January 28, 2005
There's a theory that great individuals drive human events.
Larger-than-life figures appear, seize the moment and shape
history, for better or worse. It may be time to update the "Great
Man" theory, though, because today's history-shaping force isn't a
person. It's a country: the United States.
Since 9/11, we've led coalitions to oust tyrannical governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today some 50 million people are enjoying the fruits of democracy for the first time.
More recently, consider our response to the Indian Ocean tsunami. Within days, the American military was on the scene, delivering food and medical aid while providing shelter to an untold number of victims.
So why the brickbats from certain international officials?
Soon after the disaster, a United Nations leader criticized the U.S. for being "stingy." Hardly. Our government wound up pledging more than $350 million as the scope of the disaster became apparent. And that excludes private donations, which will far surpass the governmental contributions of most countries.
Keep in mind that the only efficient way to deliver most of that aid was via the U.S. military. It was American ships and helicopters that delivered our help. It was American service members who distributed it. This will cost millions on top of our $350 million contribution.
This sort of relief mission highlights how remarkable adaptive our military is.
A nation's military, after all, is concerned with protecting its homeland. But our military also does an excellent job selflessly helping other lands. As a "senior military official" told reporters on Jan. 12, "We're there to help Indonesians, we're in Thailand to help the Thai, we're in Sri Lanka to help the people there."
In other words, we won't impose our help; we'll provide aid while we're needed, then fade quietly away. "How long they want us there is a sovereign decision," this military official added. "If they want us to go, we'll go."
But for now, they don't want us to leave. As a senior Indonesian leader told me recently in Jakarta, "Thank God for the American military. It's the only group organized and able to respond to this crisis."
Clearly, the U.S. is an indispensable force for good in the world. We're doing a good job helping others, but that's not enough. Now we need to do a better job promoting our good deeds.
According to the Defense Science Board, a Pentagon advisory group, our public diplomacy is in crisis. It says our government must do a better job of communicating "to global and domestic audiences in ways that are credible and allow them to make informed, independent judgments." Such messages, it says, "should seek to reduce, not to increase, perceptions of arrogance, opportunism, and double standards."
In the latest edition of The Heritage Foundation's Mandate for Leadership, we lay out some steps the government should take to improve America's image internationally. Helle Dale and Stephen Johnson write that the U.S. should create two new positions -- a Public Diplomacy Coordinator on the National Security Council and a strengthened Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy within the Department of State. These people would work to craft effective public diplomacy that would support U.S. foreign policy.
The U.S. government should also centralize its outreach operations. For example, we need to make sure the Department of State's public diplomacy professionals are working in tandem with our military's communication specialists.
We need to explain what we're doing to help the rest of the world and become a resource for anyone anywhere who's seeking information. We could take simple steps in that direction by expanding our broadcast outreach through Voice of America and reopening more American libraries in foreign cities.
Americans don't want to be thanked, but it's not too much to ask that we be appreciated as a major force for good. Public diplomacy can help. It helped us win the Cold War -- and it can help us win hearts and minds in the global war against terrorism.
Ed Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), a conservative think tank based in Washington.