There is a government position at the center of countless reports on countering foreign disinformation, correcting misinformation, and directly engaging foreign audiences that is rarely, if ever, mentioned in these very reports and recommendations. Whether due to ignorance, perceived irrelevance of the office, or both, the ghosting of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs reveals a fundamental defect in the analysis of how the United States has, does, and could organize in response to the role of public opinion in foreign policy and national security. Established in 1999 as a reinterpreted USIA Director, excepting the broadcast operations, the office has had a confirmed, not acting, Under Secretary only 60% of the time. Even if the counter stopped at the start of the Trump administration, which had one Under Secretary who served for only 100 days, the average officeholder’s tenure was one year and seven months with an average of more than six months between incumbents. The marginalization of this office, including the nearly complete disregard of its potential in the myriad of recommendations on “recreating” USIA or similar structure, should surprise no one.
The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs was created in 1999 to lead the State Department’s existing public affairs operations and the reintegration of most of the global public affairs activities previously based in the department. These global activities had been removed in 1953 and rebranded in the late 1960s as “public diplomacy.” (Edmund Gullion is often credited with this rebranding, but proper attribution should go to Rep. Dante Fascell (D-FL), but that’s for another post.)
Since the office was established and the first Under Secretary was sworn-in on October 1, 1999, the office has been vacant 36% of the time. To be more precise, the office has been “unencumbered” with a confirmed Under Secretary for 35.8% of the days since October 1, 1999, with an average gap between appointments of 289 days (over 9.5 months). In December 2011, the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy released a report about this vacancy issue (at the time, I served as the Executive Director of the commission) and the next month I published a less restrained commentary on the topic, R we there yet? A look at the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs). Above is an updated chart showing the tenure and vacancies of the office as of August 26, 2019.
What is it about U.S. public diplomacy that we must hide it from Americans? Is it so abhorrent that it would embarrass the taxpayer, upset the Congress (which has surprisingly little additional insight on the details of public diplomacy), or upend our democracy? Of our international broadcasting, such as the Voice of America, do we fear the content to be so persuasive and compelling that we dare not permit the American media, academia, nor the Congress, let alone the mere layperson, to have the right over oversight to hold accountable their government? [Read the rest here]
Courtesy of Bruce Gregory, Professor of Media and Public Affairs, here is the latest update on resources that may be of general interest for teachers, students, and practitioners of public diplomacy and related courses and activities. Suggestions for future updates are welcome.
2012 PDAA Awards Recognize Public Diplomacy Excellence
The Public Diplomacy Alumni Association, formerly the USIA Alumni Association, gave its 2012 achievement awards to U.S. public diplomacy professionals working in Zimbabwe, Okinawa, and Washington, DC. The announcement is below.
What if you put neuroscientists, social scientists, conflict resolution experts, and diplomats together in a room? Is there something to the “human dimension” of conflict that the science of the brain can inform the art of conflict resolution and mitigation? The Project on Justice in Times of Transition, in partnership with the SaxeLab at MIT, launched the initiative “Neuroscience and Social Conflict: Identifying New Approaches for the 21st Century” to find out.
The first meeting was February 9-11, 2012, at MIT in Boston. PJTT and SaxeLab brought together a high-level group of experienced leaders from the Middle East, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Central America with conflict conflict resolution experts, social psychologists, and leading neuroscientists to survey the latest findings in neuroscience and brain research to brainstorm and exchange ideas for addressing conflict.
I attended the February meeting and it was an eye-opening few days that started early and continued over dinner into the night. The presentations were honest, devoid of grandiose assertions of magic bullets, and each were followed by collegial discussions fueled by fresh questions and ideas.
Rebecca Saxe, the Director of SaxeLab, highlighted some of the general assumptions most scientists looking at conflict and conflict resolution share:
People respond to conflict as human beings and there is some generalized experience that can be captured
Behaviors can reflect emotions, associations, norms, and narratives that are not accessible through cognition or introspection
People resist changing their minds and simple persuasion is almost never sufficient to make them change
The science presentations shared research on how particular parts of the brain were involved with specific behavior and emotions, such as fear. Discussions included the role of humiliation in perpetuating war, motivations for “prosocial” and empathetic behavior, group norms, among others.
The acknowledged drawback of some of the existing scientific research is the “normal” person for much of the brain imaging is an MIT student, which all acknowledged is not a true representation. The scientists were eager for advice on how to modify their experiments to test on relevant questions, topics, and people.
The first meeting left all of the participants more interested than when the meeting started. Follow up ideas include:
Convening a second meeting to inventory key areas of research relevant to conflict resolution
Studying specific conflict resolution approaches to test assumptions underlying various established methodologies
Exposing leading neuroscientists to active conflict resolution and negotiation situations
It has long been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but what words to which people? The pixels or streaks of paint of an image is the only commonality shared by different audiences. The context in which they are received and interpreted matters. Beyond the intended framing, including words or other images, personal and shared history, language, current or developing narratives, and other inputs, both direct and indirect, all matter in the impact of a picture.
On March 16, 2012, Georgia State University, in conjunction with the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College, convened a conference entitled Visual Propaganda and Online Radicalization. This public event followed two days of working meetings between the conference’s speakers and others from a variety of disciplines to better understand the role of images, still and moving, in recruiting, radicalizing, and mobilizing support. Also discussed was the possibility of over-analyzing images.
Conference day presentations are available here. Speakers included David Perlmutter, Scott Ruston, Anne Stenersen, Carol Winkler, Hussein Amin, Saeid Belkasim, Cori Dauber, Doug Jordan, Jad Melki, Shawn Powers, and me, Matt Armstrong.
My presentation was “Now Media, Identity, & the Marketplace for Loyalty.” Video of my part of the conference, which was a quick 15min, is here. This presentation will be more fleshed out elsewhere, including a book chapter Shawn Powers and I are writing presently named “From Nation-State to Nations-State: Conceptualizing Radicalization in the Marketplace for Loyalties.”
In the case of over-analysis, there was an interesting discussion on the use of fancy Islamic calligraphy in logos or brands of insurgent or terrorist groups. The meaning of these texts were analyzed but elder native Arab speakers from and living in the Middle East dismissed some of the conclusions. The contention was the youth cannot read the script or don’t bother to read it. The result is the calligraphy is better interpreted as a picture rather than text. The meaning is derived from the appearance of the image framing the logo as religious, Arab, or something else based on its similarity to other script, or all of the above.
The product of the working meetings will be book from the Strategic Studies Institute on visual propaganda.
If you have not seen the Proctor & Gamble marketing campaign entitled “Thank you, Mom“, you really should. An Olympic Partner for London 2012, the campaign will run for these last 100 days before the start of the summer games. It is the largest campaign in P&G’s 174-year history.
The campaign launched with the digital release of the short film “Best Job,” a moving celebration of mom’s raising great kids and Olympians, according to a press release. The video was shot on four continents with local actors and athletes from each location — London, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles and Beijing — and will be found online, across social media, TV, and print.*
How might the State Department produce similar vignettes that could translate policy initiatives including women’s issues, empowering young people, and other democracy and civil society issues?
Such cross-cultural outreach like this P&G campaign that supports and praises moms would likely enjoy the support of senior leadership in DC and the field. It would likely have traction with Ambassador moms and Ambassador wives. The vignettes would have a ready audience to the growing number of Facebook friends of the various State Department sites, many of which need content.
What do you think?
*Does this make the ad “old media” or “new media”? Try “now media”…
By Brian Carlson The following originally appeared at the Public Diplomacy Council and is republished here with permission.
Tara Sonenshine was confirmed Thursday night by the Senate, and she will probably take office officially early this week. (She can be sworn in privately by some current official and begin work, even as a more formal ceremony is planned for a few weeks hence.)
It is a new beginning down at Foggy Bottom. Tara becomes only the seventh Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs since the job was created upon the merger of USIA into the Department in 1999.
It is a propitious time to consider what habits lead to success at the State Department, as well as what experience teaches about being the nation’s Olympic spear-catcher when they think we’re being out-communicated by some guy in a cave. Here are a few suggestions for how to succeed at this job, all gathered from my time working directly with five of the six previous Under Secretaries. (I had no contact with Margaret Tutwiler.)
There will be a healthy (and impressive) number of panels and roundtables at next week’s Annual Convention for the International Studies Association (ISA) in San Diego. These include: Understanding Public Diplomacy in Different Contexts: Issues of Culture, Science and Power; Public Diplomacy 2.0; Public Diplomacy and New Media in the Information Age; and others.
I’ll be at ISA Sunday through Tuesday. Besides attending various panels, I will be the discussant for one, “Winning Hearts an Minds in the Information Age.” This panel starts at 8:15a Tuesday, April 3, in the Hospitality Suite #1501. About the panel:
In the new information environment world leaders are finding that they must communicate—effectively—with multiple audiences. This panel considers the range of approaches governments are using to meet this public diplomacy imperative as well as the diverse objectives behind these efforts. Hayden provides a comparative framework for analyzing how various power mechanisms are adapted to fit specific strategic requirements. Hanson focuses on one particular new approach, the use of social media, of one country, India. The main target audiences are youth at home and abroad, and the primary objective is to provide vehicle for Indian soft power. Corman focuses on changes in the information and communication environment that require a reconceptualization of public diplomacy and a reformulation of policies. Finally, Cull considers emerging trends and provides recommendations for the conduct of public diplomacy in the new information environment.
The panel chair is Robin Brown (PD Networks). The panel discussant is your author. The panelists are:
Emily Metzgar: Building a Public Diplomacy Network: One JET at a Time
Craig Hayden: Audience, Mechanism, and Objective: A Comparative Framework for Soft Power Analysis
Betty Hanson: India Would Like to Be Your Friend: New Initiatives in Indian Public Diplomacy
Steve Corman: New Concepts of Audience for Public Diplomacy in the Information Age
Nick Cull: The Future: Tracking Forward Trends in Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy
If you’re there, stop by.
To single one of the many fine discussions that will take place, “Public Diplomacy and Power: To What End?” should be interesting. Phil Seib chairs a discussion with Kathy Fitzpatrick, Ali Fisher, and Craig Hayden. Scene settings questions include:
If public diplomacy is viewed as an extension of power over others, then how does relationship building fit within such a construct?
What does power mean in a collaborative public diplomacy context?
What influence does the relative power of nation-states (or other international actors) have on cross-border relationship building?
What moral aspects should be considered in discussions of power in public diplomacy?
Do links between public diplomacy and power define (or mask) public diplomacy’s purpose and value to nations and other international actors, as well as to global society?
Michael A. Hammer to be Assistant Secretary of State (Public Affairs)
Anne Claire Richard, of New York, to be an Assistant Secretary of State
Tara D. Sonenshine, of Maryland, to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, vice Judith A. McHale.
Robert E. Whitehead, of Florida, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Togolese Republic.
Larry Leon Palmer, of Georgia to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Barbados, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
Jonathan Don Farrar, of California to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Panama.
Phyllis Marie Powers, of Virginia to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Republic of Nicaragua.
Nancy J. Powell, of Iowa, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Personal Rank of Career Ambassador, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to India.
Frederick D. Barton, of Maine, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Conflict and Stabilization Operations), vice Bradford R. Higgins.
For Tara, getting started requires waiting for the President to attest (certify) the confirmation, then swearing in (mostly like at the Department, possibly by Secretary Clinton but possibly Under Secretary Kennedy, unless she has a specific individual in mind), and then she’s off and running. She could start as early as Monday but Tuesday may be more likely. It largely depends on the White House’s ability to turn around the certification and get it to State.
Congratulations also goes to State’s public diplomacy, including the people, bureaucracy, the practice and the supporters. Having a strong leader like Tara confirmed for the job is long overdue.
One of the most important public diplomacy books you have never heard of is American Avatar: The United States in the Global Imagination by Barry Sanders. An adjunct professor of Communications Studies at UCLA, an international corporate lawyer, President of the Board of Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, Barry provides a unique, fascinating, and worthwhile exploration of the opportunities and risks of American global engagement.
In American Avatar, Barry looks at narratives, their foundations and trajectories. “Now more than ever,” Barry writes, “foreign views of the United States also affects its national security.”
As a panelist at the November 2011 meeting of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, Barry explained that stories at the heart of everything: the study and practice of law, movies, group membership, and more.
Barry was in DC to discuss his book earlier this month. Watch this meeting and read a discussion here.
I recommend Barry’s book for students and practitioners of strategic communication and public diplomacy.
The mission of public diplomacy is generally described as seeking to “understand, engage, inform and influence” foreign publics and elites in support of national policy objectives. Public diplomacy has been practiced, in one form or another, for a long time – think Benjamin Franklin in France, charming the nobility to garner support for the American colonies in their struggle for independence. Its modern origins include the first broadcast of the Voice of America in February 1942 (VOA celebrates its 70th anniversary this spring) and the establishment of the Office of War Information in June of that year. Continue reading “A Call to Action on Public Diplomacy “→
It should be common knowledge that the “information consequences of policy ought always be taken into account, and the information man ought always to be consulted. This statement from 1951 foreshadowed Eisenhower’s dictum of the next year that “everything we say, everything we do, and everything we fail to say or do will have its impact in other lands.” Words and deeds needed more than just synchronization as public opinion could be leveraged to support the successful conduct of foreign policy. Continue reading “The President’s National Framework for Strategic Communication (and Public Diplomacy) for 2012 “→