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TAMPA --- At the headquarters of U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida, some young civilians are pushing back at extremist messages that permeate Internet forums. This Digital Engagement Team’s members, who are fluent in Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu, comb through online postings in their respective languages looking for incendiary or inaccurate commentary about U.S. military operations or related activity. When these messages are found, the team prepares “engagements” that challenge the writer’s logic or facts.

Sometimes effective public diplomacy can be conducted through a simple and unambiguous gesture. Such was the case when President Barack Obama recently commemorated the 50th anniversaries of 17 African nations’ independence at the White House. The gesture – or really a non-gesture – was to not invite a single African head of state to the event.

One of the most impressive online U.S. public diplomacy venues is Magharebia, a website and news service for North Africans that is published by the United States African Command (AFRICOM).

SINGAPORE – Uneasy about relying on water imported from Malaysia and determined to sustain its booming growth, Singapore devotes much effort to innovative water planning. The Singapore River has become a giant reservoir, rainstorm runoff is carefully collected, used water is treated and recycled, and the island nation’s five million residents are expected to be stingy in their water consumption.

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking Republican member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has done something remarkable: issued an honest appraisal of America’s public diplomacy broadcasting. That the report has found U.S. efforts flawed is no surprise, but the willingness of Senator Lugar to publicly state this is welcome relief after so many government efforts to paint a ridiculously optimistic picture of U.S. public diplomacy achievements.

While attending a Wilton Park (UK) conference on the future of public diplomacy, I was pleased to see this facet of foreign policy gaining traction. About 50 diplomats and a handful of academics took part in discussions ranging from the military use of soft power to the roles of religion and sports in public diplomacy.

MOSCOW---To commemorate the 65th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, Russia staged an impressive Victory Day celebration on May 9, with plenty of troops and military hardware rolling through Red Square and a display of air power in the sky above Moscow. On first glance, it was just like the good old (or bad old) days.

But among those troops on parade were U.S. and British soldiers. Joseph Stalin’s picture was banned from the many posters in the center of the city, and Lenin’s Tomb – the reviewing stand for so many Cold War ceremonies – was covered by a billboard.

I thought we elected a new president in 2008.

But Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale proudly says she is “on the same page” as her predecessors Karen Hughes and James Glassman in defining a new public diplomacy strategy. She cites “consensus” among members of the undersecretary club.

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