Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Beacon No. 21, Part Two: Joshua Fouts


PK: Did you read the Public Diplomacy Council's report, "Call for Action on Public Diplomacy?"

JF: Yes.

[Note: The PDC report calls for the establishment of a near-Cabinet-level U.S. Agency for Public Diplomacy; a quadrupling of public-diplomacy funding; a tripling of staffing; and greater independence from the State Department bureaucracy, among other changes to existing public-diplomacy efforts.—PK]

PK: What did you think of that? I've heard some criticism—there was a dissent, actually, saying that this is too Cold War, this is the USIA model. What did you think of all that?

JF: Well, I thought that, first of all I'm glad that the Public Diplomacy Council is out there, sending out releases, continuing to raise the visibility of public diplomacy, continuing to be a critical voice. I think that's a great thing. I think that the points they made were fair and the dissent against it was also fair, and that—again, and not to avoid your question—what's most important from out standpoint is that by points being recommended and a dissent coming out against it, you further critical thinking in the field, and I think that's healthy and important because there are far too little of these kinds of recommendations being made .

A more cynical side of that is, if you look, there's something like 18 reports that have come out in the last three years making policy recommendations on public diplomacy. But what action has been taken? Really, substantively, how has the Bush Administration responded to it in a substantive way, and whose responsibility is this? So that's my take, and maybe that answers your question.

PK: No, I mean, some of the specifics to me seem pretty far-fetched, like a Cabinet-level position for some two-person committee representing this [proposed U.S. Agency for Public Diplomacy], which is what they want to put together for funding educational achievement or exchanges, that seemed unlikely to get much traction.

JF: Actually, some of those are in process. I know some people who are actively seeking private funding to create that, so I think that we'll see that in awhile. [While] a Cabinet-level position may sound far-fetched and impossible, I think the more you can shine the spotlight on the importance of public diplomacy and attempt to get the government to take action, the better. So I think it's fair that the dissenters take issue with these things.

PK: I'm not trying to put you on the spot.

JF: Absolutely, and I would like to see substantive signs of action in response to any public diplomacy requests on behalf of the Bush Administration. That would be my hope. So if they took even one of these requests, great. If they're all considered outlandish that's, so be it.

PK: You're still increasing the volume of the conversation about the subject.

JF: Yes. Not to be entirely clichéd, but the squeaky wheel gets the grease. You can only hope that by continuing to send out releases and raise the visibility of these kinds of things, that some response will be taken. And I've heard all sorts of rumors that Condoleezza Rice is going to take some, and she has said in her written record that she is going to take some steps to improve U.S. public diplomacy efforts. Great! Let's see it.

PK: I was going to ask that question about how can people who are concerned about public diplomacy get the attention of an executive branch that's not known for its tendency to consult diplomats.

JF: Right.

PK: So maybe having her in the driver's seat, there's a thick silver lining.

JF: Possibly, yeah. There's that and you know, there's a great organization that I'm sure you're aware of, Business for Diplomatic Action.

PK: No.

JF: I'll give you their contact information, but they're headed by Keith Reinhard. He's the chairman of Doyle Dane Bernbach—DDB Worldwide, the advertising agency. Their effort is to create an association of private-sector organizations who are concerned about public diplomacy. They're sort of an analog to our academic effort, if you will. … Whereas we're academic, they are private-sector. We get phone calls and e-mails all the time from people saying, we're such-and-such an organization, we want to see how U.S. companies are engaging in public diplomacy and U.S. public opinion efforts, and we send them on to Business for Diplomatic Action. Because that's really not what we're about [which is] three things: Developing a substantive research base. Hiring two or more faculty members to provide leadership and scholarly thinking in this area. And third to provide training and education to our next, to current or aspiring public diplomacy practitioners. If I can get all that I'll have worked myself out of a job.

PK: Right, it's the work of generations, so you can rest easy. But I was going to ask you what sorts of paths there were for people who specialize in public diplomacy, through CPD or not, in the private sector, and you've pretty much answered that question: in journalism, advertising, …

JF: Well, and government. A couple of tiers: Training people in public policy, but not just U.S., people around the world—here's a real hunger I've found. And raising visibility. Moscow just announced that they're creating a public diplomacy branch in their foreign policy arm. China has created a new public diplomacy [arm].…

Our board members include people in strategic public relations as well as the public government and education, and they have said that they are desperate for people with skills in public diplomacy and basically have outlined for us four or five skill sets that they would like us to train people in in public diplomacy. Of course [the private sector is] entirely different: They can't afford to loan people away from their jobs for anything more than three months or at most a year because the whole mentoring culture in the private sector is so tied to one individual person and your career path that if you take a year off, you could forfeit your career. So they're talking about two- and three-month, or one-month intensive training programs that help to sort of add a layer of knowledge to the folks that they have. But they've said that they are so caught up in trying to solve these issues that they can't find skilled people to do it.

PK: So what are the four or five skill sets that they want to have, broadly speaking?

JF: And this is talking to some people who do global strategic public relations and international advertising. Knowledge of a foreign language. Knowledge of foreign policy. Knowledge of public diplomacy—the history and applied use of public diplomacy. Knowledge of strategic public relations. And an understanding of how public-sector public diplomacy works. And they say they can usually only find people with one or two of those things.

PK: Right.

JF: And if they can find someone who has four or five of them they usually can't afford to hire them anyway. That's why they're looking at re-training their existing staff. So our hope is that in the next couple of months, our master's degree which has a component that would work for folks in the private sector, would be approved and on the books, and people could start coming in to do summer programs and/or have an entering class as early as this fall.

PK: So they're evening programs or other timing that works well with people's corporate schedules?

JF: Right.

PK: That'd be great. How do you—this is a much larger question, I guess—how do you counter those who say that soft power is inadequate or ephemeral to the job of combating ideological terrorism? For instance, there is a school of thought that Usama bin Ladin and the perpetrators of 9/11 are so completely non-deterrable, so completely outside our ideological framework, that September 11 wasn't even aimed at us. It was simply the birthday candle on a completely different cake, aimed at the Muslim world. How do you combat the perception that soft power is too soft, or that public diplomacy is too diplomatic?

JF: Right, well that gets to the whole how do you define the effectiveness of public diplomacy. There are a couple of sort of leading public people who've said the success of [public diplomacy] is not determined over days or weeks, but over generations. And if you think about how when USIA existed they looked at certain constituencies from people in high school and college who were star students or looked like they would really have the potential to take a leadership role in their country or their community, and they brought them to the U.S. and educated and informed them about our culture, just by allowing them to be students and live here.

Now some people we weren't a match for and some of the folks who have attacked us over the past dozens of years were people who were educated—Nick Cull was saying this in his lecture a couple days ago—that back when Japan was attacking Pearl Harbor, the leader who did that actually studied at the University of Oregon. So it wasn't like he didn't know the U.S.; he knew it quite well, and he was someone who arguably was a candidate for—well I think he came to the U.S. of his own volition—but it doesn't always work. And also saying that public diplomacy by itself should be discounted because it's not strong enough, I think is taking too narrow an approach at viewing how to engage and win the hearts and minds of the world. It's not done just through public diplomacy but that should be one of their—as Alan Heil used to say at the Voice of America, people's daily diet of education and information about the world.

PK: It's just one of those questions you sort of have to ask.

JF: You do.

PK: I guess, public diplomacy and soft power tend to work in slow motion in military terms. What could have been done differently in Iraq, and you don't necessarily have to answer this if it puts you on the spot, but could a few years of hearts-and-minds in the Arab world have made a difference in procuring allies and lessening the impact of the insurgency that's causing such a problem right now?

JF: I don't know, I think that's a far more complicated question.

PK: It's too short a time-scale anyway.

JF: I mean, there are so many factors that went into it from the whole psychology of invading a country and the impact; if you had potential allies it would be—I was reading an article about the history of War of the Worlds, and how H.G. Wells wrote it not as a …

PK: You're thinking Orson Welles.

JF: Right, Orson Welles narrated it but I lost who wrote it.

PK: H.G. Wells.

JF: It's an H.G. Wells story. But it was written as sort of a polemic on Great Britain's imperialistic tendencies and how the argument was, the thesis was that the greatest fear an invading country has is being invaded themselves. So this War of the Worlds was the U.K. being invaded. Hollywood's making a new movie, but they're basing War of the Worlds in the U.S., trying to tap into that sentiment. That's a long way of getting to the answer that the challenge of winning people's hearts and minds is redoubled by the fact that when you're invading a country you impinge on whatever level of trust you might have built with people and you're basically starting from zero. So I don't know that any amount of great investment in that region would have made the people look at us differently as our tanks rolled into town.

PK: Do you speak Portuguese? [Note: Joshua had briefly assigned as the assistant press attaché at the U.S. embassy in Brasilia, Brazil.]

JF: I do, Brazilian Portuguese.

PK: Any other languages?

JF: You know, I studied French for eight years and can sort of get myself out of a paper bag, and I can say about the same for Spanish, but Portuguese is the dominant language that I'm best-versed in.

PK: Any Farsi? I noticed you'd done something with Iran [while at Voice of America].

JF: No, that was really more pulling together the people for that. When we were at VOA, Geoff [Cowan] had this idea. He said, you know, this was one of the really exciting things we got to do. Technologies were changing the way people are accessing information. Our role at VOA should be to provide people with every opportunity that they want to access us. So he stuck a video camera in the radio booth—this was 1993—and leased some time on a satellite transponder, and just put up the VOA audio—the video with audio up there, and we would announce on the show how to set up—how to configure and build—a satellite dish.

[Note: Later, Joshua Fouts sent this correction: "I think I may have some of my dates/events slightly off on the Farsi language service, just so you know. As I recall the facts now, we first started simulcasting in Mandarin. We then created a TV show in Farsi, which was simulcast it in audio. I was there when the first caller (the show featured a call-in show format) called in as he was trying to configure his TV via the shortwave instructions and yelled "I can see you! I can see you!" But this was a proper TV show and designed as such, not the radio show with TV cameras in the shop. And it may have been 1994."—PK]

JF: And we had tales of people building satellite receivers out of garbage can lids in Iran …

PK: And Afghanistan. Tin cans.

JF: Exactly. And it just spoke to the fact that when people are in communities where they're hungry for information, or where information is controlled by the government, they'll do whatever they can to get it. And so, that has since evolved into this Farsi-language TV show. But the early thing was just this, 'Let's get Farsi out in every venue possible.' And we set up a deal with a guy by the name of Rob Glaser, who was then the head of an organization called Progressive Networks, now known as real.com. But he had this idea, back in 1993 that you could transmit audio over the Internet. So we let him use VOA audio and made that accessible to people in China. Because VOA was being heavily jammed in China, we put it up on the Internet and put the text up on the Internet. This was back before the Web was anything much more than Gopher and Mosaic, and sort of this early, not-graphic-intensive iterations of it. But clicking on an audio link was still something that's doable.

No comments:

Site Meter