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March 08, 2008



Looking over the three components Steven Corman lays out in his post, I'm prompted to wonder which of our modern Presidents could have addressed them in the detail he is asking of the candidates this year.

Most of the work of public diplomacy must necessarily be delegated by any President, which begs not only the question "to whom?" but also the question "to what?" In other words, we need to ask not only who a new President will invest with nominal responsibility for public diplomacy, but also what institutional resources such an official would have at his or her disposal.

Everyone commenting on this subject, from former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld a few months ago to bloggers posting in the last few days, has deprecated the idea of re-creating USIA. I'd not argue with anyone who thinks that this is not the end to the public diplomacy problem, but how do we address that problem without starting there?

Saeed Uri

Obama was all good till:
Talking to Iran, Cuba and North Korea but not Palestinians?

And now with Samantha Powers gone, what happens now?


Senator McCain is credited with [a] well-developed set of ideas on the subject, albeit ones that are over-militarized and more oriented toward information operations than diplomacy . That elegant ‘albeit’ manages to let JSM scuttle most of the way out of the coöptation trap and remain able to assure Wingnut City and Rio Limbaugh that he is not really for "public diplomacy" the way wicked liberals mean it, only for, call it "effective information operations." The War Paradigm will continue to obtain, wimpish attempts to replace it with a "law enforcement paradigm" or a "diplomacy paradigm" having been rejected by the wise and prudent electorate.

Yet what will J. Sidney McCain actually do about Information Operations when he finally gets to be Commanderissimo? "I would establish a single, independent agency responsible for all of America's public diplomacy. And that agency would report directly to the president." No doubt that will happen and the organization charts be updated accordingly, but what will the new bureaucratic contraption be up to, exactly?

Campaign trail yimmer-yammer like "communicating the idea of America, our purpose, our past and our future" sounds like an alarming scheme to put tertiary education out of business. In the real world, something on the lines of "Radio Free Islam" is far more probable, no?

(( That "report directly" shtik has been seriously overworked for about the last ninety years. Assuming JSM actually reads his RFI reports, an obligation which this devout Mugwump and 1000% promisekeeper does not expressly undertake, what will happen if THEY should continue to hate wunnerful US nevertheless? What corrective action will Honest John take, appoint a blue-ribbon panel? ))

Happy days.

Steve Corman

Re Zathras's comment: Sure, PD functions are delegated, but PD *strategy* should not be. Communication has been an afterthought, viewed a secondary (or tertiary) function that is unworthy of the attention of the top dog. The result is a huge disconnect between the policies and the words, and we're reaping the damage that entails. We get nitty-gritty statements from candidates about how they are going to fix the economy, reform health care, resolve the Iraq situation, and so on. I don't think it's unreasonable to also expect them to get their hands dirty and give us a few details about how they will repair our credibility and image.


Unreasonable, no. Unrealistic, yes.

Presidential candidates get into details about the economy, Iraq and health care because these are the issues moving votes this year. You might get a public diplomacy strategy, or at least the principles that might form the foundation of a strategy, from a candidate who had thought a lot about foreign policy outside the context of campaign politics. If that is what you are looking for, you're pretty much stuck with John McCain, because both Clinton and Obama are as campaign-centric in their respective orientations as the current occupant of the White House was in 2000. The Democrats had candidates who had thought deeply about foreign policy before their campaigns began, but they've dropped out.

Public diplomacy is never going to move a lot of votes in a Presidential election. If it's any comfort, there are many other important issues that don't move a lot of votes either. That's not a counsel of despair, not to me anyway. We can still build a successful public diplomacy if the people who recognize its importance are able to agree (more or less) on what we need to do, how we need to do it -- and if they are able to gain the confidence of the winning candidate this year.

What would a successful public diplomacy look like? I have to say that to this point, the arguments I've seen put forward mostly address tactics, the importance of which I acknowledge, without fully coming to grips with logistics. The importance of this I insist upon. I don't see any way a new administration can conduct a public diplomacy more successful that what we have now if it does not allocate and properly organize the resources needed to sustain it.

I suggest above that I think some agency that fills the role USIA used to is the best place to start. If someone has a better idea, great. I haven't heard one so far.


Joseph (Zathras) - can I just thank you for these high quality, thoughtful comments over this set of topics? Thanks.


A quality site deserves quality comments. But it's still kind of you to say so, AA.

In the long run, a successful American public diplomacy is possible only if we are able to insulate the subject from our domestic politics to a greater degree than we are now. This will require those with expertise in the area to reach some level of consensus as to the way forward, and that in turn requires the kind of discussion that you are doing so much to facilitate here. To the small extent I am able to advance the discussion I am glad to do so.

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