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Public Diplomacy

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Public diplomacy is a euphemism for public relations by governments. The term was popularized in the 1970s with the creation of the now defunct "Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean." The OPD, at the behest of top White House Officials, sought to demonize the Nicaraguan Sandinistas and provide cover for the secret CIA war against them. (NB: the term "public diplomacy" started in the 1970s, but it was popularized later on. That is not to say that there weren't such efforts before, albeit under a different guise. )

The phrase public diplomacy has been revitalized in the wake of 9/11. With American military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq has come an awareness in the United States that there is increasing hostility towards the U.S. especially in Arab and Muslim countries. Congressional leaders and the State Department have urged increasing public diplomacy efforts as cure to anti-US sentiment.

Public diplomacy seeks to change attitudes about the U.S. and U.S. actions by "telling the story" of the U.S. better and by promoting "Brand USA." Many doubts its actual potential for success since U.S. foreign policy, which is most often cited as the reason for anti-U.S. sentiment, remains unchallenged and unchanged.

Alternative Definitions

"Public diplomacy—the art of engaging, informing, and influencing key international audiences—is back on Washington's radar screen. Gone is public diplomacy’s post-Cold War obscurity, when many considered it irrelevant after the dissolution of the USSR. Today, with a so-called war on terror, government officials, media pundits, and commentators from both left and right have revived public diplomacy as a tool to win the U.S. government’s battle for the “hearts and minds” of the Muslim world. There are calls, in Congress and elsewhere, for increased funding for public diplomacy programs, as well as numerous proposals to make it a more effective tool of U.S. foreign policy in the post-9/11 world."
John H. Brown,
Institute for the Study of Diplomacy
Georgetown Univ.
quoted in John H. Brown, "Public Diplomacy During the Cold War", GJIA, Volume 6, Issue 1, Winter/Spring 2005. (review of two new books on the topic).
"In my work in public diplomacy, the key concern was always how we could achieve our U.S. government objective by getting the public (or some part of the public) in other countries to move their government to support the U.S. objective."
Gene E. Bigler, "Advancing Public Diplomacy: One Advocate At A Time," Delivered at the YPro Public Diplomacy Roundtable, 28 July 2005.

Statements About Public Diplomacy

Hyde Welcomes Findings of Study on Public Diplomacy; He also praises decision by Bush Administration to create White House Office of Global Communications. U.S. Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-IL), chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said ... that the recommendations of a study on public diplomacy released by the Council on Foreign Relations underscore the urgent need to strengthen U.S. outreach efforts to the world.

The findings released today come more than a week after the House of Representatives approved H.R. 3969, the Freedom Promotion Act of 2002, authored by Hyde, which reshapes and strengthens the State Department's public diplomacy efforts; reorganizes international broadcasting activities, including a provision for satellite television broadcasting to the Middle East and other regions; and recasts a range of U.S.-sponsored exchange programs. The Hyde initiative includes an authorization for $255 million in additional spending over the next two years.

Hyde, making the following statement, also embraced a decision by the Bush Administration to create a new office of global communications within the White House to help coordinate public diplomacy efforts:

"The poisonous image of the United States that is deliberately propagated around the world is more than a mere irritation. It has a direct and negative impact on American interests, not only by undermining our foreign policy goals but also by endangering the safety of Americans here at home and abroad. Clearly, this situation has not emerged suddenly or without warning. It has been building for decades, even as we stood and watched.

"Over the years, the images of mindless hatred directed at us have appeared on our television screens with a sickening regularity. All this time, we have heard calls that 'something must be done.' But, clearly, whatever has been done has not been enough.

"The decision by the Bush Administration to create an office of global communications within the White House will give shape and focus to the timely messages we send to the world about the purpose and intent of American actions and policies. Within the foreign policy community, this decision can only be interpreted as an enthusiastic endorsement of a more action-oriented public diplomacy strategy.

"The Council's work comes at a critical time in our efforts to enact into law many of the recommendations contained in the report. I believe it will prove to be an invaluable addition to the public discourse on this vital issue."

From U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on International Relations Web Site.[1]

Public Diplomacy in Pakistan

Wall Street Journal editorial board member Bret Stephens writes that U.S. assistance to Pakistan following the devastating October 8 earthquake is "one of America's most significant hearts-and-minds successes so far in the Muslim world. ... The Chinook has become America's new emblem in Pakistan, a byword for salvation in an area where until recently the U.S. was widely and fanatically detested." But the secretary general of the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, "the highest Islamic authority in the world's most populous Muslim nation," said U.S. aid following last year's tsunami has not improved America's standing there. "The Muslim perception is very much dependent on American foreign policy in the Muslim world, not only in Aceh but also in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan," he told AFP. The director of a Sri Lankan think tank agreed, but faulted Washington. "There was no visible campaign to carry [initial praise from aid efforts] forward," he said. [http://online.wsj.com/article/SB113522072648729208.html?mod=opinion_main_commentaries

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