Isolated Overseas: Diplomatic Security Creates Challenges for American Public Diplomacy

Guest Post By Mitchell Polman, originally posted at Understanding Government

When Congress voted to abolish the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) in 1999, America’s public image abroad suffered a significant blow. This decision – inspired by the desire to shrink government and the predominant belief that USIA was an ineffective bureaucracy – closed many USIA-run American libraries and cultural centers around the world that were helping to promote better understanding of American culture and society. These gathering places – located in embassy buildings or in libraries and cultural buildings of host countries – were an important tool for U.S. public diplomacy. They organized English language classes, discussions about American society and politics, films, and other cultural events. Local residents had safe and accessible places to read American books and periodicals, find out about educational exchanges, take U.S. college entrance and language exams, and interact with American citizens.

Continue reading “Isolated Overseas: Diplomatic Security Creates Challenges for American Public Diplomacy

The Kitchen Debate of 1959: more than just two guys talking

I recommend listening to NPR’s story this morning on the “Kitchen Debate” between Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Vice President Richard Nixon at the 1959 American exhibition in Moscow. The reporter, Gregory Feifer, notes the “hostility and distrust toward America and Americans among ordinary Russians is much stronger than it was when Nixon debated Khrushchev 50 years ago.” Those that participated in the American exhibitions, Feifer continued, “believe they can be a useful model for President Obama as he seeks to improve ties with Moscow.”

Continue reading “The Kitchen Debate of 1959: more than just two guys talking

It sure is quiet around here… a few links and musings during the silence

I’m still around, just encountered some unexpected turbulence that broke the blogging cycle. Posting will resume shortly. There are a few posts sitting in the wings, including a couple of guest posts.

In the meantime, check out CTLab’s online symposium covering Peter W. Singer’s Wired for War. I’ll be posting a few entries over there (as well as here) over the next week. See my article Combat Robots and Perception Management published in Serviam magazine last year (my post on the article is here).

Also, for an organizational chart of unmanned warfare units, see Project ACORN from 2007.

On the subject of public diplomacy, it appears “imminent” is a relative term when it comes to nominating Judith McHale as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy. Last week I rushed to post “Future of Public Diplomacy” after a DC paper declined because I was sure the rumors were true that McHale’s nomination would be announced any minute. But alas, her official status has not changed. Congress begins a two week recess this Friday, so if she’s not nominated this week, the numbers on the chart at Whither Public Diplomacy will grow significantly. You don’t suppose they’ll do a recess appointment?! Please no… Why won’t the Secretary at least announce McHale?

See also

The Future of Public Diplomacy

The world increasingly operates on perceptions created by the “Now Media” environment. Governments must fully take into account these perceptions in the forming and conducting of foreign policy. From the perspective of the United States, the simple and essential fact is that everything we say and do both at home and abroad, as well as everything we fail to say and do, has an impact in other lands. This isn’t a new idea but an observation originally made by a certain general running for president in 1952.

Continue reading “The Future of Public Diplomacy

Whither Public Diplomacy? Sixty-six days (and counting) without an Under Secretary (Updated)

As we approach the 100-day mark for the Obama Administration and despite the accolades bestowed on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her “e-Diplomacy” initiatives, as of March 23, 2009, the office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs has been vacant for 63 days. Since the office of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy was created, it has been vacant one-third of the time.

Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy Sworn In Resigned Days in Office Days Position Vacant Total Days Percent Vacant
Evelyn Lieberman 10/1/1999 1/20/2001 477      
  1/21/2001 10/2/2001   254    
Charlotte Beers 10/2/2001 3/28/2003 542      
  3/29/2003 12/16/2003   262    
Margaret Tutwiler 12/16/2003 6/30/2004 197      
  7/1/2004 7/29/2005   393    
Karen P. Hughes 7/29/2005 12/14/2007 868      
  12/15/2007 6/4/2008   172    
James K. Glassman 6/5/2008 1/16/2009 225      
  1/17/2009 1/20/2009   3    
  1/21/2009     63    
Since USIA-State Merger     2309 1084 3393 32%
Bush Administration     1832 1084 2916 37%
Obama Administration     0 63 63 100%
Today: 3/24/2009          

If Public Diplomacy were important, wouldn’t it make sense to fill this spot quickly, regardless of the direction it will head? To my knowledge, the #1 candidate two months ago remains the #1 candidate today. Is it that Clinton (and possibly Obama) does not know where to take public diplomacy and whether an empowered (and operationalized) National Security Council is the route to go? Or possibly that she is looking at an invigorated State Department (which would implicitly push the development of the Department of Non-State within) that supports the Secretary’s view of personal, global engagement? Or, and this is the most likely, the priority is low and they’ll get around to dealing with public diplomacy at some point.

This is not a balancing act between “public diplomacy” and “smart power” as “smart power” requires effective communication to support and defend intelligent foreign policies, which is, in fact, the reason public diplomacy was institutionalized over sixty years ago. This is a question of who will lead the government’s global engagement that spans the whole of government, including the Departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security, Treasury, and Health and Human Services, to the Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and so on.

If the State Department fails to acknowledge their leadership responsibility in engaging global populations, it will continue to cede power and authority to the Defense Department who will be the only vertically integrated element of the Government that can provide the services necessary in a world of state and non-state actors. Defense will, by default, become the hub of activity. We have already seen the Secretary of Defense (and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) making policy statements that arguably should be coming from the Secretary of State. We are looking at a possibility that America’s government broadcasts devote more airtime to the activities of the Secretary of Defense than the Secretary of State.

Sixty-six days and counting…

See also:

Kristin Lord: What not to do in public diplomacy

From “The Great Debate”, a blog at Reuters, First 100 Days: What not to do in public diplomacy by Kristin Lord:

As Senate confirmation hearings approach, America’s next public diplomacy leaders will get abundant advice about how to improve America’s standing in the world. The Obama administration’s nominees (an under secretary and at least two assistant secretaries in the State Department alone) would be wise to listen.

Yet, in truth, America’s new public diplomacy team can accomplish much by following that age old maxim: first, do no harm.  Seven key “don’ts” are worth bearing in mind.

1) Don’t let the pollsters get you down

2) Don’t forget the borders

3) Don’t forget the Pentagon

4) Don’t go it alone

5) Don’t forget old standards

6) Don’t trust your gut

7)   Don’t forget friends

Public diplomacy is a tough business. Success usually goes unnoticed, but failures can resound globally. Avoiding missteps is impossible but avoiding these seven mistakes will give America’s next public diplomacy leaders a useful head start.

It’s a short post. Go read the whole thing here.

Public diplomacy, strategic communication, global engagement, “smart power”… each term is a variation on all the others with different kinds of associated activities and focus, but each recognizes the importance that states are not autonomous and that the reactions by individuals and groups of different sizes must be included in the calculus of foreign policy. This is Kristin’s point.

Should a presentation about promoting dialogue include time for dialogue?

Recently, I was briefed on the global engagement efforts of a three-letter government organization that has neither a "C" nor an "A" in its acronym. Unknown to me, and not mentioned at the beginning of the briefing, was that the back to back presentations would last about four hours. My expectation was for two hours at most so I scheduled one casual meeting (over cocktails) afterwards, which, fortunately, was easy enough to push (and, as it turned out, ultimately cancel).

I learned a fair amount and I was impressed by the breadth of the programs. Presentations were made by the principal actors, some of whom I knew, some I knew of, but many I didn’t know. This group is dynamic and trying hard to move up the metaphorical knife toward the pointy part.

Overall, I was impressed with their efforts and saw great potential. A question I frequently asked when they mentioned how they are tracking their success was to the effect of "So what are you doing with this knowledge? Does Congress or anybody else in USG know about your success?" Invariably, the answer was "no" which was sometimes coupled with a stare as if I had a third eye.

Besides not anticipating a 2p to nearly 6p meeting, the briefing very clearly was not a discussion. Granted they had a ton of information they wanted to present to me and there was not a moment when we dived into minutia, but answers to my questions were frequently followed by comments by the briefing chair that there was a tight schedule to keep.

There’s a certain irony that a presentation about dialogue itself stifles dialogue. I wonder if they saw that? I know they do now.

Event: Online Symposium on P.W. Singer’s Wired For War

Over at CTLab next week, I’ll be in an online discussion built around about Peter W. Singer’s outstanding book, Wired for War. Read the CTLab announcement:

CTlab’s second symposium in its 2009 series starts next week, on Monday, 30 March, and will run for four days, until 2 April (or until participants run out of steam, which might take longer). The subject: Peter Singer’s new book, Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and  Conflict in the 21st Century (Penguin Press: 2009).

This is going to be an exciting booklab, on a work that’s been getting broad exposure, in an out of the blogosphere. Peter Singer, a Brookings Institution Senior Fellow for Foreign Policy, and Director of its 21st Century Defense Initiative, will be participating on day 1. Proceedings will be compiled and indexed on a separate page for ease of reference, here.

Confirmed participants include:

  • Kenneth Anderson (Law; American University)
  • Matt Armstrong (Public Diplomacy; Armstrong Strategic Insights Group)
  • John Matthew Barlow (History; John Abbott College)
  • Rex Brynen (Political Science; McGill University)
  • Antoine Bousquet (International Relations; Birkbeck College, London)
  • Charli Carpenter (International Relations; UMass-Amherst)
  • Andrew Conway (Political Science; NYU)
  • Jan Federowicz (History; Carleton University)
  • John T. Fishel (National Security Policy; University of Oklahoma)
  • Michael A. Innes (Political Science; University College London)
  • Martin Senn (Political Science; University of Innsbruck)
  • Marc Tyrrell (Anthropology; Carleton University)

Quite a few of our guest participants are active on the web, as well. Many participate in theSmall Wars Council, and write online about highly topical security issues. Blogs represented:

Guest Post: NATO and New Media: new landscapes and new challenges

Guest Post By Tom Brouns

The media landscape is quietly undergoing a revolution. NATO’s ability to remain relevant in this new media landscape as it evolves will significantly contribute to its success or failure in Afghanistan. Many observers characterize the internet as “underexploited terrain in the war of ideas” being waged – and according to some observers, being lost – over Afghanistan. Focusing only on the technology, however, overlooks a more fundamental change in the media landscape: the power to produce and disseminate information has irreversibly shifted from large organizations and corporations to the public. Technology has empowered the consumer as an increasingly equal partner in the production of information. The vital role of public perception in Afghanistan makes recognizing and adapting to this change critical to success in what is arguably the biggest test of NATO’s relevance in the 21st century.

Continue reading “Guest Post: NATO and New Media: new landscapes and new challenges

Leadership Changes at the Combatant Commands and more thoughts on Realigning the State Department

Jason Sigger has the new roster of the Defense Department’s Combatant Commanders.

Jason also notes that President Obama intends to keep the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Would it be great if we had the same visibility into the leadership State Department regional bureaus? More importantly, would it be great if the regional bureaus were not headed by assistant secretaries but by Under Secretaries, a rank equivalent to a Combatant Commanders? Is a regional perspective for the State Department so much less important than the Defense Department?

A suggestion: abolish the Under Secretary for Political Affairs and elevate the regional bureau heads to Under Secretary and give each new Under Secretary the same letter acknowledging their direct connection to the President that Ambassadors receive today. At the same time, align the regional bureaus to match the geographic assignments as the Combatant Commands. The Defense Department needs a partner to balance it and the State Department must be that partner. Empowering the State Department in this way, along with enhancing the Department by making it the Department of State and Non-State, will be a huge step toward truly whole of government approaches to dealing with national security issues that encompass more than terrorism and insurgency.

See also:

CSC Seeks Postdoctoral Fellows for Grant Project

My friends at the Consortium for Strategic Communication are searching for three postdoctoral fellows to support an Office of Naval Research grant studying extremist narratives in contested populations. The positions are funded for two years, and the primary qualification is language & culture expertise in SE Asia, Southern Europe/Northern Africa, or the Middle East. Desirable qualifications and other details of the position are listed in the job advertisement at
The deadline is short, with applications due April 7 and a planned start on May 15.

For further information and application instructions, read

Offline through next week

Guest bloggers welcomed here

In the interest of enriching the discussion space for public diplomacy, strategic communication, and global engagement in general, I will open up to some guest posting.

The criteria is simple: the post must have a logical purpose and be well-written (with fewer grammatical and syntax errors than my first – and second – drafts). The post does not have to agree with me or be directly on an aspect of public diplomacy, strategic communication, or global engagement that normally appears on this blog. The focus must be on public diplomacy, strategic communication, or global engagement, however. Contributions should be <1200 words, ideally <800.

Send submissions or questions to I do reserve the right to refuse to post.

Facebook launched in Arabic and Hebrew

From the (Where’s the American media on this?):

Facebook, the world’s most successful social networking site, has officially launched in Arabic, tapping into a potentially huge market in the Middle East and beyond, the company has announced. …

In Saudi Arabia the site has more than 250,000 users and in Lebanon more than 300,000.

Arabic, spoken by 250 million people – and Hebrew, spoken by 7 million – will now be available from a drop-down menu at the bottom of the homepage. …

Fifty million of the world’s 250 million Arabic speakers already use the internet, but Arabic only makes up 5% of global web content.

See Facebook’s official announcement here.

Interested in social media for global engagement? Then you should be interested in this development.

Event: 8th Annual Information Operations Europe

An upcoming event of interest: 8th Annual Information Operations Europe: Delivering Effects Through Influence Activity
June 22 – 24, 2009 · Le Meridien Piccadilly, London, UK

Discussions of note:

Cartography Of Strategic Communications

  • The 21st century Info-sphere
  • Strategic Communications, Information Operations, Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
  • Legacy definitions and the search for an improved solution
  • Conclusions and recommendations

Professor Phil Taylor
Director, Institute of Communications Studies
Leeds University

A New Concept For Strategic Communications

  • Coordinating disparate assets and organisations in NATO
  • Suggestions for other bodies

Mark Laity
Chief Strategic Communications and Special Advisor to SACEUR
Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, NATO

Using New Media As Part Of An Influence Strategy: Operation Trident

  • Operation background, aims and target audience
  • Coordinating messages across different media
  • Employing new media to reach an audience: Lessons Learned

Detective Chief Superintendent Helen Ball
Head of Trident
London Metropolitan Police

The event website is here.

Event update: InfoWarCon 2009

Check out the updated agenda for InfoWarCon 2009, April 22-24 just south of Washington, DC.

The whole conference looks interesting, but some highlights:

Recommended reading: Smith-Mundt: Censorship American Style?

Read Greg Garland’s editorial at, Smith-Mundt: Censorship American Style?

A provision of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 prohibits the Voice of America and all other organs of public diplomacy from disseminating within the United States material intended for foreign publics.  What motivated Congress was distrust of the loyalty of the State Department; by banning domestic dissemination, Congress could block State from “propagandizing” the American people. … Despite this glaring flaw, Smith-Mundt as a whole is the vital legal foundation for all U.S. public diplomacy.  Questioning the law inevitably means questioning the nature of American public diplomacy. Understanding this, blogger Matt Armstrong ( organized a conference on January 13 to debate the merits of Smith-Mundt. []… As I sat through the conference, I kept thinking back to my boyhood clandestine listening.  Why on earth would Uncle Sam want to keep something from his own citizens but share it with the rest of the world? … don’t repeal Smith-Mundt.  It creates a statutory firewall between resources intended for foreign audiences and those used domestically. … tweak Smith-Mundt by getting rid of the one provision banning domestic dissemination. In this age of communication without borders, the existence of such statutory language only subverts America’s most powerful tool of soft power: our ideals.

Read the whole editorial here.

Pew: The New Washington Press Corps

From Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism: The New Washington Press Corps: As Mainstream Media Decline, Niche and Foreign Outlets Grow (11 February 2009):

Read the headlines and it would be easy to conclude that as the new Obama Administration takes power, facing an array of domestic and international crises, it will be monitored by a substantially depleted Washington press corps.

It isn’t exactly so. 

The corps of journalists covering Washington D.C. at the dawn of the Obama Administration is not so much smaller as it is dramatically transformed. And that transformation will markedly alter what Americans know and not know about the new government, as well as who will know it and who will not.

A careful accounting of the numbers, plus detailed interviews with journalists, lawmakers, press association executives and government officials, reveals that what we once thought of as the mainstream news media serving a general public has indeed shrunk—perhaps far more than many would imagine. A roll call of the numbers may shock.

But as the mainstream media have shrunk, a new sector of niche media has grown in its place, offering more specialized and detailed information than the general media to smaller, elite audiences, often built around narrowly targeted financial, lobbying and political interests. …

… it is clear that editors now believe national reporting is less important to their charge than they once did. A survey conducted by Project for Excellence in Journalism earlier this year found a definite ambivalence to national news among newsroom executives far from the nation’s capital. Less than one in five (18%) of the 259 editors responding to the survey considered national news “very essential” to their news product. By comparison, 97% viewed local news as “very essential.” …

Elites who are plugged into the new fragmented niche media of Washington will know how that government is growing and what it means, and they will be learning it through new media channels. Their fellow citizens who rely on local or network television or their daily newspapers, however, will be harder pressed to learn what their elected representatives are doing.


Read the whole article here, it’s definitely worth reading.


For your information: The Public Diplomacy Collaborative

A “new” kid on the block: The Public Diplomacy Collaborative at Harvard.

Effective communication is the most promising avenue we have for cultivating respectful international discourse and for revitalizing trust in the democratic tradition.

The Public Diplomacy (PD) Collaborative is a forum for enhancing purposeful international communication. Our goal is to connect key nodes of public diplomacy practice and put public opinion and public diplomacy research into the hands of practitioners, regardless of location or sector.

The PD Collaborative emphasizes discussion, training, scholarship, and publication in the field of public diplomacy as well as the exchange of regional information across sectors, disciplines, and national boundaries. We seek to support, improve, and expand public diplomacy efforts in a manner that most successfully promotes democratic governance.

Learn more about the Public Diplomacy Collaborative at their website.