Mid-Week Quote: “information consequences of policy ought always be taken into account”

Today’s quote comes from the Fourth Semiannual Report of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Information, submitted to the Congress in April 1951.

Sometimes policy is “made” by the junior officer who writes an original memorandum. Sometimes it is made by an unexpected utterance at a top-level press conference. But the information consequences of policy ought always be taken into account, and the information man ought always to be consulted.

The Mid-Week Quote will be a recurring feature of the blog, although it may not appear every week.  Email me to suggest a quote.  See below for more on the report this quote is taken from.

The 22-page report (available at the website of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy) assessed that the State Department’s information program is being effectively administered, that the personnel has greatly improved, and that most of the Commission’s previous recommendations had been put into effect.  The Commission expressed concern whether taking the program outside of the State Department to the about to be established United States Information Agency would be an improvement or a detriment to operation.

The Commission recommended that the program should be expanded, better evaluated, and remain closely tied to the policy-making and public affairs areas of the State Department.

It is worth taking a look at the number and purpose of committees the Commission recommended the State Department establish.

The Commission has been most desirous to carry out the purposes of Public Law 402 by opening up wider channels of contact with appropriate professional and private sources. To that end, under the authority of the Act, it has recommended and the State Department has set up seven advisory committees.

Radio Advisory Committee:

  • Judge Justin Miller, Chairman (& member of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Information)
  • William S. Paley, Chairman of the Board, Columbia Broadcasting System
  • Theodore C. Streibert, Chairman of the Board, Mutual Broadcasting Company
  • Charles Denny, Executive Vice-President, National Broadcasting Company
  • Wesley I. Dumm, President, Associated Broadcasting, Inc.
  • Donley F. Feddersen, President, University Association for Professional Radio Education, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
  • Jack W. Harris, General, Station KPRC, Houston, TX
  • Henry P. Johnston, General Manager, Station WSGN, Birmingham, AL
  • Edward Noble, Chairman of the Board, American Broadcasting Company
  • John F. Patt, President, Station WGAR, Cleveland, OH
  • Mefford R. Runyon, Executive Vice-President, American Cancer Society
  • G. Richard Shafto, General Manager, Station WIS, Columbia, SC
  • Hugh B. Terry, Vice President and General Manager, Station KLZ, Denver, CO

General Business Advisory Committee

  • Philip D. Reed, Chairman (& member of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Information)
  • James A. Farley, Chairman of the Board, Coca Cola Export Corporation
  • Ralph T. Reed, President, American Express Company
  • W. Randolph Burgess, Chairman of the Executive Committee, National City Bank of New York City
  • Sigurd S. Larmon, President, Young & Rubicam, Inc.
  • William M. Robbins, Vice President for Overseas Operations, General Food Corporation
  • David A. Shepard, Executive Assistant, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey
  • J.P. Spang, Jr., President, Gillette Safety Razor Company
  • Claude Robinson, President, Opinion Research Corporation
  • Warren Lee Pierson, Chairman of the Board, Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc.
  • Meyer Kestnbaum, President, Hart, Shaffner & Marx

Ideological Committee

  • George Gallup, Institute of Public Opinion
  • George S. Counts, Teachers College, Columbia University
  • Allen W. Dulles, Director and President, Council on Foreign Relations
  • Elmer Davis, News Analyst, American Broadcasting Company
  • Alexander Inkeles, Harvard University

The following were Members of the Advisory Commission on Information at the time of the report:

  • Erwin D. Canham, Chairman
  • Philip D. Reed
  • Mark A. May
  • Justin Miller
  • and Ben Hibbs was nominated but not yet confirmed

Civilian Response Corps: Smart Power in Action

imageThe Civilian Response Corps has a website: http://www.civilianresponsecorps.gov/. From the about page:

The Civilian Response Corps is a group of civilian federal employees who are specially trained and equipped to deploy rapidly to provide reconstruction and stabilization assistance to countries in crisis or emerging from conflict. The Corps leverages the diverse talents, expertise, and technical skills of members from nine federal departments and agencies for conflict prevention and stabilization.

We are diplomats, development specialists, public health officials, law enforcement and corrections officers, engineers, economists, lawyers and others who help fragile states restore stability and rule of law and achieve economic recovery as quickly as possible.

Visit the site and check it out. See the below links for previous discussions on CRC and the State Department Coordinator for Reconstruction & Stabilization (S/CRS):

U.S. “Hedge Fund” Diplomacy in Egypt

By Michael Clauser

Like many Americans, I am conflicted about recent events in Egypt and even more so about what the U.S. government should do.

On one hand, the United States has an immediate interest in the stability of Egypt and its government–and not just to keep the peace in the Middle East or secure the two million barrels of oil that pass through the Suez Canal every day.  But also because ditching a longtime U.S. ally like Hosni Mubarak at his moment of need does not send a reassuring message to other embattled pro-American leaders in unstable countries.  Especially when you consider what type of leader may be waiting in the wings in Egypt or elsewhere in the world.

Continue reading “U.S. “Hedge Fund” Diplomacy in Egypt

Revamping Public Diplomacy at the State Department (updated)

imageSince the abolishment of the United States Information Agency, the State Department has struggled to balance the need of the embassies with what Washington perceived was needed. This challenge has been particularly acute on the Internet where the resulting mix of information and voices can undermine the very purpose and effectiveness of engagement.
On January 28, I spoke with Dawn McCall, Coordinator for the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), to discuss the recently announced reorganization of the Bureau. IIP is responsible for developing and disseminating printed material, online information and engagement efforts, and speaker’s programs (a kind of offline engagement using subject matter experts). It is half of the operational capability of the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs to engage people outside of the United States.

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) completes the other half of the Under Secretary’s toolbox. While most observers like to imagine (or don’t know better) that U.S. public diplomacy is a monolith, the reality is that these two offices are the Under Secretary’s only direct reports. Other cogs in the public diplomacy machine exist within – and report to – the geographic bureaus (such as Western Hemisphere Affairs, European and Eurasian Affairs, and Near Eastern Affairs) and posts in the field.

Continue reading “Revamping Public Diplomacy at the State Department (updated)

Pop Quiz: identify the author or the name of the report and win an Amazon Gift Card

The problem with history, I’m told Mark Twain said, is that it repeats. Be the first to identify the source of the following statement and I’ll email you a $10 gift card Amazon.com. Answers must be submitted in the comments of this post. You may answer anonymously, but if you want the gift card, I’ll need your email. Email addresses entered into the appropriate comment field are not public. This contest closes Wednesday, 19 January, at 8a PT. I have sole discretion in judging the contest. This contest is closed.

Here’s the quote:

The adequacy with which the United States as a society is portrayed to the other peoples of the world is a matter of concern to the American people and their Government. Specifically it concerns the Department of State. Modern international relations lie between peoples, not merely governments. Statements on foreign policy are intelligible abroad in the spirit in which they are intended only when other peoples understand the context of national tradition and character which is essential to the meaning of any statement. This is especially true of a collaborative foreign policy which by nature must be open and popular, understood and accepted at home and abroad.

The full answer and the context will be posted when either a winning entry has been submitted or the contest closed. Good luck. I believe this will be more challenging than the first contest, which was won in less than 40 minutes. Good luck.

Revisiting the Civilian Response Corps

The Small Wars Journal recently published a paper from Mike Clauser, a friend who was until recently on the staff of Rep. Mac Thornberry, Republican from Texas (no, his departure was unrelated to the paper). The paper, entitled “Not Just a Job, an Adventure: Drafting the U.S. Civil Service for Counterinsurgencies,” is an interesting recommendation to fill the empty billets of the Civilian Response Corps.

In 2007 and 2008, I wrote several posts on the Reserve Corps concept and on the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS), including one for Small Wars Journal entitled “In-sourcing Stabilization and Reconstruction” (and posted on MountainRunner here). I also met with now-retired Amb. John Herbst, who headed S/CRS, several times to discuss S/CRS, the Reserve Corps ideas and other topics. So this is an issue I’ve delved into, at least at the conceptual level.

Continue reading “Revisiting the Civilian Response Corps

Find the Right Balance Between Civilian and Military: Don’t Just Strip the Department of Defense of Capabilities to Inform, Influence, and Persuade

By Christopher Paul, Ph.D.

As Matt has repeatedly noted in this space and elsewhere, “American public diplomacy wears combat boots.”1 That is, the Department of Defense (DoD) employs the majority of the resources (funding, manpower, tools, and programs) used for U.S. government efforts to inform, influence, and persuade foreign audiences and publics. Most of us agree that this is not the ideal state of affairs. The Department of State (DOS) or other civilian agency should have the preponderance of the United States’ capabilities in this area. Both the White House and DoD concur.2

Congress would also like to see DOS doing more in this area–and DoD doing less. To date, most of the congressional attention has focused on DoD. Section 1055 of the 2009 Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act called for reports to Congress from both the White House and DoD on “strategic communication and public diplomacy activities of the Federal Government.” DoD information operations (IO) were attacked by the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which slashed the proposed FY 2010 appropriation for IO by $500 million. (See the mountainrunner discussion “Preparing to Lose the Information War?“)

Continue reading “Find the Right Balance Between Civilian and Military: Don’t Just Strip the Department of Defense of Capabilities to Inform, Influence, and Persuade

A notional model for evaluating public diplomacy

The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy met last week to discuss its biennial report to appraise U.S. Government activities intended to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics. In 2008, the Commission come out with a report on the human resource aspect of public diplomacy. This time, the Commission outsourced its commitment to the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin. The project’s purpose was to review current public diplomacy measurement methods, assess gaps in the various measurement methods, and develop a comprehensive measurement framework. The result was the Public Diplomacy Model for the Assessment of Performance (PD-MAP).

Links to the report and presentation are at the end of this article.

The effort by the LBJ School took the form of a two-semester policy research project involving 15 graduate students and one professor. The team reviewed current programs, surveyed public diplomacy professionals and academics, convened a focus group, and interviewed several expert speakers.

The result was a report and a “notional model for measuring public diplomacy efforts.” The LBJ School describes PD-MAP as a “flexible framework that allows an evaluator to quantify the results of public diplomacy programs and evaluate their success in meeting” what the team identified as the “three strategic goals or outcomes of all public diplomacy programs”:

  1. Increasing understanding of US policy and culture
  2. Increasing favorable opinion towards the US
  3. Increasing the US’s influence in the world

Three themes were clear in both the presentation of the report and the report itself: the effort by the LBJ School was constrained by time, funding, and access. On the latter, they said “limited access to the Department of State personnel within Washington, D.C. and in the field” made it “difficult to survey professionals, collect data, receive feedback, or even study the current measurement tools that were out there.” There was, however, “support and guidance” from the Office of the Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, including the Evaluation and Measurement Unit (EMU) and the ECA Office of Policy and Evaluation. On the time and funding, Work began in August 2009, at the start of the 2009-2010 academic year, but funding did not arrive until March 2010. Presumably, much of the work was completed by May 2010, the end of their academic year. It was not clear whether the time constraint was complicated by other course work carried by the graduate students.

The report and the model reflect the sincerity and hard work of the students. Theirs was not an easy task. However, the value and utility of their year-long effort is unclear. The PD-MAP arrived at conclusions that are painfully obvious to anyone who scratches the surface of public diplomacy, let alone in the area of measuring effectiveness:

  • No coordination between PD/PA departments
  • Duplication of evaluation efforts
  • No uniform scale or basis for analyzing or comparing different programs
  • No single department coordinates or is held responsible for measurement standards
  • Insufficient relationship between program planning and evaluation

(As any reader of this blog will know, I have my reasons why PD and PA should be coordinated. I offer a not-so-subtle reminder they lack the coordination whenever I write the title or office of Judith McHale, or any of her predecessors: “and Public Affairs” is always italicized. The LBJ team never gives a reason for their recommendation, however.)

The team’s research appeared to be shallow. For example, it is unclear whether the team considered any role for the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) that reports directly to the Secretary of State, or the audience research work of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Further, it appears that, in the absence of any discussion about the geographic bureaus or any other aspect of the diffusion of public diplomacy responsibilities across the department, the team’s aperture was unnecessarily narrow and reflected their limited experience and exposure to the issues they were investigating, limits on interviewing experts, and constraints on time. While the school may have been selected on a proven track record of public policy analysis, their lack of awareness of public diplomacy policy, practices and history came through in their methodology, survey and report.

The team used four methods to collect information to build develop the framework for the model. These were: review of current public diplomacy programs; survey of public diplomacy professionals and academia; a focus group; and, expert speakers. On the surface this appears adequate, but a closer inspection shows at least the last three methods fell far short of what should have been expected.

The team built a sample of 11 Diplomats-in-Residence at various institutions, 32 Foreign Service Officers, 4 current USAID professionals, 14 former ambassadors, and 26 academics. Barely half (55%) of the State Department members responded. The response rate for academia – select professors who are members of the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs – “was considerably lower due to logistical difficulties.”

Only 14 complete responses to the survey were collected, and 1 of 13 partial responses was included (the other 12 were “deleted”).

While the team lamented the shortage of “funds,” “time” and “access” to conduct an adequate investigation, I have to believe that they could have done a better job reaching out to public diplomacy professionals, past and present, and academics than they did. Despite the team’s concern over “bias,” I would guess that American University’s recent on cultural diplomacy collected more than 15 useable responses. I’d be surprised if the survey sent out by Carolijn van Noort, a trainee at the Consulate General of the Netherlands in San Francisco, on assessing professional views about the importance of social networking in public diplomacy collected only 15 useable responses as well. I’d also guess USC’s Center on Public Diplomacy could have been of help as well.

Another “method” of collecting information was a “focus group.” This should really have been labeled a strategy meeting as two of the three participants in the focus group were the executive director and the deputy director of the client, the Advisory Commission. The third interviewee was the Diplomat-in-Residence at the LBJ School.

Still, the graduate students should still be commended. They had embarked on a daunting task: creating the Philosopher’s Stone for public diplomacy. A major challenge is attempting to quantify the unquantifiable.

The issue of complex environments, that programs do not happen in a vacuum, received a cursory examination in the report. In presenting the report, the team punted a question on this from public diplomacy office, suggesting moving outside of the tool and “capture the context in which your efforts are taking place…in a report, up the chain.”

The report did uncover some interesting “key themes” during their research, interviews, and survey. If these results are not the result of a defective sample or defective data collection, they should raise some flags. For example:

  • 62% percent of the respondents mentioned disseminating information on US foreign
  • policy and goals as one of the purposes of public diplomacy.
  • 24% percent of respondents mentioned increasing understanding regarding US
  • foreign policy and goals as one of the purposes of public diplomacy.
  • 43% percent of the respondents identified influencing foreign audiences to comply
  • with US foreign policy and goals as one of the purposes of public diplomacy. [emphasis mine]

Also, a question on the survey asked “Drawing on your experience in the public diplomacy field; list some short term (less than one year) goals of public diplomacy efforts.” Three of the approximately forty answers to the open-ended question were “Recruit more PD officers with 4/4 or higher language skills,” “Re-create USIA; separate the formal PD function from State,” and “Sell a particular weapons system.” These aren’t goals of public diplomacy.

The LBJ School naturally recommends their PD-MAP be rolled into production with the EMU.

Unfortunately, the good-intentions of the LBJ School will probably amount to very little. It is unclear how useful their “notional model” is and their analysis of the problem will, at best, be a supplement to the recent GAO report Engaging Foreign Audiences: Assessment of Public Diplomacy Platforms Could Help Improve State Department Plans to Expand Engagement, written for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. (Though the GAO report was released just prior to the July meeting of the Advisory Commission to discuss evaluation tools, it does not appear in the LBJ School report, perhaps because the semester ended two months prior.)

The time spent developing the tool surely benef ited the students but I will be surprised if it provides anything more than a marginal benefit to EMU. The analysis could have been done as an interim report by any one of the other universities already invested in public diplomacy, such as USC, George Washington, Georgetown, American University, Syracuse, Harvard, and Arizona State.

It is time the Advisory Commission begins to really tackle the challenges of public diplomacy and global engagement, not just in the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, but across the State Department, into USAID, the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the rest of government, as well as into the public-private divide. Satisfying the minimum requirement of a report every two years is simply inadequate, let alone a report of such marginal value as this one on measurements. The Advisory Commission, a entity established by the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and whose members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, must begin fulfilling its mandate of issuing serious and substantive appraisals of U.S. Government activities intended to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics. There is no question of the need for such an oversight body to inform Congress, the White House and the public (a constituent of the Commission since its inception).

This was a missed opportunity for the Advisory Commission, and public diplomacy in general. It was, however, a great opportunity for the graduate students.

Download links:


Department of State Completes Selection of Deputy Assistant Secretaries for Public Diplomacy

U.S. Department of State - Great SealCongratulations to the Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs: they have their Deputy Assistant Secretaries in place to support the State Department strategic framework for public diplomacy. From the State Department:

The State Department announced today that it had completed a key component of its strategic framework for public diplomacy, with the selection of Deputy Assistant Secretaries for public diplomacy in the Department’s six geographic bureaus and a Deputy Assistant Secretary for international media engagement in the Bureau of Public Affairs.

“The Department of State’s strategic framework for public diplomacy was designed to strengthen our ability to match strategies and programs to our country’s top foreign policy priorities,” stated Judith A. McHale, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. “These new Deputy Assistant Secretaries will provide valuable public diplomacy leadership in this critical endeavor, and ensure the close integration of public diplomacy with policy formulation.”

The new Deputy Assistant Secretaries are:

Continue reading “Department of State Completes Selection of Deputy Assistant Secretaries for Public Diplomacy

USAID’s loss is Judith McHale’s gain

It was barely six months ago that Lynne Weil, one of public diplomacy’s best friends on the Hill as a Berman staffer on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, moved from the House to the United States Agency for International Development. This move was so noteworthy that Al Kamen wrote about it.

Lynne tells me she is making another move. Starting next week, she’ll be Senior Advisor to Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale. What will she do?

Working with her team, I’ll put my full media, congressional and policy experience into supporting U.S. public diplomacy, which you and I share as a long-standing personal passion.

Lynne made it clear that she is not abandoning USAID (and no, this post had nothing to do with her decision). This move gives her a chance to work with and promote the needs and activities of public diplomacy from the inside. Rajiv Shah’s loss is McHale’s (and Clinton’s) gain.

Image: from the 2009 Smith-Mundt Symposium where Lynne was on the Congressional panel, along (from left to right) with Reps. Paul Hodes (D-NH), Adam Smith (D-WA), and Doug Wilson, now the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.

The QDDR: does quadrennial stand for how long it will take to complete?

In July 2009, the State Department launched the inaugural Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). The aims of this ambitious and required effort that should attempt to bring the department into the 21st century include: “unified smart power”, clearly defining roles and missions of State and USAID, and “tangible organizational change leading to excellence in performance.”

An interim report was to be released in April and a the final report was due this month. The April deliverable was apparently sidetracked by conflict with NSC’s Presidential Study Directive on Global Development Policy (PSD-7).

Amazingly, no draft has leaked out and little is known about the QDDR.

Assuming there is still progress, what impact will Jack Lew’s departure have on the QDDR black box?

Yesterday, the Center for a New American Security released several policy recommendations to State on the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review:

Planning Diplomacy and Development: Force Planning Applications for the State Department and USAID by Brian Burton draws lessons from the Pentagon’s experience with force planning to help USAID and the State Department allocate their capabilities more effectively as they execute U.S. foreign policy objectives.

In Eye to the Future: Refocusing State Department Policy Planning, CNAS authors Richard Fontaine and Brian Burton argue that the ongoing QDDR process offers the Department a unique opportunity to improve its capacity to plan medium and long range foreign policy. This policy brief articulates central lessons learned in the decades since the establishment of the Policy Planning Staff and provides recommendations aimed at enhancing effectiveness.

Rebuilding Diplomacy: A Survey of Past Calls for State Department Transformation by Richard Weitz and Eugene Chow surveys past recommendations to overhaul the State Department and summarizes common suggestions for reform.

Anyone have news of the status of the QDDR?

Event: U.S. Summit for Global Citizen Diplomacy

image The U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy (USCCD), in partnership with the U.S. State Department and with the support of more than 1000 U.S. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) conducting citizen diplomacy activities, will convene a historic U.S. Summit for Global Citizen Diplomacy on November 16-19, 2010 in Washington, DC. The goal of the Summit and ten year Initiative for Global Citizen Diplomacy is to double the number of American volunteers of all ages involved in international activities at home or abroad, from an estimated 60 million today to 120 million by 2020.

A detailed agenda is available online.

Continue reading “Event: U.S. Summit for Global Citizen Diplomacy

Event: Digital Statecraft: Media, Broadcasting, and the Internet as Instruments of Public Diplomacy in the Middle East

Today, the Aspen Institute hosts a discussion on “digital statecraft” at its Washington, DC, office at DuPont Circle. Digital Statecraft: Media, Broadcasting, and the Internet as Instruments of Public Diplomacy in the Middle East will feature Walter Isaacson, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute and Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors; Eli Khoury, CEO of Quantum Communications, a leading advertising and communications firm in the Middle East; and Duncan MacInnes, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) in the Office of the Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

The topic is “the use of social and digital media as a tool to promote a vibrant civil society in the Middle East” and will include “insights and lessons learned from their extensive experience in the media sector and the region.”

The event will be webcast and archived on the Aspen Institute’s website. Lunch will also be served.

Date: today, Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Time: 12p – 1p

RSVP is requested: call 202-736-2526 or email maysam.ali@aspeninstitute.org.

See also:

Upcoming meeting of the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy

From the Federal Register:

The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy will hold a public meeting on September 28, 2010, in the conference room of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, located at 1850 K Street NW., Fifth Floor, Washington, DC 20006. The meeting will begin at 2 p.m. and conclude at 4 p.m. The Commissioners will discuss the findings of a joint research project of the Commission and the University of Texas at Austin on measurement of public diplomacy efforts. …

The public may attend this meeting as seating capacity allows. To attend this meeting and for further information, please contact Carl Chan at (202) 632-2823; E-mail: acpdpublicmeeting@state.gov. Any member of the public requesting reasonable accommodation at this meeting should contact Mr. Chan prior to September 23. Requests received after that date will be considered, but might not be possible to fulfill.

See also:

Discussions on Digital Diplomacy

imageThe July/August issue of PDiN Monitor, the electronic review of public diplomacy in the news by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School, focuses on the subject of Digital Diplomacy.

In “Beyond the Blackberry Ban: Realpolitik and the Negotiation of Digital Rights,” Shawn Powers looks at the Blackberry data network as a component of the global communications grid called for by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In doing so, Shawn asks,

…shouldn’t we be talking about the importance of maintaining the sanctity of such a network, and even thinking through how to get more secure, BlackBerry devices in the hands of civil society advocates and leaders in the Middle East? Or would such a strategy backfire, similar to the way U.S. arms sales to mujahidin during the Cold War continue to thwart American policy in Afghanistan today? …

But what would a world with ubiquitous secure, mobile communications actually look like? Would democracy and civil society flourish, or would hateful and violent groups be better able to organize and plan their terrorizing of society?

While I disagree with Shawn’s characterization of Wikileaks in his article as an organization “whose primary mission is to enhance democratic deliberations and accountability through transparency”, his points about the tension between the freedom and security of information exchange are valuable fodder for a serious discussion on the issue.

Continue reading “Discussions on Digital Diplomacy

Recalling History: Advisory Commission tells Congress to Expand VOA

On March 30, 1949, in its first semi-annual report by the US Advisory Commission on Information, the predecessor to today’s Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, recommended an “immediate and broad expansion of the world-wide information program being conducted by the State Department, including the activities of the Voice of America.”

A realistic approach requires that we provide a budget better balanced between the three-pronged program of military, economic and information policy. A budget which contemplates $15,000,000,000 for military, $5,000,000,000 for economic and only $36,000,000 for information and educational services, does not provide an effective tool for cleaning out the Augean Stables of international confusion and misunderstanding. …

It is in the information field that we meet the rival forces head on. The Soviet Union places by all odds its heaviest reliance on ‘propaganda’ spending enormous sums, and using its best and most imaginative brains. Other governments are acutely conscious of the importance of information programs and are spending more in proportion to their capacities than is the United States in telling its story abroad. …

There is a great need for additional regional offices and branch libraries to be established outside the capital cities. The dissemination of American private media abroad is primarily and essentially an informational activity and the responsibility and funds for this activity should be placed with the Department of State, and the activities should not be limited to the countries receiving aid under the European Recovery Act.

Continue reading “Recalling History: Advisory Commission tells Congress to Expand VOA

An opportunity to de-militarize public diplomacy

Last week, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) convened the third annual Magharebia.com Writers Workshop. The workshop is a professional development course for new and established writers for AFRICOM’s Maghreb-centered news and information website, www.Magharebia.com. According to AFRICOM public affairs, the event “introduced new media tools and technologies while stressing the importance of sound journalistic principles for writing, blogging, and podcasting.”

The website www.Magharebia.com was started in 2005 by U.S. European Command (EUCOM) to “reach out to a younger audience in the North Africa region with news, sports, entertainment, and current affairs about the Maghreb in English, French and Arabic.” It is similar to EUCOM’s other sponsored news and information website, www.SETimes.com, “the news and views of Southeast Europe.”

These news sites are established and maintained under the regional Combatant Commander’s theater security requirement. In other words, due to the absence of information outlets focused on the region (excluding tightly controlled local propaganda stations), the Defense Department created and maintained these sites to provide news, analysis, and commentary collected from international media and contributors paid by the Combatant Commands. Their purpose is to increase awareness of regional and global issues to mitigate security threats that may stem from a lack of information, misinformation, or disinformation by local populations.

The purpose of the sites and the training is laudable and required. The just-concluded professional development conference is a good concept in that it promotes an exchange of ideas, encourages proper journalistic practices, and explores the use of new technologies. However, this and the sites themselves should be conducted, guided, and managed by the State Department, primarily State’s public diplomacy professionals.

The problem, of course, is resources. The State Department lacks both the money, the headcount, and the skills to create and manage sites like www.Magharebia.com and www.SETimes.com. The Defense Department, specifically the Combatant Commands, has a valid requirement the State Department cannot support at this time resulting in the continued militarization of America’s engagement with global audiences.

The State Department, specifically the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, must be empowered and equipped (money and personnel) to take over these activities that support the requirements of the U.S. Government’s engagement around the world.

Establishing regional sites (and transferring existing sites) like Magharebia and SETimes is essential. These should not be brought under the umbrella of www.America.gov, which, with the passage of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2010, should be split up, with parts merged with www.State.gov and other elements into regional sites.

These sites could continue to operate near the Government or become surrogate sites similar to RFE/RL.

These sites could move into State’s geographic bureaus, but these also do not have the skills, capabilities, or authorities necessary. State’s geographic bureaus are led by an Assistant Secretary, a rank that lacks the political power required and highlights State’s organizational focus on countries rather than regions. These Assistant Secretaries may often be regarded as bureaucratic equals to their Defense Department equivalents, though perhaps not functionally. 

The best model is to expand and empower State’s public diplomacy and public affairs office as a global communicator for both the enterprise and across the government, as the situation warrants. State would be a service provider, supporting requirements and providing guidance and integration. It should have been doing this for years, but State’s long-lasting focus on diplomacy, rather than public diplomacy, plus Congressional misunderstanding of the requirements of civilian-led communication and engagement, created a vacuum, which the Defense Department (often unwillingly, tentatively, and frequently clumsily) filled.

These websites should be a topic of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy as a case study in unmet requirements and the building of capabilities, capacities, and the addition of necessary authorities to demilitarize America’s public diplomacy (or government-sponsored communication for those who disagree VOA et al. are “public diplomacy”). This should also be a subject of inquiry by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as explored by the new Coordinator for the Bureau of International Information Programs.

What do you think?

See also:

Reforming Smith-Mundt: Making American Public Diplomacy Safe for Americans

My latest op-ed on the conceptually and practically out-of-date “firewall” of the Smith-Mundt Act is up at World Politics Review: Reforming Smith-Mundt: Making American Public Diplomacy Safe for Americans. The complete article is available without a subscription.

American public diplomacy has been the subject of many reports and much discussion over the past few years. But one rarely examined element is the true impact of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which for all practical purposes labels U.S. public diplomacy and government broadcasting as propaganda. The law imposes a geographic segregation of audiences between those inside the U.S. and those outside it, based on the fear that content aimed at audiences abroad might “spill over” into the U.S. This not only shows a lack of confidence and understanding of U.S. public diplomacy and international broadcasting, it also ignores the ways in which information and people now move across porous, often non-existent borders with incredible speed and ease, to both create and empower dynamic diasporas.

The impact of the “firewall” created by Smith-Mundt between domestic and foreign audiences is profound and often ignored. Ask a citizen of any other democracy what they think about this firewall and you’re likely to get a blank, confused stare: Why — and how — would such a thing exist? No other country, except perhaps North Korea and China, prevents its own people from knowing what is said and done in their name. …

The rest at World Politics Review and comment there or here.

It is time this wall, one of the last two remaining walls of the Cold War, the other being the Korean DMZ, came down. If we insist on keeping this wall, a completely un-American and naive approach to global affairs, should Wikileaks be enlisted to let people within the US borders know what its government is doing with its money and in its name?

See also:

  • Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2010 (Updated) on the Thornberry-Smith legislation now pending in Congress
  • Recalling the 2009 Smith-Mundt Symposium on the January 2009 event on US public diplomacy
  • …and the only-somewhat tongue in cheek remark by PJ Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, at the daily briefing of 27 July 2010. While announcing the new Coordinator of IIP in his opening remarks, Matt Lee from the AP (also only somewhat tongue-in-check) asks whether PJ can talk about this “under the provisions of Smith-Mundt?” PJ’s response: “Yes. I, as the head of Public Affairs, can communicate both domestically and internationally. IIP, on the other hand, can only communicate outside the borders of the United States.”