September 26, 2007

Harry Potter And The Challenge Document

A guest editorial in Roll Call proposes a new mechanism in diplomacy that evokes the idealism of Woodrow Wilson, along with a healthy dose of his naiveté. John Connolly, the Executive Director of the Institute for Public Dialogue, wants nations to establish a series of white papers in order to conduct public diplomacy, especially when traditional diplomacy has failed. Called "challenge documents", these position papers would somehow transcend national interests and bring a new era of peaceful resolution to real conflict.

The idea has a certain charm, but one that runs threadbare by the end of the proposal. At Heading Right, I point out that an attempt to use Harry Potter as an argument doesn't build much credibility. Like so many other earnest but essentially naive proposals, it fails to consider the very real differences between free societies and oppressive governments in how information gets disseminated. There is a reason that liberal democracies do not go to war with each other, and it's because this process already exists in those nations -- and won't ever exist in tyrannies.

Also, I have to add that placing this call for free debate and dialog in Roll Call -- which charges a hefty subscription fee to access the material -- seems just a little off-message. Readers can access a PDF version for free here.


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Comments (13)

Posted by GarandFan | September 26, 2007 11:35 AM

It always amazes me when supposed intellectuals push the "dialogue" routine to it's extremes. But they never have an answer when asked 'what if I don't want dialogue, what if I just want to kill you'.

Posted by TomB | September 26, 2007 11:35 AM

I think they should ask Ms Nancy P. about her highly succesful venture to Syria.
By the way, what is happening to Ms Nancy P.? Haven't heard much about her lately.

Posted by The Mechanical Eye | September 26, 2007 11:41 AM

The devil in any diplomatic venture is of course the details. Would a nation really follow, to this hilt, this last-option plan if all other negotiations really failed?

I don't have access to the plan, but is it really fair to call it "Wilsonian," especially after (groan) once again invoking Neville Chamberlain and 1938 at the end of your article?

I always thought Wilsonian ideals were about "fighting for freedom" and setting up leagues of democracies -- something this administration talks up all the time.

Are you going to talk about this naiveté in criticism of the Bush Administration? Are you going to mention how its Pollyannish view of human nature leads to the cynical use of force, up to and including the event described in this Washington Post article, which portrays a chilling portrait of an above-the-law Blackwater U.S.A. shooting up Iraqi citizens?

This doesn't comport to the simple Wilsonian rhetoric of, say, Bush's televised speech just a few weeks ago.

I think its very fair to criticize this highly theoretical "white paper" method of diplomacy as "Wilsonian," and to gently mock its desire for dialog above all else. But you criticize the mote in Connolly's eye while ignoring the skyscraper-sized beam of steel in your own.


Posted by Captain Ed | September 26, 2007 11:53 AM


I should have explained the Wilson reference more clearly. Wilson made it a point to demand public diplomacy with no secret negotiations or treaties. That's the "Wilsonian" quality I meant, not the "war for the conversion to democracy" quality it rightly connotes. Sorry for the lack of clarity.

Posted by LarryD | September 26, 2007 12:15 PM

GarandFan, I think they live in a fantasy world where evil and insanity don't exist.

Dr. Evil's white paper:

"You will completely surrender to me by noon (UTC) tomorrow. Failure to respond in the affirmative before the deadline constitutes a declaration of war on your part."

Posted by Robin | September 26, 2007 12:59 PM

I don't think they've read Harry Potter - evil had to be confronted and vanquished, and not through dialogue either, but the old-fashioned, difficult way and good people died. Okay, okay, good characters died along the way.

Posted by jerry | September 26, 2007 1:42 PM

There will always be high minded people who naively believe that everyone is happy with the established order and that suitable accommodations can be made. There are even those who believe that you can sign an international treaty that "outlaws" war. The problem with this line of thinking is that not everybody is satisfied with the status quo and they cannot be accommodated. Many of these regimes are quite willing to use force to achieve their objectives. They can even argue quite persuasively why they should be allowed to do so. Outlawing war or calling for dialogue is only enforceable if you win. We charged the Japanese and the Germans with violation of the Kellogg-Briand Pact only because we were victorious. When you outlaw war, only outlaws will go to war.

To further clarify Wilson’s call for open diplomacy, I would like to point out it referred to the bevy of secret treaties that committed members of the Entente and the triple alliance to go to war without the public or he legislature knowing about it in advance. It did call for negotiates to be carried out in public. He was looking for transparency of result not process. Wilson may have been naïve but he was not so naïve that he thought you could actually negotiate in public.

Posted by ir1ru12 | September 26, 2007 1:43 PM

doesn't this already happen? i thought that's what "public diplomacy" was. for example, most people can go to the state department website or the chinese foreign ministry website and find a whole mess of "challenge documents" interpreting history from that country's perspective. is there a difference between the proposed "challenge documents" and what we currently know as "propaganda"?

Posted by jerry | September 26, 2007 1:44 PM

oops. my brains move faster then my fingers.

It should read "did not call" instead of "did call."

Posted by unclesmrgol | September 26, 2007 2:36 PM

The mechanical eye said

especially after (groan) once again invoking Neville Chamberlain and 1938 at the end of your article?

Again, what is wrong with remembering Chamberlain and "peace in our time"? The trite but true formula "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it." suffices to stifle my groans, at least.

Robin's statement above is the best comment so far.

Evil must be confronted when first seen. If allowed to fester and grow, it may triumph.

Posted by ajacksonian | September 26, 2007 4:12 PM

"It would be too dangerous to allow every citizen the liberty of doing himself justice against foreigners; as, in that case, there would not be a single member of the state who might not involve it in war. And how could peace be preserved between nations, if it were in the power of every private individual to disturb it? A right of so momentous a nature, — the right of judging whether the nation has real grounds of complaint, whether she is authorized to employ force, and justifiable in taking up arms, whether prudence will admit of such a step, and whether the welfare of the state requires it, — that right, I say, can belong only to the body of the nation, or to the sovereign, her representative. It is doubtless one of those rights, without which there can be no salutary government, and which are therefore called rights of majesty."

So, how about when 'Public Diplomacy' has so many people causing so much trouble that you do not get 'peace' but you do get so much turmoil that you get multiple wars? Wouldn't *that* be a lovely idea to have? Where anyone could speak for their Nation and get it in trouble?

Now where does that quote come from? Seems pretty well reasoned as to *why* governments are important and *why* individuals really shouldn't be going around doing 'their own diplomacy for their Nation'. It comes from Monsieur de Vattel's Law of Nations, Vol. III, paragraph 4. This is the very same Law of Nations that is referenced in so many early SCOTUS cases, as it is a compendium of what multiple Nations had learned about having this thing called a Nation State system. It reflects heavily not only Blackstone's Commentaries, but also views on Nation states from Monarchies and Republics, beyond that of the US. It is, indeed, referenced in the US Code to help us understand what it is to be a Nation amongst Nations, and describes in exquisite detail how Nations are to act, why they are to act that way and what the pathways are when things go wrong.

Surprisingly what we call 'terrorism' is covered in there, also, in the description of predatory warfare, illegitimate warfare, personal warfare, piracy, brigandage... the reason that the concept of Wilson fails is that it has *nothing* to replace the Nation state system with to describe something that allows the abundant diversity of mankind to flourish. If you want to know not only what the concept of an Embassy is, but what the rights and responsibilities that go with it are, then you go to the law of nations. If you want to know of all the different ways larger and smaller Nations can act and still have understanding and respect for each other, you go to the law of nations.

And the reason that 'Public Diplomacy' is worse than the governmental type, is that no individual or group outside of the National government can know the full needs of the Nation. That is why we have governments, in case it has been forgotten. That is why, in the US Constitution, all of these powers are vested in the Federal government and the entirety of Foreign policy outside of ratification of treaties is vested in the President. That is settled law by the SCOTUS in US v Curtiss Wright Export Corp. 21 DEC 1936. 'Public Diplomacy' outside the President is unconstitutional as cited in the Held section of the decision:

"(8) In the international field, the sovereignty of the United States is complete. Id.

(9) In international relations, the President is the sole organ of the Federal Government. P. 319.

(10) In view of the delicacy of foreign relations and of the power peculiar to the President in this regard, Congressional legislation which is to be made effective in the international field must [p306] often accord to him a degree of discretion and freedom which would not be admissible were domestic affairs alone involved. P. 319."

If the President wants advice, then it can be asked for by that individual in that office. That is why the People vest those powers in that office, and that is upheld via the Constitution and the President is the Head of State under the law of nations for the US. Much rather that than a bunch of *bad* pieces of foreign policy postulated by lots of folks with 'good intentions' that get us into worse disputes than the diplomats currently do.

Posted by Joshua | September 27, 2007 12:59 AM

This proposal just strikes me as a half-baked idea. I started tuning out when the challenge papers were described as "small, magazine-size documents that would be distributed through the media and made available online." If they're going to be distributed online, who cares what size paper they use?

Posted by km | September 27, 2007 9:28 AM

The porponents are still bafled by the "why can't we just all get along" mystery.

Rather simply, some people/groups/tribes/nations have no desire to "just get along" and will instead act to their own purely selfish ends.

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