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…

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One Reply to “Whither Public Diplomacy? Sixty-six days (and counting) without an Under Secretary (Updated)”

  1. The problem is not whether or not Obama or anyone else is willing to make public diplomacy a priority. The problem is the broken system of presidential appointees combined with the tendency of the media and the public to focus on minor issues, such as whether a 20 year old $1000 tax bill was paid on time or not. MOST of the sub-cabinet jobs are vacant now. Even with the current financial crisis we still don’t have a Treasury Undersecretary for International Affairs. Then once an appointment is made some Senator will put a “hold” on the appointment for a completely unrelated political purpose. Given that the presumed nominee was a businesswoman and has quite a bit of personal wealth, I am sure she is being delayed because of esoteric issues about her taxes/finances that the administration has little control over. Remember, there are also legalities involved. Then again, maybe she had an illegal alien for a nanny or has been known to smoke pot.

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