Who will be the next Under Secretary?

Now that President-elect Obama has selected his Secretary of State, the word on the street about the critical job of Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs varies. The U/S role has been radically invigorated by Jim Glassman over his too brief tenure (made even briefer by Sen. Coburn). He had and continues to enjoy bipartisan and interagency support. Of course this was easier since he was able to pick his battles carefully and avoid the landmines in order to focus on getting things done in the short time he had. He has made it a point recently that “R” (the DoS name for the public diplomacy organization unit) has improved to the point Congressional confidence should increase and be demonstrated by increasing R’s funding.

So now the big question is who will be the next Under Secretary? As far as I can see, suggestions that the next SecState wants to bring in her own people aren’t highlighting any particular candidate, but it might help one in particular. Interest in who will be America’s coordinator of persuasion in the global struggle for minds and wills (a far better, if wordier, phrase than “war of ideas” or “battle of narratives”) grows by the day, at least for those interested in public diplomacy, strategic communication, etc.

By my reckoning, there are at least nine contenders for this office, including the incumbent. Some are actual contenders while others, well, not so much.

What I haven’t heard is the criteria for selecting the next Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

Thinking about what we want and need in an U/S is important. Over the last year, nearly every single condition surrounding U.S. public diplomacy (and / or strategic communication if you’re from another tribe) has changed. Jim has done a good job of pushing the reality that public diplomacy isn’t primarily about selling America and “us versus them” debates. Public Diplomacy is (and was) about protecting our interests by operating with and through others. Public Diplomacy is the direct or indirect engagement of foreign publics to support national security objectives.

So what do we need in an Under Secretary? The U/S must…

1. Have the absolute and very visible support of the Secretary of State.

2. Establish an operating definition and basic principles for operating in the global information environment where deeds matter more than words.

3. Provide effective leadership at the interagency and intra-governmental levels. (PA and PD)

4. Actively assist in a necessary bureaucratic and cultural shift in State from the 19th century to the 21st century to be more adroit in the global information environment (includes merging PA and PD)

5. Actively engage Congress.

6. Be a spokesperson for the United States.

There are a couple of other items I could add, but the point is this: #6 is #6. The United States now has a Chief of Public Diplomacy, the President-Elect, who can effectively communicate on his own. What we need in the Under Secretary position is a leader, manager, and facilitator.

Whoever is selected, the current Under Secretary must be asked to stay on until his replacement is confirmed (not a problem obviously if Jim stays and he’s certainly qualified to do so). We cannot afford to be leaderless in this critical time. Since the USIA merger through Jim’s confirmation, the vacancy was 40%, including the 172 days after Hughes’ resignation. This job is just too important. 


17 thoughts on “Who will be the next Under Secretary?

  1. Let me dissent.U/S Glassman should not stay. While he has been effective at raising his own profile, he has also failed to adjust the tools and techniques of public diplomacy and public affairs to reflect the task at hand.
    We don’t need lip-service to fads (oh if I hear one more “leader” go on and on about “web two-point-oh”). We need an Under Secretary who can set realistic goals and strategies, allocate budgets away to meet those goals and implement those strategies, adapt the best of main-stream private sector practices, and abandon old and marginally effective practices. All of the new “social media” ideas are just tools … tools to be used and adapted and targeted toward a final goal.
    We are facing a battle against forces that must be engaged quickly, effectively and head-on. Cultural exchanges, study tours, and scholarships are long-term “narrow-casting” techniques. We need to engage in “broad”-casting. Engage in a very public way to repair and enhance the image and opinion of our country. The old techniques are nice to look back upon as relics of the cold war. But let’s face it, as much as we might pine for the USIA of yesterday, these cold war relics didn’t win that war. The Soviet Union was defeated through the Reagan administration’s shrewd application of economics. We forced an economic collapse, not an ideological collapse.
    Today, we are not only in a “hot” war on the battle fields of Iraq and Afghanistan, we are in a war to win friends and influence people. (I’m much more Dale Carnegie than Sir Robert Grainger Ker Thompson.) We – the United States – know how to do this. We are subjected to it each and everyday. American private sector communicators don’t haul out the “cultural exchanges” and “study tours.” They employed standard American communications techniques that are proven to shape opinions and influence attitudes. It’s a simple two step process: 1) engaged in positively defining your image and perception, and; 2) bring into question your oposition’s image and perception.
    Does this need adaptation – of course it does. But what a great starting point in defining our efforts and ramping up our overseas communiations appratus to achieve immediate and broad results.

  2. An equally interesting question will be whether the U/S PD&PA retains the power/oversight over the PCC for PD at the national level, or GEN Jones, the new NSA, moves authority for PD oversight into the National Security Council and names a Deputy or Asst Deputy for PD&SC. I would prefer the latter to give the imprimitur of real Presidential power. PD authority ended up in State b/c of Karen Hughes’ closeness to Pres. Bush, but even the personal relationship was not enough to raise PD & SC to the top of the Presidential agenda. I believe we need PD equities in the White House on a daily basis.

  3. Matt is absolutely correct that the wise course for the incoming administration would be to ask Jim Glassman to stay on, at least until his successor is nominated, confirmed, and ready to take over. The handling of nominations for this job has been equally feckless across two administrations. The 40 per cent “vacancy rate” that Matt describes is appalling, particularly given the importance of this position to our broader national security goals. If Jim leaves in January without a successor at least nominated (and I would add, confirmed, given the unfortunate role played by Senator Coburn in Jim’s own confirmation), then PD will be left leaderless, potentially for several months. We all know what happens in a vacuum. For PD, it would be a disaster.

  4. I strongly disagree about moving leadership on USG strategic communication to the NSC. When the NSC becomes operational, leading and directing the inter-agency community, only tears and regrets follow (remember Ollie North?).No, better that leadership on our relations with foreigners (aka diplomacy — both public and private) remain the job of the State Department. Both Hughes and Glassman have had the President’s respect, and that’s as important as their relationship with the Secretary.
    As has been repeatedly proven in our nation’s history, you don’t have to have an office in the West Wing to exercise leadership.

  5. Let me add or rather emphasize that the next Under Secretary cannot be simply some Web 2.0 guru. To bring in an “outside the box” personality that does come primed to handle #2-5 above will re-marginalize Public Diplomacy from the rest of government, return PD to a tactical solution similar to the Reagen era, and further de-emphasize the strategic value of cultural and educational exchanges.

  6. Some years ago, Jim Glassman authored a book titled “DOW 36,000.” Generally, the premise of the book was that the stock market was undervalued. Today, the stock market is trading at less than 9,000 points. This might be characterized as the divergence of imagination over reality.It is somewhat unclear what Mr. Glassman’s accomplishments have been as Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy. He inherited and then presided over one of the largest US public diplomacy failures of all time, the US-operated television station known as al-Hurra (“The Free One”), largely dismissed among Arab and Muslim viewers in the Middle East.
    There is nothing wrong with being imaginative. However, reality is where the rubber meets the road. If the imagination is out of touch with reality, more harm than good can result. That seems to be where US public diplomacy sits at the moment. Difficult issues have become even more intransigent over the past eight years. US foreign policy has become viewed as more malevolent than benign. World populations want substance over pop phraseology. The task for the next undersecretary is to deliver on the substance. This will not be an easy task. It would be undermined with by an approach that relies too heavily on the superficial.
    One must also be wary of a reliance on technologies that are beyond the reach of many population groups. The move toward sole reliance on the Internet leaves in the dark many people who earn less than a dollar per day. Any convulsions in globalized economies can increase the number of these have-nots over haves. When this happens, the potential for social unrest increases. US adversaries clearly look to these circumstances as opportunities to further and expand anti-US sentiment and translate that antipathy into action. Today’s terrorist actions are a volatile combination of geo-political issues, fundamentalist beliefs and anger directed against perceived corruptive and exploitative representations of Western social and economic symbols.
    The incoming Obama administration needs to make wise decisions on the direction of its public diplomacy effort and not be seduced by “2.0” superficialities that have limited impact on hardcore, underlying problems.

  7. Once again, the disagreement on what precisely constitutes Strategic Communication has caused a major fault line in this discussion. Indeed, Ambassador Carlson is accurate in his assertion that leadership in diplomacy must remain the duty of the State Department. I would also agree history has shown that the NSC delving too deeply into the “operational” presents a number of potentially significant problems.Strategic Communication at the national level, however, is not merely about diplomacy. It is about the coordinated, strategic application of all elements of national power; to include traditional elements of military power, economic efforts, and purely informational endeavors, as well as non-doctrinal elements such as culture and other tools of soft power.
    Today’s challenge is that the U.S. government lacks a well-articulated grand strategic vision, and current policy falls short of a comprehensive understanding of the problems we face. Certainly there is a great deal of good work being done at a number of departments and agencies, but leadership in USG Strategic Communication efforts must come from the head of the executive. For the White House to defer its leadership role in this ignores the most basic principle of unity of effort.
    If one accepts that Strategic Communication is affected by all we say and do as a nation, then the NSC is precisely the place for the appropriate coordination to occur.

  8. If I may, to interject a dose of reality:1) If President-Elect Obama determines the need for a wider interagency director and/or organization to manage interagency strategic communication, it will take time to implement.
    2) Therefore, an Under Secretary for PD will still need to be found and confirmed (providing that Mr. Glassman is not selected to stay on), if only to continue to manage the “war of ideas” role and duties until said SC director is authorized, found, and confirmed.
    3) Which begs the question, what you do need in an Under Secretary for PD, knowing that larger changes are coming for the integrated and coordinated management of strategic communication, public diplomacy, and the other information disciplines are coming? Should this person act more as a transitional figure, bringing together the disparate ad hoc interagency working groups and sub-PCCs to help pave the way for the incoming director? Or should he/she, as Glassman has, focus purely on waging the war of ideas itself?
    I’m on the fence on this one, as I believe both jobs will be important. I think it is critically important that the President-Elect address this issue during transition as soon as possible. The earlier in the administration we get a jump on getting our information disciplines in order, the better.

  9. Matt Morgan has hit this nail squarely on the head.Is it time to start talking about U.S. strategic communications and leave the very cold war-ish concept behind?
    I’m no fan of our current public diplomacy structure; even though I’m smack right in the middle of it. I’ll go back to my previous comments above about “narrow-casting” vs. “broad-casting.” Really, does it make sense to through precious funding toward such antiquated ideas? Somebody, someplace over the past few days noted the comparison of the old USIA staff with the current PD staffing at some key posts. The insight of that post was not only the reduction in foreign service officers serving in PD positions but the change in the nature of the service – from communicators to personal press officers for ambassador’s egos.
    We need communicators … not press representatives. We need personnel well grounded in modern mass communications techniques … not officers who machine-like pump out the press releases and arrange the every-once-in-a-while cultural exchange and arrange for a privileged few to visit the U.S. on study tours.
    We need a strategic communications function (whether headed by the U/S for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at State or by another empowered individual) that can plan integrated and coordinated campaigns based on valid audience research, targeted to well defined audiences using appropriate distribution mechanisms. These efforts must cross borders, are more and more defined regionally and sub-regionally and use many different communications channels. They are researched, defined and monitored using robust research. These concepts, practices and tools are beyond the grasp of our present public diplomacy practices yet are the day-to-day tools of most modern corporations.
    So keep the PD cone if we must have press representatives for our ambassadors. But don’t try and fit the strategic communications hat on to a press-hack’s head.
    President-elect Obama promised change. This is one change that is definitely needed; a change that the Obama campaign showed through its strategic communications it clearly understood. Whatever the solution, it needs to be a clear and clean cut from the failed past.

  10. Reiterating and emphasizing what Matt Morgan said above, Strategic Communication (SC) is not an “information discipline”. SC is a coordinating and synchronizing process: generically, coordinating actions, images, and words to achieve desired results; at the national level, it’s coordinating everything across DIME. Because the focus of SC is on communicating to change attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors, SC lends itself well to an information framework, but it is not solely an information discipline. Our actions and policies communicate just as much — if not more so — than our information programs or campaigns.Before the explosive expansion of the global information environment, it was easier to say one thing in one part of the world (e.g, promote freedom and democracy) and do something else in another part of the world (e.g., support or shore up a dictator) without serious repercussions. But in today’s global information environment, we are increasingly subject to the ramifications of the “say-do” gap – why should anyone believe us, believe what we say, when we do the opposite?
    A key component of SC at the national level is weighing the global implications of adopting a specific policy before it is adopted — are the benefits of a policy or action in one part of the world worth the risk or impact on national interests or objectives in another part of the world? I submit that national policy making has not yet caught up to the realities of the global information environment, and we are still too focused on regional or country specific issues as if we could keep what happens there separate from the rest of the world.
    None of this is meant to imply that PD is not an excellent, useful tool that has been under-resourced ever since the demise of USIA, nor that who becomes the next U/S for PD & PA in State isn’t important. But the USG lead for SC coordination ought to be someone who has the authority to coordinate and direct across the Cabinets — i.e., the White House/NSC.

  11. I have to say, as an Action Officer for PD programs, these observations and suggestions are so vague, they’re somewhat superficial and detached. Instead of an aerial flyover, land the plane. What program, grant, partnership, event do you suggest to improve on our efforts, thanks.

  12. Ditto the first anonymous comment, which I suspect is from a working-level stiff who actually deals with these activities. While dot.this and dot.that are the preeminent sounds currently heard from the U/S, it would be useful to check with working stiffs who actually are in missions around the world. You might find that text messaging — to name one — started up as a PAO tactic a number of years ago. The same for “social networking,” podcasting, and blogging. This happened because of a firm grasp of local conditions, doing what worked, not relying on inside-the-beltway speeches and conferences. A new U/S would do well by learning about the field and listening to what really goes on, and what more could happen given time, resources, and active listening from Washington stakeholders. That would be true leadership

  13. I am consistently disappointed by calls to be provided with specific grants, programs, partnerships, events, etc. from a number of my colleagues. I believe this represents a failure of imagination, and is an unfortunate but all too common symptom of the Cold War mindset. Practitioners must be innovators; individuals capable of analyzing problems, developing means to address those problems, and taking action to achieve an end (putting the “action” in “Action Officer”.) And before this observation is derided for being too academic or out of touch with the average ‘working stiff’, I would offer the point I have been engaged in Strategic Communication processes at nearly every level, from USG efforts to counter violent extremism down to tactical activities directed at achieving an isolated effect on a discreet audience. This approach works.Interestingly, the ‘tell me how to do it’ approach highlights what has been identified as a real and significant risk in vacating the U/S position: Stagnation. Of course, the most effective way to deal with a leadership gap and the resultant lack of guidance is to demonstrate initiative and move in the direction of the guidance U/S Glassman has already given. He has articulated a purpose for USG PD efforts, a series of means to achieve that purpose, and a vision of the endstate. In my view, I can’t imagine what more one would need to develop the way forward. Unfortunately, too many wait to be told how.
    So to play out the metaphor used by my anonymous colleague, here is what I would suggest: You have been given a destination. It is up to you to develop a flight plan, purchase fuel for the plane, and ensure you know how to operate the aircraft. Once you have done all that, you will be able to land the plane yourself.

  14. Matt Morgan is right in his observation that we must put the “action” back into the Action Officer position. He is also on the moeny when he calls for innovation. Each task, each approach to an audience or market should be tailored to that audience or market.Somebody earlier called-out the cultural tours and scholarships, etc. The PD officer asking “What program, grant, partnership, event do you suggest to improve on our efforts?”
    Well Action Officer, that’s what you should be deciding. Do your research. Who are you targeting? What objective are you trying to achieve within the context where you work? Get INR to do it’s job and get you some actionable intellegence.
    This is always the risk when leadership calls for the consideration of a certain program. It gets adopted as the next “new thing.” It is why leaders should call for thinking, innovative and risk taking officers rather than advocating the next new thing.

  15. It’s heartening to see all of you government people giving this matter such serious consideration. I hope your input makes its way to those who will be deciding these matters in the next administration. Without presuming to second guess you about the proper location of the PD function in the organizational structure, let me kick in three observations.First, as my colleagues and I have argued the USG still operates on a model from the 1950s that says communication (including PD) is intentional and strategic action. It succeeds when you have a tightly controlled message, send it to highly segmented audiences using carefully selected channels, and so on. The modern situation is more complex than that. Our problem is not just that we’re failing to control the strategic communication process well enough, or that we don’t have our PD chief in the right box on the org chart. An UnderSec who is willing to quickly move us away from this old model, and is in a position to do so, is the best choice.
    Second, another implication of the old model is that you only communicate when you’re trying to do so. The truth is that anything we do to affect foreign audiences (indeed even what we don’t do) has PD impact, whether it’s intended as PD messaging or not. Someone else pointed this out earlier in the thread. It is especially true of foreign policy, which is the main source of a huge perceived say-do gap for the U.S. at present. The next UnderSec must have a disposition and position that gives him/her a meaningful say in the policy formulation process.
    Finally, though ideally we might like to have PD as a pure diplomatic function, the military is a part of our complex communication system whether we like it or not. The number of foreign-stationed military personnel dwarfs the number of diplomatic personnel, and every one of them does things that potentially send PD messages. This is not even to mention larger-scale military actions, including (especially) the other functions it places under strategic communication along with public diplomacy, like information operations and public affairs. DoD must be involved in decisions about PD, because at a minimum they can help reinforce or undermine whatever messages we’re trying to send. The next UnderSec must have a position that can achieve this coordination.

  16. I’ve been following this informed discussion and considering how best to contribute. Perhaps some statements of the obvious are in order.The incoming Obama administration is not likely to accept the Satloff/Glassman narrow ideological mission for PD. Tipping the hat to Satloff, Glassman articulated the mission as: “Our mission today in the war of ideas is highly focused. It is to use the tools of ideological engagement — words, deeds, and images — to create an environment hostile to violent extremism.” It seems unlikely that Glassman would remain in an administration committed to a more pragmatic, broader approach to foreign affairs. As Kristin Lord said in response to Satlof’s critique of her Brookings report: “I do reject the notion that countering radical ideologies should be the exclusive focus of U.S. public diplomacy. … U.S. foreign policy must respond to a wide range of opportunities and a wide range of threats.” Lord may not speak for the Obama transition but she articulates views that are more in sync with their policy pronouncements to date.
    Secondly, the diplomatic function is not necessarily narrow. One of the more famous University of Chicago professors, Hans Morgenthau, held that diplomacy is the instrument of statecraft that must attempt to provide real time coordination of all other instruments. This conceptualization would have diplomacy as the overarching tool of state power from which political, informational, economic and military instruments flow. Logically therefore, State should be able to coordinate the whole range of foreign policy including strategic communication. An administration that intends to put its diplomatic face forward to the world will likely have the organizational form follow function and leave co-ordination of strategic communication in State. This would hardly be a deferral of leadership; rather it would be a reassertion of diplomacy as the lead instrument of state power.

  17. First, let me just say that I think Steve Corman gets it right (as usual) – and beats me to the punch on some of these issues. He is correct, of course, to suggest we are misguided if we feel we must tightly control the message if we want our PD and yes, even strategic communication strategies to succeed. Sure, there is a place for targeted message campaigns; there will always be audience segments that require purposive, intentional communicative action. But to casually disregard the panoply of smaller initiatives that engage the reality of the global communication infrastructure (the available technologies, outlets, and how people use these media) is to truly be grounded in Cold War communication logic. I must emphatically state that we absolutely do not need a “broad”cast strategy that “anonymous” had suggested previously.Maybe we should be concerned with “broader” strategic initiatives that might incorporate smaller programs (such as those that utilize social networking technologies, exchange programs, cultural programs, etc). In other words, we need to weave together our communicative capacities, in order to effect the broad “objectives” that these programs in total could build up to. The point is – the world is not composed of neatly aggregated audiences keen to receive a perfectly crafted message. Monolithic strategies do not work, because there is no poverty of information. Instead, audiences for global communication are awash in choice – the U.S. competes for attention in a field of information and symbols that represent a true economy of affiliation and credibility. If global communication is “opt-in” we need programs that are small enough and agile enough to adapt to the realities of how audiences consume messages.
    Now that said, this doesn’t mean our strategies need to be as plural and chaotic as the global audience. We do need orienting principles from which to design the right PD programs at the tactical level, and indeed reconcile the differing responsibilities shared between the national security apparatus and the State Department for how the USFG communicates to the world.
    My question is, will this strategic imagining of strategic communication and public diplomacy be the responsibility of the new undersecretary, or will the undersecretary be primarily in charge for the myriad programs required by the contemporary global communication environment. One responsibility is strategic, the other is tactical. Both are important.

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