Op-Ed, Boston Globe
August 9, 2005
Author: Joseph S. Nye, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
THE SENATE recently confirmed Karen Hughes as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. During President Bush's first term, she was known for her skill at White House communications. As a close adviser to the president, she starts with important advantages, but she faces a tougher challenge in her new job.
Since 9/11 it has become commonplace to say that the United States is engaged in a war of ideas for the hearts and minds of moderate Arabs. Yet polls suggest that we are not winning. In key countries like Jordan and Pakistan, more people say they have confidence in Osama bin Laden than in George W. Bush.
While a recent Pew poll shows a slight improvement in America's image in Indonesia and Lebanon, large majorities in the Muslim world remain skeptical about the United States. The United States spends only a billion dollars a year on public diplomacy to get our message out, about the same as Britain or France, though it is five times larger. The nation spends 450 times more than that on our hard military power.
The US Information Agency was abolished during the Clinton administration. Proponents argued that giving its functions to an undersecretary in the State Department would integrate them more closely with overall diplomacy. But this neglected the low value attributed to public diplomacy in the traditional culture of the State Department. The job Hughes now occupies was left vacant for nearly half of the first Bush administration. The priorities in Bush's first term were on America's hard power, not its soft or attractive power.
A report last year by the Pentagon's Defense Science Board said US public diplomacy was in "crisis." Things have begun to change in Bush's second term. In addition to rhetoric about promoting democracy and freedom, the president's budget includes an increase in funding for public diplomacy. The State Department's educational and cultural exchange programs, including overseas research centers, libraries, and visitor programs, are increased by nearly 25 percent.
In the president's words, "rarely has the need for a sustained effort to insure foreign understanding for our country and society been so clearly evident." But even with these increases there is a long way to go. A recent nonpartisan report of the Public Diplomacy Council called for a new Agency for Public Diplomacy within the State Department, 24-hour-per-day English-language broadcasts by the Voice of America, and a fourfold budget increase over the next five years. The United States started new broadcasting outlets like Radio Sawa and Al Hurra television for the Arab world. But the latter is widely mistrusted as American propaganda. In any event, better broadcasting is not enough.
As William Burns, former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, pointed out, public diplomacy must be accompanied by "a wider positive agenda for the region, alongside rebuilding Iraq, achieving the president's two-state vision for Israelis and Palestinians; and modernizing Arab economies."
Even the best advertising cannot sell if the product is poor. Hughes will have to be able to coordinate the hard and soft power aspects of government policies. She will also have to work with the private and nonprofit sectors. To accomplish our objective of promoting democracy in the region, the United States must develop a long-term strategy of cultural and educational exchanges aimed at creating a richer and more open civil society in Middle Eastern countries.
The most effective spokesmen for the United States are often not Americans but local people who understand US virtues as well as its faults. Visa policies that have cut back on the number of Muslim students in the United States do more harm than good.
Much of the work of developing an open civil society can be promoted by corporations, foundations, universities, and other nonprofit organizations, as well as by governments. Companies and foundations can offer technology to help modernize Arab educational systems. US universities can establish more exchange programs for students and faculty. Foundations can support the development of institutions of US studies in Muslim countries or programs that enhance the professionalism of journalists. Private groups can promote the teaching of English and encourage student exchanges. The government can provide encouragement and financing but faces mistrust when it is directly involved.
Hughes will find that America's soft power is difficult to wield because government does not control all the levers. But only when the United States manages to combine this type of soft power with our hard power will it be successful in meeting the challenge of Jihadist terrorism.
Joseph S. Nye teaches at Harvard University and is author of "The Power Game: A Washington Novel."
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