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New Global Engagement Initiative at the Wilson Center

Public Diplomacy in Action?

U.S. Public Diplomacy in Action?

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has announced a new project focused on strengthening U.S. global engagement and strategic communications (called “Strengthening America’s Global Engagement – SAGE).  Here is what they say about the project:

In July 2010, the MacArthur Foundation joined with the Wilson Center to host a dinner that included key Obama Administration officials to discuss this initiative. In September, 2010, the project launched with the Woodrow Wilson Center serving as the convener and initial funding provided by the Smith Richardson Foundation. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Secretary of Defense William Perry are honorary co-chairs, and the bipartisan Working Group includes more than 80 experts and practitioners from across the political and ideological spectrums, drawn from the private sector, government, Congress, think tanks, media, academe, foundations and NGOs. The business plan will determine in detail the mission, structure, programs, target markets, and budget of the organization.

The project labels itself as a public diplomacy initiative that draws on the many reports detailing failings of that function since the demise of USIA in the late 1990s.  The effort is co-chaired by Condoleezza Rice and William Perry and had assembled a large and impressive working to address the following areas:

Working Group members are lending their time and expertise to conduct research and interviews and develop briefing papers and memoranda pertaining to each individual segment of the business plan and to agree on a final set of recommendations.

The Working Group is divided into five independent subcommittees with responsibility to build one component of the business plan during a six-month period, with a chair to organize the work and to represent the committee on an Executive Board responsible for the final structure of the plan. Each subcommittee is focused on one of the following components of the business plan:

  1. Mission and governance
  2. Operating budget
  3. Target markets, networks & countries
  4. Types and nature of programs & activities
  5. Development & identification of corporate, foundation and public sector partners

Matt Armstrong’s post on MountainRunner is also worth reading (he is a participant in SAGE) – the post is here.

In looking over the membership of the working group it appears there is a decided bias on the communications component of public diplomacy, the “fast media” part of what USIA once covered. But there seems to be much less focus on the “slow media” components of public diplomacy – those program areas now housed in the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.  The public diplomacy value of programs like Fulbright, International Visitor Leadership Program, Humphrey Fellows, cultural diplomacy, sports exchanges and many others is often overlooked.  In addition, the public diplomacy component of many of USAID’s programs is often misunderstood (my experience with USAID’s democracy & governance programs is that they are as much about public diplomacy as they are about technical assistance).   Educational, cultural and development programs are medium and long-term tools but can (and do) offer long-term positive results in many cases.  They are not as glitzy as broadcasting and social media and so are all to often relegated to a lesser role in public diplomacy.

It may well be the case that the Wilson Center initiative will take these issues seriously, but the makeup of the project’s working group could use some bolstering beyond the communications area.  For example, I think the following people would strengthen the educational, cultural and development components:

1. Robert Gosende, currently serving at the Ryan Fellow in International Education at the State University of New York, former USIA foreign service officer

2. John Brown, leading expert in many aspects of public diplomacy, including cultural diplomacy, former USIA and State Department foreign service officer (see his most recent essay on public diplomacy here )

3. Brian T. Edwards, associate professor at Northwestern University, expert in the globalizing aspects of American Studies (see “Globalizing American Studies” here)

4.  Theodore Kattouf, Executive Director, AMIDEAST

5.  Tully Cornick, Executive Director, Higher Education for Development

Many others could be suggested and these areas are already covered to a certain degree by the Wilson initiative.  But strategic communications should be seen as only one tool in the public diplomacy toolbox.



James Ketterer

James Ketterer is Dean of International Studies at Bard College and Director of the Bard Globalization and International Affairs program. He previously served as Egypt Country Director for AMIDEAST, based in Cairo and before that as Vice Chancellor for Policy & Planning and Deputy Provost at the State University of New York (SUNY). In 2007-2008 he served on the staff of the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education. He previously served as Director of the SUNY Center for International Development.

Ketterer has extensive experience in technical assistance for democratization projects, international education, legislative development, elections, and policy analysis – with a focus on Africa and the Middle East. He has won and overseen projects funded by USAID, the Department for International Development (UK), the World Bank and the US State Department. He served on the National Security Council staff at the White House, as a policy analyst at the New York State Senate, a project officer with the Center for Legislative Development at the University at Albany, and as an international election specialist for the United Nations, the African-American Institute, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He is currently a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Association and has also held teaching positions in international politics at the New School for Social Research, Bard College, State University of New York at New Paltz, the University at Albany, Russell Sage College, and the College of Saint Rose.

Ketterer has lectured and written extensively on various issues for publications including the Washington Post, Middle East Report, the Washington Times, the Albany Times Union, and the Journal of Legislative Studies. He was a Boren National Security Educational Program Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and in Morocco, an International Graduate Rotary Scholar at the Bourguiba School of Languages in Tunisia, and studied Arabic at the King Fahd Advanced School of Translation in Morocco. He received his education at Johns Hopkins University, New York University and Fordham University.

Areas of focus: Public Diplomacy; Middle East; Africa; US Foreign Policy

Contributor to: Global Engagement