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Another Chance to Get It Right …

Dec 18, 2007


Public diplomacy is no substitute for smart foreign policy, nor can it fix a myopic one. But miscalculations of both its power and place have left it a hobbled tool in our diplomatic arsenal.

Hopefully the newest designated chief of public diplomacy, Jim Glassman, understands this. His bona fides for the job are solid; but the challenges, unhappily, remain as distinct today as they did seven years ago under Charlotte Beers, the first Public Diplomacy chief of the Bush administration.

Simply put, we have been floundering in our attempts to run an effective public diplomacy for too long, with disastrous results judging from every reliable overseas opinion poll about perceptions of the United States.

The United States Information Agency (USIA), the nation's long-time, independent home for public diplomacy professionals and programs fostering dialogue about our policies, values, and ideas, was traded away in the 1990s in a shortsighted deal. It was replaced instead by a structure embedded in the Department of State that never has worked successfully in fulfilling its mandate. Can State's responsibility for articulating and promoting official U.S. policy (especially with officials and targeted elites), successfully cohabitate with fostering open dialogue among hostile and skeptical publics about the merits of those very policies? Moreover, can any one department coordinate the rest of the government successfully in this effort? After all, the Pentagon, both overtly and covertly, consistently has had considerably more resources and on-the-ground expertise in its "public diplomacy" operations than the State Department.

The end of the Cold War also encouraged "end of history" buffs to mark public diplomacy for the graveyard, with the added irony that newly-freed up resources eventually funded such anti-public diplomacy initiatives as those contained in The Patriot Act. Moreover, the last six years since 9/11 have turned public diplomacy into policy cheerleading rather than integrating it into the creation of better-crafted foreign policy.

Some hopeful glimmers for change and next steps are on the horizon, however, and from some interesting sources, hopefully prompting Mr. Glassman to take both notice and action. These include a new study on Smart Power by the Center for Strategic and International Studies led by Harvard Professor Joseph Nye, the author of Soft Power, and Richard Armitage, the former Deputy Secretary of State under Colin Powell. In a recent Op-Ed about the Study, both call for reinvestment in government public diplomacy efforts and doubling spending on essential academic exchange and language programs.

Other important recent contributions include a White Paper by the private sector Business for Diplomatic Action, focusing on the role that responsible corporations must play in their dealings abroad for effective public diplomacy. Perhaps most interestingly, commentary from Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Landon Lecture in November and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in commentary in The Washington Post both call for vigorous and independent public diplomacy going forward. Gates cites the loss of an independent USIA as "shortsighted," as does Rumsfeld, himself a symbol of discredited public diplomacy during his tenure.

These observations and contributions are in addition to the stack of serious reports from the Council on Foreign Relations, the Derijian Commission and others that have called for a serious overhaul of U.S. public diplomacy. Both the present and past Chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Joseph Biden and Republican Richard Lugar have also strongly supported a serious restructuring of public diplomacy and the necessity of putting our money where our mouth is to do this.

Taking off the blinders at home is essential. It means recognizing what those abroad are hearing and seeing so we can be more effective at both understanding and outreach. It is one of the reasons why the English language Al Jazeera with veteran commentators such as David Frost and Dave Marash shouldn't be shut out of the airwaves in the U.S., especially when so much of our own news media has been reduced to only heat and tragically little light—embarrassing sound bites, biased invective, and only cursory analysis.

The U.S. presidential election is less than a year away. Our foreign policy is in shambles. We need to reshape the public diplomacy component of our foreign policy and help encourage and create next generation talent at home and abroad as an integral agenda item in a comprehensive foreign policy platform. If not, this article, echoing the same concerns, will need to be written in another five years. We don't have that luxury.


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A number of editorial

A number of editorial commentators, journalism academics and media professionals are publicly voicing their disappointment over the limited access to alternate news channels for American viewers to chose from. Given below are views from a cross-section of media commentaries, newspaper articles/editorial, and comments on internet sites and blogs.

A recent trends analysis of German media, reveals that Al-Jazeera English is now one of the most quoted international media outlets in Germany — “far ahead of CNN and neck-and-neck with the Washington Post,” says Roland Schatz, CEO of the Media Tenor, adding that the Arab media is becoming increasingly influential, largely due to the advent of the Qatar-based television network Al-Jazeera, which started an English-language version, from 15 November 2006. When asked if Al-Jazeera English will eventually become a major force in the TV news industry, Schatz responded: ‘‘Knowing about their ambitions and their cash resources, and knowing that they took a lot of BBC journalists, I would say, yes’‘. ‘‘Do you think it will take a couple of years?’‘ the journalist asked ‘‘I would say less,’‘ Schatz said. Media Tenor is the leading media institute in the field of applied agenda-setting research. The company’s detailed analysis of news reports provides insight to major corporations and government agencies, such as the U.S. State Department.

At a conference, "Creating Connections: New Partnerships for Understanding in the Middle East," sponsored by the Vermont Peace Academy, Vermont Council on World Affairs and Norwich University. A participant said: "It's an intellectual tragedy that the United States has cut itself out of Al Jazeera English's contribution to [informative] conversation. Everything that's happened to us in Iraq shows that's very dangerous. The lesson of Iraq is: Ignorance kills."

There is a noteworthy article in Asheville Citizen-Times by Joy Franklin which refers about those who manipulate opinions about imaginary risks if access to alternate media widens in the USA. The author wonders why negative perceptions are spread about the channels by mostly those who never watch it in the first place? “It’s because some of them are afraid to alienate their base of customers because of the negative publicity that the U.S. administration has been trying to portray Al-Jazeera in since Sept. 11” writes Franklin quoting a Queens University journalism scholar, and adds: "In other words, the administration’s negative portrayal of Al-Jazeera has created an indirect censorship, a subtle kind of government control over the flow of information to the American public. We should be furious."

It is pertinent to heed to what top defence officials who have served as key positions till recently have to say about the US media. In General Ricardo S. Sanchez's observation, the four years of American media's coverage of the Iraq war continues to be problematic due to a near lack (if not total absence) of accountability.

Had American tax payers an easy access to alternate information sources it wouldn’t have taken them four years to question the wisdom of the “cakewalk” bunch i.e. the likes of Ken Adelmen who misled the American media by claiming “measured by any cost-benefit analysis, such an operation would constitute the greatest victory in America’s war on terrorism.”

Thus encouraging and embracing alternate sources of media has become increasingly important at a time when many US media organs tiptoe around issues in fear of overstepping their boundaries. An Italian scholar of the Arab media, Donatella della Ratta rightly suggests that the West should seriously consider before blaming or blocking channels like Aljazeera that are in fact educating tools to inform rather than a medium providing an embedded version from a warring side. Her analysis is a wake-up call for those who believe that pouring $62 million on Al-Hurra can make the US image right in the Middle-East. For a fraction of such amount spent on facilitating wider access to alternate sources like Aljazeera English help American view the actual realities faced on ground from diverse sources not ocassionally but round the clock.

Ms. Schuker, thank your for

Ms. Schuker, thank your for your interesting post. I was particularly interested in your remarks on the former USIA. I look forward to reading your blog in the future.

You noted that "newly-freed up resources eventually funded such anti-public diplomacy initiatives as those contained in The Patriot Act. Moreover, the last six years since 9/11 have turned public diplomacy into policy cheerleading rather than integrating it into the creation of better-crafted foreign policy."

Those observations interest and intrigue me.
May I ask you, what specific parts of the Patriot Act which are anti-public diplomacy do you believe need to be revisited and struck down by Congress?

Where would you recommend monies be invested to revitalize public diplomacy?

My immediate interest just now is in learning the fate of a partnership created after 1999 between the State Department, the Federal Depository Library Program, and the University of Illinois in Chicago, on the disposition of many of USIA's archives, historical documents, and resources.
I just learned this partnership has been dissolved and that UIC is no longer a depository for library.

I myself would like to see monies go towards securing a unique depository library for USIA, as well as for the DOS's Public Diplomacy Bureau.

However, I also wonder if ultimately revived public diplomacy efforts in the spirit of USIA and foreign policy reform will have a revitalized and certain future, only when the agency is created anew--separate enough in its own right from other government agencies such as DOS, the Pentagon and US AID, as well as the White House, to practice public diplomacy as it should be.

(I'm a graduate student in library studies in North Florida. I have a Foreign Service background and my father worked as a career FSO in USIA overseas for over 30 years.)

Thank you, Jim for your

Thank you, Jim for your comments....the trend analysis you quote is very interesting and I appreciate your input.

Catherine- I will respond more fully, but in regard to The Patriot Act--I appreciate the atmosphere in which this was passed and protecting national security is, of course, crucial our freedoms, however, as Benjamin Franklin stated at the dawn of our republic, "They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Times have changed; but the sentiment remains valid today in my view. My sense is that in 2009 we will revisit The Patriot Act under a new administration and consider its provisions and implications more carefully --and hopefully in less of a charged atmosphere than in 2001.

Dear Jill, Did we work

Dear Jill, Did we work together years ago at Hill & Knowlton? If so, just wanted to ask some advice about USC and the Center on Public Diplomacy?
Hope you are well.
Warm regards

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I was told the Patriot Act is

I was told the Patriot Act is no longer in affect. That it has recently been tossed into 'File 13'. Is this true? It would have me raise our flag again if so.

The Patriot Act is very much

The Patriot Act is very much alive with reauthorizing amendments in 2006. Certain provisions now sunset in 2009--the roving wiretap provision allowing access to business records under FISA and some additional judicial oversight and review were strengthened--but for all intents and purposes, it remains on the books and intact.

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