us department of state

Until yesterday, 400,000 Defense Department employees were furloughed without pay due to the government shutdown. At the Treasury Department, the offices that enforce and monitor sanctions on North Korea, Syria, and Iran have been reduced to a skeleton crew. And large numbers of CIA analysts and logistics officers—including, until last week, 72 percent of the civilian workforce—have been told to stay home until the government has a 2014 budget.

There have been plenty of bad days in U.S. history. But Oct. 1st should be higher on the list than most people think. On that date in 1999, President Bill Clinton formally abolished the U.S. Information Agency, spinning off its broadcasting element into an independent agency and merging most of the rest into the Department of State. The effort was the product of a curious bipartisan alliance between conservative Sen. Jesse Helms and liberal Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and its effects were far reaching – shooting U.S. public diplomacy in the back with some six bullets.

Foreign governments began a new round of diplomatic shuffling following President Barack Obama’s announcement on Tuesday night that U.S.-led military strikes against the Assad regime were on hold. During a televised address, the commander in chief said intervention had been temporarily shelved as U.S. officials prepare to enter negotiations regarding the handover of chemical weapons.

The rise of Islamist radicalism continues to threaten U.S. interests in the greater Middle East. Last year's attacks on U.S. embassies, instability in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings, and an increase in political activism among Salafist movements are all cause for concern. In Pakistan, extremist networks use U.S. drone strikes and the killing of Osama bin Laden to rally people to their cause.

September 8, 2013

Last year, on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, an assault on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, led to the deaths of four American diplomats, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The attack, which caused the US government to cancel public-diplomacy programs, evacuate offices, and tighten security substantially, was a massive setback for American diplomatic efforts in Libya.

In conflicts and post-conflict zones all over the globe, UN peacekeepers play an essential role supporting peace and stability. Supporting these efforts is the United States’ Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI). Vietnam has been working closely with both the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Defense to begin building its peacekeeping capabilities, and through GPOI, take its first formal steps towards contributing individuals and units to UN peacekeeping missions.

Digital diplomacy, the hipster cousin of public diplomacy, has been enjoying something of a Golden Age recently, with any (Western) diplomat or minister of any note (and the more forward looking senior officials too) offering digital pronouncements, policy engagement and two-way conversations as a mechanic for gathering support and understanding around often complex areas of foreign affairs.

A month after arriving in Hong Kong, the United States’ consul general is getting a crash course in the city’s linguistics. In his first Facebook post introducing himself to local residents, Clifford Hart—a veteran diplomat who has served multiple tours in China—declared that he was thrilled to be the U.S.’s consul general in the former British colony, and was “look[ing] forward to finding out the things that make us alike, rather than different.”