Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Mountainrunner: Isolated Overseas: Diplomatic Security Creates Challenges for American Public Diplomacy

Mountainrunner's guest blogger Mitchell Polman wrote a piece yesterday on challenges for Public Diplomacy:

Isolated Overseas: Diplomatic Security Creates Challenges for American Public Diplomacy

When Congress voted to abolish the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) in 1999, America's public image abroad suffered a significant blow. This decision - inspired by the desire to shrink government and the predominant belief that USIA was an ineffective bureaucracy - closed many USIA-run American libraries and cultural centers around the world that were helping to promote better understanding of American culture and society. These gathering places - located in embassy buildings or in libraries and cultural buildings of host countries - were an important tool for U.S. public diplomacy. They organized English language classes, discussions about American society and politics, films, and other cultural events. Local residents had safe and accessible places to read American books and periodicals, find out about educational exchanges, take U.S. college entrance and language exams, and interact with American citizens.

But beyond the loss of a special department devoted to public diplomacy, America's international image and outreach have been hurt by changes in diplomatic security standards following embassy bombings in the 1990s and the tragic events of September 11. New security requirements, designed to keep our diplomats and their families safe, often put American cultural resources out of sight and out of reach for foreign citizens with a healthy interest in American affairs. As a result, we are losing what legendary journalist and one-time USIA director Edward R. Murrow called "the last three feet" in our country's "communication chain."

You can read the entire piece here.

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