The Heritage Foundation

Executive Summary #1875

August 5, 2005

August 5, 2005 | Executive Summary on

Executive Summary: Strengthening U.S. Public Diplomacy Requires Organization, Coordination, and Strategy

September 11, 2001, may have been a wake-up call to reform America's outdated intelligence bureaucracies and fight a global war on terrorism, but in some corners of the government, the war of ideas has been a lesser priority. While overseas opinion polls show mostly negative views of the United States, the communications machinery at the Department of State remains in disarray, inter­agency coordination remains minimal, and Amer­ica's foreign communications effort lacks focus.

The nomination and confirmation of Karen Hughes as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplo­macy and Public Affairs is a much-needed step, but it is not enough. The White House and Congress must give Under Secretary Hughes adequate author­ity and resources, streamline foreign broadcasting to make it more flexible and less wasteful, and appoint a White House-level coordinator to ensure continu­ity across government agencies.

Specifically in the Middle East and Muslim world-the current priority-the United States must promote regional and local media initiatives to augment U.S. government broadcasting, support education programs to open minds, and engage foreign opinion leaders to lend their support.

Crippled Capabilities. Public diplomacy had been losing resources since the end of the Cold War. In 1999, Congress and the White House folded the once independent United States Infor­mation Agency (USIA) into the U.S. Department of State, creating disarray. As a result, the President lost the USIA director, a top adviser who tapped the pulse of the world's streets. Creative and inde­pendent-minded USIA communicators were forced into the lumbering, rigid State Department bureaucracy that started sending its own non-qual­ified officers to fill public diplomacy jobs. Frus­trated, the last two Under Secretaries of State for Public Diplomacy quit after a short stay.

Other government agencies-including the Department of Defense, U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, and U.S. Agency for International Development-tried to fill the vacuum, with mixed results.

Missing Coordination. After September 11, the White House organized interagency communica­tions crisis response teams similar to those used in political campaigns. It also created the Strategic Communications Policy Coordination Committee and the Office of Global Communications to help spokesmen stay on message and facilitate contacts with foreign journalists. Neither carried out long-term strategic planning, coordination, or program evaluation.

Some Administration initiatives, including the Middle East Partnership Initiative and the National Security Council (NSC) Muslim World Outreach initiative, show promise. However, these efforts lack a coordinating structure, and spending has been scattershot.

A Coordinated, Focused Approach. Like stovepiped intelligence programs prior to 9/11, U.S. public diplomacy still lacks organization, coordination, and strategy. While America cannot revive Cold War-era mechanisms, public diplo­macy can be reshaped and redirected. Specifically, the White House and Congress should:

  • Strengthen State Department public diplo­macy with personnel and budgetary author­ity. The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs should control public diplo­macy officers, both at headquarters in Foggy Bottom and in embassies around the world, to ensure that they have adequate resources and program guidance. Operational control can be shared with regional and functional bureaus.
  • Streamline foreign broadcasting to ensure timely coverage and less waste. The Broadcasting Board of Governors should make policies, not manage individual projects. The International Broadcasting Bureau should launch new surro­gate services to promote free media where absent, but such outlets should become self-sustaining. Congress should rewrite the Voice of America's archaic federal personnel rules to permit more flexible management.
  • Integrate efforts across government agencies by appointing an NSC public diplomacy coordi­nator and establishing an independent foreign polling center to serve government agencies.

The United States must also counter the influ­ence of Islamic extremism to defuse the root cause of current terrorism by:

  • Promoting regional and local media initia­tives that combat extremism. America should encourage the growth of independent private media and provide access to U.S. Arabic-speak­ing spokesmen and program content on U.S. channels that gives balanced news and commen­tary to counter misperceptions.
  • Investing in education. The United States should enhance support for existing American schools, offer local scholarships for the poor, and increase adult education opportunities. Moribund book translation programs should be revived.
  • Engaging opinion leaders. Public diplomacy officers should reach out to media elites to ensure that they have the information to counter misperceptions, distortions, stereo­types, and lies about America.

Conclusion. The Bush Administration and Con­gress have made progress in some areas of public diplomacy. Larger audiences are tuning in to U.S. government broadcasts while the Middle East Peace Initiative and Muslim World Outreach are encouraging more creative planning. However, the United States will lag in foreign outreach unless bureaucratic structures are streamlined, better coordinated, and focused on tasks at hand. A new Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy may help, but that is clearly not enough.

Stephen Johnson is Senior Policy Analyst for Latin America in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Stud­ies, at The Heritage Foundation, and Helle C. Dale is Director of the Allison Center. Patrick Cronin is the Senior Vice President and Director of Studies and Exec­utive Director of the Hills Governance Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

About the Author

Stephen Johnson Senior Policy Analyst
The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom