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There have been many comments on the site of late (thanks!) regarding Public Diplomacy (PD) and our national effort to promote and explain American foreign policy. Frequent readers will already know that I am not terribly impressed with existing efforts by the Department of State to spread the message of America. I think PD is a great idea, and that it has a lot of potential for our various missions around the world, but that it is largely under utilized. As a corollary to that I am of the opinion that we do very poorly when it comes to Public Affairs (PA) at home as well. To clarify the terms:
"Public Diplomacy seeks to promote the national interest of the United States through understanding, informing and influencing foreign audiences."
"Public Affairs is the provision of information to the public, press and other institutions concerning the goals, policies and activities of the U.S. Government. Public affairs seeks to foster understanding of these goals through dialogue with individual citizens and other groups and institutions, and domestic and international media. However, the thrust of public affairs is to inform the domestic audience."
While we cannot expect that PD will be able to sway the hearts and minds of the jihadis we should be able to reasonably expect our efforts to bear fruit with our allies, or at least with the countries that receive billions in aid from us. Last September then-Secretary Powell gave an interview on NBC that dealt largely with PD:
MR. FRANCIS: Mr. Secretary, a couple of weeks ago I was in Egypt [link added by Dr. D]. I hadn't been there in quite some time. I walked the streets, talked to a lot of people. In the one country that you would think in the Middle East where we still had some currency, I found none. And that's what prompts me asking you for this: American public diplomacy seems to be going nowhere. Would you agree or disagree with that?
SECRETARY POWELL: We have a problem. We have a problem with attitudes in the Arab world and attitudes in the Muslim world. But it is not just a problem with public diplomacy in the form of just, you know, how we go about sending our message out, but we're having difficulty with our message right now.
Do we ever have a problem with our message! America is a country inhabited by people with hopes and dreams like any other, and which is committed to the ideals of freedom and democracy. Why are we having such a hard time getting this message across and what are we doing about it?
In October 2003 a report titled Changing Minds Winning Peace: a new strategic direction for US. public diplomacy in the Arab & Muslim world (herein after "the report") boldly called for:
an immediate end to the absurd and dangerous under funding of public diplomacy in a time of peril, when our enemies have succeeded in spreading viciously inaccurate claims about our intentions and our actions.
Our adversaries' success in the struggle of ideas is all the more stunning because American values are so widely shared. As one of our Iranian interlocutors put it, "Who has anything against life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?" We were also told that if America does not define itself, the extremists will do it for us.
The report goes on:
Government is only one player among many trying to influence the opinions of people in other countries, and state-to-state diplomacy alone will not improve negative attitudes of citizens. In fact, quite the opposite. For example, the United States has, in recent years, increased its material and moral support for the regime in Jordan, but attitudes toward the U.S. among average Jordanians have worsened sharply. According to research by Pew, 25 percent of those polled in Jordan had a favorable view of the U.S. in the summer of 2002 and just 1 percent in the spring of 2003. Similarly, Egypt is the second-largest recipient of U.S. assistance in the world, yet a report on public diplomacy issued in September 2003 by the U.S. General Accounting Office (G AO) stated that "only a small percentage of the population was aware of the magnitude" of that aid. We were told repeatedly during our visit to Cairo that Egyptians were grateful to the Japanese for building their opera house. But they were unaware that the United States funded the Cairo sewer, drinking water, and electrical systems and played a key role in reducing infant mortality in Egypt.
Read that excerpt again. Billions of dollars of aid to Egypt and they thank the Japanese for the opera house. I doubt a better example of the failure to properly engage in public diplomacy can be found. Allow me to rephrase- I sincerely hope a better example cannot be found.
The entire report makes for fascinating reading, and I highly recommend taking the time to peruse it. There is no whitewashing of the fact that we are losing the war of ideas, our enemies are indeed defining us. The goal of such a study, of course, is recommendations for improvement and there are many made here. A few of the best, in my opinion:
-Given the drastic reduction in AID scholarships awarded to students in the region, from 20,000 in 1980 to 900 currently, there should be a significant increase in funding for scholarships across the board.
-Given the strategic importance of information technologies, a greater portion of the budget should be directed to tap the resources of the Internet and other communication technologies more effectively.
-Major increases in resources should be devoted to helping Arabs and Muslims gain access to American education, both in the U. S. and in Arab and Muslim countries. We urge creativity in linking U. S. educational institutions with their counterparts in the regions.
-A serious financial commitment, both private and public, should be made to educational institutions such as the American University of Beirut, the American University in Cairo, and others.
In a world where our traditional allies are less inclined to be pro-American and our enemies are increasingly non-nation state entities it is vital that we reach out on a personal level to the people of the world. The suggestions made in the report are examples of how we can and should be doing this.
While there are fringe elements of the radical left in America that truly believe we are the source of all evil in the world most Americans find it difficult to believe that we are not seen as a benevolent father-like figure, protecting the Western world and redistributing our tax dollars in the form of aid to the less developed nations. For much of the globe however, America as a construct is seen in a much different light:
Simply put, the rest of the world both fears and resents the unrivaled power that the United States has amassed since the Cold War ended. In the eyes of others, the U.S. is a worrisome colossus: It is too quick to act unilaterally, it doesn't do a good job of addressing the world's problems, and it widens the global gulf between rich and poor. On matters of international security, the rest of the world has become deeply suspicious of U.S. motives and openly skeptical of its word. People abroad are more likely to believe that the U.S.-led war on terror has been about controlling Mideast oil and dominating the world than they are to take at face value America's stated objectives of self-defense and global democratization.
No matter how negative these assessments are, however, they tell only part of a more complicated story. The relationship between the rest of the world and its sole superpower may be rocky, but it has enduring strengths. A majority of people around the world admire America's democratic values and much about its way of life. While they express deep misgivings about the U.S.-led war on terror, they feel more secure living in a world in which no other nation can challenge the United States militarily. In short, while they chafe at the U.S. role as the world's supercop, they're also relieved that no one else is walking the beat.
This "relief" is the very connection that we should be looking to strengthen from a feeling of "better America than China" into a sense that we are serious when we speak about the spread of democracy and freedom. As our Embassies become more fortress like and we have less and less direct, personal, contact with our host country neighbors it becomes even more imperative that we maximize every resource to communicate with the world. Whenever possible officers should be engaging the host country population directly, coupled with exchanges and grants for host country nationals to visit America and learn first hand. Beyond that we should be using the Internet, television, film and radio as much as possible to provide information about America and Americans.
America alone will not be able to sway the world's opinion. Too many criticize us in ignorance, having never traveled to America, or worse having been denied a visa to do so. Many judge us by Hollywood, or our music videos (there's no escaping Britney or Eminem). We must focus on helping those who do support us, or at least do not hate us, convince their countrymen that America is not the root of all evil, but rather the home to people similar in many ways to themselves. We love our children and want a better world for them. We do not want war, with anyone, anywhere. We have a society based on values which might be different from those of another country, but which are real and defining for us. We are proud of the assistance we provide to the world, and equally proud of the independence we enjoy. Our public diplomacy should be spreading this message at every chance.
I hope to explore this topic in more detail, and if any of our PD colleagues out there are reading this your comments and e-mails are actively solicited. At the top I also mentioned Public Affairs- telling America what State does around the world and how poorly we do it- that will be the topic for another post. (End of original post)
First, thanks for all the great feedback. I was going to address your remarks in the comments section, but needed more room.
Many of you have gone right to the heart of the issue- we need to redefine our PD goals. A few of you suggested PD is an outdated tool of diplomacy. I truly disagree with that idea. Diplomacy between nations is very necessary- but our current crop of enemies are largely not bound by national identity or accepted rules on international law. If we can deny the jihadis their recruits we can win the battle before it is fought. I don't have all the answers on how to do this, but I have a few ideas, and clearly so do all of you.
Phil advocates ""citizen diplomacy", and says "We Americans should be our own advocates." This is an excellent idea with a long standing tradition- we used to call folks who practiced this pen pals. Is there any reason the government can't sponsor modern day pen pals via the internet? It's a small thing, to be sure, but that is what large successes are built on. Michael adds to this thought: "This is a two way road. We are all on it. But we can not even get this message straight in the US let alone in the world. I like the idea from Phil's idea: "citizen diplomacy". We Americans should be our own advocates. It is not about the dollars but what we do with the dollars." Well said. Engaging any interpersonal problem at the individual level is the quickest way to root out misconceptions.
Dean refers to the Michael Moores of America as the unofficial State Department, and he is right. In my corner of the Eurozone Fahrenheit 9/11 was a smash hit. So why aren't we sponsoring showings of it, perhaps coupled with Michael Moore Hates America and a panel of speakers from both sides? The very fact that a movie like Fahrenheit 9/11 exists is proof that something is still right and strong in America. Where is the Chinese or Cuban version of this movie? I think Moore is a pernicious twit, but he is a good propagandist- so why not use him and his film? America was built on the idea that conflicting ideas can share the same space. That is the message we can take to the world with movies like his.
When it comes to foreign students in the US the reaction is very mixed. William Perry says "...I am far from sure foreign kids studying in my academic discipline come away with a better impression of this country -- only more pseudo-sophisticated arguments against it." I agree- if we bring in exchange students to attend the big liberal universities where Noam Chomsky will preach his self hatred filled polemics at them. I am thinking, however, on a smaller scale- more high-school aged exchange students who will live with host families. Grass roots exchanges. Maybe offer a tax incentive for families that host kids to encourage more families to do it. For every child that has a taste of America, and for every family whose child has a good experience in the US we will reap benefits one hundred fold the effort and cost.
Barnabus has what may be the best of a very good group of comments: "Our diplomats should focus on "baby kissing," such as honoring the local war dead/heroes, participating in parades, festivals (all with a little funding by the U.S.), being seen next to the mayor when he opens the new library-which if we are smart has a computer room donated by the U.S. It is in this way that respect can be built up on both sides. Secondly, we must take on the foreign press directly." I should have written this myself.
Secretary Powell was fond of saying "You are all diplomats, no matter what your job in our missions." I think this is true, and I think we are failing miserably at making this idea the reality. Before we can put this idea into practice we need better and more language training above all else. We send vast numbers (proportionately speaking) of people overseas with little or no language training. I find that simply arrogant. Imagine meeting an Egyptian diplomat in D.C. that spoke no English. How would you react? How seriously would you take him? I can assure you that many members of our staff in Cairo are not even functional in Arabic.
Next we need to provide our diplomats, at all levels within our missions, with the time, and yes money, to reach out. We file countless reports that nobody reads because that is what DC clamors for, and that is how we are rated. Every position should have a PD aspect from our IT folks who could talk to engineering students to the Economics officer who should be addressing Chambers of Commerce, and everyhting in between. Innovation in PD needs to be a priority and the best practitioners should be rewarded "early and often." It is far to late once a policy wonk has been promoted to a lofty position t realize she has no people skills.
I envision a reinvigorated PD policy as one of the bulwarks in a succesfull American foregn policy for the rest of this century. Our enemies have figured out how to formulate and spread their message. There is no reason we can't do the same- especially when our message has the distinct advantage of being true,
Thanks for all the comments so far, I am nowhere near done with his topic, and I hope you aren't either. More to come.