On Thursday, I attended the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy’s public meeting with a couple of colleagues from AU. Both Lena and Laura blogged about their impressions. And right now, I feel obliged to do the same. The transcript of the meeting will be available online soon (Follow @mountainrunner for more information), so I’ll keep my post considerably short.
First of all, this was Matt Armstrong‘s first public appearance as the Executive Director of the Commission (Congratulations once again Matt, and nice to finally meet you in person!). He has been a prominent figure in strategic communication within both academia and blogosphere. He talked about some planned changes in how the Commission works. Apparently, the Commission will be more open, and will initiate dialogues with think-tanks, universities, and other interested parties. (They will also be publishing white papers!)
I realized the practitioners and scholars of public diplomacy have one thing in common: no one knows what is really going on. Betsy Whitaker from the R, in her presentation, mentioned that other agencies and departments have public diplomacy budgets but the R is not sure what they are doing or even whether the budgets are still spent on public diplomacy attempts (or moved to public affairs). Well, both practitioners and scholars know public diplomacy is important, we have to do/study public diplomacy – and we do. But, please, don’t ask about the details, it gets fuzzy.
The second presentation was from BBG. In Jeff Tremble’s presentation, BBG seemed much better than I thought they were. I mean, my personal interaction with BBG is limited to VoA Turkish. To be honest, VoA Turkish does not have high quality programs. But BBG seems to be aware of what is going on and is capable of using several technologies to reach out to as many people as possible. For some reason, during the entire presentation, I questioned whether BBG is actually doing a great job or just knows how to deliver great presentations… I still do not have a clear answer. But US seems to be doing its best to reach ‘populations deprived of free flow of information’ through BBG.
Yet, I am quite optimistic about the future of American public diplomacy. Even though, during the last decade, the Commission and BBG pretty much talked about the same things (budget, inter-agency cooperation etc), I believe Matt Armstrong is an invaluable addition to the US bureaucracy. The R is aware of its shortcomings, (and the shortcomings of public diplomacy FSOs), and is creating new institutions and programs to increase its effectiveness. BBG is devising region-specific policies, and increasing its technical capabilities. If for nothing else, US is one of the few countries that publicly discuss what to do about public diplomacy, and right now has Matt Armstrong working for the government!