Of late, we have been discussing the concept of “preventive diplomacy” which has gained some currency for several years but which still remains in a kind of “early development” phase both in terms of what it means and how to fully implement it in practical day-to-day terms.
Experts have talked about winning the “hearts and minds of populations around the globe for decades. Yet today after continued application of this theory, America and it allies have won neither the trust nor the support from many of the world’s most disaffected peoples. Indeed many feel great distrust. Resentment towards the United States has grown rather than diminished in the case of those who say they support “terrorists” emotionally if not via actual participation. This opinion briefly swung in the opposite direction when Obama became president but soon afterward it regressed.
Clearly the problem is not just about perception but results from specific actions and policies undertaken by the U.S. and its allies. That we are losing the public relations “war” is clear. It is also a factor that deep poverty, exacerbated by the global economic crisis has left many at the bottom of the economic ladder to experience extreme desperation and anger. The rich countries not meeting their Millennium Development goals, only exacerbates the problem. But America still has not found its ‘better voice” in speaking to the peoples beyond out border.
I would contend that one fact was the abolition of the semi-independent United States Information Agency (USIA) and its misconceived “integration” into the Department of State. Few would argue that this “integration” enhanced our public diplomacy programs or added support for public diplomacy professionals. We have failed to provide resources or even imagination in telling “our story”. While some new programs were added in the last administration, they were ineffective and viewed as biased. The BBC is more respected for its content and fairness than most of our own efforts. Further we have not made even truly significant additions to existing radio and TV outreach. Some of our expensive programs do not even reach their intended audiences, like our Cuba broadcasts, while others in important regions have been cut back or eliminated entirely.
Let me be clear on another matter all the electronic and “virtual ” efforts will not work without the “person to person” exchanges, cultural outreach, and interactions that develop long-term understanding and cooperation. Granted this can not be done on the cheap but it is necessary to tell our story and engage those abroad in serious dialogue.
The question then is how do we re-structure our public diplomacy to function as a preventative diplomatic institution, so our efforts are the best that America can offer in terms of culture, information, and person-to-person exchanges? We need to change our micro and macro diplomatic strategies.
If one looks at the attitudes in Pakistan toward America, one can see the failure in one of the most volatile and dangerous places in the world. We spend more money building useless Cold War weapons that will never be used in combat than we do in winning the “hearts and minds” of those who easily fall prey to those that use hate as a weapon against us.
We need to discuss this within Congress, the administration, the media, and the public with a much greater sense of urgency that we have recently shown.