Soft Power & Track II Diplomacy Banned with Citizens in 7 Muslim Nations

Soft Power & Track II Diplomacy Banned with Citizens in 7 Muslim Nations

Peaceful relations between nations require understanding and mutual respect between individuals. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1956

Soft power and Track II diplomacy began in 1956 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower created People-to-People, which was to build a massive program of communications between Americans and citizens of other lands, distinct from government contacts.  Government contact diplomacy is Track I Diplomacy, whereas people-to-people is Track II Diplomacy.  It’s obvious that President Eisenhower would be opposed to the Trump administration’s ban on citizens from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, & Libya entering the U.S.

In a Chronicle of Higher Education article, Keith David Watenpaugh wrote “Why Trump’s Executive Order Is Wrongheaded and Reckless.'” Professor Watenpaugh is a historian of the Middle East and professor of human-rights studies at the University of California, Davis.  In the article he said:

The closing of America to the world, begun by this order, is, among other things, an abandonment of the enormous capacity of American soft power embodied in exchange programs, study abroad, and efforts to rescue scholars and students — all of which promote human rights, collective security, and global commerce.

I agree with Professor Watenpaugh’s assessment of Trump’s wrongheaded Executive Order and agree with former acting Attorney General Sally Yates who informed Trump that in her legal opinion, she was not convinced that the executive order is lawful.

Watenpaugh has recently been working with colleagues through the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund to welcome dissidents from Iran so that they could improve their own understanding of the human-rights problems that citizens in Iran face.  These people-to-people contacts (what Watenpaugh calls “Soft Power”) have been wiped out by the Trump immigration ban.

If you read Watenpaugh’s article, you should scroll through the comments section the trolls are present and accounted for when they can’t understand how Soft Power, or people-to-people contacts could not promote
human rights, collective security, and global commerce.”

In 1981, I was involved in a 20 year people-to-people between citizens of North America and the then Soviet Union, before the USSR collapsed into 15 countries.  My experience began when I was part of a group of educators and psychologists that traveled “unofficially” to the Soviet Union as members of the AHP Soviet Exchange Project. It was my introduction to “track II diplomacy,” and the leader of this group, who became one of my inspirational teachers, was Fran Macy, when the Director of the Association for Humanistic Psychology. Fran Macy, who passed away on January 20, 2009, was a Russian scholar, and environmental activist working on energy and nuclear issues.  He lived to see Barack Obama inaugurated on the day he died, something that kept him alive until that historical day.

For nearly 20 years we fostered nearly 40 people-to-people exchanges among North American and Soviet (later Russian) middle and high school students and teachers, school administrators, professors, scholars, researchers and activists.  Even with the downing of Korean Airlines 007 in September 1983, our two countries did not ban travel to each other’s country (although President Reagan did kick Aeroflot out of U.S. airports).  The day that our group arrived in Moscow, which was a week after airliner was shot out of the sky, we still met at the Soviet Institute of Psychology.  Although there was coldness and resentment in the room about the airline tragedy, we talked with each other, and indeed planned future activities with the scholars in the Institute.

If we or the Soviets were banned from each other’s country, none of what happened in the next 20 years would have been possible.  The hundreds of American and Russian students, teachers, administrators, researchers and activists never would have had the opportunity to collaborate with each other or take part in the Global Thinking Project, which emerged from the first people-to-people exchanges.  The lack of collaboration leads to distrust, anger, and fear, and Watenpaugh is correct in saying that the “enormous capacity of American soft power in exchanges” will dwindle away under the ban imposed by Trump administration.

I’m left disturbed by the actions of a small group of Trump’s men who haven’t a clue where they are in the universe, except their own.

They might consider the words of Cosmonaut Vladimir Kovalyonok.

After an orange cloud—formed as a result of a dust storm over the Sahara and caught up by air currents—reached the Philippines and settled there with rain, I understood that we are all sailing in the same boat.


About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University