The many justifications for U.S. public diplomacy policy range from the concrete to the abstract. In forums such as this Web site, public diplomacy is described as both a specialized instrument for foreign policy promotion, as well as a symbol of the lofty ideals of promoting international dialogue and cultural understanding. Yet the instrumental aspect of public diplomacy typically boils down to the amplification of United States ethos.
From their offices in Washington and its suburbs, U.S. government officials charged with explaining the American way to publics abroad were put to the test last week by the Virginia Tech shootings.
If there is one constant in discussion about public diplomacy in the United States these days, it is policy criticism. Such criticism has been a booming industry since the early days of the Bush administration – as U.S. popularity abroad continues to plummet. This is not to say, however, that the stewards of public diplomacy have ignored their charge. The now familiar Radio Sawa and Al-Hurra television supposedly beam models of pluralistic, democratic news culture to the Middle East.
Much of the discussion on the Public Diplomacy blog dwells on how a nation can persuade others about its image and its policies. The most common observation has been that actions (e.g. a foreign policy) can "speak" louder than any communication campaign. Again and again, this argument is presented: U.S. public diplomacy programs face difficulty because U.S. policy actions so obviously overpower any attempt to persuade publics through international broadcasting, cultural exchanges, and the other components of U.S. public diplomacy.
On January 10, 2007, the State Department hosted a Private Sector Summit on Public Diplomacy. The purpose of the conference was to bring together professionals from the public relations sector to consider how U.S. public diplomacy programs and objectives could be improved by input from the corporate communications world. Given the recent BBC polls showing that U.S. popularity continues to plummet worldwide -- it's no surprise that the State Department is reaching out to organizations that are defined by their communication expertise.
This article originally appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus, December 13, 2006.
Anti-Americanism has emerged as a term that, like "fascism" and "communism" in George Orwell's lexicon, has little meaning beyond "something not desirable." However it is defined, anti-Americanism has clearly mushroomed over the last six years, as charted in a number of polls. This phenomenon is, everyone agrees, intimately tied to the exercise of U.S. power and perceptions around the world of U.S. actions.
Two public diplomacy initiatives have emerged; one from the Bush administration; the other from America's private sector. Together they suggest a subtle maturation taking root in U.S. efforts to connect with publics abroad, although change is never easy.
The complementary roles of U.S. international broadcasting and U.S. public diplomacy
American journalists, writers, scholars, decision makers, and other experts tend to be confused about the relationship between international broadcasting and public diplomacy. For example, in article about President Bush's nomination of Karen Hughes to be under secretary of state for public diplomacy, Fred Kaplan wrote: