February 12, 2004

Public Diplomacy Watch

Juan Cole has some good thoughts on our very significant shortcomings in this area.

(Full Disclosure: The article that Cole links quotes a former government official, Edward Djerejian, who is my father. Not surprisingly, they've mangled our last name!)

Click here for the full report of the "Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World" mentioned in the article Cole links. Note the report has already been submitted to Congress.

Take some time to read it. Mostly drafted by James Glassman--it's a well structured, lucid read.

B.D. will be following the issue and noting Administration follow-up (or lack of follow-up) re: the findings of the advisory group (please note such views both now and going forward are purely my views).

For the time being, suffice it to say that I agree with these key take-away points:

"Under the proposed reorganization, a new White House Special Counselor with Cabinet rank, backed by an advisory board of experts, would provide strategic direction and coordination of public diplomacy government-wide. Also, a high-level dormant interagency policy coordinating group within the National Security Council would be reactivated and revitalized. Specific proposals to enhance the role of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the State Department are contained in the report...

In addition, the report criticized the lack of testing and measuring of public diplomacy programs and called for a ?new culture of measurement? in the State Department and elsewhere....

The report asked for a "dramatic increase in funding." It found that funding for all public diplomacy programs amounted to $600 million last year and that funding left for outreach programs in the Arab and Muslim world was only $25 million. "To say that financial resources are inadequate," said the report, "is a gross understatement."

The report also raised serious concerns about the deficiency in personnel who can speak the languages of the region. For example, there is a small number of Arabic speakers in the State Department--only 54 with a reasonable level of fluency and only a handful of those able and willing to participate in media discussions on Arab television and radio. The report calls for 300 fluent Arabic speakers within two years and another 300 by 2008. "Often", said the report, "we are simply not present for the debate". [emphasis added]

It really is literally a handful of U.S. diplomats that can really get on al-Jazeera and talk the talk, with real fluency, about the U.S. perspective on unfolding events in the Middle East. That's simply unacceptable.

And yes, the general funding levels are woefully inadequate.

True too, we do need a new position created (yes with Cabinet rank, it's that important), providing strategic direction out of the White House on our public diplomacy efforts.

Winning hearts and minds in a region that wallows in conspiracy-think, didn't go through major rationalist Western historical processes like the Enlightenment, believes Bush and Sharon discuss their diplomatic initiatives over pillow talk (the better so as to act in tandem)--isn't going to be easy.

But the recommendations contained in this report, if carried out, might help us move the ball forward.

Remember, the war on terror isn't going to be won solely by decimating al-Qaeda's top leadership. That's critical, of course.

But many more recruits are available to replace the decapitated leadership of such groups if we don't start addressing, as well, conflict resolution in the region while better explicating our regional ambitions and agenda.

Dan Drezner wonders if such efforts should be made part of the Administration's proposed democratization initiative.

I don't know if that's contemplated, but it should be.

And I've blogged before on how winning the war on terror will require dealing with, yes, the much-maligned 'root' causes like outstanding regional conflicts, endemic poverty (thus enhancing the lure of radical Islam) and the like.

These are the kind of issues that even a Don Rusmfeld was pondering in his leaked memo about whether we were really winning the war on terror. In his blunt formulation, he speculated whether we were killing enough of the bad guys in relation to how quickly terrorist ranks were being replenished given the continued specter of radicalism in the region.

Listen, as regular readers know, I'm no dove. I supported both the war in Afghanistan (because the Taliban refused our ultimatum to hand over UBL and refused to stop proving sanctuary to al-Qaeda) and Iraq (because Iraq was in violation of Resolution 1441 and, post 9/11, the prudential action was, given Saddam's prior behavior, to single out his regime for action given what we genuinely believed his WMD capacity to be at the time and Iraq's potential terror links).

But the war on terror isn't just about military battles, intelligence sharing, and financial detective work.

It's also about conflict resolution and public diplomacy.

To deny this is to deny reality. And help enhance the prospects of another 9/11 style calamity.

More on all this soon.

Posted by Gregory at February 12, 2004 12:22 PM
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