The purpose of this paper is to examine why the ideas that now
animate U.S. public diplomacy lead necessarily to its failure and
to suggest the principles with which those ideas should be replaced
if we are to win the struggle with radical Islamism and to repair
the standing of the United States in the world. The emphasis here
will be on the content of public diplomacy--the currency of the
ideas in which it should deal--rather than on its organizational
structure or its programmatic aspects.
The primary purpose of United States public diplomacy is to
explain, promote, and defend American principles to audiences
abroad. This objective goes well beyond the public affairs function
of presenting and explaining specific policies of various
Administrations. Policies and Administrations change; principles do
not, so long as the United States remains true to itself.
Public diplomacy has a particularly vital mission during war,
when the peoples of other countries, whether adversaries or allies,
need to know why we fight. What are the ideas so dear to us that we
would rather kill and die than live without them? And what
antithetical ideas do our enemies embrace, about which they feel
the same way? After all, it is a conflict of ideas that is behind
the shooting wars, and it is that conflict which must be won to
achieve any lasting success.
Yet U.S. public diplomacy is generally acknowledged as a
failure--an especially egregious one since 9/11. By all accounts,
we have been absent from the battlefield of ideas. This is
particularly clear to those fighting the shooting wars. Lieutenant
General John R. Vines (Ret.), a ground commander in both Iraq and
Afghanistan, wanted very much to see an active U.S. effort in the
war of ideas, without which he knew his troops would pay a higher
price with their own lives. His frustration at the handicapped
American abilities in this regard led him to conclude that "[w]e
were given the authority to kill the enemy, but the authority to
influence them so that we might not have to was withheld."
Meanwhile, those whose very job, one would have thought,
is to "influence them" deny that this is their mission. At a
strategic communications conference at the National Defense
University on October 15, 2008, Jeffrey Trimble, chief of staff of
the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), said of the more than
$600 million government overseas broadcasting effort, "It is not in
our mandate to influence."
How is it that a country founded upon rational deliberation has
been reduced to kinetic means as its primary, perhaps its only,
means of communication? One reason for this is that the destruction
of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) in 1999 eliminated many of
the capabilities for such activities. However, the main reasons for
failure stem from intellectual confusion regarding what it is we
are defending and against whom we are defending it.
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