Wanted: an Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy

Wanted: a senior manager that can hit the ground running to build an “influence enterprise.” This person must be deeply familiar with the cultures of both the State and Defense Departments. A proven track record in leading and managing interagency processes across the whole of government as well as private-public partnerships is a must. Ability to be a spokesperson is a plus but not required.

President Obama’s interview on Arab television proves he is an able public diplomat, as are the Secretaries of State and Defense. The criteria for the next Under Secretary must be begin with his or her ability to build and manage a hub organization, a “strategic center” as Mike Doran called is, that supports the whole of government as well as private-public partnerships in a struggle for minds and wills that is far more than “simply” countering violent extremists

Public diplomacy is not public relations. For too long, public diplomacy languished under absent leadership and a lost appreciation of its value and purpose. It has been over seven years since Richard Holbrooke asked how “can a man in a cave out-communicate the world’s leading communications society” and yet today this question remains valid. The shortcoming was, as Holbrooke said later in his 2001 editorial, the “apparent initial failure of our own message and the inadequacy of our messengers.” The opportunity to fix this inadequacy is now and we have only a small window of time to get this right.

Public diplomacy is not about “selling a message” or changing the subject away from an unpopular foreign policy. It must actively shape both what we say and what we do. It is the application of the most fundamental principle of democratic leadership: understanding and marshalling public opinion. It is naĂŻve to think that passive access to information about our deeds can be a catalyst for action, especially after eight years of saying one thing and doing another. Just as we cannot, nor could we ever, “kill our way to victory,” we cannot talk our way to peace.

Public diplomacy is about engaging global audiences irrespective of geography. Everyone is a potential “constituent,” ally, and proxy. Perhaps most obvious in exchange programs, public diplomacy is about developing knowledge in others so they may support our mission, when it is just and supportable, to oppose not just violent extremists but unhealthy and destructive competition in all areas.

Effective public diplomacy promotes the truth and is proactive, even preemptively, “first with the truth” countering adversarial lies and distortions. Always a goal of public diplomacy, the global “now media” information environment makes anticipation, pre-emption, and agility to respond to adversarial attacks that may or may not be associated with bullets and bombs a greater imperative.

The Under Secretary, the equivalent to a four-star general, must be the leader of the Government’s “influence enterprise” and must work closely with the Secretary of State to restructure and refocus the State Department to educate, empower, equip, and encourage the abilities of what amounts to a “Department of Non-State” within the Department of State. Organized and focused on bilateral relationships between countries, the State Department’s operational paradigm is out of step with today’s global requirements. We can neither afford the time to recreate a separate agency nor should we try. The State Department must adapt to the modern era and be capable of interfacing with everyone from heads of state to stateless persons lest the State Department become completely irrelevant.

America’s global outreach has for too long been underfunded, badly structured and underutilized. The result is a gap between requirements and abilities the Defense Department filled unwillingly and clumsily. Nobody wants American public diplomacy to wear combat boots, not even the military. Both the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have repeatedly said they want an empowered State Department and have offered some of their own budget to make it happen. The Under Secretary must be an able manager to fix public diplomacy and to work with and convince Congress to empower State and specifically the “R” bureau, the public diplomacy bureau, through increased funding, including diverting Defense Department funding to the State Department, and other reforms.

Engaging global audiences is a national security imperative, it is not merely public relations or “selling a message.” Failing to adapt to the global struggle of minds and wills puts our national security at risk. The “justness of our cause” must be aggressively and proactively positioned with the peoples around the world or we risk being hampered by the interpretation of our actions by others.

We need an Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs who is a leader, manager, and facilitator that can hit the ground running with the full support of the President and the Secretary of State. This person must be found, nominated and confirmed as quickly as possible. The Under Secretary position is just too important to be left empty or filled by an under-qualified individual.

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5 thoughts on “Wanted: an Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy

  1. So…. You’re too busy or what? Your nation needs you! (And Rock Creek Parkway has a nice little gradient to simulate a real hill for your runs. 🙂

  2. Matt, most importantly the new Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy must have the determination and fortitude to reform the Public Diplomacy cone. Strategically, US PD cannot move forward without this.This person must be able to challenge and stimulate an entrenched, stagnant bureaucracy, by turning it upside down, shaking it out and starting anew. This means taking on the very powerful Foreign Service equivalent of AARP: AAFSW
    Glassman’s Public Diplomacy 2.0 efforts were innovative, but were only one small part of what’s needed to effectively execute public diplomacy. Hundreds of FSO PD officers stationed around the world need to be retrained as “influencers” and weaned off of program management. Also, a distinction between Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy is crucial (PAO’s currently oversee the management of the press relations, culture and educational exchange AND public diplomacy).
    Starting a Facebook page or a blog – while I applaud it – is easy and a bit obvious. Reforming the PD cone on the other hand, is difficult, time consuming and unpopular, but it would be the most rewarding and effective effort a new Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy could undertake.

  3. The public diplomacy that has come out of the new administration so far has been excellent but it has all come straight from the President’s office. He ‘gets it’ and so does his closest staff, it seems. However, from what Hillary Clinton has said on the subject, the prospect for the everyday PD looks less rosy. I don’t think she ‘gets it’. It seems as though she sees PD as being a marketing and branding task and I fear that this may be reflected in whoever is appointed to the top PD job. Obama has had time to work on America’s image so far but hes going to be too busy to carry that ball alone pretty soon.

  4. As a Brit looking in to this fascinating period in your history, I think you have a great opportunity. To add to your wish list I would suggest that whoever you pick needs to understand the micro politics between the personalities – as one good PSYOPer taught me, the first person you need to influence is your boss!May I put forward Mr Bill Parker – currently hanging around the corridors of SOSi. A career diplomat who has spent a significant amount of time with DOD at the Pentagon and at STRATCOM as a strategic communicator. Not only does he have the experience in Government he has a very global view and also real credibility with many of the contractors and sub commands out there who are putting many of the programmes into practice.
    Scott is also looking for work? Although he would have to come back from the East!

  5. Matt, Concur. Scott is right and Nick provides a great selection for a senior advisor. But, what State R is really lacking (as well as the DoD) is an operational arm at that level who can cross walk, leverage, and exploit programs and authorities from both Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon. OSD and the Joint Staff lack the operational and tactical details to be able to pull this off. The bureaus and embassies are not synched with their DoD counterparts. What you need is a group that can walk amongst both organizations and fully exploit all that we are doing. Hey, NSC where are you at? Sitting on your laurels as usual?

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