Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bloggers discuss Public Diplomacy

In response to an earlier post by Abu Aardvark, several bloggers I have often quoted here (WhirledView, Mountainrunner, John Brown) comment on the Presidential candidates discussion (or lack thereof) of the importance of Public Diplomacy in the implementation of foreign policy. I thought it was worth quoting in its entirety:

talk about anything, again

As hoped, my post on the public diplomacy platforms of the Presidential candidates has drawn some interesting and thoughtful responses.

From public diplomacy expert Patricia Kushlis:

"Lynch seems to have it right regarding Clinton’s lack of discussion - or even public recognition - that public diplomacy might play a role, let alone a significant one – in the implementation of US foreign policy in a future administration under her leadership. It's not that she disavows public diplomacy, it just that it has apparently gone missing throughout her foreign policy statements. This void has surprised me too. If I've missed something, please let me know.....

I, like Marc, fail to understand why Clinton has also not filled in the public diplomacy blanks or crossed the soft power "t"s. She has, after all, a bevy of very experienced foreign policy advisors. Furthermore, there have been over 30 studies since 9/11 including those by the Executive branch, the Congress and various prestigious US think-tanks – left, right and center - that have highlighted the need to overhaul how the US communicates with the Muslim world.

Where Marc and I differ, however, is in his characterization of McCain’s ideas as well developed and his description of Obama’s America’s Voice Initiative as being modeled after the Peace Corps."

Read the rest of her detailed comments at Whirled View. I have some particular thoughts about her interesting comments on the "America's Voice" initiative, but I'll hold off for now.

Elevated from comments, the veteran diplomat John Brown, of the late and lamented Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review:

"As for the present and future role of PD, allow me to make several rather unoriginal points, based on my twenty-plus years in the Foreign Service.

1. Make PD central in the formulation of policy. Take foreign public opinion into serious consideration at the beginning, not at the end, of the policy-making process. "If they want me in on the crash landings, I better d___ well be in on the take-offs." So said Edward R. Murrow, United States Information Agency (USIA) Director during the Kennedy administration.

2. End the turf wars among Washington bureaucracies on who is in charge of public diplomacy. Take the Pentagon out of the PD business.

3. Get over the nostalgia for the USIA (abolished in 1999) and America’s PD “triumphs” during the Cold War. Instead, give serious thought about how PD should be organized in our new century.

3. Stop the blah-blah-blah about “American values” being “our main message to the world.” Instead, present America in all its complexity with a variety of messages that are relevant to local audiences. Drop the nonsense term “war on terror.”

4. Abandon the Karen Hughes phrase, “diplomacy of deeds,” reminiscent of the anarchists’ “propaganda of the deed.” PD is about dialogue; words, not just action, are important. More on this at

5. Empower PD diplomats in the field, giving them sufficient resources to make an impact in the countries where they serve. To cite Murrow again: "It has always seemed to me the real art in this business is not so much moving information or guidance or policy five or 10,000 miles. That is an electronic problem. The real art is to move it the last three feet in face to face conversation."

6. Make foreign language instruction a true priority in the training of PD officers. Too few of our diplomats really speak local languages.

PS. My memo to Karen Hughes at

From media and conflict expert Kenneth Payne (at least I assume it's that KP and not someone else with the same name - if not I abjectly apologize!), in comments:

"Marc, it's a frequent contention that PD hasn't worked because it's effectively an effort to lipstick a pig - with foreign policy the pig, of course.

Pew polls certainly bear out the failure of PD under the Bush admin - but is that really a PD failure? Is there analytically any need to separate out PD from policymaking? PD amplifies policy choices, but a bigger, more free media does that anyway - you can't block Al Jaz, or BBC Arabic. And internet usage in the ME is exploding.

I suspect the audiences American PD reached knew all about its ambition for democratization, and they knew all about the contradictions that stopped much traction in achieving that.

Would you agree though that IO - information operations - a broader term; has had some success is in communicating promises that the US can keep - at a local scale in Anbar, for example....?

As for PD marketing American values, liberalism, individualism etc etc - doesn't the soft power of the private sector take care of that? Starbucks plus Hollywood does more for America than Al Hurra..."

Finally, commenter dmo (sorry, that's the only ID I've got!):

"Clinton's failure to address public diplomacy does not surprise me. Her husband's administration did not value it and indeed downgraded it by eliminating USIA.

The Clintons, it seems to me, ascribe to what Michael Waltzer calls the emancipation model at the level of international society. (Politics and Passion: Toward a More Egalitarian Liberalism) Their concern is with powerless and vulnerable people as individuals. They do not see group (national, ethnic) cultural identity as enduring difference requiring a modus vivendi among ways of life that will always be different.

Certainly, during the Clinton administration, the liberal internationalist assumption that formation of a universal civilization was well underway informed their policies and their politics. Why would you need international dialog between the United States and other cultures that are destined to disappear into the evolving cosmopolitan norm? They assumed a convergence of values that in the rapidly globalizing post cold war era appeared fast approaching.

Moving public diplomacy into the State department was their way of downgrading regional and national considerations about policies and increasing attention to “global issues.” An earlier Clinton effort to completely reorganize the State Department around issues – led by Jessica Mathews – had failed. Injecting public diplomacy into State was intended to expand the pie as a way of realigning the institutional focus.

It would appear that Obama is that second kind of liberal. He does not seem to believe that a universal civilization is coming and therefore he is willing to think afresh about coexistence in a pluralistic world. John Grey in his Two Faces of Liberalism calls for this particular variant of the liberal tradition to be strengthened. “…this means shedding the illusion that theories of justice and rights can deliver us from the ironies and tragedies of politics.” Attention to public diplomacy makes complete sense for this kind of liberal. Cultures do differ both in values they have in common and in values they recognize. Dialog can lead to toleration.

McCain appears less interested in public diplomacy than in what we used to call advocacy and is now called strategic communication. His interest is in the “war of ideas” and advancing American objectives in the global information battle-space."

Apologies to anyone I left out - those interested should check out the comment thread, and I'll update any additional comments from other blogs or via email here on this follow up post. My responses will mostly come later when I finish the piece I'm working up - so now's the time to help out and get your 50 cents in!

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