Public diplomacy is no substitute for smart foreign policy, nor can it fix a myopic one. But miscalculations of both its power and place have left it a hobbled tool in our diplomatic arsenal.
Hopefully the newest designated chief of public diplomacy, Jim Glassman, understands this. His bona fides for the job are solid; but the challenges, unhappily, remain as distinct today as they did seven years ago under Charlotte Beers, the first Public Diplomacy chief of the Bush administration.
I would like to commend Congresswoman Diane Watson for organizing the Congressional Symposium on American Film and Public Diplomacy and her sponsorship of legislation that includes establishing the Johnny Grant Film Series featuring classic American cinema in U.S. embassies and missions overseas. I think it is a grand idea that allows us to tap into one of the United States' most significant contributions to culture over the past century as an element of public diplomacy outreach.
For all the seething scorn and vitriol Americans have hurled toward Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in recent years one would never suspect a kindly word of either uttered privately, let alone publicly. But when it comes to public diplomacy such inhibitions seem to disappear even amongst the highest ranking political leadership and in the most public fashion. In a speech on November 26 before an audience at Kansas State University, it was Defense Secretary Robert Gates' turn to wax profoundly on the subject.
In 2006 the modestly budgeted Disney Channel film High School Musical unexpectedly became a world-wide smash hit, with some 200 million mostly 9-14 year old “tweener” female viewers spread across some 100 countries. Just last week Disney rolled out the blockbuster sequel, “High School Musical Two,” in the US and kicked off a global marketing campaign with a 24-hour series of conference calls with Disney partners in, once again, over 100 countries.
This is the first of what I intend as a series of occasional postings about public diplomacy and soft power in and towards Asia, focusing principally on the People's Republic of China. This site is understandably concerned with western approaches to, and practices of, public diplomacy, especially as they relate to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the challenges of international terrorism. My aim is to draw attention to non-western perspectives that acknowledge, but are not dominated by, events in the Middle East.