September 20, 2007

Great Moments in Public Diplomacy

This is really so sad. "People who want to be Cal Ripken in Pakistan", says Condi (save the detail they are cricket crazy, not baseball, of course!). Yes, that will materially impact our global reputation. Don't get me wrong. I know Cal Ripken is a good guy. I know baseball is our great national past-time. I'm happy Karen and Condi are sports fans. But does anyone seriously believe Cal Ripken regaling young Indonesian, Pakistanis or Saudis with tales of his RBI averages, interspersed with talk of 'character' and 'leadership' and such, is going to make one iota of difference for us strategically vis-a-vis our public diplomacy efforts?

No, it's all on par with Zathras' comment here regarding the celebrification (is that a word(?), if not, it should be...) of policy players etc. Why be surprised? It's well in keeping with this cheapened era. For Brooke Astor, we have a new breed of socialite that enjoys moonlighting as porn-star. For Secretary of States we have Ms. Wiesbaden Uber-Boots strutting her stuff. For public diplomacy tsarina we have an old Texan friend of the Decider who doesn't know squat (sorry...) about the Middle East.

Look, if we were at all serious about public diplomacy, we'd have had all our regional experts who speak Arabic flooding the airwaves apologizing for Condi's immensely tone-deaf "birth pangs" comment during the Lebanon-Israeli war the summer before last, when the entire Islamic world was enraged by images of cluster munitions being littered willy-nilly through south Lebanon, not to mention the horrific incident at Qana. Or she would follow her predecessor Colin Powell's recommendation to close Guantanamo without delay, by having a come to Jesus w/ the Decider about how the Cuban penal colony (along with the hooded man at Abu Ghraib) was overshadowing the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of America among many around the world.

These would be the makings of a serious public diplomacy effort, not this breezy, palsy-walsy festiveness with Cal. But what good does it do to scream on like this? You do public diplomacy with the public diplomacy team you have....

P.S. Did anyone notice how relaxed and happy Condi looks in the YouTube above? I couldn't help wondering, she really might well be happier as NFL Commissioner, and is just (mostly) treading water until '09....

P.P.S. For avoidance of doubt and spurred on by this commenter at Yglesias' place, I want to be clear. I'm not a big baseball fan, but from the little I know of him, I think Cal Ripken is a great guy. I really do. So yeah, good on him to want to pitch in and try to help. Nor am I trying to cheaply beat up on Rice or Hughes, as all told (and relatively speaking given the awfulness of this Administration), they too are trying to help on the margins. My point is just that we're grossly in over our heads, that's all...and not enough people are pointing it out.

MORE: Alex Massie weighs in:

Equally tellingly, you'll notice that Dr Rice doesn't mention the one country where Mr Ripken might conceivably (and even then it's a stretch) do some good for the Yankee image. That would, of course, be Venezuela - the one South American country that considers baseball, not soccer, its national sport. But then again, why would you want to engage with the Axis of Evil's Junior Varsity skipper?

Send Cal to Caracas!

Meantime reader SG writes in: "You didn’t have to mention you were not a big baseball fan; your use of the phrase “tales of his RBI average” does that for you. You could have said batting average or RBI totals..." Forgive my mortifying ignorance! With apologies...

Posted by Gregory at September 20, 2007 11:20 AM

Ripken really ought to spend some time in England first learning all he can about Cricket.

Posted by: Jon H at September 20, 2007 11:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"RBI averages"?

"Djerejian"-- is that a Pakistani name?

As to the point, yeah, we're pretty much represented and led by people with no sense of how things we say and do are received in the wider world.

Oh well. We're America, what's the worst that could happen?

Posted by: Elvis Elvisberg at September 20, 2007 01:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

From the video: "Unusual trio"? FOB and former employee Karen Hughes, current employee Condi and Cal Ripken, former MLB player (El Busho used to be a part owner of the Rangers). Wow, Bush IS a uniter.

I know it's PR, but it's bad PR. These people don't seem to know there is such a thing.

"Sharing the best of America", "With hard work and perseverance, you can achieve anything", "Sports is a universal language"... Nothing like bland happy talk to make you forget about bombings and torture and intermittent electricity.

No offense to Cal and props to him for wanting to help, but people in only two countries on earth even know who the hell he is (and I'm not sure most Japanese know, either). If they want an internationally famous person to be the face of the US govt abroad, Britney Spears is far better known. Given how incompetent Bushco is at this, I wouldn't be surprised if she's their next choice. Or O.J. In a way, they'd be more appropriate. Many people already think we're a bunch of murderers and that our foreign policy is crafted by drunken idiots. You'd think Ripken would be more worried about the blow his reputation might take from being associated with the Bush administration. I'm already starting to wonder about him.

Posted by: LL at September 20, 2007 02:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Maybe Rice could ask Britain to send the old England cricket captain Nasser Hussain to go and speak on behalf of the West. A half-South Asian, Muslim Westerner with more than 5,500 Test runs might be a more identifiable role-model....

Posted by: JohnTh at September 20, 2007 02:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Pas marrant

30 seconds of this is enough.

This is funnier

Although one should note that Cal Ripken is probably pretty well known in in Caracas, Sto. Domingo or Havana. Are we planning any diplomatic offensives there with this offensive diplomacy? I wonder if Cal (can I call you Cal) could arrange a visit with Hugo.

Posted by: CSTAR at September 20, 2007 02:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The 90% of American men who read newspapers the way I do -- straight to the sports page, and the rest when I have time -- know that Ms. Rice has as good a chance of playing in the NFL as she does of being commissioner of the NFL. The National Football League has a commissioner, Roger Goodell, who is a league lifer and who will follow the example of his predecessors in that job by holding it for the next ten years at least.

I don't know why someone who can't handle negotiations with Palestinians and Israelis would be thought able to handle Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder anyway.

Posted by: Zathras at September 20, 2007 03:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, Shirley Temple by all reports was awfully good for us at the UN.
“But that was in another country, And besides, the wench is dead.”

Posted by: dave.s. at September 20, 2007 05:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Condi sez that it's good for the wogs to meet Americans "from all walks of life". So who could be more representative than a multi-millionaire pro athlete, eh?

This twit has a PhD?!?

Posted by: sglover at September 20, 2007 09:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"“But that was in another country, And besides, the wench is dead.”"

Actually, Shirley Temple is still alive and kickin'.

Posted by: Jon H at September 20, 2007 09:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You don't mean like Dina Powell; the Arab poliglot who was kept off for a number of months because of Levin's spite; who finally
gave it up because her nomination wouldn't come up for a vote do you. Karen Hughes, the daughter of an Army General and former
Canal Zone gov; hasn't been a great help mostly because she calls
up those platitudes about the peaceful nature of Islam; on a few too many occasions. Condi's a a former Soviet/East Bloc specialist like Madelyn Albright and her father Dr. Korbel

Posted by: narciso at September 20, 2007 10:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Djerejian is an Armenian name.

Posted by: The Lounsbury at September 21, 2007 07:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Persons contributing to this blog might be interested in getting via e-mail (free of charge) the "Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review" (PDPBR) which -- among other matters -- covered (and continues to cover) the selection of Ripen as "Public Diplomacy Envoy."

Latest PDPBR at

If you'd like to be on the PDPBR listserv, drop me an e-mail so requesting.

Posted by: john brown at September 21, 2007 10:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Who is Cal Ripkin? Sorry, Ripken. I mean, who exactly? Apart from being a good guy? I'm Indian, living in India, well-informed, fairly well-travelled. And I've never heard of Cal R.

Do I want to be him? I don't think so. Here in India, it's cricketers who get all the glory.

Posted by: gotgat54 at September 22, 2007 05:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

JohnTh has the right idea, but I'd go about it differently: Get the US Cricket team's captain -- hell, get the whole team -- to India for "lessons" from the Indian team. Show the world that Americans don't mind hanging their hats on the lower peg in front of the cameras.

And imagine the press it would generate in India to have Sachin Tendulkar show those Yanks the finer points of the pull shot.

Posted by: Tony at September 22, 2007 08:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


"does anyone seriously believe Cal Ripken regaling young Indonesian, Pakistanis or Saudis with tales of his RBI averages, interspersed with talk of 'character' and 'leadership' and such, is going to make one iota of difference for us strategically vis-a-vis our public diplomacy efforts"

Maybe the Orioles are recruiting. Their current crop is a pathetic 20-some games below .500, which, as metaphors go, is about where our global reputation resides.

I recommend Cal look for singles hitters with a robust on-base percentage, or that he focus on pitching. We've tried playing longball, what with shock and awe still polluting the agora ( I mean the ballfield), and that's left us on the outside looking in. Get me some guys with good hand-eye coordination who understand that playing hardball often means walking guys intentionally.

Of course, changing the umpiring crew is a final option if Ripken's ninth-inning efforts disappoint.

Posted by: reshufflex at September 23, 2007 08:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Rudi says he's in the top 5 most famous Americans on the planet. Send him.

Posted by: Cheryl at September 23, 2007 03:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Most of bushjrs foreign policies are set up stricty for domestic political cosumption! This is more of the same. No matter how stupid, never be surprised!

Next Dale Earnhart jr or some other nascar driver will be called upon to do public diplomacy. "Everyone knows all aspiring european and south american drivers aspire to be Dale jr and win the Daytona 500"!

Posted by: centrist at September 23, 2007 11:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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