Foreign Leaders Campaign for American Hearts and Minds

September 21, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
In the Connection, Hari Sreenivasan takes a look at the new wave of retail diplomacy. Why have Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad and Hasan Rouhani taken their appeals directly to the American people? Is their strategy working?

HARI SREENIVASAN: Finally, the Connection.

Politicians and foreign leaders campaigning for hearts and minds, now in other countries.

This week, Senator John McCain took Russian President Vladimir Putin to task through on an op-ed on a prominent Russian website –

That was in response to Putin’s own op-ed piece on Syria in the New York Times … Questioning American exceptionalism.

And yesterday, the new Iranian president used the Washington Post to promote his message of engagement. Why?

Christopher Dickey of the Daily Beast:

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY: These things are very carefully crafted sometimes i guess by the heads of state themselves but also by their aides and then by their PR firms that they retain for enormous amounts of money

HARI SREENIVASAN: Of course, Dickey says, these rare expressions sell papers.

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY: I think it attracts a lot of attention to those publications and they all like it, even those that are the most powerful like the New York Times and the Washington Post.

HARI SREENIVASAN: If a picture is worth a thousand words than big time broadcast and cable news interviews are priceless. Of course, foreign leaders choose the person interviewing them carefully.

BASHAR AL-ASSAD: “and we prepare ourselves for every possibility…”

HARI SREENIVASAN: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, after conducting what the United States says was a chemical attack that killed 1400 men women and children, recently sat down with American journalist Charlie Rose.

And then, the following week, he showed up on Fox News

BASHAR AL-ASSAD: “Because in every house you have pain today.”

HARI SREENIVASAN: This past Wednesday, the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, sat down for an exclusive interview with NBC’s Ann Curry.

HASSAN ROUHANI: “We have clearly stated that we are not in pursuit of nuclear weapons and will not be.”

HARI SREENIVASAN: Does this style of retail diplomacy assume that mass audiences are bright enough to figure out the truth for themselves, or dim enough to be fooled?