International Communication Gazette
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The Obama administration has embraced ‘engagement’ as the dominant concept informing US public diplomacy. Despite its emphasis on facilitating dialogue with and among Muslims overseas, this article demonstrates that, in practice, engagement aims to leverage social media and related technologies to persuade skeptical audiences to empathize with American policies. Indeed, its primary means of implementation – participatory interactions with foreign publics – is inherently duplicitous. Through the authors’ description of how engagement is rooted in long-standing public relations and corporate marketing discourses, and in light of the historical and structural foundations of anti-Americanism, this contemporary public diplomacy strategy is shown to be both contradictory and, ultimately, delusional. As an alternative, the authors argue that an ethical public diplomacy should be pursued, i.e., a public diplomacy that embraces genuine (rather than contrived) dialogue. Although this approach is difficult to achieve (primarily because it implies a direct challenge to entrenched US foreign policy norms), it constitutes a mode of public diplomacy that better reflects the idealized principles of American democracy.