Transnational, Trans-Sectarian Engagement: A Revised Approach to
U.S. Public Diplomacy toward Lebanon
A Doctoral Dissertation
by Deborah Lee Trent
The George Washington University
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences
31 August 2012
Broadly, public diplomacy is governmental engagement directly with global publics in pursuit of national interests. Public diplomacy engagement involves outreach, listening, informing, explaining, collaboration, and persuasion. Specific to this dissertation, the U.S. government pursues public diplomacy for the additional purpose of strengthening relationships with global publics. This dissertation employs organizational sensemaking theory and process (Weick, 1995; 2001) to explore the mutual interests that foster, and the divergent interests that impede, credible public diplomacy with the Lebanese and Lebanese American publics. The scholarly and practitioner literatures framing the dissertation are: networked cross-sector governance; collaborative citizen engagement, relational public diplomacy; and government-diaspora relations.
The two central research questions of this dissertation are 1) How do U.S. public diplomacy personnel, relevant Congressional committee staff, Lebanese Americans in U.S. civil society, and Lebanese stakeholders make sense of the challenges of public diplomacy toward Lebanon? 2) How would these stakeholders like to change the way U.S. public diplomacy policy and programs are administered?
Analyzing the organizational sensemaking narratives generated in 77 personal interviews and 27 meeting observations of key stakeholders across government and civil society in the U.S. and Lebanon has generated three main findings. 1) The U.S. designation of the Lebanese political party and militia, Hizbullah, as a foreign terrorist organization precludes U.S. public diplomacy outreach to key Lebanese audiences and discourages engagement and collaboration among key Lebanese American citizens. 2) Despite these divergent interests between the two governments, significant mutual interests exist between the two nations. They can be strengthened by: diversifying outreach among the religious sects in Lebanon and the diaspora; and, further exploiting cross-cultural social-relational processes, traditional public and cultural diplomacy approaches, more recent social media networking tools, and collaborative management of engagement through public-private partnership. 3) Engaging collaboratively with diasporans informs and facilitates outreach with the Lebanese public, fostering new political space for mediating conflict and pursuing mutually beneficial cultural and socioeconomic projects.
This dissertation contributes to the scholarship and practice of public diplomacy and government-citizen relations a new country study that explores the increasingly important domain of networked, transnational, cross-sector governance. It proposes a transnational, trans-sectarian approach for U.S. public diplomatists to strengthen collaborative engagement among the people of the U.S. and Lebanon. This approach seeks to mitigate the primary problem of credibility of U.S. policy toward Lebanon and limited public diplomacy engagement with the Lebanese and the diaspora. Overall, the dissertation informs government-to-government and government-to-people diplomacy in the broader Middle East, where sectarian conflict, civil society uprisings, and lack of a Palestinian state are major challenges.