Humpty Dumpty Redux: saving public diplomacy.

Author:Kiehl, William P.
Position:Viewpoint essay

Editor's Note:

There is wide agreement that American public diplomacy has experienced a great fall since the end of the Cold War, and particularly since the U.S. Information Agency was abolished in a 1999 reorganization. Agreement, however, has not produced a remedy. In this essay, a retired senior USIA officer provides analysis and offers a structural solution, in hopes that the time for action may be at hand. --Ed.

In my November 2003 American Diplomacy, article "Can Humpty Dumpty be Saved?" ( I noted:

There are rare moments in the swirl of foreign policy debate where there is near unanimity on a single issue. At this moment one such issue dominates--the failure of United States public diplomacy. Critics on the right and on the left, Washington insiders and the public beyond the Beltway, members of both major political parties, even America's friends and foes abroad all recognize that, like Humpty Dumpty, U.S. public diplomacy has had a great fall. The questions that remain are whether it can be put together again and how that feat might be accomplished. (1)

Regrettably for our nation, in the nearly five years since nothing has changed to alter that statement--no fundamental changes in American public diplomacy have taken place; no meaningful alterations to a flawed structure to provide a chain of command; no significant increases in budget or staffing; no systemic correction of the lack of understanding of the nature of public diplomacy; and no real integration of public diplomacy into the heart of American foreign policy.

There have been, at last count, some 33 separate studies, reports, and findings about America's public diplomacy issued by governmental and non-governmental boards, commissions, associations, and ad hoc groups. (2) All of them repeat the mantra that American public diplomacy is failing; all note that there are systemic failures; all call for change. It is no less true today than it was in 2003 that: "America's recent public diplomacy failures have come not from lack of expertise nor because of flawed technique, but rather because of an absence of the will and the resources to pursue the effort." (1)

Changes must be made and the time to make these changes is now. With a new administration in January 2009 there will be a narrow window to make fundamental changes to undo the damage that the absorption of USIA into the State Department and the spin-off of international broadcasting into a dysfunctional independent entity have caused. (3)

A New Model USIA But creating a carbon copy of the former U.S. Information Agency is not the answer. As good an idea as it was in 1953 when President Eisenhower created the USIA...

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