Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Presidential Attention Focusing in the Global Arena: The Impact of International Travel on Foreign Publics

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Presidential Attention Focusing in the Global Arena: The Impact of International Travel on Foreign Publics

Article excerpt

Presidents allocate a large proportion of their time and energy to foreign affairs. In pursuing their foreign policy goals, presidents (and their secretaries of state) have increased their travel to other nations since the end of the Second World War. Figure 1 plots the annual number of foreign trips by U.S. presidents from 1946 to 2011. From a handful of country visits during the mid-twentieth century, by the 2000s presidents routinely visit one and a half dozen nations per year, a sixfold increase from the 1950s. Secretaries of state are globally even more peripatetic than presidents, with an average of fifty-one nations visited per year in the 2000s, compared to a dozen in the 1950s. (1)

On these visits, presidents meet with foreign leaders, performing classic diplomatic activities such as attending formal negotiation meetings that are held in secret. But now presidents also routinely appear in public when visiting other nations. For instance, presidents now commonly hold joint press conferences and public announcements with the leader of the foreign nation, give interviews with foreign journalists, visit locations of local symbolic importance, and directly address the local citizenry. As one prominent example, on August 3, 2009, President Obama held a U.S. campaign-style town hall meeting in Strasbourg, France, with French citizens. Goldsmith and Horiuchi (2009) have dubbed these public activities "high-level public diplomacy."

High-level public diplomacy activities resemble "going public" techniques that presidents use in domestic politics and policy making (Kernell 1993). Domestic going public is predicated upon a two-step process. First, through public activities, like making speeches, presidents try to rally or mobilize public opinion around an issue. Then presidents use that activated public opinion to pressure members of Congress to enact their policy initiatives (Canes-Wrone 2006). A large literature has investigated the effects of presidential going public on domestic public opinion and Congress, finding mixed effects on both. In the domestic arena, presidential going public is far from consistently effective. (2)

In several respects, high-level public diplomacy efforts parallel those for domestic going public. First, like domestic going public, public diplomacy activities target foreign public opinion, with the aim of improving the image of the United States, opinion concerning an international issue, and/or the president. The administration's hope is that an improved foreign public opinion climate can be used as a resource in negotiating with the leaders of the other nation, to increase the likelihood that the president will realize his foreign policy goals vis-a-vis the visited nation. An underlying assumption of high-level public diplomacy appears to be that foreign leaders are responsive to public opinion pressures within their own country, like members of Congress and the president are thought to be responsive to U.S. voters.

Currently, there is only a limited literature on high-level public diplomacy. Several early studies have looked at what was then termed presidential "going international" (Rose 1988; Smith 1997). These studies focused on the logic of why presidents increasingly go international in the post--Cold War era (Rose 1988) and tracked trends in presidential going international activities like foreign trips (Smith 1997). A more recent literature has turned its attention to the effectiveness of high-level public diplomacy on foreign public opinion and support for U.S. policies. Several studies find that such public diplomatic efforts can affect foreign public opinion, at least under some conditions (Dragojlovic 2011, 2013; Goldsmith and Horiuchi 2009). Furthermore, the climate of public opinion in the foreign nation is associated with greater support for U.S. positions on foreign policy issues, for instance, on roll-call voting in the United Nations (Datta, 2009; Goldsmith and Horiuchi 2012). …

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