Executive Summary #1875
August 5, 2005
September 11, 2001, may have been a wake-up call to reform America's outdated intelligence bureaucracies and fight a global war on terrorism, but in some corners of the government, the war of ideas has been a lesser priority.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:
The United States must also counter the influence of Islamic extremism to defuse the root cause of current terrorism by:
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.