Diplomacy before the 20th century was essentially about summits between nations' leaders and diplomats. During this period, it was about relations between two leaders or two governments.In the modern era, diplomatic relations cover a larger area, as diplomats or foreign governments take into consideration the peoples of other countries as well. That is why the press has become one of the most important tools of modern diplomacy.
As for now, in this new era, foreign decision makers talk essentially about other nation's public opinions and expect those to influence their own leaders. We already had nongovernmental organizations or lobbies aiming to influence a given country's decision makers, but now a foreign leader sometimes acts like the head of an NGO and will talk directly to the people of a foreign country.
Let's take the example of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's recent visit to the United States. During the visit, he met with U.S. President Barack Obama and the two leaders discussed many important bilateral issues. They probably shared their opinions on Syria's future, PKK terrorism, Russia and so on, and tried to figure out what kind of common steps they can take. The meeting's content was naturally confidential as these are national security issues. So one should not expect the two leaders to divulge any critical details. It was interesting, however, that in the wake of the meeting, the two heads of state talked separately to the press, giving contradictory impressions about the meeting.
Obama appeared quite judgmental about Turkey before the press. Maybe he wanted to preserve his administration from the critics of those circles who believe Turkey is progressively becoming an authoritarian country. It is certain that he will be criticized by them, as he has also said the two countries have agreed on a number of issues and decided to build a closer relationship. What is odd is that, by this gesture, he is putting his administration into a more difficult position. What is the point of harshly criticizing Turkey if he indeed wants to work with it?
We know that criticizing Turkey will earn him some sympathy in the U.S., or even among certain people in Turkey. There are, however, other people in Turkey who reject the criticism and react strongly to it. The U.S. does not see that criticizing Turkey regarding its record of freedom and democracy only reinforces anti-American feelings in Turkey as well as give conservative and nationalist circles new reasons to react to Obama. Maybe the U.S. does not care about those people, but it has to work with people elected by those social segments.
Criticizing Turkey through the press does not contribute to Turkish democracy; on the contrary, it disturbs Ankara, which feels this is an effort to discredit Turkey. Under such pressure, how can one expect Turkey to accept a closer partnership with the U.S.? The latter may have a hard time finding interlocutors among the general Turkish public anyway.
Maybe the U.S. was not addressing the Turkish public but the public of European countries. As a matter of fact, today's diplomacy is not only about bilateral meetings behind closed doors, but it includes public diplomacy efforts aimed at presenting these meetings to diverse public opinions as well.
Sometimes, however, the messages conveyed through public diplomacy amount to blackmail. This is not really contributing to better relations between countries. It overshadows bilateral contacts between leaders and boosts lack of confidence. In this climate, nations have difficulty differentiating between the real policy adopted and the policy pursued.