Thursday, January 27, 2005

Public Diplomacy: Conversations with Smiley and Doc

Time for a New Approach?

Smiley:...many people would privately tell me...that I should just ignore all that silliness that the politicians say. Yet I have no doubt that if a...reporter stuck a microphone in those people’s faces...the answer would be the same tired old rhetoric.. (The Church Theory)

Then the challenge for the State Department is in the realm of public diplomacy: to work to create an environment where being openly pro-American is acceptable.

That requires more than the occasional lecture on life in the U.S., but active research on a country's current social and political institutions, followed by appropriate action. Is the State Dept. really set up for this?


You have a point about Public Diplomacy. It is true that the Dept could do a lot better in that regard. I'm not sure that State has fully figured out how to make best use of its PD resources once the USIA merged. This is a long term struggle, however, and even having the best PD in the world won't make an immediate difference. But like I said, the invasion of Iraq and the Bush admin's initial lack of concern with its appearance overseas have given those with something to gain by being anti-American a huge leg up. The president admitted this much in a recent CNN interview, and I expect our PD efforts to increase in the next four years.

I don't doubt that. But I cannot see that such an effort will be successful without changing the methods used to do so.

I think everyone can perceive the failure of the current approaches. I can only suppose that the State Dept. may lack the courage, motivation, authority, and imagination to try new ideas and implement new solutions.

I don't think that is correct, either. I'm not saying that State hasn't been laggardly to some extent, but to be fair, Public Diplomacy slipped off the radar once the Cold War ended. This is one of the reasons why Jesse Helms ramrodded the dissolution of USIA through Congress - policy makers in all realms of govt thought PD wasn't necessary.

It was only about 4 years ago that we realized this wasn't the case, and there still hasn't been the kind of support by policy makers for PD efforts, despite much carping about the need to do so.

So while State hasn't done the best it could, it is simply incorrect to saddle the dept with all the blame. Without the establishment of priorities by policy makers (and the concomitant appropriation of resources), our executive branch agencies simply muddle along, rudderless.

Doc: Even in my corner of the Far Abroad, where President Bush and America are viewed as the greatest existing threat to world peace by over 60% of the population I have only once been subjected to any anti-Americanism..

Doc, I think you've missed something: Anti-Americanism may be focused less on individual Americans than upon America as an idea. This even applies to our allies, as I tried to make clear in the opening post of my blog.

I will go further and hypothesize that lectures about "American history, values, and traditions", if slanted incorrectly, may actually inflame anti-Americanism. For no nation is better "known" throughout the world than the United States of America. Simply supplying knowledge about the U.S. isn't enough.

Perhaps what disturbs me most is that State is an inherently conservative organization at implementing changes in Public Diplomacy. It seems that everyone is put through the same grinder and only after a half-decade of employment can a FSO be entrusted with developing new approaches -- and by that time the creative flame that burned within may have been considerably dimmed by drudgery. Furthermore, the time invested by the FSO at State may have inculcated a careerist "play safe" approach: I guess that experimentation may be discouraged because no noisy "failures" are tolerated.

However, the U.S. is at war. This is not the time to play safe -- not while our soldiers and citizens are dying at the hands of terrorists partly inspired by America-hatred. Something new is needed. NOW!

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