Ackerman: Future of Public Diplomacy Unsettled at State

There are at least three State Department Under Secretaries the Senate still up in the air without even an intent to nominate sent to the Senate. These include the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, the Under Secretary for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs, and the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Each are essential to America’s national security, but it is the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs that is rightfully getting the attention.

How the Administration views and structures America’s global engagement is in the air and by many accounts has not received the proactive attention many other areas of the State Department seemingly got. This is no time to be leadership or to have people sitting with their palms down not knowing which way “R” (“the only good letter not taken”) will go.

The delay until last week was vetting as the Administration is apparently wary of the Daeschle-effect. Why an announcement has been made or even just shuffling paper to the Senate for the intent to nominate is unclear. It may may simply be a desire to announce when the Secretary of State is back in town, but regardless, the delay does suggest public diplomacy is not an urgent priority.

Meanwhile, life goes on and the dramatic opportunity created by the election of President Obama is slipping away as the role and function of the State Department in the global struggle for minds and wills is questioned, debated, and increasingly fuzzy.

About the concerns about the direction of public diplomacy, you are required to read Spencer Ackerman’s article at The Washington Independent, Future of Public Diplomacy Unsettled at State:

Public-diplomacy specialists inside and outside the Obama administration expect that in the coming days, Clinton will unveil her friend and political supporter Judith McHale, a former chief executive at the Discovery Channel, as the next undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. …

“In the war of ideas,” [most recently departed Under Secretary James Glassman] recalled in a phone interview, “it’s often more effective to destroy [U.S. adversaries'] brand than build up ours.” …

Public diplomacy experts wonder whether the Obama administration will continue Glassman’s efforts, reverse them or pursue a different strategy entirely. “Ripping down others’ brands has not typically been, historically, at the center of the public diplomacy agenda,” said Michael Doran, who recently stepped down as the senior-most public-diplomacy official at the Pentagon. “We need to tear down Al Qaeda’s brand and build up the brands of our friends whose interests coincide with ours.” …

“Around the world, people think President Obama is magic,” said Douglas Wilson, a three-decade veteran of public diplomacy jobs at the now-defunct U.S. Information Agency and the Pentagon, whom Obama passed over for the undersecretaryship after vetting him. “The great danger here is to think that view will hold and that President Obama’s magic is the same thing as a solid, comprehensive public diplomacy strategy. It’s the equivalent of cheap energy — meaning we don’t have to pay attention to a comprehensive energy policy because gas for the moment is cheap.” …

“Simply making people like us is not the only way” to use public diplomacy to promote U.S. security interests, and “it’s not even the easiest way.” Glassman set to work reorienting the office to telling negative stories about extremist enemies of the U.S., rather than feel-good stories about America. During a visit to the U.S. military’s Special Operations Command, Glassman became amused by a giant, convoluted map outlining extremist and anti-American activities worldwide and hung it on the wall of R’s suite of offices on the seventh floor of the State Dept., where Hughes had hung pictures of herself hugging children during her foreign travels. (Glassman said he put the map up “for fun,” but Doran said its placement “still sent a message.”)

… in the summer, Glassman created an interagency public-diplomacy council of about a half-dozen officials from the Pentagon — including Doran — the CIA, the Treasury Dept. and other agencies called the Global Strategic Engagement Center, or GSEC, in order to bring coherence to government strategic communications on “a day to day basis.” The GSEC’s chief is a nearly-30 year department veteran, Peter Kovach, who said he hopes to expand the GSEC’s membership as more government agencies focus on public diplomacy. “We advise, structure meetings, and bring people to the table,” Kovach explained, emphasizing that the GSEC’s role is “not deciding” policy but “coordinating and deconflicting” it. …

“It’s a great mistake to think of public diplomacy in terms of branding, marketing or advertising,” Wilson said. To that end, he and dozens of other diplomats, military officers and private citizens convened at the White Oak plantation in Florida two weeks ago for a weekend summit on public diplomacy . “At White Oak, the [watchwords were] authenticity, credibility and trust,” he said. “The question we need to address is how can you get opinion leaders and [foreign] publics to give us the benefit of the doubt.” Wilson plans to present the Obama administration with the summit’s recommendations this week.

Read all of Spencer’s article here.

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