Thursday, July 1, 2010

@JaredCohen Gets Spanked

My favorite tweeter was mentioned in the New York Times, but not favorably.

Twitter Musings in Syria Elicit Groans in Washington:

When two young State Department officials took a delegation of Silicon Valley executives to Syria recently, they billed it as a chance to use the promise of technology to reach out to a country with which the United States has long had icy relations.

Instead, the visit will be remembered for a series of breezy Twitter messages that the two colleagues sent home, riffing about how visitors can buy an American-style blended iced coffee at a university near Damascus and how one of them had challenged a Syrian communications minister to a cake-eating contest.

The messages raised hackles on Capitol Hill, where some Republicans were already leery of the Obama administration’s efforts to engage Syria. They also embarrassed the State Department, which normally conducts its dealings with Damascus behind a veil of diplomatic politesse.

-- snip --

Their pithy musings raised no objections until they did it from Syria, a country that has not had an American ambassador since the last one was recalled in 2005. President Obama has made cautious overtures to Damascus, appointing a new envoy, Robert S. Ford. But several senators have put a hold on his confirmation, saying that engagement is naïve.

In that context, Mr. Cohen’s June 16 Twitter message, typos and all — “I’m not kidding when I say I just had the greatest frappacino ever at Kalamoun University north of Damascus” — seemed off key, officials said, as did Mr. Ross’s report about Mr. Cohen’s proposed cake-eating contest (he called it “creative diplomacy”). The messages caught the State Department’s attention after they were posted [see this] by Josh Rogin of The Cable, a blog on the Web site of Foreign Policy magazine.

-- snip --

In the end, the trip may prove most useful as a lesson in the risks of using social media as a tool for diplomacy. The State Department assigned one of Mr. Ross’s staff members to film Web videos and send Twitter messages about Mrs. Clinton’s recent trip to China, and the department’s spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, uses Twitter daily to report on Mrs. Clinton’s activities.

But Mr. Crowley said he was careful to get the tone right. “I’m not going to tell everyone what I had for lunch,” he said. “Ever.”

This is all a tempest in a coffee pot. At least @JaredCohen liked that Syrian Frappuccino. What would have happened if he had said that it sucked? Would the Syrians break diplomatic relations with us? I don't think so.

And did the Syrians even know what he was talking about, since "Frappuccino" is a Fratalian word? Fratalian being the fusion of French and Italian that Starbucks created, in which the words "frappe" and "cappuccino" are combined.

All the same, Martin Peretz at The New Republic was not amused by the Frappuccino fracus:

Anyway, with [Ambassador-appointee] Ford kept in the hatch and [Senator John] Kerry having done the trip at least two times, Hillary Clinton has dispatched two of her young men, Policy Planning Staffer Jared Cohen and Special Adviser on Innovation Alec J. Ross, to lead the enticement mission. Cohen has written a book, Children of Jihad, the basis of which is that the new defining demographic is the roughly 60% of the "Muslim world" who are under 30. According to him, youth is the liberating factor in Islam. He has told this tale excitedly on Colbert, CBS, Glenn Beck, the BBC, and MSNBC.

And, of course, youth is also mesmerized by the technologies of immediacy, naughtiness, excitement. If you believe this leads to a sympathy for democracy...

Peretz doesn't sound like a believer in the Twitter Revolution, does he? I guess he, like Phillip Crowley, won't be sharing his lunch plans with the world.

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