Thursday, July 27, 2006

Nancy Snow

Here’s the fourth entry in this week’s series on the best episode of public diplomacy and the most important element of soft power, courtesy of Nancy Snow. Dr. Snow is an associate professor at California State University, Fullerton and a senior fellow at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. She is the author of Information War: American Propaganda, Free Speech, and Opinion Control Since 9/11 and Propaganda Inc.: Selling America’s Culture to the World, and writes on the Web at

Public Diplomacy Dateline 1982: Ronald Reagan Addresses Parliament

I would point to any number of Reagan speeches, but one in particular that sticks out in mind is his speech before the British Parliament in June 1982 in which he proposed a pro-active American democratic propaganda campaign:

The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means. This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy. Who would voluntarily choose not to have the right to vote, decide to purchase government propaganda handouts instead of independent newspapers, prefer government to worker-controlled unions, opt for land to be owned by the state instead of those who till it, want government repression of religious liberty, a single political party instead of a free choice, a rigid cultural orthodoxy instead of democratic tolerance and diversity?

This speech is particularly eventful to me because it corresponded with my first travel abroad to both democratic and Communist countries (West Germany, Switzerland, Austria, East Germany, Czechoslovakia) in which I was made aware of what American freedom and culture really were. Until one leaves home, you are like the fish in water unaware of your unique milieu.

I was not generally a fan of Reagan's foreign policy agenda but I do credit him with understanding the power of persuasion through speechmaking. In this speech, he emphasized a very important Anglo-American public diplomacy relationship that was personally illustrated over the years by his close friendship to former USIA International Visitor Margaret Thatcher. Who can forget the image of the ailing Thatcher at Reagan's funeral service at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley? Critic or not, it was a moving image that reminded me of his long-ago speech.

[The USIA program that facilitated Thatcher’s 1967 visit lives on today as the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.--PK]

Soft Power: Fulbright’s International Character Keeps Paying Dividends

As for soft power, I am eternally biased in favor of the Fulbright program. I knew Senator Fulbright personally and I've yet to come across an octogenarian who could elicit Rock Star status with international Fulbright scholars as I saw on many occasions during my graduate school days living in Washington, D.C. Fulbright was very realistic about his namesake's appeal: it must not come across as propaganda or appear too linked to government public diplomacy goals. It must stand on its own attractiveness (beauty for beauty's sake) as an important tool in building mutual understanding. That's soft power at its best, for I do believe that the United States still holds great pulling power as a seat of outstanding education and openness in the pursuit of ideas. (Or at least I would hope so!)

The beauty of Fulbright is that it is a truly international program that works with nongovernmental organizations and governments throughout the world in the furtherance of such openness. Its very mutuality in structure is what makes it a soft power all-star for a multitude of countries but with an American heritage.

[Dr. Snow is herself a Fulbright alumna—and note also that Fulbright was a Rhodes Scholar at Pembroke College, UK in the 1920s. Rhodes scholarships were a bequest of Britain’s Cecil John Rhodes, whose exploitation of southern Africa is now considered politically incorrect; but like arms maker Alfred Nobel, Rhodes’ legacy, a century on, is a positive one in the West.--PK]

Coming Tomorrow: Joseph S. Nye, Jr.


Anonymous said...

If Fulbright is so above politics, why is it sitting in the State Department underneath several layers of former White House hacks who assume all "PD" programs exist to puff the president ? Does anybody have an opinion about building a firewall here?

Nancy Snow said...

Senator Fulbright proposed moving his namesake program from the U.S. Information Agency, our independent government propaganda agency, to the Smithsonian Institution, America's premier national educational institution, precisely due to firewall concerns. His worry was that Fulbright students and scholars might be seen as too tied to administration foreign policy goals and there have been cases where Fulbrighters were perceived as government intelligence operatives because of their government sponsorship. The heavy lifting of the Fulbright program is handled by two nongovernmental organizations, the Institute of International Education (IIE) in New York City, located across from the UN headquarters, and the Council of International Exchange for Scholars (CIES), in Washington, D.C. When I received my Fulbright acceptance letter, I had no idea that any sponsor other than IIE was involved because USIA's logo was nowhere to be seen. Fulbright's change of venue proposal failed in part because the Fulbright program lends so much credibility and prestige to other PD programs and no one from State or USIA wanted to give up this valuable asset to the Smithsonian.

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