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

A Call to Action on Public Diplomacy

By Morris “Bud” Jacobs

The mission of public diplomacy is generally described as seeking to “understand, engage, inform and influence” foreign publics and elites in support of national policy objectives. Public diplomacy has been practiced, in one form or another, for a long time – think Benjamin Franklin in France, charming the nobility to garner support for the American colonies in their struggle for independence. Its modern origins include the first broadcast of the Voice of America in February 1942 (VOA celebrates its 70th anniversary this spring) and the establishment of the Office of War Information in June of that year.

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The President’s National Framework for Strategic Communication (and Public Diplomacy) for 2012

It should be common knowledge that the “information consequences of policy ought always be taken into account, and the information man ought always to be consulted. This statement, from 1951, is reflected in Eisenhower’s dictum of the next year that “everything we say, everything we do, and everything we fail to say or do will have its impact in other lands.” It was understood then that words and deeds needed more than just synchronization: public opinion could be leveraged to support and further the execution of foreign policy.

What was true then is more so in a modern communication environment of empowerment. The interconnected systems of Now Media, spanning offline and online mediums, democratizes influence, and undermines traditional models of identity and allegiance as demands on assimilation fade as “hyphens” become commas. What emerges is a new marketplace for loyalty that bypasses traditional barriers of time, geography, authority, hierarchy, culture, and language. Information flows much faster; at times it is instantaneous, decreasing the time allowed to digest and comprehend the information, let alone respond to it. Further, information is now persistent, allowing for time-shifted consumption and reuse, for ill or for good. People too can travel the globe with greater ease and increased speed.

It is in this evolving environment that the President issued an updated “National Framework for Strategic Communication” for 2012 (3.8mb PDF, note: the PDF has been fixed and should be once again visible to all). This report updates the 2010 report issued last March that was little more than a narrative on how the Government was organized for strategic communication. The report is required under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2009.

Some highlights from the 2012 Framework:
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“An inch closer feels like a good mile” – Foreign Relations moves on Tara’s nomination

Today’s business meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee includes Tara Sonenshine, nominee for Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs).  While perfunctory and the time spent on Tara and her cohort will be measured in single-digit minutes (all the real work is done before the business meeting), it is a major move toward confirmation.

Indeed, by the time you read this, Tara’s nomination was already referred to the floor.  Next up: confirmation by the Senate.

How long will the Senate take confirm Tara?  No one knows.  The Senate has all but come to a halt on nominations, allowing only a few through.  One insider labeled the GOP hold on nominations as the “How-Dare-the-President-Make-SoCalled-Recess-Appointments Hold.”

The State Department, in a show of its confidence in the Senate last week, named Amb. Kathleenn Stephens as Acting Under Secretary.  Amb. Stephens, by the way, is a good choice, a Foreign Service Officer with the rank of Career Minister, whose service as U/S will undoubtedly be impacted by the unknown of how long she will serve, an unfortunate and common reality of this particular job.  Place your bets: Will she serve until the election, or beyond, or until the end of the month?

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Amb. Kathleen Stephens named Acting Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs)

From the State Department:

The Secretary announces that President Obama has designated Ambassador D. Kathleen Stephens as the Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs pending the Senate’s confirmation of the President’s nominee, Tara Sonenshine. Ambassador Stephens will begin work on February 6, 2012, and will exercise all of the authorities of the office for the duration of this designation.

Tara’s nomination remains in limbo as we wait for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to refer her to the floor.  Maybe there will be a business meeting next week to move her to the next step, along with several Ambassadorial nominees.  However, the real challenge is not the Committee but the floor of the Senate where the general sense is few if any confirmations will be allowed in the current less-than-bipartisan environment.  Hence, the appointment of Stephens as Acting Under Secretary.

Amb. Stephens was most recently the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea.

For more on the unencumbered Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs), see “R we there yet? A look at the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs).”  Unless there is some surprise in the Senate, perhaps a Valentine’s Day gift (to both Tara to give her the office and Amb. Stephens to relieve her of it), this Under Secretary position will have been empty, or not encumbered by person confirmed by the Senate to the position, for 1 out of every 3 days since the position was established in 1999.  The question will be how much more than 1/3 the time will the seat be vacant (no slight to Amb. Stephens intended)?

Note: Amb. Stephens’s bio at state.gov hasn’t been updated in a while.  In fact, “outofdate” is actually in the current URL of her bio: http://www.state.gov/outofdate/bios/109797.htm

R we to have a new “acting” Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs)?

There’s word there will be a new “acting” Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs) as early as next week.  The current “acting” for R, as it is known at Foggy Bottom, is Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Ann Stock.  I have not heard a single negative comment on Ann’s leadership while the “acting” U/S, except for early concerns she’d pay less attention to ECA.  However, I’ve also heard no complaints about the “acting” leader of ECA in Ann’s “absence,” Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary Adam Ereli.

So what is the reason for replacing Ann? Continue reading

R we there yet? A look at the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs)

What is the role of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs?  That has been an enduring question of the State Department, the Defense Department, National Security Staff, the Congress and the many others interested in America’s efforts to understand, inform, and influence global audiences.  Established thirteen years ago to manage many of the activities formerly run by the abolished United States Information Agency (USIA), its role within State and with other agencies across Government has been subject to reinterpretation nearly every time there was a new Under Secretary.

The last report of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy looked at the turnover in the position of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.  The Commission found that the position has been unfilled for over 30% of the time since it was established.  Moreover, the average tenure of the six Under Secretaries since 1999 was about 500 days.  Indeed today, the office remains unencumbered since June 30, 2011, while Tara Sonenshine awaits confirmation by the Senate.  The office is never “vacant” as there is always a someone in an “acting” capacity.  Today, Assistant Secretary Ann Stock runs the office in lieu of a confirmed Under Secretary.

The Commission compared the tenure of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs with two peers: the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs (as of January 1, 2012, known as the Under Secretary for Civil Security, Democracy, and Human Rights) and the Under Secretary for Political Affairs.  The differences in tenure length and gaps in tenure is stark.

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Mid-Week Quote: “information consequences of policy ought always be taken into account”

Today’s quote comes from the Fourth Semiannual Report of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Information, submitted to the Congress in April 1951.

Sometimes policy is “made” by the junior officer who writes an original memorandum. Sometimes it is made by an unexpected utterance at a top-level press conference. But the information consequences of policy ought always be taken into account, and the information man ought always to be consulted.

The Mid-Week Quote will be a recurring feature of the blog, although it may not appear every week.  Email me to suggest a quote.  See below for more on the report this quote is taken from.

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Civilian Response Corps: Smart Power in Action

imageThe Civilian Response Corps has a website: http://www.civilianresponsecorps.gov/. From the about page:

The Civilian Response Corps is a group of civilian federal employees who are specially trained and equipped to deploy rapidly to provide reconstruction and stabilization assistance to countries in crisis or emerging from conflict. The Corps leverages the diverse talents, expertise, and technical skills of members from nine federal departments and agencies for conflict prevention and stabilization.

We are diplomats, development specialists, public health officials, law enforcement and corrections officers, engineers, economists, lawyers and others who help fragile states restore stability and rule of law and achieve economic recovery as quickly as possible.

Visit the site and check it out. See the below links for previous discussions on CRC and the State Department Coordinator for Reconstruction & Stabilization (S/CRS):

U.S. “Hedge Fund” Diplomacy in Egypt

By Michael Clauser

Like many Americans, I am conflicted about recent events in Egypt and even more so about what the U.S. government should do.

On one hand, the United States has an immediate interest in the stability of Egypt and its government–and not just to keep the peace in the Middle East or secure the two million barrels of oil that pass through the Suez Canal every day.  But also because ditching a longtime U.S. ally like Hosni Mubarak at his moment of need does not send a reassuring message to other embattled pro-American leaders in unstable countries.  Especially when you consider what type of leader may be waiting in the wings in Egypt or elsewhere in the world.

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