Public Diplomacy- a reader responds.
From time to time we receive e-mails that we consider to be too good to keep to ourselves. When this occurs we always ask the sender's permission before posting. The following comes from a retired FSO, regarding Public Diplomacy as he has seen it over his career and what he thinks our future efforts should be.Begin text of e-mail to the Daily Demarche:
As a non USIS (United States Information Service) type looking at what USIS/USIA (United States Information Agency) was doing, I viewed them to be ineffectual. I personally attended a number of their cultural events and typically enjoyed them, BUT the USA taxpayers did not intend that a significant number (or all) attending USIS cultural functions be embassy Americans.
Added to this were the great difficulties getting into US Govt. buildings overseas, such that most foreigners gave up rather then suffer the humiliations at the hands of a US Marine guard and/or local contract guards while having to turn over their cellular telephone, laptop PC, etc.- maybe to be returned when they left (I assume that almost all got their property back, but for some there was likely concern).
My last two overseas posts were the Philippines and India. The impact of the USIS offices in those countries on the minds of the locals was likely less than 0.001 percent of the total impact of the various news/etc. media organizations, BBC and CNN in particular, plus Time and Newsweek. While USIS was likely effective in pushing out the USA message before satellite TV when the only other option was short wave radio, now almost everyone has access to satellite TV and the Internet. Added to this, VAST numbers of people read and understood spoken English, so that they could and still do watch English language TV, available in all countries via satellite.
In Manila, the USIS library was the best library that I knew of in that city, likely in that country. But on a typical day they had less than ten Filipino visitors and maybe five American embassy family members. They had more staff than visitors. While a USIS library was a useful way to push out a message before satellite TV and before the hyper security requirements, with the Internet and satellite TV why should someone submit to body cavity exams to get into a USIS library (or whatever it is called now)?
In the Philippines when I was there (1993-95), USIS had over 400 employees (five Americans, the rest locals) who maintained the radio transmitters for VOA (Voice of America). Then VOA was largely part of USIS, I know that has changed. I happened to chat with several of these USIS engineers often because they lived near me and rode in the same armored van to/from work. These folks had no idea if anyone in China (where their signal was directed) listened to VOA and had heard nothing from USIA Washington about results. They acknowledged that with BBC and CNN TV signals being received in the People's Republic of China (I watched them while in the PRC and Vietnam) that there was very little reason for the VOA short wave radio signal, in particular since there are estimated to be more English language speakers/readers in the PRC than in the USA and Canada. Knowing the US Govt., I assume that we still have at least 400 US Govt. employees/contractors maintaining short wave radio transmitters in the Philippines that send a signal to 17 Chinese in the PRC.
When I was in India I occasionally listened to BBC World Service radio since there was almost no radio in India (only two signals in Delhi, one AM and one FM). But I understand that there are more local signals now.
What State PD ought to be working on now is content and getting it out to opinion makers. I believe that much of this ought to be done via blogs and E-mails to specific elite intellectuals. Added to this is personal contacts with leading elite intellectuals of target countries.
What ought NOT be done are the efforts to reach out to the masses by FSOs, this is not cost effect.
In a few markets such as the Middle East we might use AM or FM radio signals to push out a local message such as radio Sawa (or something like that).
The nature of the typical PD FSO is that they are typical cultural nerds who lack people skills. What is needed are outgoing PR types who have no concerns about being propagandist and who NEVER think of themselves as cultural elitist.
The purpose of PD is to win the minds of those who hate us, not to appreciate art and music.
Also, the PD FSOs really ought to know the country, region, language, and culture of the country were they are assigned. More than anyone else in the mission they need 4-4 language skills* and they need to specialize in countries and not hop about the world from Burma to Bolivia to Botswana to Belgium to Barbados to Belize having a career specializing in countries beginning with the letter "B".
*Note from Dr. D This refers to the level of language ability a person posseses as tested on a scale of 0-5. Three is considered professionally competent, i.e. able to work in a given language (although with the "hard" languages such as Chinese and Arabic 2 is usually the goal), with 5 being a professional translator. It is interesting (to me at least) to note that at the 3 level you can address topics such as "global nuclear threat reduction" but have a hard time getting your hair cut.
I failed to ask how the author of this message wished to be identified, if he wishes he may address this in the comments section or e-mail me. For now I'll leave it unsigned.
(End of post).