Friday, November 19, 2004

Beacon No. 7: No Foreign Service Officer Left Behind


In "Compromise Sought on Intelligence Legislation," the Post's Charles Babington and Walter Pincus report on what may or may not wind up in the intelligence-reform bill that's pending in the lame-duck 108th Congress. Surprisingly, though, the story's major focus is on public diplomacy and how the bill may change the State Department's soft-power approach from top to bottom:

The intelligence reform legislation would vastly increase spending and activities in international broadcasting, expand educational and cultural exchanges in the Muslim world, and boost the stature of public diplomacy not only in the State Department but throughout government as well.

The House bill contains a requirement that the secretary of state provide an annual assessment of public diplomacy's impacts on target audiences in the previous year and an outline of goals for the coming year. It would also increase foreign service training in that field and would require foreign service officers to have one tour involving public diplomacy as a prerequisite for promotion.

This is not the usual tossing of money at the problem, but potentially a structural change in how State handles public diplomacy. First, if these provisions survive the conference-committee sausage grinder and become law, pending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will have to produce an annual document that may get the same fanfare as reports certifying 'allies in the war on drugs' or 'nations that support terrorism.' The report—and the process of preparing it—will make headlines and cause the State Department to account for how it promotes U.S. soft power abroad.

Second, foreign service officers would suddenly need to get a public-diplomacy ticket punched. Every serious officer's career track would suddenly include helping present the U.S. to a worldwide audience. The result is more people in government with a stake in aiding the development (or recovery) of U.S. soft power—and a decreased reliance on Madison Avenue.

Basically, these measures mean new energy and new accountability for public diplomacy. One can only hope that the Congress fully funds the bill's mandates when it does eventually pass.

Babington and Pincus mention a Defense Department examination of public diplomacy as well:

The Defense Department is taking a closer look at what it could be doing, at the suggestion of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. A recent Defense Science Board study of public diplomacy, prompted by Rumsfeld's questions after the Pentagon's initial attempts to run a media network in Iraq failed, called for expanding media and other cultural exchange programs across the government.

I haven't seen the report but would love to hear what lessons the DoD learned from the Iraq experiment—and how they can be generalized to improving U.S. soft-power efforts overall.

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