Selection and commentary by PDC members and authoritative experts in the field
Wednesday, February 26th 2014
Social media observers say that young people are abandoning Facebook for new messaging applications that allow them to limit and protect their expression online.
Alongside public relations and marketing, public diplomatists are playing a cat and mouse game with social media. Embassy Facebook pages try to personalize the ambassador and other diplomats for local audiences. And they hope that readers will respond with interest and participation. (Twitter seems to me to be used more for media releases than for substantive dialogue.)
Sunday, February 23rd 2014
Through A Screen Darkly: Popular Culture, Public Diplomacy, and America's Image Abroad by Public Diplomacy Council member Martha Bayles is hot off the presses from the Yale University Press. I had a chance to read an advance copy, and it is lively. She will speak on May 5 at our monthly forum co-hosted with USC. I posed some questions to her.
Q: A foreign visitor returns home, surprised that American society is so different than what she had seen in the movies and on television. You say entertainment projects a "fun house mirror" view of the U.S. PAOs have tens of thousands of dollars to spend. Hollywood has billions. How can Public Diplomacy counter these distorted images and perceptions?
BAYLES: The funding discrepancy is sobering, but there’s nothing new about America’s public diplomats being outspent – by Hollywood, by unfriendly foreign governments, and (in recent years) by the Pentagon. This hasn’t prevented the best of them from making a difference when and where they can.
Wednesday, February 19th 2014
The most underreported crisis in the world may finally be getting the attention it deserves.
Ukraine has had a rough path since independence, especially when measured against the hopes that were raised there after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For the last two decades, the country has been plagued by corruption and economic hardship as competing factions have struggled for control. Now the ideological division between those who see the best prospects for Ukraine’s future in the West, and those who prefer the view toward Moscow, has erupted into violence. Anti-government rallies that began as largely peaceful demonstrations several months ago, after President Viktor Yanukovych chose an economic bailout offer from Russia over an economic integration pact from the European Union, were attacked yesterday by police, turning Kiev’s Independence Square into a blazing battleground.
What would hearten Ukraine’s pro-democracy demonstrators the most right now would be a message of support for their fight for freedom and the rule of law, from the countries that they would like Ukraine to emulate. Instead, what they have heard so far have been balanced calls by the United States and Europe for calm, and a condemnation by the U.S. National Security Council of the “street violence and excessive use of force on either side.” (One U.S. official who has spoken out publicly for Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence has been Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland. Russian intelligence is believed to have struck back by secretly taping and leaking some private and undiplomatic remarks she made to a colleague criticizing the EU.)
Obviously Ukraine’s future should be determined by Ukrainians. But since many people around the world see the U.S. as the leading advocate of freedom and democracy, we need to show support for those who want to share our values, and that support must be clear and firm not only in our private but also in our public diplomacy.
Wednesday, February 19th 2014
During the Vietnam War, Barry Zorthian (1920-2010) was the Director of the U.S. Information Service in Saigon, and he was the prime mover in establishing the Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO). JUSPAO brought together the media operations of the State Department, the U.S. Information Service, USAID, the CIA, and the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. He was “Czar of Media Relations” and press advisor for U.S. ambassadors Lodge, Taylor, and Bunker in Saigon. Matt Armstrong called him “a legendary member of the old guard of Public Diplomacy.”
Studying the history of Public Diplomacy recalls the past, but it also speaks to the present and future. Here’s an excerpt from Zorthian’s 1988 oral history interview with the Association of Diplomatic Studies and Training, under the subhead “USIA Has Never Addressed Problem of How It Would Handle Another Counter-Insurgency Program If It Ever Arose.”
Read the excerpt, and then substitute “Iraq” or “Afghanistan” for “Vietnam.” The phrase that haunts me is “it's no good to tell me there ain't going to be a next time, because there sure as hell may be.”
ZORTHIAN: Still today, 20 years after I left, the U.S. government has not worked out standard operating procedures for low-intensity wars and how it would handle them.
Thursday, February 13th 2014
In the future, more flexibility, risk-taking and reform will be required of public diplomacy practitioners and policy makers, our panel concluded.
This was the last of three plenary sessions of the PDC's Fall Forum held November 12, 2013, at the George C. Marshall Conference Center of the U.S. Department of State. It was our "look to the future," with the mandate to imagine what lies in store for public diplomacy.