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by Donald M. Bishop
The United States is entering a period when the very structure of international relations — an order that heavily relies on effective American diplomacy, international rules, alliances, and strong U.S. military power — is challenged. So is American Public Diplomacy.

It’s commonplace to say the times call for bold thinking about change. While there are new technologies and new opportunities in Public Diplomacy, there is also a tried and true array of programs, and Public Diplomacy has some evergreen principles. New thinking, then, must also consider continuity.

“Continuity” is not the same as “inertia.” Inertia resists and delays change. Continuity of principles, however, strengthens any transition. To understand what needs to change and what is most valuable in its legacy, a discussion of Public Diplomacy doctrine may be helpful.


Some Macro Changes

Fundamental thinking about the future of Public Diplomacy must begin by acknowledging five major changes.

Diminished standing: The first change is that the State Department, the Foreign Service, and American Public Diplomacy now have a diminished share of America’s engagement with the world. Here are some examples:

  • At the time of the moon landing in 1969, thousands of Bengalis gathered outside the American Center in Dacca (now Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh). The State Department cables to the Embassy and the Voice of America delivered the news faster than any local commercial news sources. In 2013, in contrast, Bangadeshis receive news by satellite television. The moment for Public Diplomacy to be an important news provider has long passed.
  • In Korea in the 1970s, the American Cultural Centers were important venues for studying English. Since students in uniform were forbidden to enter theatres — a distraction from their studies — the Centers were the only places where they could hear (in person or on film) unaccented American English. Forty years later, Korean students watch satellite television and Hollywood DVD’s, and thousands of Americans teach English conversation in at schools and institutes.
  • Once the American Center libraries were the only lending libraries in many countries, and their book collections provided knowledge about the U.S. and the world unavailable anywhere else. Now, who needs to visit a Public Affairs Section’s Information Resources Center when anyone can start with Wikipedia and move to the immense knowledge resources on the internet? I was in a Caribbean country last year, and I found that PAS there had managed to maintain a truly attractive library with an excellent collection. It made me remember the glory days. It had some workstations too. The only problem with this well-maintained (and therefore expensive) library was that no one was using it except a few students who came to check their Facebook accounts on the library’s computers.

So — Public Diplomacy has a shrinking share of the world’s “bandwidth” focused on the United States or on international issues.

Larger ambitions: Even as Public Diplomacy’s standing has diminished, its goals have become more expansive: to foster entrepreneurship around the world, to enhance the role of women, and to provide opportunity to the dispossessed among them. There seems a mismatch between Public Diplomacy’s shrinking place in international conversations and growing list of new goals. This is a recipe for frustration.

It’s time to be honest. If the agenda is social change, or dealing with deeply rooted problems, years of work will be required. Years to define the problem. Years to create awareness. Years to garner funds or to win the attention of development gatekeepers. Years for assessments and benchmarking. Learning how universal principles can fit into local culture. Seminars and workshops. Drafts of legislation. Carrots and sticks for the local government by the donors. Fending off those who profit from lack of reform. Research and studies. Pilot projects. Funding NGOs over the long run. And so on.

Public Diplomacy is too light to do this. Under Secretaries and directors of Public Diplomacy programs at universities and think tanks envision Public Diplomacy as able to deliver social change, but they’re wrong. Public Diplomacy programs can play a supporting role, but Public Diplomacy’s resources are too small to make a long-term impact. Because they’re scattered over too many programs and too many goals in too many countries, there’s never enough critical mass to make a decisive difference in any one. Thinking that a few Fulbrighters, a few Visitors, a few speakers, a few smallish conferences, or a few grants can make a real dent is a form of Public Diplomacy… hubris.

Let me draw a military parallel. Think of the Civil War. Battles were won by masses of infantry helped by their supporting arms.

In social change, only USAID has the money and experience to work over the long term. They are the infantry.

That doesn’t mean there’s no role for Public Diplomacy. It just means that Public Diplomacy people have to understand what it can achieve and what it can’t. Public Diplomacy with its light funding, its light arms, are rather the scouts and skirmishers that move ahead of the infantry. They report on the shape of the battlefield. Their fire can slow advancing enemy formations coming their way. But scouts and skirmishers only “prepare” or “soften” or “shape” the battlefield, and no infantry, no victory. Or no social change. Public Diplomacy is too light, as in “light infantry,” to effect change on its own.

I editorialize that such understanding has been scant among Under Secretaries of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, who seem to have an unquenchable thirst for vignettes that prove how Public Diplomacy is tackling and solving the world’s problems. Or, to be more cynical, how my Public Diplomacy people are tackling and solving the world’s problems by taking my advice, following my lead, and implementing programs I have directed.

Bottom line: Public Diplomacy can’t effect social change. It may be able to do some supporting work, focused on communication, but it can’t by itself make a real dent. Public Diplomacy leadership needs to acknowledge this.

No money to match the dreams: These days Public Diplomacy seems to be channeling Wordsworth: “Bliss it was at that dawn to be alive.” The possibilities for Public Diplomacy now seem endless. Yes, the daily drudgery of media work needs to be done. The Embassy’s political section still wants press translations. But think of the new world that beckons: close the digital divide, open the new frontier with gastrodiplomacy, help the Ambassador be a star, create a new force of entrepreneurs, defeat censorship and unleash the internet, provide higher education to the millions through MOOCs, empower the powerless, raise the disadvantaged, end inequality, and save the planet.

For Public Diplomacy, all these good causes run into a reality: there’s not enough money. Public Diplomacy officers have Lincoln’s choices: Do some of the things everywhere. Do all of the things in some places. But it’s not possible do all of the things in all of the places. Public Diplomacy is too light, and there will never be enough money.

I say it once again. I’ve often heard from colleagues, “just give us the money we’ve always needed, and we can do more Fulbrights, more Visitors, more English teaching, more speakers, more press, more sports, more performing arts, sprinkle in Facebook, and we’ll do more good.”

I say it once again. This is wishin’ and hopin.’ Public Diplomacy is not facing the fact that in the coming era of austerity, extra money and more people are not coming its way. Any new federal revenues must be allocated to fund entitlement programs.

The prospect that economic growth may eventually provide more tax revenue that might be allocated for Public Diplomacy is, I believe, also a chimera. American businessmen may be Olympic runners, but whether they run sprints or hurdles or miles or marathons, there are weights on their running shoes. The weights are a tax code now 74,000 pages long, the Dodd-Frank law (848 pages when it was passed in 2010, now supplemented by implementing regulations 28 times as long by one estimate), and 25,000 pages of new federal regulations affecting the environment since 2009.

Bottom line: The federal budget will pay for more lawyers, regulators, compliance officers, IRS agents, accountants, web designers, and (a fraction of) those needed answer federal agency help lines, but not more Fulbright scholars or International Visitors.

I find myself in agreement with the Marine Corps maxim: Vision without resources is fantasy.

The Social Media and changes in communication: I confess to not being a member of the social media generation, but I can see its promise. It might be able to revive the old dream to communicate with the world’s people in a very large way. “Back in the day,” the 1950s and 1960s, the Mopix caravans that showed films on sheets in remote villages were an effort to reach many people, not just the elites. Reduced budgets ended this effort. Can the social media achieve the old goals?

My answer is “maybe,” or “maybe not.”

The embrace of the social media by Public Diplomacy has been uneven. In Washington, the use of social media runs up against the State Department culture of clearances and control. The same is true at overseas posts.

Deployment of social media has been added to the already long list of demands on public affairs sections, with no extra money or people — an unfunded mandate, so to speak.

Also, new systems applications encounter the need for strict network security, so it’s hard to be nimble and responsive.

There’s divided opinion whether the social media simply provide more tools for the Public Diplomacy toolbox, or whether they are somehow transformative. Look at the blogs and you’ll see that the Ambassadorial videos have received decidedly mixed reviews. Likewise, comments on the videos of Embassy staff dancing to Psy’s tune were not always been laudatory.

I am persuaded that an active social media posture by an Ambassador can — in the short run — enhance feelings of friendship and cooperation. Whether this can affect the bottom line in a negotiation hasn’t yet been proven. Ambassador Gary Locke’s using a coupon at Starbucks initially made a good impression among Chinese netizens, but when he left China, Starbucks was forgotten when he was attacked with “banana” slurs.

More Country Team members have programs that parallel State’s Public Diplomacy: On job descriptions and in annual evaluations, it was common for Public Affairs Officers to be designated as “principal public affairs advisor to the Ambassador.” When the Embassy spokesperson was the Information Officer and when it was the Public Affairs Section that organized all of the Embassy’s programs in education, exchanges, and culture, this was accurate. It is no longer so.

Today many Embassy officers and sections manage and fund programs for education, awareness, and information. Many sections are sending local leaders to the U.S. Agriculture has its own Cochran program; DEA has its own money for drug education; Commerce funds local public affairs firms to handle trade show public relations; USAID has its own Development Outreach Communications (DOC) specialists; and USAID grants to implementing partners often include money for their own communication and public affairs.

These other members of the Country Team have their own money and authorities, and the path of least resistance is for every section to run its own programs. Many of these efforts overlap. Unaware of what USAID implementing partners may be doing, Public Affairs Officers may be duplicating programs. All of this calls for alignment.

To sum up, we need to think through “change” and “continuity” in Public Diplomacy. When we do so, I am persuaded that it’s less necessary to discuss individual programs than it is to examine Public Diplomacy’s doctrine. It’s doctrine that we’ll next examine.

Public Diplomacy Doctrine
“Doctrine” may not be a common expression among Public Diplomacy officers. I use the word “doctrine” in the way the concept is used in the armed forces. Doctrine is the considered professional principles, template, rules, or guidelines for how an organization best attains its goals.

Every Air Force officer understands its doctrine — that air assets in any theatre are most effective when they are commanded by one air leader, rather than being organized into “penny packets” under many commanders, not all of them airmen. Every Marine Corps officer knows that the entire Corps is shaped around the doctrine of “forcible entry from the sea,” organizationally expressed in scalable Marine Air-Ground-Logistics Task Forces. The whole Corps trains this way, and using it another way slackens its power. Beneath the overarching service doctrines, there is artillery doctrine, or counterinsurgency doctrine, or airlift doctrine, or submarine doctrine.

Public Diplomacy still largely relies on a repertoire of programs developed decades ago. Some “new” programs are old ones moved to the internet, or conducted at a faster speed. Some are new — think culinary diplomacy.

In addition to programs, Public Diplomacy had doctrine too, though it didn’t use the word, and they were never written down in one place. They were taught in the training course for new officers, and they were communicated in the system of mentorship and career development, where young officers learned the trade from seniors.

It’s fair to say that the doctrine and the toolbox of programs originally reflected the circumstances of the 1950s and 1960s. They were formed in the time of newspapers and magazines, evening newspaper deadlines, wire services, teletypes, radio broadcasting by short wave, the evening television news programs run by the three networks, world’s fairs and international exhibitions, “telling America’s story to the world” [“telling” the world about the U.S. example, “story” in the singular], federal preeminence in foreign policy, and the competition with secular ideologies [e.g. fascism and Communism in one dimension, or political or economic determinism in another].

That world of communication has, of course, changed. Newspapers and magazines have given way to digital publications. Once there were “wires,” now there are tweets and blogs. There are no more “deadlines,” there’s only 24/7 news. Once the Voice of America broadcast on short wave; now its largest platform is the internet. World’s fairs and international exhibitions no longer have much presence in the global conversation. There isn’t one American story, there are many stories. We need to “listen,” as well as “tell.” States, cities, universities, NGOs and non-profits are all engaged with the world. So are extreme and violent non-state actors. Religiously motivated terrorist groups will not be persuaded by secular arguments. And so on. It’s fair to ask whether these changes have made the old Public Diplomacy doctrine obsolete, too. Let’s begin by examining them.

A Look Back
When I entered the Foreign Service as a Public Diplomacy officer in 1979, one of the most significant speakers was Allen Carter, a recently retired officer who had boldly reshaped the organization of Public Diplomacy in Japan in the mid-1970s. His thinking lay at the heart of what I would now call Public Diplomacy’s doctrine — its best practices — in the late 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

Public Diplomacy doctrine unfolded from some basic premises.

First, the purpose of Public Diplomacy is to advance the foreign policy goals of the United States. “Mutual understanding” is a means to that goal, not public diplomacy’s independent purpose.

Second, America’s goals in the world — be they large and overarching (security, the spread of democracy, equality for women, or using markets and enterprise to increase prosperity, for instance) — or small and focused (a treaty or agreement) — are constructive and wholesome. We invite cooperation because America’s goals will always provide mutual benefits.

The Three Box Model
Graduate students in communications and media studies can now draw on a variety of models in their work. (They are especially attractive when presented on PowerPoint.) As I think back, Public Diplomacy officers weren’t taught much about communications theory, but they were given one “carry in your knapsack” model. It had three boxes and two arrows: Issue → Audience → Program.

The doctrine was to decide first on the issue we needed to discuss in the countries we were stationed. Let’s use an example: better protection of intellectual property.

We then should determine the audiences we needed to reach: Publishers? Economic and business journalists? Artists and musicians? Law school professors? Parliamentarians? Booksellers? Different approaches were needed for different audiences.

Then, having identified an issue and an audience, we should organize a “program”: a seminar, a conference, an electronic dialog (a long distance conference call with a Washington expert), a workshop, a U.S. speaker, a Worldnet dialog, a Fulbrighter to teach IPR at the leading law school, or perhaps simply a speech on the topic by the Ambassador.

Issues First: The “issues” part of this model, the topics for its first box, were outlined in the annual Country Public Affairs Plan written by each PAO, approved by the Ambassador. Annually each PAO determined the “communications tensions” between the U.S. and the other nation, and then used the rest of the three-box program planning model to address them.

Audiences: As for “audiences,” posts and FSNs always had “cuff lists” of contacts in various areas. The computerized Distribution and Records System (DRS) pioneered in Japan systematized these contacts. Influential people would be entered in the database, which tracked their profession, level, age, language ability, interests, and so on. We were shown how, in small countries, PAO’s used a bank of IBM cards with punched edges to maintain their database, threading a long thin metal rod through the punches to select individuals for programs. The same cards had the names and addresses printed on them using ditto ink, so after an individual’s card was selected, the same card printed the addresses for the announcements or invitations to a program.

I later saw that in Japan and Korea, a group of dedicated FSNs could maintain a highly useful and frequently used computerized database of contacts. But the assignment of FSNs to this task was quite uneven around the world, and then, as now, audience identification and tracking is one of the consistent weaknesses of Public Diplomacy.

Only then to Programs: For the third box, “program,” we could draw on all the programs and templates that American Public Diplomacy had developed over the years. The Fulbright and speaker programs, for instance, were good ways to reach academic audiences. Sports programs and youth exchanges could be brought to bear if the target audience was youth. Different publications and magazines could reach a variety of elite audiences. Some magazines were regional (Topic for Africa, Al-Majal for the Arabic-speaking countries, World Today in Chinese), and some were topical (Economic Impact, Dialog for the arts and high culture). Worldnets and electronic dialogs were good programs to reach journalists.

The most common mistake made by Public Diplomacy officers in the field — a mistake egged on Washington offices, who want their own programs to have visibility — is to decide on a program modality and then search for an audience and issue. “Let’s use Skype!” “The Ambassador has to give a speech!” “Let’s accept this offer of a jazz quartet.” Dating myself, I know, I call this the Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney Theory of Public Diplomacy — “let’s have a show.” It lacks discipline.

It’s now conspicuous that the simple three box model lacked a box labeled “feedback,” “evaluation,” or perhaps “metrics.” This does not mean they were absent from Public Diplomacy thinking. The research offices in Washington conducted large evaluations and studies. The fast reaction staffs in Washington, receiving press translations from posts in every important country every day, developed an amazing feel for shifts in opinion around the world. And there was a tight internal discipline that select programs in every country would be reported to Washington in formatted cables. Finally, the same (primitive) DRS software that generated audience lists and kept attendance records also generated management printouts that provided quarterly evaluations of a country program for the PAO — and the inspectors.

Unwritten Elements of Doctrine
The three-box model provided a workaday approach for programs and activities. Public Diplomacy officers were taught some other elements of doctrine.

Principal Public Affairs Advisor the Chief of Mission
It was common on Foreign Service position descriptions and annual evaluations to describe the duties of the Public Affairs Officer in an Embassy as the “principal advisor” on public affairs and public diplomacy to the Ambassador. As mentioned above, this was relatively uncomplicated, but it is no longer true. Many Embassy officers and sections now manage and fund programs for education, awareness, and information. A greater alignment and more unity of effort would strengthen Public Diplomacy.

Policy not Culture
We were definitely taught that we were not in the business of “culture” but rather the business of “policy.” “We don’t do culture, we do policy” was the mantra. Cultural events and programs might be part of an overall program, leavening a post’s activities and an Embassy’s public posture with events that showcased America. These cultural activities were, though, just “leaven.” The real business of Public Diplomacy was to focus on policy — economic, trade, commercial, human rights, defense, and so on. Culture was the fluff, policy was the freight. A seminar on the need to reduce non-tariff barriers during the Uruguay Round, according to the doctrine, was worth more than programming visiting clog dancers.

Programs follow the Plan
At Foreign Service posts, the Country Public Affairs Plan, and later the Mission Program Plan (MPP) or the Mission Strategy and Resources Plan (MSRP), was an explicit effort to define bilateral foreign policy priorities. These were the precursors of the current planning document, the Integrated Country Strategy (ICS).

Usually there were four or five large issues like democratization, economic liberalization, global issues, development, and so on. Each one of these would have some country-specific subheads. Thinking about economic liberalization in one country, the largest need might be to address protectionism, perhaps, but in another country the need was for programs to wean the nation off domestic subsidies for its farmers.

The main point of the planning process was to align Public Affairs programs and activities with bilateral policy goals. A PAO following a plan would make far more headway on specific issues than a random mix of activities.

It was customary to add another goal — variously described as “Understanding American Society” or later “Foundation of Trust” — that captured the need to place policy issues in a larger American social and political context. This goal provided the justification for a seminar on the Congressional roles in foreign policy, but it could be stretched to leave room for poets and clog dancers. The downside of such an open objective in the plan was that PAOs could park anything they wanted to do under this broad rubric. New Public Diplomacy officers were taught, though, that if most of a post’s activities were being justified under the “Understanding American Society” goal, it was a weak program. It meant the PAO was doing comfortable things with comfortable audiences, not addressing the hard issues.

Field Driven Programs
That Washington responded to and organized its efforts to support the Country Public Affairs Plans prepared by posts reflected one more principle in the doctrine: Public Diplomacy was to be “field driven,” not “Washington driven.” Posts would only rarely be pressured to organize activities to support a particular administration’s latest initiative. Rather the Country Public Affairs Plan set priorities. If the latest wrinkle in U.S. support for Middle East peace was not an issue in Argentina, no one rode the PAO in Buenos Aires to demonstrate her fidelity to the administration’s priorities du jour; she could work on the issues she and the Ambassador had put into the Argentina-specific Country Public Affairs Plan.

Another doctrinal point: Officers shaping annual program plans were to be guided by the Country Public Affairs Plan and by bilateral foreign policy priorities – not by their own background and interests. A story that illustrated this doctrinal principle came from Thailand. An officer who was a square dancing enthusiast had used the American Centers to launch square dancing in Thailand. As a Cultural Affairs initiative, this had some merit because square dancing was American, but it didn’t press against different local standards of propriety. And it’s fun! The problem was that when this officer left, the square dancing initiative collapsed.

Again, Public Diplomacy programs were to be grounded on long-term issues in the Country Public Affairs Plan, and focused on discrete audiences. Their long term continuance should not depend on the individual talent or interest of an individual officer.

The Ability to Say “No”
Along these lines, one speaker told us that a PAO’s most important quality was the ability to say “no.” He was right, I found. The demands on a Public Affairs Section at an Embassy or Consulate are virtually limitless.

Local people are full of good ideas for Public Diplomacy to implement, to spend time on, to spend Uncle Sam’s money. Give us English teaching for high school students. Bring plays. We need a children’s library too. We need to know more about modern art. Can you teach a course on American history at our university? Can you see my son every week to give him practice with his English (this from the mayor or province governor). Send us a speaker on American poetry; can Alan Ginsburg come?

Similarly, your Embassy colleagues are full of ideas for how Public Diplomacy can help them do their jobs. Bring us a speaker on woman and child trafficking. Can you send us ten pages of local media translations each day, rather than two? Send my most primo contact to the U.S. as an International Visitor. Can you send my friend the painter to the U.S. as a Fulbrighter (this from the Ambassador’s spouse). And so on.

In a world of unlimited resources, unlimited money and unlimited staff time, each one of these proposals could have some kind of useful result. The reality, though, is money is short and time is dear. This is why Public Diplomacy officers were taught that the first important management trait for a PAO is “the ability to say ‘no.'” This was shorthand for the ability to set program priorities that responded to America’s national goals in the country, written out explicitly in the Country Public Affairs Plan.

Small Budgets Mean Two-Step Communication
Another element of the doctrine derived from the fact that Public Diplomacy had largely given up the heady dreams of its early, well-funded days — of communicating directly to the world’s peoples. By 1979, the old Mopix units were mostly disbanded. The jeep caravans — with projector, generator, and a sheet to place on the side of a building in a village — were only memories. The Exhibits Division that had conceptualized and built American pavilions at international exhibitions was reduced and dispirited. Films like Years of Lightning, Day of Drums or The Harvest were history. American Centers no longer hosted the English teaching clubs I had seen in Korea. Broadcasting was done by VOA and the surrogate radios.

The doctrinal result of this narrowing of focus, driven by limited resources, was that Public Diplomacy was in the business of “two-step” communication. Public Diplomacy engaged professors and deans, and they would reach students. The Public Affairs Section provided statements and materials to editors and reporters of the pencil press, and they would write for readers. Public Diplomacy arranged events or programs for television journalists and anchors, and they would reach viewers. It arranged for speakers and experts to meet parliamentarians, and they would write laws.

The two-step model was, no doubt, an “elite” model. Make no mistake, Public Diplomacy had the old ambition to communicate directly with the world’s peoples, but the two-step doctrine reflected a reality — that the Agency would never be funded at the scale necessary for direct communication.

Americans and FSNs Together
In Public Affairs Sections overseas, American officers work with Locally Employed Staff (LES), formerly called Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs). It’s American supervisors who think about how best to support U.S. goals, but it’s the LES that contribute the specific programming ideas that take an American concept and make it work locally. They know the influence structure of local society. They also make up for Foreign Service Officer deficits. If the FSO’s command of the local language is weak, the LES help out. FSOs transfer to another country every few years; it’s the LES that provide continuity. Public Affairs Sections usually have a higher LES/FSO ratio than other substantive sections of the Embassy, and the doctrine regarded this as a real strength.

Students of “propaganda” divide it into “white,” “gray,” and “black.” I strongly dispute that Public Diplomacy work is propaganda, but it’s useful to think about these distinctions.

In the 1950s, there may have been some overlap between Public Diplomacy work at some overseas posts with military psychological operations and the CIA’s efforts to influence opinion leaders in Europe. There was, however, no discussion and no support for this when I entered the Foreign Service at the end of the 1970s. Public Diplomacy events and messaging were completely “white,” truthful information, fully attributed to the U.S. government. This was another unwritten element of Public Diplomacy doctrine.

Public Diplomacy was committed to “white” communication only, but I noticed over the years that there was one practice not fully in harmony with the doctrine. On many issues, U.S. development messaging was attributed to USAID’s implementing partners. For instance, there were occasions when family planning programs encountered strongly adverse local values. Neither USAID nor the implementing partners believed it would be helpful for local people to see the American government funding behind the push for smaller families, contraception, and choice, so the implementing partners carried the water. To my mind, this muddied the commitment to “white.”

The commitment to “white” information might possibly be modified in war zones. In wartime environments, I can imagine circumstances when it might be useful to circulate accurate information without direct attribution to the Embassy. To my mind, however, this would require explicit authorization of a limited exception to the general doctrine. If there is a professional debate on doctrine, this should be an agenda item.

Doctrine and Practices
There were minor elements of doctrine as well as major ones. For instance, Public Diplomacy officers learned that when they brought speakers to a foreign country, organized seminars, or set up electronic dialogs with American experts, not every speaker had to agree with every policy of the current Administration. If a speaker went off message on this or that, Public Diplomacy was making a secondary point about robust democratic debate over policy issues. And it was the job of the accompanying American FSO — an FSO was to attend every event involving a visiting speaker — to chime in and to voice the Administration’s point of view.

There were other Public Diplomacy practices. For instance, a Public Affairs Section would never pay for media coverage or buy advertising. Public Diplomacy events, large or small, were always free. In paper, printing, layout, and content, every publication was to reflect the prosperity and cultural leadership of the United States. There would be no advertising in Public Diplomacy publications. Every office, library, or other facility would showcase the most modern interior design. (Imagine!) All communications or inquires received in Washington from overseas would be routed to the Embassy and its Public Affairs Sections for reply or action. To the extent possible, the scholarships and fellowships for foreign academics should be in the humanities and social sciences, not in science and engineering.

Time for Debate and Discussion
That was then. Now’s the time to examine and reconsider the doctrine. There’s been no discussion of these fundamental principles since 9/11.

In this century, the career paths, training, and assignment sequences for Public Diplomacy officers are the same as for the four other cones in the Foreign Service. As experienced Public Diplomacy officers leave the field on excursion tours or to become DCMs and DASs, and as officers from other cones take Public Diplomacy jobs to broaden their careers, the experience quotient in Public Affairs Sections has become lower. The new arrangements have had an unintended side effect — Public Diplomacy programs and resources are no longer internally shaped to fit the doctrine hammered out over the years. Doctrinal confusion has weakened the effectiveness of Public Diplomacy in the twenty-first century.

Yes, the world changes rapidly, but that does not mean that everything is up in the air all the time. Foreign Service Officers, moreover, located away from the opinion centers of American society, dealing with quite different opinion environments, need some common approaches, templates, rules of thumb — in short, doctrine.

Doctrine cannot be decreed from on high. It must be hammered out by those with actual experience running programs. There is a role for the political appointees in launching and joining a discussion of doctrine, but to my mind their role is add to the discussion, not to mandate its outcomes.

Each of the old elements of doctrine should be debated. The debate may affirm some elements, change or edit others, or propose new guidelines. I place the following doctrinal preferences on the table for discussion. Public Diplomacy should:

  • be field driven (though it will always be able to “surge” on specific worldwide issues when needed);
  • take its lead from Mission planning rather than worldwide goals;
  • acknowledge that given limited staff, time, and resources, it’s more effective to focus on present and future influencers;
  • admit that Public Diplomacy has too few resources to effect fundamental social change. (It’s USAID, not Public Diplomacy, that does development.)
  • recruit, train, educate, and build a cone that emphasizes deep professional knowledge of communication and opinion, and do those tasks well.
  • maintain the principle that Public Diplomacy communication will always be “white”
  • formally confirm the writ of Public Affairs Officers in the field to always know what other departments and agencies may be doing so that he or she can actually be the “principal advisor” to the Ambassador.

Others would make different choices. I’m less committed to any specific preferences than to the idea that Public Diplomacy needs a period of vigorous discussion and debate. Compared to the time when the current senior leaders in Public Diplomacy began their careers, much has changed, yes. In any field, however, there are also continuities. Not every “best practice” is a new one. Some “lessons learned” are recent, others of older vintage are still relevant.

The point is:  Public Diplomacy needs the professional debate.End.

American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to American Diplomacy.


Author Donald M. Bishop, a retired Foreign Service Officer who led U.S. Public Diplomacy in Bangladesh, Nigeria, China, and Afghanistan, is President of the Public Diplomacy Council.


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