous

    I do think that, at least in the world as it exists now, there does need to be some level of confidentiality in diplomatic relations – I of course want to know as much as the next person when that privilege of confidentiality is being used to cover/plan atrocities or harm people, but it is difficult to get someone to dialogue with you when you can’t guarantee that it won’t be splattered all over the internet. I do believe we should have as few dealings as possible with horrible abusive dictators, but to have a line of communication on which they can be less guarded than they are in media presentations is vital to realistically judging wtf is happening in there, on the ground.

    America being a global citizen, instead of a global bully, would be a great, great thing. I don’t think leaking diplomatic cables is a way to rein it in, frankly. That would only work if it was a level playing field – i.e. everyone transparent, all the time. *That* is radical transparency, not revealing only the diplomatic secrets of the “most powerful country in the world” or whatever the US is still supposed to be. If all countries got a dose of truth concerning what other countries really think about them, it would have serious implications for the way countries deal with one another.