Is this public diplomacy? Close but not quite

Read: Obama scores again, but the game is just starting by Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy

The Good: President Obama is changing the narrative and directly engaging Muslim communities. The President said America’s relationship with the Muslim world is greater than and will extend beyond defeating Al Qaeda.

The Bad: Marc says there is “disarray in the public diplomacy bureaucracy” and continues to say “Obama has already succeeded at the initial public diplomacy phase of his effort to transform America’s relations with the Muslim world.” The President’s remarkable speech is at best a small sliver of "public diplomacy" not to be confused with the full spectrum of options of engagement through communication, exchange, development, capacity building, health programs, and even countering adversarial messages.

The key question: Is the U.S. government prepared to capitalize on Obama’s ability to win hearts and minds overseas? The unfortunate answer: not exactly.

On its own, the President did not do public diplomacy. His “pitch-perfect” words was “personal diplomacy with publics” in dire need of support and follow through by the whole of government and society. One-off engagements does not public diplomacy make.

As I wrote last week, the combined personal diplomacy of the President and the Secretary of State will only go so far in a global information environment where ideas and news are subjected to accidental misinformation as well as intentional lies and distortions by our adversaries. If it were as simple as having a President or a Secretary of State who is effective at public engagement in the global struggle for minds and wills, then there would never have been a need for cultural and educational exchange programs, government broadcast facilities, or the United States Information Agency.

The Obama Administration may not believe in trickledown economics but they clearly believe in trickledown public diplomacy. Grand personal diplomacy gestures by senior leadership, include President Obama, Secretary Clinton, or Secretary Gates, are not enough. Hoping that policies and programs will be organically created, implemented, communicated, and promoted is inadequate and a waste of valuable resources. It’s also potentially dangerous as America’s opportunity to re-address its image is slipping away.

Structural changes necessary – consider Secretary Gates’ efforts to revamp Defense. Also required is the basic fundamentals of leadership to promulgate requirements and initiatives across the Government enterprise.

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