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American Diplomacy
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August 2002

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Charlotte Beers
Endnotes

1. www.state.gov: "The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Charlotte Beers, helps ensure that public diplomacy (engaging, informing, and influencing key international audiences) is practiced in harmony with public affairs (outreach to Americans) and traditional diplomacy to advance U.S. interests and security and to provide the moral basis for U.S. leadership in the world." The State Department homepage contains information on individual public diplomacy programs. It is not within the scope of this paper to examine the relationship of public diplomacy with, respectively, public affairs and traditional diplomacy; suffice it to say that, together with the tensions that exist within public diplomacy (see below), there are also tensions among these three activities. Even today, for example, when the importance of world public opinion is widely acknowledged, traditionally-minded diplomats, like their European brethren at the Versailles peace negotiations nearly one hundred years ago, cannot fully understand how diplomacy, in order to be effective, can in any sense ever be "public" (as Woodrow Wilson demanded). In the traditionalists’ view, diplomacy should be carried out quietly by individuals behind closed doors, in confidence, as a process of negotiation; public diplomacy, in contrast, focuses on information, education, and (for lack of a better word) delectation, and deals openly with often large publics. As for public diplomacy and public affairs, a key tension between them is whether a message addressed to a domestic public should be identical to one directed to a foreign audience.

2. The word "fuzzy" to describe public diplomacy is used by Frank Ninkovich, U.S. Information Policy and Cultural Diplomacy (New York, NY, 1996), 3.

3. Lois W. Roth, "Public Diplomacy and the Past: The Search for an American Style of Propaganda (1952-1977)," Fletcher Forum, 8 (Summer 1984), 358, where Roth notes that public diplomacy as originally used by Gullion referred to "non-governmental, private sector and direct people-to-people programs as well." It was officially adopted by the United States government to describe its own programs dealing with foreign public opinion in the 1970s. (Ninkovich, U.S. Information Policy and Cultural Diplomacy, 41.) The term "public diplomacy" was once uniquely American, but it has now been adopted in a number of countries. As an example of its use in Britain, see Mark Leonard and Liz Noble, "Being Public: How diplomacy will need to change to cope with the information society," IMP (July 2001), <http://www.cisp.org/ imp/july_ 2001/07_01leonard.htm>

4. Jefferson letter to Henry Lee, May 8, 1825, cited in Oren Stephens, Facts to a Candid World (Stanford, 1955), 29.

5. American exceptionalism: "the belief that America enjoys immunity from the historical misfortunes that have plagued Europe" (Ninkovich, 5).

6. On the CPI, see James R. Mock and Cedric Larson, Words that Won the War: The Story of the Committee on Public Information, 1917-1919 (Princeton, 1939). On the OWI, see Allan M. Winkler, The Politics of Propaganda: The Office of War Information, 1942-1945 (New Haven, 1978); Clayton D. Laurie, The Propaganda Warriors: America's Crusade Against Nazi Germany (Lawrence, KS, 1996); Charles A. Thomson, Overseas Information Service of the United States Government (Washington, 1948). On USIA, see Thomas C. Sorensen, The Word War: The Story of American Propaganda (New York, 1968); Gifford D. Malone, Political Advocacy and Cultural Communication: Organizing the Nation's Public Diplomacy (Lanham, MD, 1988); Wilson Dizard, The Strategy of Truth: The Story of the United States Information Service (Washington, 1961); Hans N. Tuch, Communicating with the World: U.S. Public Diplomacy Overseas (New York, 1990).

7. Public Law 402 [Smith-Mundt Act], January 27, 1948 [H.R. 3342]. The best account of early State Department educational and cultural programs is Frank A. Ninkovich, The Diplomacy of Ideas: U.S. Foreign Policy and Cultural Relations, 1938-1950 (Cambridge [Eng.] and New York, 1981). See also Charles A. Thomson and Walter H. C. Laves, Cultural Relations and U.S. Foreign Policy (Bloomington, 1963); Ruth Emily McMurry and Muna Lee, The Cultural Approach: Another Way in International Relations (Chapel Hill, 1947), 208-229; Sidney Hyman, The Lives of William Benton (Chicago, 1969), 299-389; J. Manuel Espinosa, Inter-American Beginnings of U.S. Cultural Diplomacy, 1938-1948 (Washington, 1976), which contains a very useful "Chronological Outline of the Organization and Ranking Officers of CU," 339-340. Note that "the term ‘educational exchange’ as a synonym for ‘cultural relations’ was first used formally in the Information and Education Exchange Act of 1948 (the Smith-Mundt Act). It covered all elements of such relations as commonly accepted, including ‘exchange of persons.’" Walter Johnson and Francis J. Colligan, The Fulbright Program: A History (Chicago and London, 1965), 19.

8. See Walter L. Hixson, Parting the Curtain: Propaganda, Culture and the Cold War. (New York, 1977). On the CIA’s support of American culture abroad during the early Cold War, see Eva Cockcroft, "Abstract Expressionism: Weapon of the Cold War," Artforum, 12 (June 1974), 39-41; Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London, 1999); American edition: The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (New York, 1999). Saunders’s book has been criticized for its approach, conclusions, and handling of facts but, as a work of journalism, it does contain interesting nuggets of information (regrettably not always reliable), including an observation attributed to George Kennan about the CIA’s covert funding of cultural activities abroad: "I never felt the slightest pangs of conscience about it. This country has no Ministry of Culture, and CIA was obliged to do what it could to try to fill this gap. It should be praised for having done so, not criticized" (408). See, as an example of the drawbacks found in Saunders’s book, Walter Laqueur’s review, "You Had To Be There," The National Interest, no. 58 (Winter 1999/2000), 133-35. A fascinating account of the State Department’s problems with Congress on displaying modern American art abroad is in Frank Ninkovich, "The Currents of Cultural Diplomacy: Art and the State Department, 1938-1947," Diplomatic History, 1, no. 3 (Summer 1977), 215-237.

9. I am drawing on the language of Wallace Carroll, who worked for the OWI during World War II: "‘Information’ was the free communication of facts, favorable or unfavorable, with no undue effort to sway the judgment of the audience. ‘Propaganda’ was the communication of selected facts with the aim of leaving a definite impression and possibly inducing action" (Wallace Carroll, Persuade or Perish [Boston, 1948], 235.) I found the following especially useful in defining propaganda: Lindley Fraser, Propaganda (London and New York, 1957); Harold D. Lasswell, "Propaganda," Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (New York, 1937), vol. 11, 521-528; Daniel Lerner, Psychological Warfare Against Nazi Germany; the Sykewar Campaign, D-Day to VE-Day (Cambridge, Mass., 1971) [reprint of the 1949 edition]; Terence H. Qualter, Opinion Control in the Democracies (New York, 1985), 107-144 ; Philip M. Taylor, Foreword to the Encyclopedia of Propaganda (New York, 1998), xv-xix. Fraser’s little book, published 45 years ago, is still a very enlightening guide on the use of propaganda. Whether propaganda is, in the words of Lasswell, (op. cit., 525) "as a mere tool no more moral or immoral than a pump handle" or "as such, morally neutral" (Fraser op. cit., 12) is a subject about which there has been much debate. For the view that propaganda is "deceitful communication," see Ted J. Smith III, "Propaganda and the Techniques of Deception," in Ted J. Smith III, Propaganda: A Pluralistic Perspective (New York, Westport CN, London, 1989), 65-98.

10. Stephens, Facts to a Candid World, 110.

11. George V. Allen, "Propaganda: A Conscious Weapon of Diplomacy," The Department of State Bulletin, XXI, no. 546 (December 19, 1949), 941-943.

12. Richard Holbrooke, "Get the Message Out," The Washington Post, October 21, 2001.

13. Jim Hoagland, "A Flawed Quasi-War," The Washington Post, June 23, 2002.

14. Cited in Brett Gary, The Nervous Liberals: Propaganda Anxieties from World War I to the Cold War (New York, 1999), 152-153. MacLeish is evidently talking about OWI’s domestic information activities, but what he says is applicable when dealing with information programs directed abroad.

15. Wallace Carroll, op. cit., 237.

16. Cited in <www.publicdiplomacy.org>. Compare Fraser’s view (Facts to a Candid World, 13): "the serious student of propaganda, however much he hopes that lies will never pay in the propaganda world, and however much he welcomes it when the facts seem to conform to his beliefs, must yet be prepared to find cases, both trivial and important, which represent triumph of lying over truth." Here, however, Fraser is being truthful (more, he is telling the truth): propaganda can, on occasion, lie, and can "get away" with it, at least temporarily. But the ultimate consequences of lyingloss of credibilitymake it self-defeating for propaganda.

17. One can go back to antiquity for an illustration of this perceived intellectual and moral incompatibility between propaganda and education. In Plato’s Gorgias, for example, Socrates describes the dichotomy between rhetoricthe art of persuasionand philosophythe pursuit of knowledge.
Socrates: "Then, when the rhetorician is more persuasive than the physician, the ignorant is more persuasive with the ignorant than he who has knowledge?
Is not that the inference?
Gorgias: [the rhetorician]: In the case supposed:
Yes.
Socrates: And the same holds of the relation of rhetoric to all the other arts; the rhetorician need not know the truth about things; he has only to discover some way of persuading the ignorant that he has more knowledge than those who know?
Gorgias: Yes, Socrates, and is this not a great comfort?"
(Plato, Gorgias, Benjamin Jowett translation, available on line at <http://www.molloy.edu/ academic/philosophy/sophia/ plato/gorgias_txt.htm>)

18. Espinosa, Inter-American Beginnings, 91. The observation is by a Foreign Service officer, Laurence Duggan, son of Dr. Stephen Duggan, who established the private International Institute of Education (IIE), active in educational exchanges from World War I to the present day. Here "cultural" is also used as a synonym for "educational" (see note 7).

19. Ninkovich, The Diplomacy of Ideas, 133.

20. Cited in Roth, "Public Diplomacy", 371. Note, however, the observation of Richard Pells in Not Like Us: How Europeans Have Loved, Hated, and Transformed American Culture Since World War II (New York: 1997), 60-63: "Despite its lofty rhetoric, the Fulbright program was not immune to the pressures of diplomacy. The fact that the exchanges were sponsored by Washington, and that formal agreements with foreign ministries had to be negotiated by the State Department, guaranteed a high degree of government control…. Senator Fulbright himself later conceded that it was ‘not a general education program for all needy people but a program designed to influence political matters through the intelligent leadership of the important countries.’"

21. Cited in Fitzhugh Green, American Propaganda Abroad (New York, 1988), 54.

22. Walter Joyce, The Propaganda Gap (New York, 1963), 116.

23. The first director of the State Department’s Office of Cultural Relations, Ben M. Cherrington, echoed this view with the following observation: "We do not establish strong ties with others by exchanging culture in general, but rather by sharing some interest or activity which has rich meaning for each of us. Here we have the clue as to the method we must employ in … intellectual co-operation between ourselves and our neighbors" (Espinosa, 140). A memorandum published by the Bureau of the Budget in 1951 stated the following: "Culture for culture’s sake has no place in the US information and Educational Exchange Program. The value of international cultural interchange is to win respect for the cultural achievements of our free society, where that respect is necessary to inspire cooperation with us in world affairs. In such a situation, cultural activities are an indispensable tool of propaganda." Cited in Thomson and Laves, Cultural Relations and U.S. Foreign Policy, 86.

24. The words of the Irish playwright Sean O’Casey, "I'd rather be inspired by idleness than bullied by 'busyness,'" are a good description of this attitude (cited in Warren Hoge, "Money, Jobs, Big Cars: How's an Irishman to Cope?" The New York Times, July 17, 2000).

25. George Creel, Rebel at Large: Recollections of Fifty Crowded Years (New York, 1947), 169-70. Creel’s account of the CPI has the following title: How We Advertised America. The First Telling of the Amazing Story of the Committee on Public Information that Carried the Gospel of Americanism to Every Corner of the Globe (New York and London, 1920). Espinosa notes (17-18), "In Mexico, our closest Latin American neighbor, German propaganda efforts were at their best, so it was here that the United States Committee on Public Information launched a very special effort. In addition to the extensive media efforts, the two experiments which were considered to be most successful were the establishment of a reading room and English language school in Mexico City with branches in six other cities."

26. Letter of Saxton Bradford, Special Adviser on Education, Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, to Miss Barbara White, United States Information Agency, November 12, 1965. I am grateful to Leonard Baldyga for a copy of this document. For the role of the Cultural Affairs Officer, see John L. Brown, "But What Do You Do," Foreign Service Journal, 41 (June 1964), 23-25. Brown (a poet and my father) states that a CAO "must understand (and, if possible, love) before he can convince. (The CAO soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating.)" (24).

27.Cited in the English-language translation, Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes (New York, 1973), 23-24. Ellul’s books have a cult following, but the drawbacks of his thought-provoking but overly abstract conceptual framework are incisively pointed out in Daniel Lerner’s review of Propagandes in American Sociological Review, 29, issue 5 (October 1964), 793-794.

28. For more details on "Warhol Week in Moscow," see http://www.gif.ru/warhol/ index_eng.htm .

29. It could be argued, of course, that Warhol’s works create a sensation in its viewers for which "delight" and "pleasure" are not adequate descriptions. Nevertheless, there is an esthetic dimension to his oeuvre that does not fail to leave a lasting impression.

 The Purposes and Cross-purposes of American Public Diplomacy

The author, a veteran U. S. diplomat, makes the case for public diplomacy as a prime force in the furtherance of American foreign policy. Information, education, culture, and—yes—propaganda make up the principal facets of this area of responsibility. If, as he notes, those functions are sometimes at cross-purposes, the author nonetheless contends that those tensions can contribute to a more effective presentation of America’s story to the world.—Ed.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

The war on terrorism has brought American public diplomacy1 to the fore of national attention. While support for these programs waned after the Cold War, American opinion-makers in government and the media now agree that they should be a more widely-used tool of U.S. foreign policy, especially in the Muslim world. The view exists, however, that public diplomacy's programs, which range from producing brochures on terrorism, administering the Fulbright exchange, and organizing art exhibits, can be at cross-purposes and thus fail to serve America's interests. Contrary to this view, I'd like to suggest that the tensions that arise within and among the public diplomacy functions of information, education, and culture do not necessarily jeopardize its effectiveness in advancing America’s agenda abroad. Thanks to its multifaceted programs, public diplomacy keeps lines of communication between the United States and other countries open and depicts America in all its complexity to the outside world. In the twenty-first century, public diplomacy is as relevant as ever.

A look at history helps to understand American public diplomacy, a "fuzzy"2 term first coined in 1965 by Dean Edmund Gullion of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University.3 Its origins go back to the Declaration of Independence, which its author Thomas Jefferson characterized "as an appeal to the tribunal of the world… to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take."4 Although at odds with the strong countervailing trends of isolationism and exceptionalism,5 this tradition of justifying America to mankind has been resilient enough throughout our history to maintain the foundation of the three distinctive pillars of information, education, and culture that support American public diplomacy programs today.

Information, Education, and Culture
There is a strong historical connection between global war and large-scale U.S. government information programs overseas implemented by agencies established for these programs: the Committee on Public Information (CPI, 1917-1919) in World War I; the Office of War Information (OWI, 1942-1945) in World War II; and the United States Information Agency (USIA, 1953-1999) in the Cold War.6 The State Department, into which the USIA was consolidated nearly ten years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is now taking steps to expand its information activities in the Muslim world as part of its efforts in the war on terrorism. Historically, the stated purpose of these U.S. government information programs has been to provide "truth" about the United States and its foreign policy, often to counter the lies and disinformation of its adversaries.

The second pillar of public diplomacy consists of educational exchanges. The United States government did not become involved in this activity, previously the near-exclusive domain of the private sector, until the late 1930s, when exchanges were established with Latin America as part of FDR’s "Good Neighbor" policy and to offset Nazi and fascist influence in the region. The Department of State’s Division of Cultural Relations (later known as CU) was established in 1938 to handle these programs, which within a few years expanded to other geographical areas. After World War II, the Fulbright Act (1946) and the Smith-Mundt Act (1948) laid the basis for large-scale global U.S. government-sponsored educational exchanges "to promote the better understanding of the United States among the peoples of the world and to strengthen cooperative international relations."7

Public diplomacy’s final pillar consists of cultural presentations, the display of the best of American artistic achievements, not least with the purpose of providing esthetic delight to foreign audiences. The Division of Cultural Relations and the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs established in 1941 supported exhibits and other artistic events in Latin America, but it was only during the Cold War that the United States government made it a priority to showcase American art abroad, largely in reaction to Soviet propaganda that the United States was a cultural wasteland.8 Today, with the end of the Cold War, many public diplomacy artistic programs have been abolished.

Purposes and Cross-Purposes
The aims of public diplomacy—information, education, and culture—have some similarities. But they are also distinctive and not infrequently in a state of tension, both internally and with one another.

The first tension in public diplomacy derives from its information role. Should the information it provides be neutral, without attempting to sway an audience, or should it be presented with the propagandistic purpose of inducing action?9 Many believe that the use of information by the United States government abroad must indeed have a propaganda objective as in the case, for example, of delivering "news":

News has an impact, and through this impact it has immediate effect upon the attitudes and actions of people. And from the point of view of the propagandist, news has three additional advantages:

1. It can be deliberately created to serve a specific purpose.

2. It can be manipulated by timing, emphasis, and other means.

3. It provides continuity, with new developments maintaining interest and keeping the propaganda message alive.10

In an article published when the Cold War was in full swing, "Propaganda: A Conscious Weapon of Diplomacy" (1949), George V. Allen, then assistant secretary of State for Public Affairs (and later director of USIA from 1957 to 1960) unequivocally equated "our information activity" with "propaganda." He went on to say that:

I am not particularly concerned whether either gunpowder or propaganda have benefited or harmed mankind. I merely emphasize, at this point, that propaganda on an immense scale is here to stay. We Americans must become informed and adept at its use, defensively and offensively, or we may find ourselves as archaic as the belted knight who refused to take gunpowder seriously 500 years ago.11

In a recent article, the former U.S. ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, underscored what he believes is the close link between public diplomacy and propaganda: "Call it public diplomacy, or public affairs, or psychological warfare or—if you really want to be blunt—propaganda. But whatever it is called, defining what this war [on terrorism] is really about in the minds of the 1 billion Muslims in the world will be of decisive and historic importance."12


The Afghans Were First

By a quirk of fate, the concept that the [State Dept. cultural] program would eventually be worldwide was rewarded from the beginning by unexpected guests from Afghanistan.[Ben] Cherrington [first Director of the State Department's Division of Cultural Relations, established in 1938] writes in his… memoirs:

"Undoubtedly our most unexpected event occurred early in the Fall of 1938… . My secretary entered my office with an expression on her face indicating that something had happened that left her completely bewildered.

Outside, in the reception room, she reported, were six young men from Afghanistan waiting to see me. Their government had heard the United States was now entering the field of cultural relations and had sent them on government scholarships to study American police methods. They had arrived with full confidence we would take over from that point forward. 'Afghanistan,' I thought, 'quite a distance from Latin America in which our activities were supposed to be confined, and where in America could one study police methods? Needing time to recover from the shock and pull my wits together I greeted the young men cordially and then arranged for a messenger to take them on a tour of Washington. Aside, I told him to make it a long one…. By the time our young men had returned from their inspection of Washington all six had been placed although I have forgotten where the last two were to be accepted. Thus the first actual involvement of our Government in cultural exchange was not with a Latin American nation but instead was a country thousands of miles from the New World.'"

[Cherrington, Memoirs, 52-54]

Source: J. Manuel Espinosa, "Inter-American Beginnings of U.S. Cultural Diplomacy, 1936-1948" (Washington, 1976), p. 115.


Reflecting a view often expressed in the media, The Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland describes public diplomacy as "the euphemism for that… black art, national propaganda promotion." He goes on to write that "the Voice of America and other propaganda outlets were important instruments in winning the Cold War. Soviet and East European citizens were given an easily assimilated message: ‘Your government is lying to you. It is lying about your condition in life, about itself, and most of all about the West.’"13

Archibald MacLeish
Not all advocates and practitioners of public diplomacy are ready to accept the equating of information programs with propaganda. The words of the writer and Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish, who worked for the OWI in World War II, are pertinent here:

I hated information work. I was asked to do it, and I always detested it. I suppose that in times of peace, so-called, you could probably devote yourself to information…. But in war you were always on the verge of propaganda and...although some of the propaganda you could give your whole heart to, some you couldn't. I just detested it...As soon as I felt that I could honorably get out of it, I did.14

A more nuanced view on information work was expressed by MacLeish’s OWI colleague, the journalist Wallace Carroll. Noting "the fallacy in the widespread belief that the propagandist's choice is between truth and falsehood," he remarked that: "If it were as simple as that, his course would be easily determined. Our real difficulties came over a choice between giving the news and withholding it, between the practices of journalism and the dictates of war, between the urge to inform and the passion to save lives, between common honesty and plain humanity."15

Edward R. Murrow
Edward R. Murrow, director of USIA during the Kennedy Administration, contributed to the information-versus-propaganda debate in terms that Carroll might have found too categorical: "American traditions and the American ethic require us to be truthful, but the most important reason is that truth is the best propaganda and lies are the worst. To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful. It is as simple as that."16

Information and Education
The second tension of American public diplomacy is linked to the perceived dichotomy between its presenting facts and pushing propaganda. On one level, this second tension—between public diplomacy’s information and education functions—stems from the notion that while information can provide facts, it is not sufficient to lead to the deeper understanding provided by education, including among different societies. On another level, some would argue that information, when used as a unilateral process of propaganda to persuade audiences, conflicts with education’s search for knowledge among persons who differ about ways of looking at reality.17

When the Department of State considered creating a new division to handle educational exchanges in 1938, one proponent of the plan, sensitive to the tensions between propaganda and education, was careful to point out:

The establishment of an independent office for the promotion of cultural [educational] activities may be greeted in certain quarters with disapproval on the ground that the new office is to engage in propaganda… this type of criticism… will in time disappear when the press and the public become aware of the real activities of the division… [which] would not engage in competition propaganda but would endeavor slowly, carefully and meticulously to construct solid foundations for cultural [educational] interchange.18

One of the aims of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 was to give U.S. government informational and educational activities a firm statutory basis, but a side result of this effort was, in the words of the scholar Frank Ninkovich, the creation of legislation that was "a paradox masquerading as a compromise"19 consolidating, rather than harmonizing, propagandistic and non-propagandistic programs.

J. William Fulbright
Few have stressed the need to distinguish propaganda and education more than Senator J. William Fulbright, Rhodes Scholar and internationalist, who almost single-handedly was responsible for the milestone legislation associated with his name. In a 1961 statement to the Senate he declared: "I utterly reject any suggestion that our educational cultural exchange programs are weapons or instruments with which to do combat… there is no room and there must not be any room, for an interpretation of these programs as propaganda, even recognizing that the term covers some very worthwhile and respectable activities."20 Fulbright’s sensitivity toward propaganda is illustrated in the following exchange, which is not without humor: "When [Fulbright] coldly queried [USIA Director Leonard] Marks on the meaning of propaganda, Marks replied respectfully, 'If I say you are chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that's a fact; whereas if I say you are the finest chairman in the history of the Senate, that's propaganda.' Fulbright shot back: 'No, you're wrong—that's a fact!'"21

Fulbright, characterized by a critic as "a leading exponent of the ‘to-know-us-is-to-love-us school,’"22 managed to keep "his" program out of the information agency, USIA, until 1978, when it was moved from CU in the State Department to the International Communication Agency, as USIA was renamed during the Carter Administration. His efforts to spare exchanges from meddling by policy-conscious bureaucrats continue to be upheld by his admirers in State’s public diplomacy "cone" (career path) and in academe.

Culture Vultures and Others
Tensions also exist between the "culture vultures" of public diplomacy, who believe that the display of American art abroad has a role to play in advocating U. S. national interests, and their more realpolitik colleagues who make targeting hard policy information to key opinion-makers a priority. Even some advocates of educational exchanges have doubts about the use of culture. Some would prefer, for example, carrying out no-nonsense workshops on specific topics rather than engaging in cultural manifestations23that could be accused of being anarchistic happenings. The enjoyment of culture requires an appreciation of the dolce far niente (of, quite simply, not "doing" anything, thereby allowing the appreciation of unplanned moments of delight24) that runs counter to the priorities of action- and results-oriented Foreign Service officers and "bottom-line" government officials.

The view of George Creel, the World War I head of the Committee on Public Information, about cultural relations still resonates among the no-nonsense practitioners of public diplomacy. In his autobiography, Rebel at Large, Creel states that the "approach" of his CPI "to the neutral countries was simple and direct. Instead of prattling about ‘cultural relations’… pouring out millions in largess, and begging an exchange of singers and dancers, we went straight to the governments with a plain statement of purpose," including "to establish offices for the distribution of a wireless, cable, and mail service to the press."25

In 1965, a State official wrote the following about the role of FSOs involved in cultural activities, reflecting an opinion that still exists today among the Foreign Service establishment:

A minister of the United States of America is per se a servant of U.S. foreign policy. On the face of it, a Cultural Minister is a contradiction in terms…. It is impossible to combine the functions of an Embassy officer and the functions of a resident representative of the United States intellectual and artistic community. These functions are mutually exclusive…A Cultural Minister is a Government functionary when all is said and done.26

Given this attitude, diplomats involved in cultural work on behalf of the United States government overseas are not insensitive to the dangers of being pressured into becoming the soulless propagandist depicted in Jacques Ellul’s Propagandes, a classic on the subject the conceptual laxity of which can be excused by its provocative pensées: "Even in the actual contact of human relations, at meetings, in door-to-door visits, the propagandist is… nothing else and nothing more than a representative of the organization—or, rather, a delegated fraction of it.... His words are no longer human words but technically calculated words.... In the very act of pretending to speak as man to man, the propagandist is reaching the summit of his mendacity and falsifications…."27

Practicing Cross-Purposes
Practitioners of public diplomacy find its inner tensions challenging and at times frustrating but, as they carry out their work of advocating America’s national interests abroad, they do not always find these cross-purposes irreconcilable. Knowing from experience that life abhors strict definitions and that purposes must be adapted to circumstances, they realize that public diplomacy’s tensions can be a source of creativity, if dealt with in ways that harmonize individual programs while respecting their autonomy and uniqueness.

  • In the war on terrorism, for example, public diplomacy’s diverse tools can have an enormous impact in the Muslim world. First, a truthful and accurate information campaign, if both persuasive and credible, can set the record straight about U.S. policy and intentions.
  • Second, in dealing with the widespread misunderstanding of the United States in Muslim countries, nothing can replace long-term educational exchange programs that bring the best and the brightest to the United States. No one in his right mind would offer Osama Bin Laden a Fulbright fellowship, but few would argue against increasing opportunities for bringing responsible Muslim opinion-makers to the United States for professional visits.
  • Finally, given the lack of knowledge about U.S. culture and the tendency to equate it with violence and pornography, there is a special role for serious, but not solemn, cultural activities pertaining to the United States that would appeal to Muslim audiences, especially the young.
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
Warhol at the Pushkin
To illustrate how the functions of public diplomacy are interconnected, let me note an example of my own work as cultural affairs officer in Moscow, Russia, where I served in 1998-2001 at the United States embassy. In a country where the United States government is often criticized by the local intelligentsia for doing nothing in the field of culture (especially in contrast to European countries and Japan), one of the most important events that our embassy organized with its Russian partner, the prestigious Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, was a Department of State-sponsored exhibit from the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh that opened in central Moscow last year. An all-too-rare example of a U.S. government-funded cultural presentation abroad, this exhibit on a major twentieth-century American cultural figure managed to inform, educate, and delight, in the best sense of the words that characterize the aims of public diplomacy. First, by being the subject of extensive and positive media coverage, the exhibit provided information, both factual and persuasive, that challenged the views of skeptics who believe that America’s consumerism prevents it from developing serious art. One of the more striking items to appear in the media about the exhibit was a photograph in the influential daily, Kommersant, of a poster of Warhol’s self-portrait juxtaposed with a bust of the icon of Russian high culture, the poet Alexander Pushkin. Second, to the many Russians still unfamiliar with the United States, the exhibit provided enlightenment about the origins and influence of American pop art and generally about the United States in the 60s and 70s. At a time when Russia is struggling with the concept of the commercialization of high art, the American experience in this field was a valuable point of reference. Working with Russian NGOs, the Embassy cooperated with the United States government-funded American Center in organizing a "Warhol Week in Moscow,"28 consisting of the screening of Warhol’s films, until then virtually unknown in Russia; displays of works by Russian artists who were influenced by Warhol, including a painting (with a sharp sense of wit) depicting cans of caviar; a conference on Warhol’s art and life arranged by a Fulbright professor doing research in Russia; and the publication of a Russian-language brochure on Warhol’s importance as an artist. Many views were exchanged between American and Russian participants in "Warhol Week in Moscow," making it the kind of give-and-take communication process between persons of different views that forms the basis of education.

Finally, and of equal importance, the exhibit gave pleasure to thousands, providing memorable moments of sheer delight.29 In the midst of all these activities, public diplomacy’s purposes were not at cross-purposes, but successfully functioned as a harmonious whole.

Results
What results can be expected from public diplomacy? Because it is in essence a human activity, its effectiveness cannot be neatly quantified, although statistics and raw data can be offered to substantiate what it has accomplished, such as how many pro-American articles appeared in overseas media, how many foreign grantees became influential members of their government, or how many favorable responses were obtained from visitors to an art exhibit. Public diplomacy’s achievements, however, also lie in two broader areas: keeping lines of communication between the United States and other countries open, and depicting America in all its complexity.

By maintaining an on-going international dialogue, public diplomacy assures continued linkages between the United States and other countries, even when government-to-government relations are disrupted. Public diplomacy thus not only helps traditional diplomacy succeed by creating opportunities for person-to-person contacts that can lead to better official ties, but it also makes up for the failures of traditional diplomacy by allowing human interaction to continue when formal negotiations are suspended or terminated. Alumni associations of public diplomacy program participants are especially important in creating networks that solidify and extend personal, non-official contacts among individuals interested in the United States. Public diplomacy creates complex, multi-dimensional, long-lasting impressions and memories about the United States that offset the simplified images promulgated about it abroad. The subtleties and nuances that public diplomacy presents about America provide a fuller, richer picture than that given by persons who know little about the United States or wish to demonize it for narrow political purposes.

Relevance

In a globalized world where non-state actors are playing an increasingly important role, it would be ill-conceived to assume that overseas programs in information, education, and culture sponsored by the United States government are a waste of taxpayers’ money because the private sector can do the job of telling America’s story overseas. American business organizations, including the media and Hollywood, certainly have every right to present America to the world as they as they wish and as its suits their purposes. But the United States is a country, not a product, a news event or a movie, and its government and people need to explain themselves abroad in an in-depth manner to maintain and expand their influence in the international arena. Even with global communications and "Americanization," other nations will continue to have their distinct cultures and ways of looking at reality; for our own national survival in an age of terror, we cannot afford to think that others will eventually become "like us" to the point where there is no need to persuade or communicate with them through public diplomacy.

Of course, it is not enough to rest on public diplomacy’s laurels, most notably its achievements during the Cold War. We are now living in a new era, and innovative ways, based on the experience of the past (and, let us hope, adequate funding), must be found to present America’s case to the tribunal of the world—so important to our national interests, as the Founding Fathers realized—so that we are judged in a fair and objective way by the rest of mankind


For their helpful criticisms of earlier drafts of this paper the author would like to thank Richard T. Arndt, Heidi Arola, Leonard Baldyga, James Banner, Winthrop Brown, Nicholas Cull, Helena Finn, Eric Fischer, Mary Gawronski, Robert Goeckel, Robert Gosende, Steven Grant, Bruce Gregory, Eric Johnson, Cornel Metternich, Frank Ninkovich, Richard Pells, Juliet Sablosky, J. Michael Sproule, S. Frederick Starr, Allan Winkler and Hoyt Yee. All errors of fact and interpretation are, of course, the author’s.

August 15, 2002


Associate, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University.
Brown, a twenty-year veteran of the United States Foreign Service, has practiced public diplomacy in London, Prague, Kiev, Belgrade and Moscow. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not the United States government.

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