In an op ed for the Orlando Sentinel, Senator John McCain floated the idea of establishing an independent agency to conduct public diplomacy on behalf of the U.S. The senator drew a distinction between advocating the American position on day-to-day issues, which is theoretically what the State Department does, and the longer term task of communicating the country's values, what he calls "the idea of America." The latter, he says, would best be done by an independent agency reporting directly to the president.
"We need an independent agency with the sole purpose of getting America's message out in a factual and persuasive manner: managing radio and TV broadcasts to those in need of objective news; establishing American libraries with Internet access throughout the world; sending Americans overseas and sponsoring foreigners' visits to America for educational and cultural exchanges; and creating a professional corps of public-diplomacy experts who speak the local language and whose careers are spent promoting American values, ideas, culture and education. And it should recruit the best and brightest not just from the ranks of the Foreign Service but from business, academia and the media."
McCain admits that he voted to integrate the United States Information Agency into the State Department in 1999 on the theory that it would improve coordination between public and government to government diplomacy. That didn't work, he says. Instead, public diplomacy became an "orphan."
McCain may be the first presidential candidate to raise the issue of America's public diplomacy in the campaign. Too bad he used a relatively small Florida newspaper to do it. But now it's out there and, with luck, it will stimulate discussion. I just hope McCain doesn't think the USIA can just pick up where it left off in 1999. The world has changed too much in the meanwhile.