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 Americas 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
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 FDRs "Good Neighbor" policy and to offset Nazi and fascist influence in the region. The Department of States 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 diplomacys 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 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":
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:
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 orif you really want to be bluntpropaganda. 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
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
A more nuanced view on information work was expressed by MacLeishs 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
Information and Education
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:
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.
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 States public diplomacy "cone" (career path) and in academe.
Culture Vultures and Others
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:
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 Elluls 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 organizationor, 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
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 Americas 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 Warhols 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 Warhols 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 Warhols art and life arranged by a Fulbright professor doing research in Russia; and the publication of a Russian-language brochure on Warhols 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 diplomacys purposes were not at cross-purposes, but successfully functioned as a harmonious whole.
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.
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 Americas 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 diplomacys 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 Americas case to the tribunal of the worldso important to our national interests, as the Founding Fathers realizedso 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 authors.
August 15, 2002