Robert Schadler said he would be brief and blunt, as he addressed the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday in a forum that marked the 10th anniversary of the demise of the U.S. Information Agency.
He was brief, but blunt was an understatement.
Mr. Schadler, a former USIA officer now with the American Foreign Policy Council, called the closure of the agency dedicated to “telling America’s story” for 46 years an “inexplicable self-inflicted wound” that damaged U.S. public diplomacy.
The decision, made in 1999 at the end of the Cold War, was supported by Congress, the White House and the State Department, which would absorb much of the USIA structure.
Mr. Schadler denounced the “bipartisan insanity that destroyed the USIA.” Since the transfer to a newly created undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, the function of explaining the United States to the rest of the world has resulted in “an incoherent shambles,” he said.
Mr. Schadler argued that public diplomacy “has been missing for a decade” from U.S. foreign policy and that al Qaeda terrorists make better use of the Internet than American diplomats. He added that the Defense Department and the CIA are doing better jobs of public diplomacy than the State Department.
Mr. Schadler noted that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called for a “massive influx of resources” for public diplomacy when he served in the same position in the George W. Bush administration.
“Defense Department officials do public diplomacy because their buddies are being killed and maimed because we have such poor public diplomacy [from the State Department],” he said.
“The CIA conducts public diplomacy,” he added. “Sometimes it is called a debriefing. Sometimes enhanced interrogation.”
Mr. Schadler appeared on the panel with Joseph Duffey, the last director of the USIA, and Daniel Sreebny, a former USIA officer and now acting director of the Global Strategic Engagement Center at the Office of the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
Mr. Sreebny, who has served 30 years in public diplomacy, called the dismantling of the agency a “mistake and terrible disservice” to the American public.
When he learned that the USIA would be moved to the State Department, he recalled, “I was angry at the political leadership, at State, at the White House, at Congress.”
However, he added, re-establishing the USIA as an independent government agency also would be a disservice today because of the cost of relaunching such a broad public diplomacy effort.
“If you are not going to do it right, why do it at all,” Mr. Sreebny said.
Mr. Duffey, USIA director from 1993 to 1999, said cost was one of the main factors for transferring the agency to the State Department. The other was the end of the Cold War and the feeling that the USIA was unnecessary.
“It was a time of euphoria and a misreading of history,” he said.
TRADE WITH SERBIA
The Serbian ambassador to the United States promised that his country will continue cooperating on war-crimes probes and drug cases with both the Obama administration and the European Union, which upgraded ties with the Balkan nation by removing certain trade restrictions this week.
“We will continue to cooperate with The Hague [war crimes tribunal] and all our international partners on a range of issues, including intelligence sharing in the war on terror and narcotics trafficking and regarding efforts to capture Ratko Mladic,” said Ambassador Vladimir Petrovic, referring to the former Bosnian Serb army chief who is accused of war crimes from the civil wars of the 1990s.
The European Union this week activated the Interim Trade Agreement, which will allow Serbia access to European markets.
Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washing tontimes.com.