Public Diplomacy Fall Speaker Series: Stephen Seche

The USC Center on Public Diplomacy welcomed Stephen Seche as our new State Department Public Diplomat-in-Residence and professor in the public diplomacy master's program. He discussed his extensive career in the Foreign Service. Seche, who most recently acted as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria, has served in public diplomacy positions in Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia and India.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006
12:00 pm
Annenberg, Room 207

Event Report

Stephen Seche Finds Shared Values Between USA and the Middle East
By Andrew McGregor

Former U.S. charge d’affaires in Syria Steve Seche told an audience here recently that sentiment in the Middle East is supportive of American values, but that to the people of the region security is a more pressing issue than democratic reforms.

Many in the Arab and Muslim worlds are receptive to American principles of government, but concerns for security trump a desire for democracy, he said. “Many (Arabs), if asked, would say ‘Yes. I do want to be able to vote in an election freely…But first please allow me to send my children to school, allow me to have a job, provide all the basic necessities that every individual wants to have in his or her life.”

He said American interests will be better served if policy makers give more concern to diplomacy. He cited a massive disconnect between American policy and Arab sentiment towards America, saying that, “I don’t believe there is a strong negative undercurrent of dislike for America as such. People are very sophisticated, they know it’s America’s policy” that irritates them, not the principles of the nation.

He also called for an expansion of programs like the Fulbright scholarships towards even younger students in order to increase cultural understanding and develop sustained relationships with young Arab moderates before extremism ever has an opportunity to take hold.

Seche was the top American diplomat in Syria when the US pulled its ambassador in November of 2005 following the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Lebanon’s former Prime Minister.

CPD Diplomat-in-Residence Discusses U.S. Public Diplomacy in the Middle East
By Craig Hayden

CPD Diplomat-in-Residence Stephen Seche delivered a speech addressing U.S. public diplomacy efforts to the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication on Wednesday, September 5. Seche, the deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. mission in Damascus, offered a unique perspective as a diplomat working with the Middle East. Seche highlighted the challenges facing U.S. public diplomacy efforts, focusing in particular on how the United States needs consider how others in the region work to portray the intentions and motivations of the United States. In the wake of a relative public diplomacy "vacuum," other public opinion studies have revealed considerable degradation of opinion about the U.S. At the same time, Seche suggested that it might be difficult for Americans themselves to sense that public diplomacy is needed, given their relative insulation from the rest of the world. Seche argued that public diplomacy cannot be ignored, because the U.S. has policy goals that can be negatively impacted by its decreasing credibility.

Seche suggested that resolving the crisis of U.S. credibility in the region does not lend itself to an easy or "quick fix." America's image problems reflect a reaction to U.S. policies. Arab audiences for U.S. public diplomacy may share the principles it promotes, but are just as concerned with the very tangible security concerns that overshadow opinions about the United States. Seche argued that the U.S. needed to increase its efforts at cultural diplomacy, while look to build relationships with Islamic moderates that might reflect a nascent political center in the Middle East. Words matter, as Seche said; especially when other interlocutors work to define the United States in opposition to U.S. interests. The problem, Seche argued, is that public diplomacy cannot be another form of "policy Kool-Aid," but should reflect a serious consideration how opinions can impact U.S. policy interests. Thus, U.S. public diplomacy needs to be cognizant of local contexts, language, and beliefs -- while at the same time work in the interests of U.S. policy objectives.

Balancing these two concerns offers no easy solutions for public diplomacy practitioners and foreign policy strategists. Seche cautioned that foreign policy should not be predicated on anticipated public opinion. Nevertheless, if a foreign policy provokes a reaction that ultimately renders its objective as unattainable, then the public diplomacy dimension cannot be ignored. Seche argued that the nature of contemporary foreign policy today reflects the basic fact that strategic interests and public opinion are increasingly entangled, making public diplomacy an indispensable aspect of U.S. foreign policy. The challenge remains for practitioners of foreign policy to sustain this balance; sustaining U.S. objectives while rebuilding the arguably damaged U.S. credibility.


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