Foreign aid, from humanitarian relief to reconstruction and stabilization programs, are at their core public diplomacy missions. They communicate interest, respect, and generate understanding of both sides. They are also absolutely essential in today’s global struggle for minds and wills. The mother of all reconstruction and stabilization programs, the Marshall Plan, included the “standard” rebuilding but also incorporated education programs, cultural exchanges, and rebuilding civic society.
However, foreign aid has little in the way of a domestic constituency. Like public diplomacy’s international information programs, there’s little awareness within the United States not just about the effectiveness of these overseas endeavors but that anything is being done at all.
USAID just released a significant and interesting report on how it needs to improve engagement both overseas and here in the United States.
Unfortunately without comment (time constrained), I highly recommend this report. ‘Tis the season for reports on changing America’s voice, so if you have limited time, I recommend this be very near the top of that pile.
Foreign assistance is at the center of the most comprehensive reformulation of this nation’s strategic doctrines in more than half a century. The development community will play a key role in meeting the nation’s unprecedented challenges.
Our own well-being as a nation is closely linked to events in developing countries on fronts including trade and investment, infectious diseases, environmental protection, international crime and terrorism, weapons proliferation, migration and the advance of democracy and human rights, among others.
Americans, however, have only a rudimentary understanding of the design, scope and impact of U.S. foreign assistance programs. Public opinion is characterized by misconceptions and prejudices that must be countered if we are to sustain the foreign assistance commitment that our humanitarian and national security objectives require.
Detect a bit of Smith-Mundt in there? You should… The Act was passed largely because America’s “whisper” was inadequate to support the mother of all foreign aid programs: the Marshall Plan. Despite the American role in liberating the continent, “knowledge of the United States [was] being systematically blotted out” by Communist information activities that were compared to a “tremendous symphony orchestra” playing all the time. The Smith-Mundt Act was passed to make known what we were doing and to counter distortions and misinformation propagated by the enemy. Together, the Marshall Plan and the Smith-Mundt Act constituted a denial of sanctuary program central to Kennan’s containment that was not, contrary to many modern believes, based on force of arms but on the force of ideas and deeds.
In other words, USAID should be very interested in returning to the principles, purposes, and intent of the Smith-Mundt Act.
Download the report here.