By Richard G. Lugar, Ranking Member, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
As it does in many other areas, the Obama administration faces daunting challenges in the field of public diplomacy. Even with the election of a new president, much of the world remains skeptical of our actions and mistrustful of our motives. The dizzying proliferation of global media, such as satellite TV, the Internet, YouTube and Facebook, means many foreign publics now have access to vast new sources of information—and of disinformation. To cope with these realities of the 21st century, our public diplomacy response must also be rapid, nimble and adaptable.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is doing its part to support the administration’s public diplomacy effort. I introduced S. 838 calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to create a corps of Science Envoys who would serve as goodwill ambassadors and collaborate with fellow researchers and students overseas. While various NGOs have been providing excellent opportunities for making these connections, a formal government program will help showcase the emphasis that we as a society place upon scientific achievement and higher education, an endeavor for which we are admired and respected around the world. This bill was passed unanimously by the Foreign Relations Committee and awaits action on the Senate floor.
Additionally, I introduced S. Res. 49, which was unanimously passed in the Senate and calls upon the Secretary of State to review the location of our public diplomacy facilities. Currently almost half of these facilities are open only by appointment—or closed entirely to the public. Within the limits of safety, the resolution seeks to re-establish the publicly-accessible American Centers, which were dismantled after the Cold War, and to allow greater flexibility in their location.
However, our larger public diplomacy efforts will not reach their potential unless the Obama administration recognizes the important role they play in our overall diplomatic program and ensures their innovative management and continuity. Especially critical is the need for consistent leadership in the post of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy.
Since that position was first filled in 1999, it has been vacant more than 35 percent of the time. Of those who have served since then, one was in the job for only six months. The average tenure has been a little over a year. Moreover, each of the last three under secretaries has brought a different philosophy and strategy to the task. This continual turnover in leadership has made it exceedingly difficult to implement effective programs.
President Obama has chosen an experienced communications executive, Judith McHale, to be the new Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy. I hope that she will change this trend.
Similarly, the chairmanship of the Broadcasting Board of Governors has been unfilled since June of last year. Three other positions on the board are also vacant, and the remaining four board members are serving well past the expiration dates of their terms. With responsibility for the radio, television and Internet operations of the Voice of America, and the various region-specific broadcasts to the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Cuba, the BBG is America’s official mass communicator to the world. The lack of direction as a result of these vacancies has real implications: a survey by the government’s Office of Personnel Management ranked the organization last among 36 federal agencies in terms of employee job satisfaction and leadership ability for the last three years. I urge the administration and my colleagues in the Senate to find a way to assure that the board is quickly and fully staffed, or look at another mechanism for providing consistent leadership.
Finally, the administration will be better able to meet the challenges if it integrates the roles of the different agencies that participate in public diplomacy. The Pentagon, for instance, according to an Associated Press investigation, spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year seeking to influence foreign audiences. Our overall effort would be more effective if this type of activity could be coordinated with the actions by State and other agencies.
Ultimately, success in improving America’s image abroad will rest on the recognition that public diplomacy is not the same as public relations. As the great CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, who became director of the old United States Information Agency, put it more than 45 years ago: “Truth is the best propaganda…To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful.”