Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Drift of “Public Diplomacy”


For years the term “public diplomacy” has been fought over by specialists and pundits. I’d initially thought that public diplomacy could and should be defined as:

governmental expressions of the best of your nation’s culture, science and style of government in all their messiness

but the term has drifted as its use has widened. Readers will recall me insisting over the years that “public diplomacy” should not consist of a Karen Hughes-style rapid-reaction force that sat there watching TV all day, responding instantly to foreign badmouthing, but I lost that one and PD went through a period of being defined as:

top-down unity of messaging and prompt correction of disinformation about the U.S.

and now “public diplomacy” is becoming synonymous with mere “diplomacy”—the actions of our ambassadors. This latest watering-down of “public diplomacy” is illustrated in a bit of critique from Davids Medienkritik, which purports to analyze the German media:

The fact that members of the American Foreign Service haven't more effectively engaged German media has been a costly failure. The system of two year rotations in the US foreign service clearly makes it more difficult to establish an effective media program. The fact that the Foreign Service and State Department tend to lean undeniably to the left also means that there is currently less desire to go out and explain and defend the positions of the US government on mass media forums - despite the fact that that is the very mission of the public diplomacy officials.

No, day-to-day explaining and defending is not what public diplomacy is about! But I’ll probably lose this one, too, since “public diplomacy” now seems reduced to:

ambassadors and staff staring down hostile local media.

(Thanks as always to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for the initial item.)

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