Foreign Policy Blogs

Discussion of the WoI, Continued

Thanks to Steven Corman for his insightful response to my recent post about Undersecretary Glassman's remarks about the “War of Ideas” (WoI). He made some very good points.

But I am disheartened by the argument that there is no way to changes people's attitudes about the US unless we change our policies. Changing our policies is no doubt the way to make the quickest and biggest effect on foreigners’ attitudes of the US. But if only policies changes effect changes in opinion of the US, why are we bothering conducting public diplomacy in the first place?  

I would say that, among other reasons, we bother to conduct public diplomacy because the US also interacts with global publics in ways that don't involve its policies.  To give a relevant example, a lack of concern for global opinion of the US by the US is a great way to send a signal that the rest of the world does not show up on our radar screen, that we operate detached from what's important to the rest of the world.  

Furthermore, recent polling shows that global publics not only reject American policies, they also reject the present character of American leadership. They don't reject our values, rather they don't see us living up to the values that we have projected into the international sphere. This problem differs from publics simply disliking our policies, as global perceptions of our character are much more difficult for us to change than our policies. This opposition to American leadership will make initiating multi-lateral cooperation on the issues that concern our national interests very difficult. 

In regards to the WoI I mean to say that global opinion of the US should be a measuring stick that can help us gauge our progress in this war, rather then be confined to a separate "hat" in the PD closet. What worries me about Glassman's remarks is that he doesn't seem to put a lot of stock in the idea that the less people dislike the US, the less socially acceptable it will be to commit acts of terror against us. I get the reasoning behind not getting them to love us but rather getting them to not like violence. That is one way to approach it and it wish it the utmost success‚ but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. 

In the end, I am glad that Glassman's remarks could stimulate a healthy debate. I am also glad that a seasoned public-diplomacy watcher such as Professor Corman has faith in the new Undersecretary.  I am happy to continue the debate about the WoI as the Undersecretary's term wears on.



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.