From Robert Satloff
There are many sound, intelligent and practical ideas in Kristin Lord’s new Brookings report on reforming U.S. public diplomacy, titled “Voices of America.” These include cross-cutting suggestions for effective public-private partnerships in public diplomacy; bureaucratic improvements, such as appointing deputy assistant secretaries in all regional bureaus at State with specific PD responsiblity; and a review of how our international broadcasting could more effectively be integrated into our global public diplomacy effort. The “big idea” in the report is twofold: don’t create a major new government institution (a rejuvenated USIA or, my own preferred option, a Cabinet-level Department of International Cooperation) but instead establish a new more modest and streamlined public-private entity called USA-World Trust that can nimbly do PD at arm’s length from the federal government. In making this proposal, Brookings joins a list of other think-tanks and other semi-official agencies calling for some form of new quasi-government/quasi-private agency to solve the PD riddle.
All this is interesting and useful… but regrettably unsatisfying. The tactics are there; what is missing is mission, purpose and strategy.
In the post-9/11 era, the purpose of public diplomacy is not some amorphous desire to have America better understood or even the more pointed objective of winning the support of international public opinion for U.S. foreign policy. Yes, that is all part of it but there is so much more. Indeed, there is a unique public diplomacy mission of our age, just as there was a unique public diplomacy mission of the Cold War era. Today, that mission is how to identify, nurture and support mainstream Muslims in the ideological and political contest against radical Islamism and how to win backing for such efforts from nations and peoples in non-Muslim societies around the world. Everything that is new and special about America’s public diplomacy effort should be targeted toward that goal.
Alas, there is none of this in the Brookings report—no discussion of radical Islamism (or any of its terminological variants); no discussion of the ideological contest that undergirds the “war on terror;” no discussion of the role that mainstream Muslims play on the front lines of this battle; and no discussion of the vital role that innovative public diplomacy can play in helping our allies defeat these enemies of peace and freedom.
That is a shame. A lot of brainpower went into this report, and many of its conclusions, if implemented, would improve the machinery of our public diplomacy effort. But this is, at its core, a report whose animating idea is that America’s public diplomacy problem in the world is largely of our own making. It took the Bush Administration seven years before, as enunciated by Undersecretary Jim Glassman, it recognized that public diplomacy is mainly about “them” (empowering mainstream Muslims to compete with and defeat radical Islamists) and not about “us” (harnessing our best researchers, pollsters, and marketeers to improve the American brand). We have suffered too much to go backwards. This report, while avoiding the worst PD excesses of the early Bush years, is at best a lateral step at a time when we need to be moving forward on what is surely one of the most critical issues of our era.
Comments are limited to MESH members and invitees.
One Response to “Missing the mission of public diplomacy”