Before reforming public diplomacy, we need a strategy

For all the governement and special commission reports, all of the blogs and media analysis, and for all of the books, the United States still does not get public diplomacy. It does not matter if a team in the State Department "gets it" or if the Pentagon "gets it". What really matters is the very top "gets it". Without participation and buy-in from the very top, we are wasting our time fanstasizing about the efficacy of official public diplomacy, wondering about cultural imperialism of the entertainment industy, and "advocacy" of our "ideals".

The reality of getting "them" to "know us" and what we're about seems a little misguided when only 33% of American's like what we do. When the world has lost the seperation between America and American -- sentiments like "we dislike your President, but love your country" is in the past -- what are we really doing?

The 28 April 2006 Wall Street Journal demonstrates how talk on reshaping US Public Diplomacy apparatus is nothing but folly. We missing the crucial keystone of an effective public diplomacy: acceptance and support from the very top. Until then the public diplomacy of the United States will continue to be a hodge podge of efforts chiefly led by the US military and not the State Department. 

Even before China's bolder courtship of Africa began to galvanize new attention in Washington, Gen. Jones was executing the Bush administration's national-security doctrine of preventive action there "in an effort to preclude parts of Africa from becoming the Iraqs and Afghanistans of the future," he says.

He and Deputy Commander Chuck Wald, his point man for Africa at the European Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, are overseeing a think tank on Africa. To improve coordination of U.S. initiatives, they have put together a group in Stuttgart with the participation of 15 U.S. government agencies. Gen. Jones has worked with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to bring business leaders with him to Africa. It's all in service of what he sees as the military's new role as forward scout and animator for integrated U.S. response.

"The fight in the 21st century," he says, "is about coordinating all elements of national influence so that it works together in a seamless way. If nothing follows the military in Africa, we won't succeed."

"Coordinating all elements of national influence" sounds a lot like "smart power". Reaching out proactively to engage and understand is generally understood to be the mission of public diplomacy. So where is Karen Hughes in this critical region of national importance?

The value and shortcomings of US public diplomacy is captured in "too many reports", in Karen Hughes' own words, and books. Yet, very little action has been done or attempted to address these concerns spanning a few years. Ah, you might say bureaucracies take time to change. Surely recreating USIA or something similar isn't even close to creating the Department of Homeland Security, perhaps the second worse strike against the security of this nation by this Administration to protect our nation (Iraq having slid into #1)? Anything, right or wrong, can be done if the will is there. A commitment from the top is required and the will trickles, or floods, down from there.

Made clear is that Karen Hughes is not on the "take-off's and landings" and that Condoleeza Rice will not give or fight for Hughes or her mission. Let's stop wasting our time wondering how a certain policy of Karen Hughes will impact public diplomacy. The reality is this President continues to appointment Ambassadors as political favors without consideration to competency or value to America, continues to empower the Defense Department as the communicator and coordinator with civilian agencies and governments, and continues to work around instead of reform programs (e.g. creating the Millenium Challange Account outside of USAID). Repeatedly, this President reiterates his lack of lack of vision and understanding of the value of image and content, policy and deeds, while at the same time demanding other countries follow up words with action. Until the President understands "small" things like 20,000 non-military security contractors operating in Iraq reflect back on the United States, that Iraqi reconstruction projects after years of effort are still unfinished or extremely poorly done reflect back onto the United States, and that the value of the word of the United States has diminished as a result of his policies (consider Iran's challenge on sanctions), we will not have an effective public diplomacy strategy because we will constantly be fighting our own messages and actions, leaving no room to educate, engage, or counter misinformation.

The National Security Strategy of 2006 completely ignores notions of mutual understanding and two-way communication, despite "too many" reports highlighting their significance. However in a flood of academic articles, the US military increasing acknowledges and incorporates cultural awareness and understanding as critical to "scouting", preventing, and short-circuiting conflict.

Back at State, Hughes' Four E's emphasize "advocacy" without understanding and without real listening. Obviously, Hughes did not read the reports or what was in but not reported in the reports. The GAO report of 2003 included survey questions that were, interestingly, not addressed in the report itself. Among these were questions noting that while 87% of US diplomatic posts responded "public diplomacy" was a "strategy and/or tactic for meeting other strategic goals", 77% responded that "mutual understanding" was no in their Mission Performance Plans. Other questions noted the 42% of the diplomatic posts worked coordinated with the USAID office in country while 59% coordinated with US military elements in country.

President Bush has dictated a policy of unilateralism but the military sees the writing on the wall. Perhaps it is because they are a more agile organization than State, but when papers like "Avoiding a Napoleonic Ulcer- Bridging the Gap of Cultural Intelligence (Or,Have We Focused on the Wrong Transformation)" (from 2004) are published seeking cultural-based models of the past, present and future, we have to ask where is State?

Should we be concerned that Rumsfeld is asked about his vision of USIA? When was the last time Rice was asked about USIA?
 

Apparently the impact of policy, perception, demographics, and knowledge on our security is not apparent to State. While the military conducts exercises with media (TV, radio, web) participating to practice media diplomacy, State Department officers dedicated to countering-misinformation from speaking directly to the press

National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice once implored we must

undertand their challenges and their cultures and their hopes; to speak their languages and read their literature; to know their cultures in the deepest sense. Our interaction must be a conversation, not a monologue. We must reach out and explain, but we must also listen.

Yet as Secretary of State we don't see this. Is it really bureaucratic resistance or a lack of commitment to at least establish a policy? Too often we simple attribute the failure of State to move as intranginsince of career officers. It isn't just State conducting our public diplomacy, and it isn't just the Defense Department stepping up to the plate. Worthy organizations like Keith Reinhard's Business for Diplomatic Action step up to fill an obvious void. This is not privatizing as much as its outsourcing by default.

State provides Shared Values and sons of Shared Values. If we just tell the story a little different next time maybe it'll work. Long term visionaries like Norm Pattiz are cut at the knees because they don't "advocate" the US position enough or don't show the "numbers" to "prove" success. As Albert Einstein once said, "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." In a Long War we need to have patience.

Listening requires connections through radio or in-person. Consular offices that are described as "Crusader Castles" or maximum security prisons inhibit any kind of communication. Is the "last three feet" the no man's land / killing zone between the 10' fence topped with razor wire and the walls with tiny windows? Stories about visa procedures ($100 non-refundable application fee??) and entry problems abound. An over-arching strategy and commitment, if it existed, must trickle down to TSA supervisors and officers to be aware of their role in forming the image of the United States. Instead, we consider huge projects like the "model" terminal in Houston.

In Baghdad, we are building the largest embassy in the world, a facility larger than Vatican City, built with imported Southeastern Asian labor housed in miserable conditions. If the Istanbul Consulate is a "crusader castle", what will this monstrosity be called?

It was General Abizaid of CENTCOM who said

In order to fight this long war, we ought to become as 'expert' in the Middle East as we were 'expert' in Central Europe for the past 50 years... we have to educate, train and develop the next generation of leadership to be as familiar and comfortable with this culture, it's threats and opportunities. The near term battle is for linguists, intelligence experts and FAOs (foreign area officers). The long term battle is to develop an Officer Corps (and Senior NCO Corps) that is as comfortable and acculturated operating in this region tomorrow, as we were in Central Europe yesterday.

The effort to inoculate, a word used by SACEUR General Jones to Congress in 2005, is the goal of the mission described in the Wall Street Journal article. It is import to deny sanctuary to terrorist beliefs, support networks (implicit and explicit), and overall build up the security and, more importantly, capacity of states around the world to reject terrorists and guerrillas. But again, where is State and where does all of this fit into our Public Diplomacy strategy? Until we pressure for a top-level strategy, we're justing wasting bandwidth, time, and energy chasing windmills while Bush and Company go about their merry way.