How We Almost Killed Public Diplomacy

One of my fellow bloggers recently was critical of a career diplomat for misspeaking . If only public diplomacy was so easy. We speak with awe or scorn about spin. But ask yourself this. If spin is so effective, how come you and (almost everybody else) can see it? There is much more to public affairs than information or even persuasion. Public affairs is relationships. Relationships are what we stupidly threw away during the 1990s. Was it Clinton’s fault?

Okay, I admit. I baited with Clinton to get you to click. It was not him. It is true that during his tenure we gutted our public affairs capacity and our rank and file capacity to influence foreign public opinion, but it was more than Clinton. We fell into a type of historical amnesia during the 1990s. It we chased a dream, a chimera. The fall of communism made most people in the west think that we had finished - and won - a hard race. Now we could rest. All those soldiers could come home. It was the dawning of the age of Aquarius, just a little late.

I need to digress. Americans have always been interested in public opinion. Our Declaration of Independence talks about a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, but we learned the importance of information policy in the modern sense in the time before WWII. The Nazis were good at persuasion. (Many of the anti-free market, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitic themes are still used today.) In the 1930s, they were making significant public affairs gains in Latin America by exploiting latent anti-Americanism and taking advantage of ethnic loyalties and spreading money around. (Hugo is following the precedent.) Many 1930s era public building originally had plaques expressing gratitude to the 3rd Reich.

The U.S. responded with its own public diplomacy. On the ground, that meant establishing libraries and bi-national centers that taught English and carried American culture, encouraging exchanges and making cartoons. Yes. Look at the Disney Classic the the Three Caballeros. Donald Duck was the most popular American south of the border.

During the war, we made more movies and worked hard to win the war of ideas. I will not go into details. Suffice to say, we won.

The golden age of public diplomacy came during the Cold War. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were effective alternative media for those countries trapped behind the Iron Curtain. The government also created the United States Information Agency (USIA) to carry out a broad range of information programs. Republican and Democratic Administrations supported this. USIA's most famous director was Edward R. Murrow. Murrow knew the power of radio and television, but he also understood the need for relationships. He said that we can beam information hundreds of miles, but to get the message across we needed to get that last three feet and that took personal contact.

The Reagan era represented the last bright flash for U.S. public diplomacy. Reagan understood the need and various programs were well funded. Reagan himself was a great spokeman. His policies were initially unpopular. The ultimate success of his policies is partially a tribute to the power of public affairs. Reagan called on the Soviets to tear down the Berlin Wall and it resonated.

The struggle against communism culminated with the fall of Wall in 1989. Soon the benighted communist regimes were gone like the snows of last winter. And we drew the wrong lesson. Many people thought it just happened, that history had ended and the world would now be a generally safe place. Our problems were how to fairly divide the prosperity. We cut our defense budget and spent the "peace dividend." Life seemed good.

We also cut public affairs. The will to cut went beyond the desire to save money. Some people considered this a moral decision. What right did the U.S. have to try to influence others? Did we think we were so good?

From 1993-1999, the USIA hired almost no public diplomats and attrition reduced their numbers by almost half. Morale was terrible, promotions rare. The Clinton-appointed director was a fool. Overseas posts were closed. Budgets were cut. Libraries disappeared. The equipment of American centers decayed. (BTW – a similar process was at work in our intelligence community with similar consequences.) The 1999 Department of State/USIA Anschluss indicated the attitude toward independent public affairs.

When 9/11 happened, we saw that the world was not as safe as we thought. We tried to fire up the public affairs machine, but we found that we no longer had enough wing tips on the ground overseas. And a decade of neglect had allowed our network of contacts to atrophy. I do not want to overstate the case, but just do the math. You can only do less with more for so long. When you lose nearly half your strength, you probably cannot do as much heavy lifting.

Rebuilding American diplomatic capacity began soon after 9/11. Colin Powell spearheaded a diplomatic readiness initiative to help compensate for the damage done during the 1990s Results are now starting to show but rebuilding networks will take a while longer. U.S. diplomacy has a very peculiar age structure because of the nineties neglect. There are many new employees (>5 years experience) and many old employees (15 years> experience), but not many in the middle. This will be a challenge in the next five years, as much of the experience will go out the door through retirements. (Career diplomats can retire after 20 years.) It will be a good time to look for a job in the Foreign Service, but our government will be paying for mistakes of the 1990s for the next ten years. You cannot turn these things on and off.

Think of public affairs like a forest. The trees you plant today determine the forest years from now and you cannot expect to walk in the shade of your trees you didn't plant 15 years ago.

Posted by Jack at October 24, 2006 9:34 PM
Comment #190041

That may be one of the most pointless posts ever.

Posted by: David S at October 24, 2006 10:23 PM
Comment #190043

No, not really, David S. We do need people out there working for us, getting our message across. We certainly need better representatives than Bolton and those like him. America benefits when people feel like cooperating, and when people do.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at October 24, 2006 10:31 PM
Comment #190046


Can you please tell me what it is that Bolton has done that you don’t like, except maybe getting the UN to repeal the Zionism = racism resolution.

Posted by: Keith at October 24, 2006 10:38 PM
Comment #190048

David S

I bet you are a fan of the movie “Dave” and you probably subscribe to the Rodney King school of public affairs - “Why can’t we all just get along?” or maybe the old Emerson thing about building a better mousetrap, or maybe you think you can harvest before you plant if only you want it enough.

The thing you need to remember is that somebody must transmit everything. Information is almost free in today’s world. What we really depend on for decisions are relationships. If we neglect those connectors, we lose influence.

Explaining complicated policies is not like selling Coca Cola.

Posted by: Jack at October 24, 2006 10:44 PM
Comment #190050


Wasn’t it Reagan who gutted the Peace Corps thereby allowing the Madrasses to take over where our college kids had been doing the teaching? Wasn’t it the conservatives who fought any increase in foreign aid? Would’t foreign kids taught by our kids grow up thinking more like US? It was a very simple and beautiful, inexpensive, and bloodless concept; teach their children with knowledge and example. Give them a hand up in dealing with their environment. Instead, they now think like OBL and hate our guts.


Bolton is an anti-diplomat who thinks the UN is a waste of time and money. The neocon agree with him and therefore like him. Most other people don’t agree with him and therefore think the entire premise of his being there is farcical. It’s not what he did or does, it’s all about who is he, what he stands for, and why he was chosen.

Posted by: Dave1-20-09 at October 24, 2006 10:50 PM
Comment #190054

Nice article, Jack. I’ll need to do some thinking and researching before I can comment intelligently. I have a feeling the conflict the last half decade between the State Department and forces in the White House is relevant here.

Posted by: Trent at October 24, 2006 11:04 PM
Comment #190055


I have mixed feelings about foreign aid. If foreign aid worked, Tanzania would be the richest country in the world and most of the Asian tigers would be poor. It needs to be targeted so it does not produce klepocracies.

President Bush seems to agree with you about aid. He has more than doubled our foreign aid over the Clinton years. But he is also trying to target it better.

BTW - Peace Corps was reduced in the early 1980s, but budgets increased after 1985, by 1992 there were about 10,000 volunteers. Peace Corps was active in the 1990s, especially teaching English. This was not one of the problems. President Bush also increased funding for Peace Corps and is trying to double (over the 2000 levels) the number of volunteers overseas by next year.

You know, of course, that we had a lot more programs than this.

Posted by: Jack at October 24, 2006 11:08 PM
Comment #190058


There has been a significant disagreement between State and Defense. This is nothing new.

Clinton appointed very weak Secretaries of State. It is true that Powell got pushed around a bit, but at least he was competent person who was able to rebuilt the Department and restore morale.

The 1990s was in many ways a lost decade. We were lucky to live in such a benign environment, but we did not take advantage of it and problems were building under the surface. It was not only Clinton. It was a general idea shared by almost everyone. Think of the 2000 election. Did foreign affairs really play?

Posted by: Jack at October 24, 2006 11:17 PM
Comment #190067

No. Why don’t you tell me first why it’s a good idea to hire somebody as our representative to the UN who can be quoted as wanting its destruction, especially after the fiasco of the run up to the Iraq war and its aftermath. We don’t need pussies in charge there, but we don’t need bullies either. We need tricky sons of bitches who stand up for themselves but don’t make asses of themselves doing it.

It’s only fair, though, after I’ve asked you that, to offer you one of many good reasons why Bolton was wrong for the job: Given a chance to set up a Human Rights commission that would reflect our high standards, he instead spent his time telling people how terrible it would be, and how little good it would do. He put us in the embarrassing position of being one of four nations that voted against it.

And he wasn’t in the job more than a few weeks before he got Feud with one of our allies.

This is a guy who’s undermined his bosses, contributed to the bitter turf wars that have made our efforts in Iraq so bitterly painful, and who never stopped being a misanthrope about the UN even when he got there. How does a fellow who has no hope for an institution actually make something better of it. If you folks want to know where faith is useful, it’s in dealing with folks you’re trying to work out agreements and compromises. That’s why we talk about good-faith and bad-faith in terms of treaties and compliance. Bolton reflects the bad faith in which some modern conservatives enter into government.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at October 25, 2006 12:09 AM
Comment #190069

Sorry about the bad links:
Given a chance…
…into a feud with one of our allies.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at October 25, 2006 12:13 AM
Comment #190072


Not one of the links tells me anything about Bolton except that the asuthor has had in in for him for a number of years. The one I like the most is the one where he was mad at Britain for not agreeing with him to not approve the 2006 budget until they agreed to clean up ther act. I would think at this point cleaning up one of the most corrupt organizations in the world would be of paramount importance. Especially since we pick up more then our fair share of the tab.

Posted by: Keith at October 25, 2006 12:27 AM
Comment #190079

Keith: I agree with you. Cleaning up one of the most corrupt organizations in the World should be of paramount importance to us. Especially since we are picking up all of the tab. Let’s clean out that den of thieves in Washington. Then we can get to work on the U.N. I think we have to clean up our own mess before we can begin cleaning up the others.

Posted by: jlw at October 25, 2006 1:15 AM
Comment #190087

Jack: I agree pretty much with post. I think you should have mentioned President Bush 41 because the planning for some of the changes began during his administration.

I have a question for you concerning foreign aid. Do you think that part of the problem with the aid was that the Cold War had a distorting effect on it. We gave a lot of aid money to despots like Sadam because they were our despots and not the Soviets.

Posted by: jlw at October 25, 2006 1:43 AM
Comment #190106


our government will be paying for mistakes of the 1990s for the next ten years.

A very good and interesting post.

I’m just surprised you avoid totally to point the damage also done to US public diplomacy by this government.

From my RTOW point of view, the way the White House shown total disrespect for any diplomatic things, their included (State Department being shorcutted by the Pentagon) between 2001 and 2004 have made way bigger damage for the longer term, IMHO.

People will remember well for a long time:

  • its UN is irrevelant, aka international community is irrevelant;
  • its It’s US or them, aka binary diplomacy;
  • its American way of life is not negociable, aka selfish diplomacy;
  • its Old Europe, evil countries and pygmies leader, aka names calling diplomacy;
  • its pressure on US African Aid recipients to get their support for an UN resolution allowing Iraq War, aka charity diplomacy;
  • its (and your, BTW!) Give Israel vs Lebanon War A Chance, aka war is now our diplomacy;
  • to resume, its unilateralism, aka we don’t needs diplomacy anymore.

All these are not due to a weaken public diplomacy network, it’s due to this White House total disrespect to diplomacy.

And all these marked the minds of people and nations worldwide way more than anything else.

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at October 25, 2006 5:38 AM
Comment #190107


I would think at this point cleaning up one of the most corrupt organizations in the world would be of paramount importance.

If you really think the most important issue today in the world is UN being corrupted, then you have no problem at all.

Especially since we pick up more then our fair share of the tab.

Which is not, economically speaking, the case.
US is in large debt with its UN assessments, the US congress refusing since years to pay its dues in order to force U.N. compliance with U.S. wishes. US is also the only member to beneficiate of assessement rate ceiling at 22%.

Japan *is*, regarding his GDP, the UN member that pick up more than its fair share.

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at October 25, 2006 5:58 AM
Comment #190109


You are correct; in the 2000 elections, foreign policy didn’t give much traction. As I remember, Gore tried to press the need for engagement in the middle east peace process, and Bush took an isolationist stance, saying we needed to let Israel and the Palestinians work out their own problems. For America to be respected, Bush said, it needed to be humble in foreign affairs. I thought that was too extreme then, just as I think what he did after 9/11 was too extreme.

In 2000, there was still talk of the “peace dividend” and what to do with budget surplus. As I recall, Gore wanted to set it aside to bolster social security and pay down the national debt, and Bush wanted to cut taxes. (and when the surplus went away, he still wanted to cut taxes — it was pretty clear that either condition for the Republicans was an argument for cutting taxes.)

But I do think I agree with the larger point in your article.

Posted by: Trent at October 25, 2006 6:36 AM
Comment #190111


What do you mean exactly when you say that Fernandez misspoke? I now he said himself he “misspoke”, but I took that to be a euphemestic way of saying that he said something that he embarrassed the boss.

This isn’t a rhetorical question. I’m curious what you think.

Posted by: Woody Mena at October 25, 2006 6:49 AM
Comment #190114

I guess it’s not that hard to decide if Fernandez misspoke or simply overspoke.

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at October 25, 2006 7:07 AM
Comment #190130


Some of the aid was distorted by Cold War priorities, but aid is a difficult thing no matter where.

Countries like Norway give a lot of aid w/o the kinds of strings you talk about. Some of that aid does good, but much is wasted and some is actually corrosive. The big problem with government aid is that it comes from governments and goes either to governments or those the governments approve. Sometimes government is not part of the solution. If you give aid to the wrong sorts of governments, you can prop up crooks and kleptocrats who under the normal conditions would be unable to maintain their power.

The other problem is crowding out. I saw this close up when a firm owned by a friend of mine lost business to a U.S. financed aid project. Her firm had a successful track record, but the U.S. came in - with good intentions and big bucks – to support development. The U.S. money came with stipulations. These stipulations were reasonable. They wanted the firms to be accountable, but to this they required them to have on staff (or hire) high priced employees who could comply with complicated USG reporting requirements. Big firms could do this; small ones cannot. When anybody with big bucks shows up in a poor area, they can cause disruptions. When someone comes to “help”, they often do not take into account local market conditions. They see problems to be solved.

Think of it like an overindulgent parent. The kids don’t develop.

Aid can be good when it builds infrastructure, but does not dictate results. Aid is also good when it invests in small projects. Mirco lending has been very successful because it allows the poor people choices and encourages entrepreneurs. BTW - it is important to LEND not give. It makes the enterprises work better. But when aid tries to remake, it destroys.


We have the macro problem of policies and the micro problem of delivery.

In Paris in 1985 we had a beautiful library open to the public in Hotel de Talleyrand. It was a beautiful building. Just going into it reminded people of the historic bonds between France and America. Thousands of your fellow citizens visited it every week. They met Americans there and talked through issues. Try to get in now.


Frankly I do not think he misspoke. He gave a valid opinion to an Arab media outlet. But it was not in diplospeak.

We need more candor, but did you notice the crap he got for it? And where the crap came from (blue side)?

Posted by: Jack at October 25, 2006 8:56 AM
Comment #190142


The difference between Reagans choice to gut the Peace Corp (and trickle down, etc…) and this administration (gut our military and trickle down) was that Reagan actually opened his eyes and saw what had been wrought. For example, partially refunding foreign aid and raising taxes more than anyone ever in our country to fight the deficits his first cuts caused. Unfortunately, back to this thread, the door was opened for the islamic extremeists to take over educating the young and creating todays terrorists. All for the sake of saving small change (i.e. at the rate of 1/1000th of war costs) and getting a few conservative votes…

Posted by: Dave1-20-09 at October 25, 2006 10:20 AM
Comment #190146


Do you really think that reducing the Peace Corps worldwide for about three years and then bringing it back to 10,000 opened the door to Islamic terrorism? Everything else happening at that time made no difference? Our support for Islamic fighters in Afghanistan, for example? BTW - I don’t think we had ANY peace corp in Afghanistan or Iraq in the years before Reagan anyway. Where is it they were withdrawn so as to create this problem you speak about?

If you checked into it a little, you would recall that Reagan was very popular among the Islamic folk in Afghanistan. We did not have that particular problem at that time.

Besides, Peace Corps didn’t educate many of the young anywhere. It was not usually their job. Even at its strongest, there were around 15,000 Peace Corps volunteers. You are suffering from American arrogance - leftist variety. FYI - rightist variety credits the U.S. too much, leftist gives it too much of the blame.

You are not focusing on something that could have made a much of a difference. I know you want to blame Reagan and Bush, but you do not have a case here.

And President Bush has just about doubled foreign aid over the Clinton levels, so your argument about foreign aid (if you are aiming it a Bush) just makes no sense at all.

Posted by: Jack at October 25, 2006 10:49 AM
Comment #190156

I was going to reply about how I am not that narrow in my thinking and how I think the peace corp example fit into the whole. Instead, I read this linked article and decided that the why we are “here” is becoming less important than finding a way to “fix” it.

Posted by: Dave1-20-09 at October 25, 2006 11:38 AM
Comment #190157
We have the macro problem of policies and the micro problem of delivery.

In Paris in 1985 we had a beautiful library open to the public in Hotel de Talleyrand. It was a beautiful building. Just going into it reminded people of the historic bonds between France and America. Thousands of your fellow citizens visited it every week. They met Americans there and talked through issues. Try to get in now.

Jack, my point exactly. When the micro problems are real, as your example show it well, I didn’t know this library even exists before. But as many in the ROTW I’m well aware of the US diplomacy macro problems.

These few macro-diplomatic messages emitted by the current US foreign policymakers do larger damage to US diplomacy all over the world than all micro ones combined.

Fix the content before the media deliverying it.

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at October 25, 2006 11:38 AM
Comment #190179

Bolton is supposed to be a Diplomat, which means that if he’s doing his job, you don’t hear reports about him trying to bludgeon the UN with its operating budget. The whole point of dipomacy is to get people to agree with you. It’s a dynamic, and you need somebody who can make that happen.

Bolton wants it without any work. He knows himself to be right, and is sure that everybody should know this already, too.

That problem is indicative of the attitudes of many in the administration, and those are attitudes that do just about nothing for actually getting agreements.

These are not unwanted reforms, as far as Britain and the Former Secretary General go. These are what these folks wanted. Unfortunately, Bolton doesn’t seem to have to skills to go out on the ground and do anything besides demand compliance. When you demand compliance, just what do you think happens? Unless you have clout and you have some leverage to back you, people can just say no.

People have to have a reason to tell us yes. It’s not our privilege to demand such an answer.

We cannot base diplomacy on the wishful thinking of what we want out of people. There’s got to be some work done in between to make those things happen, and the Bush administration just seems unwilling to make that effort. Power is more than wanting things to happen, its making things happen. Bolton may seem like your ideal, but really he can’t perform as advertised.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at October 25, 2006 12:47 PM
Comment #190217

Umm Jack,

You said:
It is true that during his tenure we gutted our public affairs capacity and our rank and file capacity to influence foreign public opinion, but it was more than Clinton. We fell into a type of historical amnesia during the 1990s. It we chased a dream, a chimera. The fall of communism made most people in the west think that we had finished - and won - a hard race. Now we could rest. All those soldiers could come home. It was the dawning of the age of Aquarius, just a little late.

I was reading my history book and failed to note any of this in it. Want to explain this one to me? Have you been having flashbacks or something?

Posted by: gergle at October 25, 2006 2:39 PM
Comment #190246


Think back. Do a google search re the attitudes. It was the economy that mattered. It was the economy, stupid. Security was an after thought. I am not a Clinton hater, but he clearly did not care about foreign affairs enough to appoint competent Secretaries of State.

We cut our military, intelligence and diplomtic positions. I know this from personal observation at the times.

The U.S. Information Agency specifically lost more than 1/3 of its FSO positions and hired almost nobody between 1993 and 1999 when it rolled into State. In most of those years, you could count FS PD promotions on one hand. Posts overseas were closed or cut back. It was a terrible situation.

When Colin Powell took over, he started a hiring boom to replace all those lost positions. Take a look at the link to diplomatic readiness initiative in my original post.


You may recall that in the 1980s MILLIONS of Europeans marched against the cowboy in the White House. They demanded a nuclear freeze. Had they succeeded, we might still have those giant (if frozen) nuclear arsenals. The macro politics comes and goes. Relationships endure.

Posted by: Jack at October 25, 2006 4:51 PM
Comment #190256

I admit I still haven’t done any research, but what Jack says gibes with my memory. I’m going to resist the obvious jab about Bush and crew and their competence and just ask Jack why he thinks Clinton’s Secretaries of State were incompetent. Because of the cutbacks in diplomatic positions?

Posted by: Trent at October 25, 2006 5:32 PM
Comment #190260

Christopher was smart, but not truly alive. Albright managed to play well above her intellectual weight class. I give her credit for that, but she could only do what someone had written out for her in advance.

The cutbacks were one thing, but the lack of management & diplomatic skill were another.

Read “War in the Time of Peace” by David Halberstram. He is not pro-Bush (or anti-Clinton). His portrayal of Christopher/Albright fits with my experience.

Think of it this way. Have you ever heard anyone really praise Albright’s intelligence unless they were doing the PC gender thing? Even detractors think that Rice is smart and Powell is impressive.

Posted by: Jack at October 25, 2006 5:46 PM
Comment #190277


One of the most disingenuous columns you’ve written. I like the blaming of Clinton. You try to pass it off as a joke and then go on to actually assign the blame to him, as though his administration was responsible for our pathetic state of international relations. You and the other “conservatives” that somehow, someway wish the sordid state of affairs in this country were not the responsibility of the current inept administration that you leveraged into office in hopes that their implementation of all your pet theories (tax cuts for the wealthy, ending government support for the poor, punishing public schools for their predicament, deregulating businesses, etc.) would provide the shining example. But instead, these things did just what the critics said they would: the wealthy got wealthier, the middle class slipped in quality of life, and the poor got more desperate. In the conservative muddled mindset, if three people are wealthy beyond belief and everyone else is just scraping by, that’s a good economy, as long as those wealthy people keep getting richer. Unfortunately for your team, the American public is smarter than you and is figuring out that the conservative agenda is B.S. delivered mostly to trick the majority into allowing policies that benefit the wealthy. It can only succeed for a short time before it falls apart.

Too bad, Jack.

Posted by: Mental Wimp at October 25, 2006 6:49 PM
Comment #190303

Jack this is one of the most poignant posts I have ever read. It is Certainly not amoung the most pointless. The pointless ones are those that consist of nothing more than flaming the “other side” while beating one political parties’ tired dogmas into the ground like the dead horses they are. You resisted the urge to blame Clinton for everything, and for good reason, because we all did this. The Republicans, the Democrats, Bush, Clinton, you and me. We all simply forgot about foreign affairs after the fall of communism, and we all paid a terrible price for it. As it is often said, America is a nation of ideals, ideals that must be sold . After the cold war, we got rid of all our salesmen, and now we act surprised that fewer and fewer are buying the product.

Posted by: joe_thousandaire at October 25, 2006 8:23 PM
Comment #190325

Jack: What good was Powells impressiveness after the three morongos stuffed him full of false information and sent him out on the stage with mister slam dunk to make a fool of himself.

What good would it do her if Condi had all the brains in the world. The three morongos out rank her and they think they are the three smartest men in the world even though they are apparently brain dead. She looks good but she has been ineffective as a secretary of state.

Posted by: jlw at October 25, 2006 9:15 PM
Comment #190329


I am just pointing out verifiable facts about the 1990s. You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. You can draw the interpretation you wish, but the fact is that we cut to the bone in the 1990s and when they time came to explain our policies, we have too few people on the ground to do it.

Posted by: Jack at October 25, 2006 9:43 PM
Comment #190358

jlw, monogos???!!! :) Are they related to macacas?


I’m having a bit of difficulty buying your premise here. I googled my brain and asked it why it forgot foreign policy in the 90’s. It asked me what I was smoking and reminded me we averted a European war from spreading, increased foreign trade and wondered what a Republican is doing bemoaning smaller government.

As to USIA, well, it seems to me that BBC and other free radio penetrates what used to be the iron curtain.

I’m not sure where to source the state department diplomatic core data, but I seem to recollect a massive stampede towards the door after 2000.

I was never a fan of Albright particularly, but incompetent?

All I know is that my girlfriend tells me that size doesn’t matter, it’s the skill behind it that counts.

Posted by: gergle at October 25, 2006 11:30 PM
Comment #190394


You may recall that in the 1980s MILLIONS of Europeans marched against the cowboy in the White House. They demanded a nuclear freeze. Had they succeeded, we might still have those giant (if frozen) nuclear arsenals. The macro politics comes and goes. Relationships endure.

Yeah, I remember.
And AFAIK, we still have those giant nuclear arsenals, not even frozen. Just half smaller than 25 years ago and reclassify from strategic weapons to tactical weapons.
I’m not sure it’s better.

But I agree, relationships endure, and I’m not yet that pessimistic about future relationships with US.
As I said in a thread on the blue column, your country is the best when it comes to change quickly. It’s not irreversible and can be undone.

PS: Not yet as I’m waiting the americans votes to see how it turn (or not) :-\

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at October 26, 2006 5:02 AM
Comment #190488

Jack sez:

You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.

Yes, I believe this is an exact quote from the official Karl Rove playbook. Not that it is relevant to anything I said, but, hey, you gotta go with the playbook, right?

Posted by: mental wimp at October 26, 2006 1:27 PM
Comment #190512


And my girlfriend says it’s not the size of the boat, but the motion of the ocean.

Yes, some actual data about the diplomatic corps over the past two decades would be nice. I’ll see what I can find.

Posted by: Trent at October 26, 2006 2:06 PM
Comment #190520

Well, on the State Department website, I did find this. It broadly confirms what Jack has been saying and what I believed to be true. Bear in mind it was written in 1996. Here’s the conclusion:

Attempts at reform and reorganization in the Department in the last 15 years have been often obscured and even vitiated by the impact on Department personnel and functions caused by recurrent budget cuts and resource reductions that were part of the overall governmental budget deficits and spending constraints. In the last 10 years, State Department resources have been reduced by 50 percent. Despite expanding responsibilities, the Department and the Foreign Service grew little between 1960 when there were about 7,000 domestic and 6,000 overseas American personnel for a total of over 13,000, and 1988 when there were 8,000 domestic and 6,000 overseas personnel for a total of 14,000. The Department has remained one of the smallest of major government agencies with an ever-increasing daily impact upon the lives of Americans—not only those who travel or conduct business abroad but those who are concerned about the role of the United States in the world.

The collapse of international communism culminating in the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union eliminated for the foreseeable future the dangers of nuclear warfare or massive insurgencies sponsored around the world by the U.S.S.R. It did not make the world easier for diplomacy. Even as its resources are being reduced, the Department of State’s tasks have become far more complicated and the expectations of the American public for effective actions far greater. In the wake of the Cold War, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, international crime, and economic issues, which were always present, if on the margins, have become the central focus of foreign affairs. Resurgent nationalism in Europe and the former Soviet Union has sparked civil wars and rebellions that defy the United Nations, the United States and its allies, or any other combination of states to quell or even restrain. Respect by nations great and small for the human rights of their people has become an insistent measure by which many Americans gauge the worthiness of foreign policy goals and the effectiveness of the Department of State’s performance.

William Z. Slany
The Historian
Bureau of Public Affairs
Department of State
July 1996

Posted by: Trent at October 26, 2006 2:26 PM
Comment #190523

Here’s a State Department document on personnel during the Clinton administration. Personnel did decline — see the chart in the middle of the document — but not as dramatically as I thought.

Maybe someone else can dig for personnel numbers during the Bush Jr. administration?

Posted by: Trent at October 26, 2006 2:37 PM
Comment #190546


Re facts - the sentiment is from Patrick Moiynihan (a Dem as you recall) and I think he was paraphrasing John Adams, but if you want to think these things come from Karl Rove, go ahead. I would be flattered.


I am not blaming only Clinton or even Clinton especially. It was the mind set of the 1990s. When we look back at that “golden age” we do not see the sharks under the water or the fact that we were drilling holes in our boat.

Posted by: Jack at October 26, 2006 4:23 PM
Comment #190560


The numbers increased dramatically because of the diplomatic readiness intiative.

I googled a bit and found that it actually started BEFORE 911. See reference.

If you read the whole article, you get an idea of the damage done during the 1990s

Posted by: Jack at October 26, 2006 5:27 PM
Comment #190597

Jack, actually numbers began to increase in Clinton’s second term, per Trent’s links

Thanks for the links, there’s a lot there to read. I was unaware of the office of the Secretary of State’s Historian.

The problem I have is Jack’s idea, he may well be correct, is that public diplomacy is linked heavily to groups like USIA. I’m not convinced that’s true, or that a larger beaurocracy provides more effective propoganda.

Lobbing bombs at people we designate terrorists may play well at home, but not so well abroad. This can negate and make impotent ANY form of public diplomacy.

Playing a lead role in ending genocide goes a long way towards that goal.

Invading Panama, funding terrorists in Nicaraugua, and paramilitary in Columbia, or El Salvadore has much larger effects than a John Wayne movie, particularly in that region.

It seems to me, Jack, you may be conflating internal perceptions with foreign perceptions. Reagan and Bush both stirred up patriotic fervor wihtin the US and both created negative views from abroad of the Aggressor America.

I don’t believe sending Karen Hughes to talk about “One Nation under God as in the Constitution” or that GW was the first President to recognize Palestine, or that Saudi Women are repressed because they can’t drive is creating much image change for America.

I am reminded in a biography of LBJ reading about the story of the confused looks from Vietnamese locals when LBJ handed out campaign buttons and ink pens on a visit there. Karen might have her thumb on the pulse of cowboy soccer moms, but I’ve not been convinced she has a clue about international culture.

To the extent that public diplomacy has worked at all, it has done so as a garnish. The main course—a nation’s ultimate image—is fashioned not by how it talks, but by what it does.

Posted by: gergle at October 26, 2006 8:09 PM
Comment #190612

Jack, Gergle,

I’m not going to argue the points. I think it’s clear that State Department resources did decline in the 1990s, though in terms of personnel not as dramatically as I thought. What really surprises me, though, is the generally low numbers of foreign generalists and specialists for the last 40 years. The first link I posted shows almost zero growth in number of these personnel between 1960 and 1988, though State Department responsibilities increased dramatically.

Interesting stuff.

Posted by: Trent at October 26, 2006 9:24 PM
Comment #190615


I believe having people who live overseas, understand the culture and speak the language is important to our success. I think this is the great unspoken part of our work. During the 1990s we cut badly. Naturally, this had an effect. it is like a firm gutting its marketing budget. It takes a while before you see the affects.

The same, BTW, happened in the intelligence agencies. We need people to understand and be understood. I just believe that.

I think your intepretation of the numbers is wrong. The chart shows an increase in 2000, but this is the caption above the chart:

“The figures for 1999 in the chart below include ACDA employees but NOT USIA employees since the merger of USIA with the State Department did not take place until FY 2000 (October 1999). The figures for 2000 do include all USIA employees.”

In other words, there is only an increase because former USIA is now included. That does not increase the total number of diplomats. It just moves them around.

Posted by: Jack at October 26, 2006 9:29 PM
Comment #190617

Right, without those USIA numbers in 2000, the general downward trend presumably would have continued. At any rate, I find it uncontroversial to say we need more foreign experts. Without being polemical, I also think it is important for administrations to listen to these experts and act in pragmatic fashion.

Posted by: Trent at October 26, 2006 9:34 PM
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