Matt Armstrong's blog on public diplomacy, international journalism, and the struggle against propaganda

Updating the Under Secretary Incumbency Chart

Judith McHale was sworn in as Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs this morning of May 26, 2009. This means it’s finally time to update the Under Secretary tracking spreadsheet.

Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy Sworn In Resigned Days in Office Days Position Vacant Total Days %
Evelyn Lieberman (Clinton) 10/1/1999 1/20/2001 477      
  1/21/2001 10/2/2001   254    
Charlotte Beers (Bush) 10/2/2001 3/28/2003 542      
  3/29/2003 12/16/2003   262    
Margaret Tutwiler 12/16/2003 6/30/2004 197      
  7/1/2004 7/29/2005   393    
Karen P. Hughes 7/29/2005 12/14/2007 868      
  12/15/2007 6/4/2008   172    
James K. Glassman 6/5/2008 1/16/2009 225      
  1/17/2009 1/20/2009   3    
  1/21/2009 5/25/2009   124    
Judith McHale (Obama) 5/26/2009   1      
Since USIA-State Merger     2310 1208 3518 34%
Bush Administration     1832 1084 2916 37%
Obama Administration     1 124 125 99%
Today: 5/26/2009          

Now can we set a timer on when the deeply problematic bureaucratic and functional division between public affairs and public diplomacy within the Under Secretary’s office will be eliminated? Will Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley work for the Under Secretary who does have the “and Public Affairs” in her title? I suppose it depends on the direction and empowerment of “R”, which remains unclear but there are signs it could change sooner than later

The Future of Public Diplomacy

The world increasingly operates on perceptions created by the “Now Media” environment. Governments must fully take into account these perceptions in the forming and conducting of foreign policy. From the perspective of the United States, the simple and essential fact is that everything we say and do both at home and abroad, as well as everything we fail to say and do, has an impact in other lands. This isn’t a new idea but an observation originally made by a certain general running for president in 1952.

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Comparing the Areas of Responsibility of State and Defense (Updated)

“The world today can be much better understood if you think of it from the perspective of regions and not states,” said Gen. Jim Jones

For all the debate over how and if the State Department will engage foreign publics, lost in the shuffle is how the State Department remains bureaucratically focused on countries instead of regions. The Department of State must also become the Department of Non-State if it is to be effective in dealing with issues that transcend increasingly quaint ideas of bilateral diplomacy.

Today, as interagency activities between State and Defense increase, the map below highlights a lack of fundamental synchronicity in how each views the world. Of course, the lack of alignment in three critical area – Africa, Middle East, and South Asia – is nothing compared to the different in focus of each Department. Whereas the Defense Department operates predominately regionally, the State Department continues to function at the country level. This is a problem when public affairs officers in one country does not have the same priorities as the PAO in the neighboring country.


State must do more to be a partner, or a leader among equals, to Defense. Resources aside, ranks do not match, which creates problems with responsibilities both within organizations and when speaking to Congress or other organizations.

As collaboration between State and Defense increases, State and Defense must align how they divide up the world and adjust their organizations accordingly. As it is, State should adapt its nineteenth century model to Defense’s model. This means State needs to do some promoting and one elimination. State must get rid of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs and elevate the Assistant Secretaries in charge of each regional bureaus to Under Secretary, making the head of the regional bureau the equivalent of a four-star general and thus a co-equal, by rank, to the Combatant Commander. Whenever a Combatant Commander appears on the Hill, so to should the Regional Under Secretary.

I’ve received some push back on this structure because of the additional reporting to the Secretary of State, but if the Secretary of Defense can have Combatant Commanders report directly to him, why can’t the Secretary of State have Regional Bureaus report directly to here? Let’s flatten the hierarchy and move away from the 19th century alignment. Food for thought: should State instantiate a Joint Chiefs-like entity for an additional advisor?

Sure, Ambassadors would lose some independence as the Bureaus become more powerful as State shifts to a regional view from a country-level view, but this isn’t necessarily a zero-sum. (Side note: regarding Ambassadors, keep in mind that everyone at State and Defense are the President’s representative.)

More details to come.

Map Source: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/65617.pdf. H/T to DF who scored big time finding the above map, a map I was about to bribe DF to create for me.

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Public Diplomacy is not Public Relations

To say that the inauguration of President Barack Obama is an opportunity to change the trajectory of America’s global influence and leadership is an understatement. We are, in fact, at a pivotal course change potentially more impactful than any in our history. While it is widely acknowledged that our future course will be shaped by our new President’s words and his actions, the means to ensure and protect the impact of both remain unclear.

In his inaugural address, the President acknowledged the power of public opinion in the conduct and success of our global affairs as he recalled that the defense against communism relied on more than the hard power of the military. "Power alone," the President said, "cannot protect us nor does it entitle us to do as we please." The "sturdy alliances" that created and enhanced our security and prosperity were forged by successes in the struggle for minds and wills against a subversive enemy whose primary weapons were not bullets and bombs but ideas and false promises of the future. The United States responded to this "war of ideology" with what was then simply public affairs. There were the "fast" communications of radio broadcasts and movie and newspaper and magazine distribution and "slow" engagement that included cultural presentations and educational exchanges, all of which supported a smart foreign policy that foreign publics could understand, accept, and support.

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U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy: no one in PD conducts PD overseas

image Strong words from the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.  Strong and brutally honest.  The Commission, an organization reporting directly to the President, has submitted a report unlike any other before it.  Not the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Research Service, the Defense Sciences Board, or any other body has assessed the human resource element of U.S. Public Diplomacy in such depth.  The topic for this report originated with the Commission.  The findings will be presented tomorrow, Wednesday, 25 June 2008, but the report is available at the Commission’s website now.  This blog was granted permission to share the report prior to its official release.

The function of the Commission is to provide independent oversight and make recommendations on the activities and effectiveness of America’s information activities and education and cultural exchanges.  It was established by the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and was originally two different bodies, the Advisory Commission on Information and the Advisory Commission on Educational Exchange.

Earlier this evening, I had the opportunity to sit down with the chairman of the Commission, Bill Hybl, to discuss the report to be publicly presented tomorrow.  Bill described a core requirement of public diplomacy is to address people and issues in local terms, including identifying common ground.  This requires engagement, something Bill noted is absent.  It also requires continuity at the very highest level, which he said has been missing with the turnover at the Under Secretary position.

A driving factor of the report, and a repeated refrain from Bill, is that the U.S. “should be able to do better.”  To this end, Bill emphasized that public diplomacy officers want to communicate with foreign populations but can’t because 90% of their job descriptions and work requirements are something else, like administration.

For the first time, we have a report that (while pulling some punches) looks at the impediments to implementing an effective public diplomacy.  This report is of particular interest for those like myself who are more interested in the structure of how public diplomacy and information activities are conducted than about the specific messages employed.

The 41-page report is split into seven sections, plus the introduction.  It is an easy read, even for the beginner not conversant in public diplomacy.  Each section begins with a background statement, followed by findings and analysis, and closes with recommendations.  The recommendations are real and often substantial.  Many are obvious, some may be easy, several will take a strong commitment and leadership from State, the White House, and Congress to implement.

This is the first report to point out that there is no one overseas whose primary job responsibility is to interface with foreign audiences.  The Commission surveyed employee evaluation reports and found that direct foreign engagement was a low priority and had little, if any, positive impact on performance reviews.  This fits in with a five year old 2003 GAO report that surveyed public affairs officers and found 77% did not have a goal of “mutual understanding” in their FY04 plan.  As the report asks, if no one in the field has primary responsibility to engage and influence foreign publics, who job is it?

For a Department short on funds, precious time and money spent on training public diplomacy officers in cultural and linguistic awareness and skills are wasted.  The report portrays these officers as having little opportunity, and even less expectation, to engage foreign audiences.  Further, when they are trained, the training is better described as identifying public diplomacy and not engaging in it.  Little to no instruction is done on practicing persuasion and culturally and linguistically specific engagement.  If DOD can use simulators, real and virtual, why not State?  The report’s discussion on what was and wasn’t included in employee evaluations is startling.  For example, the first five (out of eleven) work requirements for a “senior-level public diplomacy officer at a mid-sized African post” were: “Plan, develop and implement programs…”, “Administer…”, “Supervise, counsel and support staff members…”, “Oversee the operations…”, and “Utilize opportunities to explain U.S. foreign and domestic”.  Largely, if not entirely, absent from the sample of work requirements surveyed by the commission where phrases like “Influence public discourse…”, “Shape the terms of the debate…”, “Persuade key interlocutors…”, “Correct inaccuracies and misrepresentations appearing in the local media…”, and “Appear on talk shows on television and radio…”.

To the question of whether the PD officer had an impact on how the U.S. or U.S. policy was viewed in country, the answer was typically no.  The problem is perhaps that State went too far to integrate public diplomacy, pushing a square into a round hole.  Performance reviews, the report says, are often written in ways that it is impossible to know what country the officer serves in.

Back in the United States, the fate of public diplomacy officers is no better.  Nearly ten years after the merger, or “abolishing”, of USIA, dozens of public diplomacy officers at Main State, Washington, D.C., headquarters, are administrators and liaisons that do not perform public diplomacy.

The report also points out these significant shortcomings:

  • State does not recruit for public diplomacy
  • State does not test for public diplomacy
  • State does not train for public diplomacy
  • State has a glass ceiling for public diplomats

The last bullet raises the specter that State does not value the skills or have confidence in the public diplomacy officers.  While it is noteworthy a public diplomacy officer has never held the Under Secretary position, more interesting is the under-representation of public diplomacy in senior management positions.  While State has made progress incorporating public diplomacy, it still has a way to go.  This report says, among other things, that those in the public diplomacy “cone” (career track) are not promoted to senior positions on par with their numbers vis a vis other State cones, economics, political, consular, and management.

Bill Hybl commented that it “felt different” investigating the present public diplomacy arrangement as compared to the USIA.

The Commissions recommendations are not binding but will hopefully spur action in vested parties from State, the White House, and Congress.  Public diplomacy is a keystone of our national security and must be treated as such.  It was at one time and it must be again.  We must move beyond claims that money is short and realize this is a national security imperative.  Engaging in information and ideas is ultimately cheaper tha
n engaging with bullets, bombs, and combat boots.

As my conversation with Bill came to a close, he said that “if we don’t do this effectively, those who wish to do harm to us will beat us in an area where we should dominate… we can do better.”  Agreed.  We can and must do better.

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Beyond Government Accountability: a challenging look at Peacekeepers

imageMy article in Serviam, the magazine dedicated to “Stability Solutions in a Dangerous World,” is out.  I mentioned it before, but now you can read the whole thing. 

It’s intended to be thought provoking, which it is.  By the way, it was vetted and approved by an international lawyer and a consultant to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.  There will be more on the subject of the lack of accountability of peacekeepers by others.  In the immediate future, it sounds like you can catch more in the upcoming HBO movie The Greatest Silence (and/or listen to this NPR interview with the filmmaker). 

From Beyond Government Accountability:

…If holding nonstate soldiers accountable is really an issue for many critics, then the admitted lack of accountability of and jurisdiction over contracted nations contributing to U.N. PKOs should be a prime concern. The gap between perceived accountability and real accountability has a broader and deeper impact on the societies in which they operate.

The relationship between peacekeeping forces (PKFs) and the U.N. Security Council mimics the relationship between a private military or security company and the country in question. The Security Council negotiates with U.N. members to contribute to PKOs, most often in the stead of the five permanent Security Council members who actually make the decision to deploy military observers, police, and troops. The General Assembly does not authorize or oversee PKFs, but it is tasked to operate on the behalf of the Security Council.

Forgotten is Article 43 of the U.N. Charter, which calls for maintaining a standing rapid reaction military force to be available to the Security Council. Instead, the U.N. relies on ad hoc partnerships and “conditional commitments” through the U.N. Stand-By Arrangements System. This system falls well short of what was envisioned when it was established six decades ago at the dawn of the Cold War.

Governments providing the peacekeepers hand over accountability to the United Nations, and those that finance the operations have little to no say in how the forces will actually operate. With no standing commitment by member states, each operation requires individual negotiations across the spectrum–from questions regarding chain of command and responsibilities to rules of engagement and the rules on the use of force.

In the post-Cold War environment, downsized Western militaries are less able to participate in PKOs owing to capacity limits as well as domestic politics. To fill the gap, the Security Council increasingly turns to developing nations (formerly known as “Third World”) countries to deploy to regions that have little direct significance to the contributing country. …

Read the whole thing in the March-April 2008 issue of Serviam or download a PDF of the article here (144kb PDF).

AFRICOM: DOA or in Need of Better Marketing? No and Yes. (Updated)

image Like Mark Twain’s "death" in 1897 (he died in 1910), reports of AFRICOM’s demise may be exaggerated.  Concerns that AFRICOM hasn’t been thought out or is unnecessary aren’t supported by the actions and statements of those charged with building this entity.  However, based on the poor marketing of AFRICOM, these concerns are not surprising.

I attended USC’s AFRICOM conference earlier this month and between panel discussions and offline conversations, I came away with a new appreciation (and hope) for the newest, and very different, command. 

This is not like the other Combatant Commands (one DOD representative said they dropped "Combatant" from the title, but depending on where you look, either all the commands include "Combatant" or none of the commands do).  Also unlike other commands, AFRICOM is "focused on prevention and not containment or fighting wars."  This is, as one speaker continued, is a "risk-laden experiment" that is like an Ironman with multidisciplinary requirements and always different demands (note: thank you for not saying it’s a marathon… once you’ve done one marathon, they’re easy, you can "fake" a marathon… Ironman triathlons are always unpredictable.).  The goal, he continued, was to "keep combat troops off the continent for 50 years" because the consensus was, once troops landed on Africa, it would be extremely difficult to take them off. 

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