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.