Thursday, June 29, 2006

State Narrows Its Focus


John Brown forwards “Public diplomacy program targets key nation” from Reuters’ Sue Pleming. It details a classified list of countries the U.S. is focusing its public-diplomacy efforts on. Reuters quotes under secretary for public diplomacy Karen Hughes, who

said strategic plans were being developed for those "pilot" countries over the next three to five years.

"The exact list is a classified matter but it includes the type of countries where we believe it is very important to counter ideological support for extremism," Hughes said in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday.

She declined to list the nations but officials said they included Afghanistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries that were chosen based on classified information in meetings among the Pentagon, State Department, the CIA and others. Hughes also hoped the approach would improve coordination among government agencies.

One goal was to identify what Hughes called "strategic influencers" -- local people such as sports stars, clerics and others who could explain America's values and confront "ideologies of hate."

Hughes cited a recent dinner at the U.S. ambassador's home in Morocco where the person on her right was a famous cooking show host, while on her left was a track star.

On the one hand, it’s disappointing that an interagency task force apparently had to be created to figure out where the U.S. should put its public-diplomacy bets; can’t State, which after all probably has the broadest country knowledge in the government, run its own show?

On the other—proactive interagency cooperation on PD! You’ve waited for it, you’ve looked for it, you’ve hoped for it, and here it is.

Incidentally, I hope the track star seated next to under secretary Hughes at dinner was the phenomenal but retired Hicham El-Guerrouj. He was Morocco’s first international track star and has many years in front of him as a goodwill ambassador for both the Maghreb and UNICEF. If you want to get the ear of Morocco’s elites—and it looks like State is focusing heavily on elites through exchange programs and dinners like this one—El-Guerrouj’s access to and influence on his countrymen is unparalleled.

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