Public diplomacy with a high powered take-off.

Author:Kennedy, George

The historically undervalued art of public diplomacy as an effective instrument continues to languish on the margins of the conduct of 21st century foreign policy. But that is old news.

To put it mildly, we appear to have lost the ability to employ "soft diplomacy" tools to bridge that all-important last six inches in communication among allies and foes where understanding, support, or--at least - muted opposition to a policy goal can be accomplished. Perhaps this is a harsh judgment, but allies and everyone else are increasingly comfortable "just saying no" to us today. But, it has not always been that way. For decades following the end of WWII through the Cold War, public diplomacy was on the front lines in the global struggle against Communism. Public diplomacy had its detractors but its champions in Congress kept them at bay.

One of the most effective tools in the public diplomacy officer's tool kit of yesteryear--and still today--is the high-level visitor program. Up until the decade of the 70s, practically every head of state and government with whom we maintained diplomatic relations was an alumnus of this venerated program. Exceptions were few. Throughout my overseas experience, graduates also included generations of prominent journalists (often critics), noted academics, and senior-level government officials to include those of the European Union (EU, formerly USEC) and the OECD (Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). Another important program were NATO tours and visits of senior military officials from allied nations to observe military operations at sea or on land. Visits of this nature were frequently effective in promoting confidence in the U.S. as a key ally.

The role of a Foreign Service public diplomacy officer was multi-faceted. Like our State Department colleagues, our backgrounds were varied but strong communication skills--including foreign languages - were a prerequisite for our craft. For example, it was not uncommon for public diplomacy officers like myself to work in concert with our embassy military colleagues to escort foreign military dignitaries.

A memorable experience as an interpreter/escort comes to mind, but first a little background. Among my expanding circle of friends within the embassy community in Rome in the 1970s was Captain Robert Jordan, the Naval Attache'. Captain Jordan and I met at a farewell gathering for his predecessor, whom I did not know well. I am partial to the military...

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