- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I was pleased to see my comments on public diplomacy at the Heritage Foundation last week highlighted so generously in The Washington Times (“Public Diplomacy,” Embassy Row, World, Thursday).

I was brief and blunt, which is perhaps why a few misinterpretations crept into the account. I should first say that I was being entirely sarcastic when I suggested that “enhanced interrogation” was in any way related to public diplomacy. Any other view would be outlandish.

I made several points, which I will restate.

First, U.S. public diplomacy has been dysfunctional since the shuttering of the U.S. Information Agency a decade ago.

Second, it could have been worse. Most public diplomacy functions could have been transferred to even less sensible places, such as the Department of Interior, Department of Defense or the CIA (said sarcastically).

Third, diplomacy and public diplomacy are very different. They have different audiences and require different skills and support, but both are very important.

Fourth, the State Department must focus on foreign policy and state-to-state diplomacy, and for that reason, public diplomacy can only be a secondary or tertiary concern.

Fifth, public diplomacy is not fully housed in the State Department, with broadcasting off by itself and the Department of Defense trying to fill part of the vacuum in places like Iraq. I quoted Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates as saying, “It is just plain embarrassing that al-Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America.”

I also referenced past CIA efforts at public diplomacy (such as funding the now-defunct Encounter magazine) but only assumed they were doing something now, because I have no idea whether this is the case. My overall point was not to blame the State Department but to emphasize that it cannot be done well there and - even worse - cannot be done at several places except in an incoherent, unstructured way. At some point, this fact will be acknowledged, and an independent agency will be devised to conduct public diplomacy.


Senior fellow in public diplomacy

American Foreign Policy Council


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