U.S. Public Diplomacy Flying Blind

It's really quite surprising in some ways -- and not at all in most others -- that at a time when the U.S. is faced with unprecedented challenges, the U.S. Department of State doesn't use strategic research to guide its communications and public diplomacy.

Last month, the GAO released a report entitled "U.S. Public Diplomacy: Actions Needed to Improve Strategic Use and Coordination of Research." It concluded that the Secretary of State needs to take a research-based "campaign-style" approach to communications and generate "actionable" research to inform its efforts. I love this idea!

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It's Clan-Tastic!

A few weeks back, the New York Times ran a short article that laments how clan dynamics that affect public opinion and voter behavior in Central Asia are overlooked or disregarded by policymakers. I agree.

Clans are a part of the picture in obvious places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, but also in places with more developed political cultures, like Turkey, and obscure places like Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. In the absence of sustainable political parties, they provide a structure for communication and dissemination of political power. Understanding clan-based societies is important from both a democracy promotion and public opinion perspective for many of the same reasons.

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Why Turkey Is So Important

A Financial Times piece on why Europe should be rewarding Turkey, rather than punishing it. That AKP seems "to be competent" sounds like faint praise, but given the standards for ruling parties in this part of the world, competence is no small achievement. I agree with the writer that this election was a milestone in Turkey's democratic development. Let's hope the Military doesn't step in and muck things up.
A few excellent points:

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What Recent Data Tell Us -- And Don't Tell Us -- About Turkey Right Now

Much of the discussion about the Turkish elections has centered around whether, by supporting the Islamist-leaning AKP, Turks are turning toward political Islam and away from the secularist tradition upon which the country was founded. As is usually the case, it's more complicated -- and simpler -- than that.

We've got access to three different sets of data -- the same data sets that anyone else can get their hands on. So let's see what public opinion can tell us about what's happening in Turkey right now.

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Islam in Azerbaijan: On the Rise?

I always appreciate it when thoughtful journalists write stories about Azerbaijan, since there's so little written by anyone who understands that part of the world. RFE/RL's Liz Fuller knows what she's talking about.

But her recent RFE/RL series on Islam in Azerbaijan raised a lot of questions for me. With its corrupt government, human rights and democracy abuses ignored by the west, appalling living conditions outside Baku and tidal wave of misspent oil wealth rolling in, Azerbaijan does, on paper, seem like fertile ground for an Islamic surge. I wish the stories provided more insight into the current situation.

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Turkish Political Campaigning Enters the 20th Century

Spending 80 million YTL in public funds for rallies, flags and posters? That's how the CHP, the leading secular party in Turkey, plans to allocate its resources this election, according to the Turkish Daily News.

It's hard to know where to start describing everything that's wrong with that approach. As a noted opponent of rallies and posters of party leadership as a political communications strategy, I hope they have simply decided to tell a reporter that they plan to do all these ineffective, wasteful activities, so they could keep their real plans under wraps. Why else would they reveal their strategy to a reporter?

Rallies do nothing but make your base feel good. They organize no one, they persuade no one and are huge drains of time and resources that could be better spent organizing and communicating with swing voters. If my party was in the low double digits, I might spend more time identifying messages that persuade people sitting on the fence to support me. Flags don't do that. Buttons don't do that.

I am not privy to the AKP's plan, but their political behavior, ranging from calling early elections to the banners "He's still got a lot of work to do" I see hanging around town, suggests they use strategic polling to guide their activities. That message is appropriate for an incumbent party that has concrete accomplishments to point to. It provides a concrete rationale for voters to stick with the incumbent. Turkish voters are no different than voters anywhere else in the world: they want to know what a party is going to do for them personally. AKP's message assumes that voters want more of what they've been doing.

Another TDN article describes what happened when a woman reporter approached different party branches inquiring about how to get involved in the campaign. It's less revealing about the parties' efforts to engage women than their general approach to organizing, period.