- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2005

Public diplomacy is like good hygiene. Where it is practiced and works well, you do not see or notice it. Where it is not and you encounter the result, you know at once it has not been attempted or is not working.

While our efforts to educate and persuade are mighty — particularly among larger Muslim populations — the scent on the air is still far from irresistible. Why? The answer is simple. We have yet to believe public diplomacy really matters.

To win a political or philosophical discussion — even one intended only to convert uncommitted bystanders — one must first believe the effort is worth breath. Before bothering to dive into a political debate, opine, cajole, summon facts, analogies, metaphors, extend hope or promise, you have to care. You have to worry a little, hope a little, sigh and imagine progress. Absent that, you walk by, content the world will go on, even if that poor bloke never gets it.

That brings me to the Middle East, and other circles of humanity. Too often, it seems, we are still content to sigh and walk by. Of course, we wonder, “Why do they not get it?” But then we remember how strong our military is, how big the oceans are, how relatively secure we have become again since September 11, 2001, and… we have the kids to pick up. The world will go on.

We might even say to ourselves (of course, who else?), “Why don’t those nations roar approval for what we are sacrificing? Why don’t they understand that freedom and democracy are good, religious violence is bad, prosperity follows stability, individual rights lead to civil society, hard work produces a better life, and respect for others increases respect for individuals?” Then we shrug and carry on.

That is the heart of the problem. We can no longer shrug. We must confidently reach out, extend the effort — at the international level at least — to debate, opine, cajole, summon facts, extend hope and promise. This kind of all-out public diplomacy is now required. Without it, violence will continue, victories will fade, costs will rise, opportunities will slip, and all that is secure will become less secure.

We have to trust ourselves to engage in wider debate, and trust that we will win that debate. Because we will. We have before and we will again.

Too often, these days, we arrive on foreign soil, declare truth to be self-evident, get back on the plane, and head for the next declaration destination.

That, alas, is not public diplomacy. That is the luxury of freedom and power, but not the power of freedom and the lure of luxury. Missing is the hard work of jawboning with allies and detractors, educating that vast sea of hungry minds and bodies, negotiating with those too small to matter and patiently moving forward the fine art of “governing.”

Neither Theodore Roosevelt nor Ronald Reagan ended any discussion by declaring America right, waving the flag, asserting our considerable military might, and heading home. Each understood there are limits to what we can do with gunboats and infantry. While we are and must remain the strongest nation on Earth, they both knew there was more staying power in inspiration than incantation, more chance of freeing captive souls by giving them courage than demanding that they follow.

Each helped articulate a dream, and then reinforced it. Our nation’s power was a nice backdrop, but that power did not replace engaging, humble and confident public diplomacy.

In the recent past, John F. Kennedy saw a need to be resolute, but also how intangible advantages flowed from open discussion. He reminded us “never negotiate out of fear” but also “never fear to negotiate.”

Slightly earlier, Winston Churchill drove the same point home in his own inimitable way, reminding all Americans in 1954 that, “to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”

And if the point were not well enough grounded in such stout hearts, there was always the wisdom of that incomparable conservative, Edmund Burke. In 1791, he observed: “The use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for a moment; but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again; and a nation is not governed, which is perpetually to be conquered.”

So, our mission is clear. And it must be the mission of every American, especially those with access to a microphone.

We live in the greatest nation in human history, truly a “shining city on a hill,” but it is our willingness to “share the shine,” to pull others up, to listen to critics and respond with confidence, to forgive rage, invite hope, give courage and believe in our own ability to persuade — not to demand or assume — which will make the difference. We cannot shrug and walk by.

In truth, we never have. It is not the American way. We forged a nation of stout hearts over 230 years. We must now work to inspire others to do the same. That is the American ideal — and it is irresistible.

Robert Charles, former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, 2003-2005, is president of the Charles Group in Gaithersburg, Md.

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