Start By Listening

To engage in more effective public diplomacy Americans need to start by listening. Both the U.S. government and U.S. citizens in general should be more sensitive to the Turkish perspective on issues that divide them. Only once these are heard and noted is productive dialogue possible. A nuanced understanding of Turkey and its decision-making process are essential for engaging this complex country.

Turkey is characterized by great regional diversity ranging from the sophisticated upper middle class in Istanbul to the farmers and herders in eastern Anatolia. It is important to be sensitive to how individuals define themselves. As one expert pointed out, a farmer from Nebraska will probably think differently from a businessman from New York City. It is the same in Turkey.

Positive next steps include a series of both official and unofficial visits in which efforts should be made to show concern for the Turkish people. In addition, U.S. diplomats should engage Turkish publishers and journalists in dialogue in order to help stem the growing tide of anti-Americanism.

There should also be more involvement of private-sector groups like Network 20/20 in person-to-person public diplomacy. Such groups are often in a better position than official delegations to engage in meaningful exchanges. As a private group we were able to have very candid conversations with Turkish officials. Anti-U.S. foreign policy has given way to widespread Anti-Americanism in Turkey. Our Turkish hosts did not hesitate to criticize U.S. government actions in the Middle East. But they were unfailingly hospitable to us as private citizens from the United States and other countries.

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