Public Diplomacy: Strengthening US Engagement with the World

image On March 10, 2010, the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs is expected to unveil her strategic approach for the State Department’s public diplomacy efforts at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing titled “The Future of Public Diplomacy.” Judith McHale will be preceded by three of her predecessors: Evelyn Lieberman, Karen Hughes, and Jim Glassman. (Note: the noon ET event will now be in Dirksen 430.)

Titled “Public Diplomacy: Strengthening US Engagement with the World” (PDF, 2.2mb), it is described as a “strategic framework” that “will serve as the foundation for public diplomacy’s FY 2012 budget request. It is

intended to be a roadmap for Public Diplomacy, ensuring its alignment with foreign policy objectives, and bringing a strategic focus to how Public Diplomacy programs, resources and structures support those objectives.

The framework lists five “strategic imperatives.”

1. “Shape the narrative (develop proactive outreach strategies to inform, inspire, and persuade);”

2. “Expand and strengthen people-to-people relationships (build mutual trust and respect through expanded Public Diplomacy programs and platforms);”

3. “Combat violent extremism (counter violent extremist voices, discredit and delegitimize al Qaeda, and empower credible local voices);”

4. “Better inform policy-making (ensure foreign policy is informed upfront by an understanding of attitudes and opinions of foreign publics);”

5. “Deploy resources in line with current priorities (strengthen structures and processes to ensure coordinated and effective Public Diplomacy).”

image There are two significant structural changes embedded in the framework:

Designate a Deputy Assistant Secretary to oversee international media support within the Bureau of Public Affairs (PA)… [to] support posts in media outreach and coordinate PA’s functions focused on foreign audiences, including foreign press centers, regional media hubs, rapid response units.


Appoint a Deputy Assistant Secretary dedicated to Public Diplomacy in each regional bureau [to elevate] Public Diplomacy presence within regional bureaus [to] provide greater integration of Public Diplomacy activity and policy formulation and stronger links between R and regional bureaus.

Read the framework: “Public Diplomacy: Strengthening US Engagement with the World” (PDF, 2.2mb).

Additional details and timeline will hopefully be forthcoming from Wednesday’s testimony and a conference call with Judith on Thursday. More to come.

See also:

12 thoughts on “Public Diplomacy: Strengthening US Engagement with the World

  1. Two other structural changes to note from the Under Secretary’s Strategic Framework:1. The creation of regional liaisons in IIP and ECA bureaus to better connect the field with DC-based program offices.
    2. The creation of a market research and analysis unit reporting directly to IIP Coordinator to provide the “market intelligence” necessary to appropriately match communications and engagement approaches to target audiences.

  2. This is not exactly the change that public diplomacy needs. Fussing around the edges instead of a major structural change will not make enough of a difference. The public diplomacy DAS in the six regional bureaus idea was tried before and it proved to be ineffective in either bridging the gap to policy or in bringing some unity of command to public diplomacy abroad. Putting a DAS for international public affairs in perhaps the most dysfunctional bureau in the State Department (PA) will not cure the dysfunction or dramatically improve the “message” to overseas audiences. There is really nothing here that inspires confidence that America’s public diplomacy will improve. Too bad. Now it is up to the legislative branch to fix PD. There are plenty of good ideas out there proposed by PD professionals if only Congress would consider them.

  3. Bill is right for the most part. The “PD DAS” tactic turned out to be just another swollen title with little meaning except perhaps for promotion panels and flow charts. It also turned out to be a plum — literally in the case of Schedule C appointees.There were two overall problems, other than the obvious one of reporting to a regional A/S, not R. First, several bureaus simply took advantage of the new slot to expand “policy” portfolios to reduce workloads of other DASes. In the day-to-day reality of State’s geographical bureaus, what goes by the name of “policy” always gets priority. PD gets short shrift, in favor of the headline country of the moment or an officer’s personal ambition, or both. Or, as is often the case in bureaucracy, an official gravitates to his/her comfort zone: “policy,” health, economics, security, usually anything but PD.
    The second problem was quality of personnel and leadership skills. If PD is the portfolio, get someone who has demonstrated leadership skills in PD (and –often left out of the debate — PA), and someone who gets what it is supposed to be. Persuasion ought to be at the top of leadership skills, and that means persuading bosses as well. Ask the head of CENTCOM about that. Instead, PD got inexperienced or indifferent careerists, or political appointees, who even in the best of cases, needed ample time to learn.

  4. It seems to me that the idea of PD DAS positions in the regional bureaus has been suggested numerous times – if it has actually been implemented, I missed it and Bill and CG are right that the positions have just been absorbed by the regional bureaus. Within the PD Bureaus, the leadership positions (U/S, A/S, DAS) have been disproportionately occupied by people without PD backgrounds (defining PD narrowly as a governmental activity). Ambitious senior PD officers seek leadership positions outside of PD.Regarding liaisons: IIP already has geographic offices. ECA relies on the cultural coordinators from the regional PD offices to play that role. If it’s just a question of connecting the field with the right program office, moving that function won’t make much difference. The broader question is whether policy leadership and direction is/should be aligned with the rest of the Department. The practical way to accomplish that would be to eliminate the ECA earmark (or fold it into the broader PD earmark.)

  5. I find it astounding that nowhere in the strategic imperatives is there mention of increasing and improving US capacity and ability to listen, understand and empathize with foreign publics.If I were an Ambassador in the CENTCOM region, my standing instruction to all Embassy staff (not just PD) would be to get ‘outside the wire’ as frequently and as imaginatively as possible. I would want my people to be able to tell me what the best fuul and falafel restaurants were in town, how high the piles of garbage are in city slums, what the best political jokes are doing the rounds in the coffee shops, where a local family living on less than $5 a day would spend their Friday afternoon off … How many current serving FSOs could tell you this about Cairo, Amman, Sana’a etc..?
    I am amazed that it took Maj Gen Flynn’s report to point out these type of shortcomings in Afghanistan after eight years of ‘engagement’ there. As Rudyard Kipling, one of the greatest of the West’s ‘cultural empathizers’ expressed: “The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it”.
    The timidness and egregariousness of broad swathes of the foreign service community that precipitates an inability to properly know, understand and crucially empathize with ‘target populations’ makes all consequent attempts at “shaping narratives and expanding relationships” flawed from the outset.
    ‘Engagement’, at the very core of its essence, is a two-way exchange. What flows inwards – what we listen to, receive and learn in this process is at least as important as what we put out… Somewhere in the PD list of strategic imperatives this ought to be acknowledged.

  6. Walsh, it should go without saying that I agree with you. I believe that public diplomats should stop referring to “foreigners” and instead refer to “people outside of the territorial US”. While the latter is more wordy, it’s more appropriate. There are plenty of “foreigners” within the US that are off limits. We need to stop imagining the United States is Las Vegas: what happens in the US does not stay in the US. The effect of this thinking, that derives from legislation from 1972 not 1948 is that we surrender our own territory to the whims of anybody else, whether it is unchallenged Russian Anti-Americanism or online radicalization, as I highlighted in my presentation to the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy this week.

  7. It is remarkable that the framework fails to mention the evolving threat the United States (U.S.) faces on its own soil. “The world we face: Competing influences” should take account of the rising potential for external state and non-state to seek influence within the United States, particularly using new media as a platform. In the 21st century, public diplomacy must not be constrained by artificial geographic boundaries. The U.S. needs to engage foreigners within the United States as well as abroad. The tactics used are up for debate but this is an extremely serious matter that should be better addressed within the framework. Furthermore, the Department of State should better address the increased importance of interagency collaboration due to the evolving role other departments and agencies (ex. DoD and possibly DHS) will need to play in public diplomacy. If it does not, it will be difficult for the U.S. to meet its strategic public diplomacy objectives.

  8. Unfortunately R’s plans thus far merely add more DAS layers to an already cumbersome Washington structure in the regional bureaus and PA. Have we forgotten that it is the entrepreneurial field posts that produce results? R and her predecessors lacked authority/rating over most PD personnel, most PD budget and all of the country-specific field programs. Progress means better support of field-driven activities and reorganize the Washington structure to carry the water for the all important field programs where the rubber meets the road. Today there is only an informal relationship from top to field and vice-versa. Former Chairman Henry Hyde asked “How can you run a railroad this way?” Answer – Poorly.

  9. It is interesting how this issue has not become a hot topic for DHS. I actually briefly addressed the considerable practical and legal challenge the US Government faces in trying to mitigate the domestic threat using State of DoD assets when I spoke at the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference a few weeks ago.See:
    It would be interesting if the topic of inter-agency collaboration was broadened to include DHS and other domestic agencies. It is possible that a “fusion center” approach could be the ideal solution. Of course, this would only work if domestic actors were empowered with a mandate to mitigate external state and non-state actors seeking to influence individuals within our borders.

  10. The New PD Strategy:This is not a strategy; rather it is a laundry list of “to do’s” peppered with the word “more” in places where they deign to acknowledge that such programs have long existed. It would be good to know, however, if the “more” indicates more funding. In fact, much of the rest of the suggestions are, in fact, standard PD activities, something that the “close circle” may not be aware of if they come out of the community of PD officers. More serious weaknesses are:
    • What is not resolved is what the ultimate focus is for Obama PD…continued focus of most resources on the GWOT [with whatever name the may call it] that is coordinated closely with the strategic communications programs of other agencies, especially the military or focus on all the Administrations foreign affairs goals. The vagueness of McHales discussion of the White House tells me that the organizational relationship between DOS and the NSC/DoD/NTCT remains unresolved, especially with regard to leadership and direction.
    • The continued reference to “shaping the narrative” indicates a lack of appreciation for the fact that communities and even individuals shape their own narratives primarily from beliefs, values, and most importantly, from their own interests. The US and other entities, including even AQ may try to influence this narrative, but it is the audience’s own perception of the credibility and common interests that will likely decide the issue.
    • The org chart was very disturbing. It indicates a huge increase in the bureaucracy of the “R” front office. This implies that the ongoing trend towards greater and greater centralization of program development and away from the experts in the field, i.e., the embassies, despite the obvious failure of such cookie-cutter initiatives/bright ideas from headquarters with little or no input from those that know the most about the audience.
    It would also be useful for the PD leadership to take note of the fact that it is the military that understands that opinions and beliefs are based more on emotions than “ideas” or “information.” Hence, for instance Gen. McCrystal’s apologies about collateral damage, understanding that appreciating the feelings of a people is more important than scoring points on “the facts.” Note also Adm Mullen on the say-do gap, etc.

  11. I love America. But I have to laugh at the clumsy way the US consulate in Amsterdam has built its own firewall around itself, requiring that people pay 15 euro for EACH call to try and arrange an interview to get a meeting in the consulate. Don’t believe me? a strange image this builds of America in a country which has diplomatic relations for hundreds of years.

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