The controversy over President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize seems to finally be calming down. The flurry made over it in the U.S.A. really looked quite odd from the other side of the world. It was fairly obvious - the Nobel committee saw a dramatic shift in the American Presidency, one that signaled an opening of diplomatic relations and a reduction in the rhetoric of retribution and isolation. Any other questions?
Of course, the actual impact of Obama's Presidency has yet to be realized. A very interesting analysis of the Opportunity of the Obama era (http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/papers/2009/11_civil_society_amr/11_civil_society_amr.pdf) looks specifically at the Muslim World. I highly recommend it if you seek to understand what works and doesn't work in diplomatic initiatives. This Brookings Institute report reviewed the many diplomatic efforts undertaken after 9/11/01 and what impact they had on the perceptions Americans had of Muslims and vice versa. Unfortunately, the findings were that perceptions from 2001 to 2008 changed very little.
The good thing is that the Brookings Institute report found a number of variables that can increase the likelihood of diplomatic success including conditions such as; building partnerships, targeting youth, and harnessing American Muslims in the U.S.A. and Americans living in the Muslim world. An exciting thing is that we are actually observing many of the principles of good diplomatic practice in a Study Tour and Young Professionals Institute we are hosting in Qatar in January, 2010. This educational diplomacy initiative will involved 23 masters and doctoral students from the University of Maryland and University of San Diego who will be paired with 35 staff in student affairs roles at Education City, Qatar University, and CNA-Q. These 58 young professionals will get acquainted and will then go to work on six inquiry topics that are central to the future success of higher education in the Arabian Gulf. We anticipate achieving the outcomes of increased understanding and respect, deeper learning that demonstrates the importance of cultural and organization context, and new educational models that will be unique and more effective for the emerging higher education initiatives of the Gulf.
The Opportunity of the Obama Era isn't only about President Obama. It's about every one of us exploiting opportunities to activate our own diplomacy during a time of renewed hope.