Monday, January 31, 2005

Beacon No. 21: Interview with Joshua Fouts


Joshua Fouts is executive director at the Center on Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. On a recent Friday morning he took an hour to speak with me about the Center and on public diplomacy generally. This is part one of an edited transcript of our hour-long conversation; part two follows tomorrow.

Paul Kretkowski: So why a Center on Public Diplomacy now? What spurred it at USC?

Joshua Fouts: Well it's actually an idea we've been working on for the past couple of years. I would say that the first steps took place about two years ago when the Annenberg school's board of counselors committed to public diplomacy as being one of the Annenberg school's key areas of focus, the creation of a Center being that first step. Ever since I left the Voice of America in 1996, and Geoff Cowan was the dean of the Annenberg school and former head of the Voice of America, and more importantly I would say the spiritual leader of the Center on Public Diplomacy, our notion was to find some formalized way to address this, a topic that had not been well-researched, we felt, or received much attention, certainly during the years that we were at VOA.

One of the many things we noticed when we were at VOA was that—and this was before USIA had been dismantled, [before] any of the formalized U.S. government structures had taken the hits, was that—and this has been endemic to the culture of public diplomacy as a whole, I think, for the last 30-40 years—is that there is no domestic constituency for U.S. public diplomacy efforts. And so when you're doing public diplomacy, say you're with the Voice of America in our case, and you want to ask questions about how effective are your efforts, it's a very difficult question to answer. …

Well needless to say, after September 11th, three years after we declared we had won the war of public opinion and dismantled the U.S. Information Agency, there was a large focus on 'why is it that people hate the United States so much,' and this really gave us the opportunity to really sort of focus all these issues into one centralized organization . ...

PK: So September 11 was a catalyst but not a …

JF: Absolutely, I think it was a catalyst for opening the eyes of that missing link which is that domestic constituency that we can't ever seem to find. Now all of a sudden we had a domestic constituency. We had academics, scholars, policymakers, all saying 'why do people hate us.' And it gave us an opportunity to say, okay, let's ask that question. Let's ask it in a very broad way. Let's ask what can be done to meet that challenge and answer that question, and set up a formalized infrastructure and research plan that will help to continue to raise the visibility and answer those kinds of questions.

PK: So what's your funding structure like, in a broad sense? Who is your constituency?

JF: We have a very small gift from the dean's discretionary fund. These are effectively start-up funds to hire a staff person [and] to bring in a couple of fellows such as we brought in, J.C. Herz being one. …

We have a couple of research projects right now that are funded by outside parties. We have our Middle East Media Project which is funded by the Schuman Center for Media and Democracy, and it is a one-year grant to examine the interface of public diplomacy and journalism in the Middle East, and how is it that journalism has an effect on public diplomacy per se, how it's perceived as a tool. It's being run specifically by a journalist living in the Middle East. We have another small grant which looks at the role of new technologies in public diplomacy, and specifically we're looking at massively multiplayer online games as a venue in which a certain audience from around the world is coming together, sharing ideas, meeting and our theory is, developing opinions about themselves, about each other, their other cultures, and communities. So the short answer to your question, coming back to that once again, is we're on a two-year gift from the dean to be used as start-up money, and we're seeking funding for either an endowment or research projects to help support the research in the Center.

PK: Who's signing up in your student body? You're only teaching graduate classes, is that right?

JF: At the moment we're only teaching graduate classes. There are two undergraduate public diplomacy classes but our intent—actually, let me back up a little bit. The background on that is that we are in the process of applying to create a master's in public diplomacy ; the graduate and professional curriculum committee has not signed it yet on the dotted line, but it's going through the process and we're optimistic that that's going to be approved. That said, we have around 40 students who are affiliated with the center, who come from existing graduate programs at USC. And these are students who have been coming to our events who have expressed an interest in getting involved in our research projects. They come from, anywhere from the Annenberg School's Global Communication program which has a relationship with the London School of Economics to the Marshall School of Business, whether they're graduate students interested in the role of NGOs as private-sector entities in public diplomacy.

PK: I guess you have a couple of exchange students from the Fletcher School at Tufts.

JF: Yeah, that was interesting. Anna Tiedeman came to us last fall. She had a hunger for public diplomacy, had written her master's thesis on Charlotte Beers [download PDF from here] and her efforts as undersecretary of state of public diplomacy. Actually it's up on the Web site; we have a page on the Web site dedicated to hosting student material and, because our belief is so few people are studying this topic and there's such a hunger for information about it . There should be a venue for people to access and learn from what they're finding, even if it's not written by a top, full-tenured scholar at a higher-learning institution. So we've framed it appropriately so that academics and scholars know who's written this, but we don't want to discount it as not being valid or useful or relevant to the public diplomacy community at large. So [Anna] came to USC because she couldn't find any public diplomacy courses at Fletcher.

JF: So. Since there's not yet an available master's in public diplomacy we have graduate students in journalism, broadcast journalism students who have a passion for international journalism who might be potential candidates or employees for the Voice of America or other international broadcasting outlets. We have MBA candidates getting an MBA this spring. We have a global communications master's program, people who spent a year at the London School of Economics who came back to Annenberg for a year. We have communication management students who are in the graduate program here, who are looking to go to communication department employment in any number of private-sector employments. We have students who are in the entertainment communication track who are interested in the export of U.S. culture in the form of entertainment, examining that as a public diplomacy aspect. We have people in our strategic public relations graduate programs—actually we have graduate students who are in the military …

PK: I saw one of those.

JF: Yeah, Daniel King, he's a major. We have a number of students who are getting Ph.D.s, three in communications and two in international relations. Somebody was saying to me the other day that the beauty of public diplomacy is that it really synthesizes everything. Certainly it can capture a lot of different areas of interest and I think the diverse student body that's participating in the Center highlights that.

PK: It almost sounds like a Manhattan Project. I mean there was no discipline of nuclear physics at the time, so you had applied engineering, theoretical physics, practical physics, and then the guys who ran the drill presses and lathes saying, "We can't do things that finely, we can't machine things to that tolerance," and having to invent ways to do that.

JF: You know, that's the real challenge. From an academic standpoint and being based at a university where we're doing this faculty search where the university is committed to hiring two full-time faculty positions in public diplomacy. The challenge here is that no one for the last 30 years, I mean outside of say a handful of people, has been studying public diplomacy. And when I say public diplomacy, that in and of itself is a vague term. And who have we found? Nicholas Cull at the University of Leicester, who we invited out for a job talk last week, who is a candidate for the position. He's a historian, though; he's not a public-opinion researcher, he doesn't do quantitative methodology to look at what people think of other countries and how they think about them and how to look at that critically; he looks at the historical use of public diplomacy tools and he's an historian. So that's but one slice of the pie. But as you say, this is a field that also would benefit from scholars who are quantitative methodologists, who are communication theorists, rhetoreticians, new technologists if you will, people who are thinking about ways that types of new technologies that are going to be built that are going to create new ways that people are going to interact and communicate.

The big challenge is, you have all these areas that could fall under the rubric of public diplomacy or certainly could contribute to it, and we've found one person who's said, "I've studied public diplomacy," and that's a historian.

PK: If you look at his CV …

JF: Yeah.

PK: … He also writes about Doctor Who and the Daleks. And that would be considered pretty way out there in the halls of government. I think it's good that he's got broad interests that change over time.

JF: Yeah. And most exciting from my perspective is that he's coming out with a book which will be a sort of definitive history of the U.S. Information Agency. He's interviewed every living and now many dead former directors at the USIA and it's going to be published by Cambridge University Press.

But the other point I wanted to highlight, something you're probably aware of is, public diplomacy fell out of favor as far as a field of research in which to study, partly because it used to be called "propaganda studies." If you were studying propaganda, particularly in the U.S., the implication was that you were in cahoots with the government some way, and that would disqualify you from having a level of academic integrity. And so, it gets back to the early point of what we saw at VOA, that it was a lack of resources for us to evaluate the effectiveness of our efforts, and part of that is that there's been no dedicated academic effort to study this. And that also gets back to your original question of "Why now?" as well.

PK: On the subject of international broadcasting, there is an inherent problem with VOA or its brethren and sistren, trying to measure what their audience is, what their effectiveness is. They have an incentive to pump up the numbers. I'm not saying anyone has been doing that maliciously or greedily. But do you propose to take over the role of doing some of that stuff from a distance and saying, 'Well, we're not involved with them, so our figures are going to be authoritative?' Are you going to try and do those types of quantitative studies, who's listening to Radio Sawa, Al-Hurra, all of those?

JF: Well what we'd like to do is to try to evaluate the researchers. And that's a big challenge. So one of the projects we're working on right now is pulling together the research to actually evaluate the effectiveness of various effectiveness and modeling tools. And that's an enormous task.

PK: You're evaluating the evaluators.

JF: We're not presently evaluating any. We're in the initial steps of trying to pull together a community of people who do this, and we would work in conjunction with researchers. What happens in the government, and I'm sure you've seen this, is say you have the National Endowment for Democracy: They give money to an NGO, like Reporters Without Borders or something, and effectively they entrust Reporters Without Borders with the responsibility of proving their own effectiveness to NED. So NED then has a record of how well they've done. But that job is in the hands of Reporters Without Borders. And so in many ways they, along with your VOA contracting with their in-house researcher and the BBC contracting with their in-house research teams, become the record of choice and also become the experts in that. I

In no way do I want to discount any of those people, but we would like to create an environment in which groups like that can come together and discuss methodology and really make it more of a transparent system so people can learn and help improve the craft of determining effectiveness in public diplomacy. So we're not very far along other than 'this is an idea.' We've been putting together people and we have a desire to contribute to that. We have some researchers in-house who are interested in taking a leadership role.

PK: The reason I ask is that you see figures for penetration for U.S. international broadcasting in the Middle East and they're actually quite good on a regional basis—it looks like they're getting some traction, people are listening to them at least some of the time. But you really hear a relentless drumbeat from most of the media about how ineffective the programs are. And when I try and talk with people about this they say, 'Of course they're telling you it's working, of course they're telling you there's penetration .' I'm just wondering who if anyone is attempting to be the Nielsen or the Gallup—I know Gallup is in the Middle East.

JF: Right, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors has contracted with Nielsen to produce the ratings for Radio Sawa and Al-Hurra, but I think what you're actually illustrating is, I don't know that I distrust the figures they're putting out. I think what we have are different policies, or different philosophies on what determines an effective international broadcasting public diplomacy strategy. Radio Sawa has something like a 40 percent listener base according to the latest Nielsen figures of this past summer, in Jordan. But it's distinctly different from the kind of public affairs-only broadcasting that VOA Arabic used to do, or that BBC Arabic does. I think the real question that should be asked is, Does listenership translate into effectiveness and effective policy? And I think the media is fair to criticize that. I don't feel like we're in a position yet to point fingers at anyone. I think I would say personally and I think Geoff Cowan has echoed this as well, is 'let a thousand flowers bloom .' You know, keep a VOA Arabic as much as you can afford it; keep a Radio Sawa; attempt to engage people on as many different levels and social strata as possible.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

A Tripling of Staff—and It Still Wouldn't Be Enough?


The DC-based Public Diplomacy Council has issued "Call for Action on Public Diplomacy," a report calling for a transformation of U.S. public diplomacy efforts (downloadable here. Haven't had a chance to read it yet, but up-front recommendations are to:

1. Establish an agency within the Department of State and the National Security Council process, the U.S. Agency for Public Diplomacy (USAPD), to manage the U.S. government's civilian information and exchanges functions and to coordinate all U.S. government public diplomacy efforts.

2. Increase public diplomacy overseas staffing by 300 percent over five years, through increased recruitment, contracts and recall appointments for necessary skills; expand language and cultural awareness training to ensure public diplomacy officers fluent in the local language at every overseas post; and increase program budgets for public diplomacy, including international broadcasting and exchange programs, four-fold over five years.

3. Provide the long-term resources necessary for global international broadcasting capability, including 24 hour per day English language world wide broadcasting, as well as a range of language service broadcasts, innovative broadcast and internet programs for youth, and interactive radio programming. Integrate international broadcasting more closely with other elements of strategic communication.

4. Establish by Presidential Directive an Interagency Committee on Public Diplomacy at the Cabinet Level to coordinate and direct the national public diplomacy strategy, with a permanent secretariat and associated working groups, co-chaired by the Deputy National Security Advisor for Communication and the Director of the new USAPD agency.

5. Create a public-private partnership "Foundation for the Global Future" to provide permanent off-budget funding for international exchanges conducted by civilian and military federal agencies. Encourage broad private sector participation in funding the Foundation.

Dry, dry, dry, although the call for a tripling of overseas public-diplomacy staff is nice. But wait! Several members of this non-partisan Council, HQ'd on the George Washington University campus, dissent virulently (download from here), saying that the Council's majority recommendations are too tame, too Cold War, too USIA:

We need to conceive of a global communication strategy on the magnitude of our cold war effort with comparable time, societal and resource commitment. But the United States is not engaged in a repeated bi-polar war of ideas with a single bad idea, terrorism, replacing an older bad idea, communism. Disseminating information, countering propaganda and increasing contact with the "other" so they might come to know us and like us might have been a sufficient recipe for public diplomacy in the last century. It is far from adequate or appropriate now.

So, we say "yes" to greater resources and increased staffing called for in the White Paper. But, we say "no" to fragmenting America's conversation with the world at the precise time that an integrated and energized effort is essential. Isolating public diplomacy from foreign policy through structural realignment and creating an endowment firewall between exchanges and political coordination reduces the chance of effective strategic direction. We need a national strategy for engaging international publics on both policy and socio-cultural issues. Values and policy are two sides of the same coin of the realm. …

Sum total of the report and its dissent is a measly 28 pages; I'm gonna get reading. ...

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Beacon No. 20: Building on Another Ground Zero

The January 2005 Journal of Democracy features an article by longtime Afghanistan expert and current Army War College prof Larry Goodson, author of Afghanistan's Endless War, the authoritative pre-9/11 study of post-Soviet Afghanistan. In "Bullets, Ballots, and Poppies in Afghanistan," he notes several lessons from Afghan security and reconstruction operations, all of which have applicability to Iraq.

First, security-enhancement processes need to go forward according to timetables that reinforce rather than undercut one another. This has mostly not been the case in Afghanistan, in no small part because so many different donor nations and NGOs have had various pieces of the pie. For example, when early efforts to develop the [Afghan National Army] stumbled over its low levels of professionalism and rates of retention, pay was hiked and Western military trainers began to embed themselves into Afghan units. Failure to take similar steps in the case of the police has left that service worse paid, far less professional, and much more corruption-prone than the army.

Second, any approach that hinges on working with warlords needs to be mindful of how this may make them stronger and harder to dislodge down the road. Third, military rules of engagement need to be crafted not only with an eye toward initial warfighting, but also with a view to security and peacekeeping or nation-building operations that follow the end of major combat.

Finally, it is imperative to deploy enough forces to ensure security during the peacekeeping phase of the nation-building operation. Afghanistan still suffers from having the lowest number of peacekeeping troops per capita of any recent postconflict situation—a state of affairs that would be far more problematic were antiregime forces more robust.

Yet in spite of the relatively small numbers of U.S. troops in Afghanistan (about 20,000); despite stupefying upsurges in acreage devoted to poppy cultivation and an accompanying boom in opium exports; despite unfulfilled pledges of aid from the major industrialized countries; and despite continuing efforts at destabilization by al-Qa'ida and Taliban holdouts, Afghanistan had a successful presidential election in October 2004 and looks forward to parliamentary elections in April 2005, although these may be postponed until later in the year.

Goodson examines the reasons why in greater depth in the Journal of Democracy article, and gives some of the credit to both a doubling in the number of U.S. troops on the ground and the rapid expansion of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs):

[The PRTs] went from 4 to 16 in just a half-year. These teams are mixed military-and-civilian groups of about 80 people each that work from bases in provincial capitals to stabilize surrounding areas with a combination of military patrols and hands-on reconstruction help. The PRTs include civil-affairs specialists and have ready funds to spend. The teams aim to create "islands of security" within which nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can operate, even if some NGOs find the PRTs' blurring of traditional civil-military distinctions to be worrisome. The PRTs' performance and impact have been mixed. Some have struggled with inadequate staffing, especially from U.S. civilian agencies. A poor grasp of local political dynamics and circumstances has also been a problem. More mature PRTs that enjoy well-settled relations with local officials have developed aid programs that have improved local conditions and strengthened positive views of coalition troops and the new Afghan government.

Definitely worth a read both to get your mind off That Other War for a few minutes and to read about what works and what doesn't in nation-building.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

NY Times and "Iraq the Model"

Sarah Boxer writes about Iraq the Model in Tuesday's New York Times Arts section. The piece seems ill-informed and surprisingly biased toward Iraq the Model-as-CIA-conspiracy line of thought.

Muhammad and Omar, two of the three Iraqis who were behind Iraq the Model, didn't seem like spooks when I met them late last year, and neither did the folks at Spirit of America, which had brought the guys here to help promote their Arabic-language blogging tool, something the writer seems unaware of. But read the Times piece and judge for yourself.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Barnett on NPR and elsewhere

Thomas P.M. Barnett is interviewed for about seven minutes on NPR's "Morning Edition" today, a good introduction if you haven't read the book or seen his roughly 90-minute presentation streamed on C-SPAN.

There's also his blog, which can be as much about Barnett as about the external world but usually a remarkably interesting (and copious) read; he typically produces as much copy every day as I do in a week without appearing to break a sweat. I met him in December and thought he was kidding when he said he averaged 4,000 words a day, but there it is.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Huygens: Score one for European space tech

NASA provides the lift capacity (the Titan IV-B launcher) and the truck (Cassini), but the European Space Agency created the Huygens probe that's producing the sexy images everyone will remember. Photos of Titan from a distance are a dime a dozen since Voyager, but … methane seas and orange boulders beneath hydrocarbon smog! A young, dynamic surface! Wind! Rivers of something flowing at -290 Fahrenheit!

At first ESA was amazingly stingy, almost China-like, in getting images to the public, but seeing that it has a winner on its hands it's released several more, including some interesting composites. Score one for combined European technological prowess.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Beacon No. 19: In Sri Lanka, Tigers and Marines?


The Marines have landed in Sri Lanka, but don't count on them heading anywhere in the island's north, say numerous news accounts, which note that U.S. law forbids the Marines from directly aiding any group classified as a terrorist organization.

That would be the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who've long fought against Sri Lanka's Sinhalese-majority government to gain an independent northern state. The LTTE controls a large swath of Sri Lanka's north and has set up a civil administration there, handling all the regular functions of government.

Unfortunately the north is one of the areas hardest-hit by the recent tsunami, to the tune of an estimated 16,000 dead. Since the State Department classifies the LTTE as a terrorist group and it has de facto control of large swathes of the north, the Marines can't go there:

"We realize aid shouldn't discriminate, because the disaster didn't discriminate," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Chris Long. "The fact that they're on the foreign terrorist list means that the U.S. government is prohibited from giving them or sending them material aid."

Officials said it was possible that the United States could still deliver aid through intermediaries, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Otherwise, aid has to be given to the Sri Lankan government for distribution to the north—which may or may not be done equitably. Colombo insists that Tamil regions are getting more than their share of aid, but there's no question that it could be more quickly and efficiently delivered to the devastated north by Marines working temporarily with the LTTE, whose military arm is noted for its discipline and efficiency.

So couldn't Congress or the President grant a waiver granted in this case, when the U.S. has a strong national interest in seeing aid distributed equitably in South Asia?

There's a precedent here in the case of U.S. help to northern Iraq's Kurds from 1991-2003. The U.S. supplied both aid and air cover to big stretches of Kurdish territory even though the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which both the U.S. and its ally Turkey classed as terrorists, would strike Turkish targets from bases inside Iraq.

Hopefully the U.S. can broker some sort of deal that preserves the intent of the "terrorist organization" restriction, brings relief to Tamil areas of Sri Lanka and avoids stepping too hard on Colombo's toes. Otherwise, the expected wave of sanitation-related diseases (typhoid, dysentery etc.) will hit all Sri Lankans that much harder when they do emerge—as they usually do when thousands occupy refugee camps with inadequate shelter, food, water and medical care.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Francis Fukuyama Checks In on Asia

Francis Fukuyama is at it again, taking the long view in a Foreign Affairs article on Asian multilateral organizations. He writes about how Cold War-era organizations will no longer cut it in rapidly changing East Asia, and how the hub-and-spoke relationship between the U.S. and regional players will change toward a network model. He has some longer-term ideas for East Asia that may please both internationalists and neoconservatives:

The final and perhaps most urgent reason for the Bush administration to re-envision its approach to Asian diplomacy has as much to do with the United States' status in the world as with its standing in eastern Asia. The Iraq war has isolated Washington in unprecedented ways and convinced a large part of the world that the United States--not Islamist terrorism--is the biggest threat to global security.

To climb out of this hole, the White House needs to start thinking creatively about legitimacy and international organizations. Considering that it has already snubbed the UN and refused to participate in the International Criminal Court or the Kyoto Protocol, Washington must now consider alternatives to international cooperation that better suit its interests. The United States will be better served by endorsing a series of overlapping and occasionally competitive multilateral organizations than by putting all its eggs in a single basket such as the UN.

For whatever reason the New York Times is running it here.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Beacon No. 18: Racing the Saudis


It's a given that the U.S. and any other country that's able should give lavishly to victims of the recent tsunami purely on humanitarian grounds. But any disaster also creates ways of "doing well by doing good," and observers shouldn't ignore the soft-power implications of relief efforts. Below are some thoughts on this topic.

Many observers have noted that the tsunami has created a chance for the U.S. to spend lavishly and boost its image in countries with large Muslim populations like Indonesia, India and Malaysia. This is especially important because overall U.S. giving is in direct competition with private giving from other nations, particularly Saudi citizens who, following big disasters, tend to charter the world's available 700-series cargo planes and fill them with relief supplies. Although the U.S. can't compete directly with long-term Saudi mosque-building across southern Asia, it certainly can make a big impression now with its relief efforts.

Although the amount the U.S. government said it would donate rose nearly every day last week (it was $315 million this morning), I read one estimate that private charitable giving earmarked for tsunami victims could total 2-3 times the federal figure—a strong testament to the soft power of U.S.-based NGOs like Catholic Relief Services. Amounts given to the American Red Cross were already in the tens of millions, and there will probably be a massive influx of cash from collection baskets at weekend religious services. Watch for a big spike in estimates of private U.S. giving as thousands of ministers, priests and rabbis cart chunks of change to their banks Monday morning.

This past July, the DoD and others gamed responses to complex humanitarian disasters in an exercise called Strong Angel II. Subtitled "Critical Information Management within Austere Environments," Strong Angel II's purpose was to assess and improve coordination among the military, NGOs, victims and other actors in case of a large-scale disaster. Now the world will get a chance to see a tremendously larger version of this exercise carried out in real time, as the Marines and Navy spread U.S., third-country and NGO relief supplies throughout the affected areas. Lessons learned in the next few weeks are likely to help the military in the future as smaller disasters hit South Asia and elsewhere.

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