Public Diplomacy: Foreign Intervention Part II

A Senate hearing on Wednesday, March 10th, “The Future of U.S. Public Diplomacy,” explained quite well where our diplomatic priorities are regarding what Senators in the Foreign Relations committee called, “Public Diplomacy.”

Chairman Kaufman explained that there is a need for the United States to “promote soft power” to the outreach of foreign populations. Essentially, public diplomacy is the act of one state influencing the culture of another by means of television, religion, radio, or internet; it is influencing another state by any means other than the military or hard power. At face value, this sounds wonderful. At least our government is no longer resorting to the dropping of bombs in foreign countries as an act of negotiation. 

Senator Wicker testified and noted that the Federal government has spent $10 billion on public diplomacy since September 11th, 2001 and plans to spend another $7.5 billion over the next five years. The plan was to target Pakistan and work with USAID, the same government agency operated by Stuart Bowen, in sending internal aid and internal educational benefits to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Wicker’s reasoning for intervening in the internal development of countries like Pakistan is completely ideological. “Fighting the battle of ideas is equally important there,” he said. “Keeping the pace with China and Russia’s influence around the world,” he stated, is vital to the United States’ interests both abroad and at home. But rather than suggesting to let the private sector invest and flourish in African countries to compete with China, fighting a battle of ideas seemed to be the clear, winning argument in the debate. 

Three witnesses testified thereafter. Evelyn S. Lieberman, Former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy (Director of Communications and Public Affairs), stated that “globalization and technology is giving us a global village” but globalization has by no means erased cultural traditions, and “this needs to change.” The frightening words out of her mouth, “this [culture] needs to change” echoed through my ears as she vied for changing the cultures and traditions of other countries into essentially being puppets of Western Democracies. She continued to state that, “airing American ads on Al Jazeera will not work,” immediately followed by, “we need to do more to combat terrorism.”

It saddens me to see how our “educated elite” advising the country on how to operate on a diplomatic level see a news corporation like Al Jazeera as a national security threat when Al Jazeera is actually one of the most reliable and revered news sources in the Middle East. I would know. I watch it. When she stated that investing in study abroad programs was necessary and a “national security” issue, I was eager to meet this lady and commend her on her justified and competent perspective on world culture. Food for thought: why are we paying for Pakistani education when we can barely fix the cost of the educational system in the United States first? 

Karen Hughes, Former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy (Worldwide Vice Chair), testified next. She argued that human rights were universal and applied to all cultures; The U.S. had to be the guarantor of these rights.

However, the last time I checked, Europe considers healthcare a human right worthy of being legally implemented whereas we the United States see healthcare as a privilege. Nevertheless, I had to agree with her statement that the bilateral function of the State Department is ineffective and that foreign American Ambassadors can, at the very least, better learn the language of the nation they are stationed in. She vouched for better language training for Foreign Service Officers and Ambassadors alike and urged Officers to “do more listening.”

Listening is good. It’s something many State Department employees have a hard time doing. However, I had to disagree with her overarching plan. Hughes claimed that American foreign policy needed to educate indigenous populations that Al Qaeda’s attacks “often kill fellow Muslims.” If only she and the rest of the State Department understood that Al Qaeda doesn’t kill because of Islam and preserving the Islamic faith, but rather because of a belligerent American presence around the world.   

Lastly, a James Glassman, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (Department of State), asserted that “public diplomacy is not being taken seriously” and that “it needs to be send into battle to combat the ideological contest of our time.” If I recall correctly, Machiavelli teaches us that using ideology in diplomacy is dangerous and always ends in disaster. Yet, Mr. Glassman believes that the United States is being hurled into an epic and historical period that can be directed by the neoconservative influence of nation building.

Otto von Bismarck, perhaps one of the cleverest diplomats in history once stated that, “the river of history flows as it will, and if I put my hand in it, this is because I regard it as my duty, not because I think I can change its course.” Alas, neoconservatism serves as the antithesis to Bismarck’s wisdom and Mr. Glassman serves as the antithesis to common sense and reason. 

What’s troubling is that the Senate is receiving advice from former Bush appointees in which, although the approaches to foreign policy are different, the ends are the same and feel justified by a select few who supposedly represent the 310 million people of the United States.

Both Republicans and Democrats have fallen into the trap of believing that the war on terror is a winnable war, worthy of the United States steering the course of history through world domination. Except, this time, the State Department is advocating for a less belligerent, more provocative form of foreign policy. Rather than using bombs, we are using propaganda through media outlets to change culture. Why the U.S. feels the need to change culture to begin with is beyond me. And why the United States isn’t seeking free trade with other cultures before judging them is also a bizarre concept to me.

The fact that the U.S. needs to virtually bribe foreign youth into believing that America is not the aggressor everyone believes it to be by paying for their education with my tax dollars is a foreign policy blunder on many levels (it’s also theft- I want my money back to I can at least pay for my education). Bribery can only go so far. Foreigners do not hate the United States for its ideals; rather they dislike us because of our cantankerous foreign policy and constant need to intervene in internal state affairs. Just look at what we’re doing now, trying to influence culture through tuition bribes, influencing foreign media, and bastardizing American values by means of aggression and sleazy intervention. 

Echoing the words of President Bush, Kaufman, a Democrat and Chairman of the Committee, warned, “that’s what the terrorists want us to do; they want us to retreat,” speaking of troop withdrawal in the Middle East. What was slipped into the hearing towards the final moments was Mr. Glassman’s statement in regards to conducting civil society changes in the Middle East: “of course, a lot of this information will be kept secret and confidential.”  …As is any “national security” issue.

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