Public Diplomacy

Rudy on Brand America

Now it's Rudy Giuliani calling for improvements in America's public diplomacy.Giuliani

According to the AP,  Rudy "proposed to change the Voice of America and other international broadcasters to promote the idea of freedom and U.S. values abroad, expand exchange programs with Arabs and Muslims, and increase the size of the Foreign Service."

Can we get the Democrats to pay attention to this issue, please?

Gut Check

According to the New York Times, the Democratic party is all atwitter about a new book (The Political Brain by Emory University professor, Drew Weston) that advises politicos to forget about issues, policies and even facts in favor of connecting emotionally with voters. According to the Times, Bill Clinton is even underlining passages for his campaigning wife.Votebrainfreeze_2

At first blush, that doesn't sound like a formula to improve political discourse.  But in fact it recalls some of the themes of Walter Lippmann's classic book, Public Opinion. Although written in the 1920s, it remains a singularly insightful analysis of how public opinion is formed.

“Opinions,” Lippmann wrote “are not in continual and pungent contact with the facts they profess to treat.” In real life, opinions float on a current of emotion that has far more force than the pictures or words that aroused them in the first place.  Over time, people know what they feel without being entirely certain why they feel it. And those feelings can be provoked by stimuli far removed from the ideas that aroused them in the first place.

Pollster Frank Luntz has made a tidy career out of helping Republicans navigate those emotional currents by cloaking their proposals in just the right words -- "death tax" rather than "estate tax," for example.  Now, of course, the wide availability of brain imaging has given the whole field a scientific aura. But its roots go all the way back to Aristotle who famously counseled that persuasive appeals could be based on the character of the speaker (ethos), the logic of the argument (logos) or the emotions of the listener (pathos). 

In that sense, U.S. public diplomacy should be more "empathetic,"  i.e., connect emotionally with people around the world before trying to sell them a defense of our policies.

Threats To World Peace

According to a Harris Poll for the Financial Times, nearly a third of Europeans consider the United States as a bigger threat to world peace than any other country. Harris_security001_2

On its face, the poll confirms that the next president will face a major challenge improving America’s image abroad, starting with our main allies in Europe.

But the poll also reveals that the next president has some fence mending to do at home also. In the U.S. itself, 35 per cent of people 16- to 24 years old agree with the Europeans.

We the People

Every year on the Fourth of July, on the last page of the New York Times' business section, someone pays to reprint a copy of the Declaration of Independence. Given the prominence of John Hancock's signature, which looms larger above the others, I always thought the ad was placed by the insurance company. Maybe the Times itself does it as a kind of public service ad. Declaration_image

Whoever pays for it, it is indeed a public service -- a good reminder of the principles upon which the United States was founded. One of the most basic of those principles appears in the very first lines -- "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind."  One might be forgiven for wondering if America's declining reputation around the world isn't the natural consequence of forgetting to apply that principle in our dealings with other nations. 

U.S.I.A. Redux?

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.  Mccain 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.

The Economist: U.S. Is A "Buy"

The United States is "Still No. 1" declares the cover of The Economist's June 30 issue. If the accompanying illustration shows Uncle Sam in something less than triumphant pose, that's kind of the point.Economist_june_30_2007

The U.S. may be "wounded, tetchy and less effective than it should be," the editors say but "America us still the power that counts."

("Tetchy" is apparently the Queen's English for "irritable" or "peevish" and probably comes from Middle English tecche, "a bad habit," from Old French tache, teche, "a spot or stain," or from close observation of our president's news conferences.) In fact, The Economist admits that the U.S. has been weakened globally since President Bush arrived in office thanks to  a range of missteps from bumbling diplomacy, to strategic blunders in Iraq, the embarrassment of Abu Ghraib, and slowness to tackle climate change.

But the magazine is also quick to point out that Bush's impact on America's reputation has been exaggerated. "America did not enjoy untrammelled influence abroad before he arrived," it points out. "The country that won the cold war also endured several grievous reverses, notably Vietnam (where 58,000 Americans were killed—16 times the figure for Iraq). Iran has been defying America since Jimmy Carter's presidency, and North Korea for a generation before that. As for soft power, France has been complaining about Coca-Cola and Hollywood for nearly a century."

But a superpower's strength "lies as much in what it can prevent from happening as in what it can achieve," says The Economist. "In all sorts of areas—be it the fight against global warming or the quest for an Arab-Israeli peace—America is quite simply indispensable."

That's where The Economist may have gone off the the track a bit -- maybe these problems can't be solved without America, but America can't solve them alone either.  The biggest problems we face -- terrorism, nuclear proliferation, avian flu, counterfeiting, you name it -- all require the cooperation of other nations. Our hard, military power demonstrably can't win their help. Only our soft power can. And that is what we have lost in recent years.   

That said, The Economist's bottom line is appropriately optimistic: "If America were a stock, it would be a 'buy': an undervalued market leader, in need of new management. But that points to its last great strength. More than any rival, America corrects itself. Under pressure from voters, Mr Bush has already rediscovered some of the charms of multilateralism; he is talking about climate change; a Middle East peace initiative is possible. Next year's presidential election offers a chance for renewal. Such corrections are not automatic: something (a misadventure in Iran?) may yet compound the misery of Iraq in the same way Watergate followed Vietnam. But America recovered from the 1970s. It will bounce back stronger again."

Department of Half A Loaf

It looks like efforts to block full-scale reform of immigration policy succeeded. The bill's opponents had all the subtlety of a Quentin Tarantino movie, but their "Kill the Bill" message registered with  senators leery of getting on the wrong side of an ill-informed but emotional constituency -- including two Republicans who sponsored it in the first place. The Senate failed to close debate on the bill, which effectively means it will never come to vote. Shamnestykill

But on the theory that half a loaf is better than none, some of the immigration bill's sponsors should consider folding some of their proposals into new legislation recently proposed by Sen. Byron Dorgan, the North Dakota Democrat who, along with Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, proposed the Travel Promotion Act of 2007.

The Dorgan bill - S. 1661 - would create a new travel promotion campaign funded equally by a fee on overseas travelers and contributions from the U.S. travel industry. The campaign would be run by an independent, non-profit corporation. In addition to promoting the United States as a travel destination, it would explain U.S. security policies and improve visa/entry practices.

The Travel Promotion Act was approced by the the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation yesterday. It includes provisions that would:

  • authorize the State Department to explore visa interviews by videoconference where appropriate;
  • authorize the State Department to explore mobile visa operations where appropriate and secure;
  • require the State Department to report what it needs to meet the 30-day standard for visa interview wait times;
  • authorize a "Model Ports" program at the nation’s top 20 international arrival airports;
  • authorize 200 more Customs and Border Protection officers at these top 20 airports; and
  • authorize the creation of an international registered traveler program to expedite the secure screening of arriving travelers.

The proposed act is gathering broad bi-partisan support. A call to your senator would help. 

Confucius Institute

China plans to establish 500 "Confucius Institutes" around the world.Confucious_institute They already have 12 institutes at U.S. universities and have even established one in the Chicago public school system. The institutes appear to be modeled after l'Alliance Francaise, the Cervantes Institute, the British Council, the Goethe Institute, etc. with language-training as their lead offering. But the Confucius Institute's charter is even broader, including access to Chinese movies and media, meetings with Chinese officials, organized tours, etc. Wired magazine did a story on the initiative last year.  

It's interesting that the Chinese named their new public diplomacy effort after the ancient philosopher since that country has been trying to squelch Confucianism since the time of Mao. Their research probably told them that Confucius is widely known and respected outside China and has no overt political connotations.

Wouldn't it make sense for the U.S. to establish similar institute's around the world, funded by the State Department and run by local partners such as universities or other civic entities? Taking a lead from the Chinese (and Spanish), they could be called Franklin Centers.   After all, Benjamin Franklin was the American equivalent of Confucius, known and respected around the world.  He even produced his own book of aphorisms.

Golden Coverage

Uncle_sam_sells Sometimes there's a reporter in the audience when I promote one of my books. That was the case when I spoke in Boston recently. The resulting column by Peter Golden in the  Waltham, Ma., Daily News Tribune, may have gone a little overboard in suggesting a job for me in the next presidential administration, but I appreciate the thought.  The illustration, reprinted here, deftly depicts the impact of America's declining reputation.  I may use it in future presentations myself.  You can read the column itself here.

Foreign Students in U.S.

I've been traveling quite a bit, both for pleasure and to promote Rebuilding Brand America, which is also a pleasure but not as much fun as trekking through Cornwall.  Book_pile

Anyway, today I did a webcast for the American Management Association with my friend Keith Reinhard, president of Business for Diplomatic Action. (View the whole webcast at the AMA's website .)  In the Q&A period, one of the attendees took us to task for comparing the growth rate of foreign enrollments in U.S. colleges (about 9 percent over the last five years) to that in places like the U.K., France and Germany (much higher).  What we ignored, our caller said, was that the U.S. has so many more foreign students. It's much harder to grow a big number than a small number, he quite reasonably said.

I let Keith handle the question, which he did quite ably, apologizing for not using absolute numbers and skillfully segueing to the larger issue of  how anti-Americanism is of growing concern to university presidents.

But it got me thinking. So when I got home I did a little additional research.  Here's what I found out.

The U.S. attracts about 22% of all foreign students, followed by the U.K. (12%), France and Germany (each 10%).  The absolute number of foreign students in the U.S. is about 500,000; the U.K., France and Germany have about 200,000 each.  Taking the three non-U.S. countries as a whole would give them slightly more foreign students than the U.S., but their growth rate would still be dramatically higher at about 52%.

Further, the U.S. also has the largest system of higher education, with 15 million students, compared to the U.K., France and Germany, which have about 2 million students each.

So on a comparable basis, only 4% of U.S. college students come from foreign countries, whereas the percentages for the U.K., France and Germany are respectively 15%, 11% and 13%.

You can check out the data for yourself at the Atlas of Student Mobility.

As someone who worked for a company that went from 95% market share to about 35% in just 13 years, I know what can happen when your competitors are growing at dramatically higher rates than you are.  I think our original point was correct, but I'd like to know what you think.

The Cultural Parade

Pascal Zachary, who teaches journalism at Stanford, wrote a provocative piece for the New York Times about stereotyping in the global technology community. His purpose is to shed light on how innovation actually works. "Talk of national identity rarely comes up in public," he notes, "but privately many people — from academia to venture capital firms — take for granted that the contours of a career in technology are often shaped by the national origin of the technologist."Cultural_parade

Few business people would admit that they harbor crass stereotypes about other cultures. But some economic historians can find correlations between national origin and success (or failure) in specific fields. For example, Italians really have excelled at design, but the country has produced few great programmers. So far.

The problem is that, while stereotypes may have some foundation in history, they do not necessarily predict the future. The Japanese may have excelled at copying the innovations of others in the 1970s, but the success of Toyota and Sony proves that they have achieved unmatched levels of creativity since then. China, he suggests, may be on the same path.

Pascal's analysis applies more broadly than to technology, but interestingly, he blows off discussion of stereotypes that other countries may have of America, claiming it is "too big and diverse for easy generalizations." Well, China's pretty big and much more diverse than commonly thought.

I suspect much of the world has pigeonholed America's national character pretty decisively. Like most stereotypes, it has some foundation in fact. The big question is whether we can change the facts sufficiently to change the stereotype.

Original url: New York Times Op Ed

Private Sector Summit

The State Department and the PR Coalition have finally issued a report   on the "Private Sector Summit" held on January 10, 2007. The PR Coalition describes itself as "an ad hoc partnership of major organizations representing corporate public relations, investor relations, public affairs and related communications disciplines." In partnership with the State Department it brought together about 100 PR people, academics and agency staffers in Washington, D.C., to discuss public diplomacy.  (See my previous post  Rebuilding Brand America.)

Nothing earth-shaking came out of the meeting, but the Coalition's Ed Neider did a masterful job of summarizing the proceedings and making it seem even more practical and action-oriented than it was.   

Among the high-level recommendations:

  1. Develop Business Practices that Reflect Public Diplomacy.
    - Make public diplomacy actions a corporate officer’s responsibility.
    - Make U.S. business practices consistent with U.S. values.
  2. Promote Understanding of American Society, Culture and Values in Other Countries.
    - Become a part of the local community through employee volunteerism, strategic philanthropy and greater engagement with responsible NGOs.
    - Create “circles of influence” through relationships with organizations, chambers of commerce, journalists and local business leaders.
    - Create local opportunities to win internship opportunities in the U.S.
    - Provide English language training and overseas studies for disadvantaged students.

  3. Build Relationships of Trust and Respect Across Cultures.
    - Support the creation of a corps of “foreign service officers” made up of academics and business people with specialized expertise who could work abroad on short-term assignments.
    -  Provide incentives for the non-U.S. work force to visit America and for the U.S. work force to travel overseas.
    - Sponsor international short-term assignments for U.S. employees.
    - Hold public diplomacy summits in key geographies.
    - Provide financial support for some State Department educational and cultural exchanges.

What you can do

As I travel around promoting my new book, Rebuilding Brand America, one of the questions I get most often is "assuming anti-Americanism is as big as threat as you think, what can businesses do about it?" The obvious answer is to model their operations outside the U.S. after those of successful global marketers such as Procter and Gamble, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, General Electric and many others cited in my book. Those companies are succeeding in global markets because they make themselves part of the local community wherever they do business and they share their customers' cares and dreams.

But there are other specific steps that U.S. headquartered businesses should be taking -- they should:

  1. Educate their employees about anti-Americanism’s impact. Most Americans want the U.S. to be liked, but if it isn't, their attitude is "so what?" Ordinary citizens need to be shown how anti-Americanism affects the U.S.'s safety and economic well-being. For example, it's hard to win the cooperation of other countries in fighting global issues when they suspect our motives.
  2. Demand that government fix immigration and customs. The way we "welcome" visitors to our shores is scandalous -- long lines, probing interviews, endless waiting. And that assumes visitors have successfully run the gauntlet of securing a visa.
  3. Support budget increases for proven State Department programs. In recent years, more than 29 different groups of experts have recommended ways to improve America's outreach to the world. There are remarkable consistencies across their reports -- increase language training, recruit more public diplomacy officers, expand exchange programs, etc. The Bush administration has made an honest effort to adopt many of their recommendations, but it needs political support to get budget increases through a perhaps understandably skeptical Congress.
  4. Sponsor cultural exchanges, language training and the expansion of “American Corners.” Many of the State Department's most effective programs are available for corporate sponsorship. For example, when security concerns forced the closing of American libraries in most foreign countries, enterprising foreign service officers created "American Corners" in local university libraries. They stock them with American books and publications and even provide web access over dedicated computers, but they're chronically short of funds.
  5. Ask presidential candidates to outline their plans for more effective public diplomacy. Businesses support candidates of both parties through their Political Action Committees. It's time to find out where the candidates stand on the critical issue of anti-Americanism.

There's a lot that individuals can do as well:

  1. Learn more about other countries’ current events, histories and cultures. Americans are notoriously ignorant of other countries. Take time to read a novel by a foreign author or to see a foreign movie (even if it has subtitles). Pay more attention to the international news in your local newspaper or favorite TV news show. Once in a while, read an English-language publication such as the Economist or the Financial Times.
  2. Demand better K - 12 educational programs for your kids in geography, and foreign languages. When the National Geographic Society surveyed kids' knowledge of geography a few years ago, they were shocked that fewer than a third could find the Pacific Ocean on a map!
  3. Contribute to organizations that support international understanding and peaceful conflict resolution. For example, Rotary International   sponsors a number of programs to build goodwill and understanding across borders -- for example, members from different countries can exchange homes, work on community projects together, partner in disaster relief efforts, etc.
  4. Participate in foreign exchange programs. Host a foreign student or encourage your own teenagers to study abroad, living with a foreign family. Organziations such as the American Field Service,, the Center for Cultural Interchange , and AYUSA  sponsor thousands of student exchanges every year.
  5. Ask political candidates about their plans to improve America’s “brand.” If they think you're talking about an advertising campaign or better slogan, reconsider supporting them until they "get it."

Taming Wild Perceptions

Gunwithflag Randall Frost writes intelligently on a wide range of topics. In this article for brandchannel, which is published by the Interbrand consultancy, he expands on a point I made in Rebuilding Brand America. It concerns the potency of the "frontier myth" in shaping perceptions of the United States. Frost does a lot more with the observation than I did -- when we spoke, he told me he had been thinking about it ever since he read a book by Frederick Jackson Turner back in college. It was time well spent.  Frost shows how America can shift the myth of expanding into new physical territory, which is threatening, to one that "emphasizes exploration of knowledge-based, non-territorial frontiers," such as those in technology and science.  Worth reading.

Fighting the War On Terror

President Bush’s plan forward in Iraq called for a major jobs program and increased construction aid in addition to a surge in troops. Military experts and foreign policy wonks have been knocking each other out arguing about the merits of the president’s troop strategy. But let’s stop debating whether or not the front lines of the War on Terror pass through Iraq -- or even Afghanistan.  It doesn’t matter.

Indeed, it’s possible that the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security can play only a supporting role in the War on Terror. The agencies that should really be on the front lines are the Departments of Treasury and Commerce with the State Department in a facilitating role. And U.S.-based global companies should be their strongest allies.

Although the war on terror has claimed thousands of lives here and abroad, it is not primarily a military conflict but political and economic. Terrorists are not united in the common purpose of righting wrongs or even winning territory. The only thing they have in common is the same desperate tactic. And according to the Brits, even calling the struggle a "war on terror" feeds the radical Islamists' claim that its a religious war, as Joseph Nye points out here.

What we are battling is desperation so deep that blowing oneself up seems like a reasonable option. America’s troops can root out those who enable and encourage such acts, but unless we address the causes of that desperation, the jihad will continue until Heaven runs out of virgins. As America’s new Secretary of Defense once wrote, the only effective solution is to “pursue policies and strategies that in the long term weaken terrorism's roots.” 

Islamic terrorism draws its recruits from the ranks of young men and women who see few realistic possibilities for themselves or their families. The Arab Middle East has among the highest unemployment rates in the world. In fact, in many countries of the region, unemployment rates are higher among the better educated than the illiterate. It has only a third as many engineers and scientists as the world average and only a fifth as many computers per capita. The World Bank estimates it requires 20 times more capital to start a business in the Middle East than in Europe.

America’s declining reputation abroad – especially in the Islamic world – is not a consequence of the War on Terror but its cause. Many people around the world have given up on America because we have given them the impression that, if they are not buying something we sell, we have given up on them. And in trying to protect ourselves from terrorists, we have reinforced the very feelings and beliefs on which the terrorists feed – that we are arrogant, care only about ourselves and particularly don’t care about them.

When we have acted to the contrary, local attitudes have changed quickly. America’s response to the Asian tsunami of 2004 dramatically increased favorable attitudes toward the United States in Muslim countries such as Indonesia. Significantly, it also decreased support for Osama Bin Laden. And to practically everyone’s surprise, those positive attitudes have held solid for nearly two years.

Successful corporations have learned that “aid” or philanthropy has the longest-term benefit when operates at the intersection of both the donor’s and the recipients’ values and interests. Avon’s decade-long breast cancer crusade, IBM’s education initiatives, Johnson & Johnson’s support of nurses, American Express’ campaigns to feed the hungry, and General Mills’ youth fitness programs win friends and supporters because they are relevant to both sponsor and beneficiary.

Similarly, America’s reputation cannot be rebuilt solely on donated bags of rice. Foreign aid is important, but it must be directed to the intersection of America’s core values and the aspirations of people around the world. For example, U.S. foreign aid that promotes freedom of opportunity responds not only to the legitimate interests of people in developing countries, but also to the values that have sustained America since its founding.

Just as the Pentagon has clear rules of engagement for its part in the war on terror, so should every other agency of government. We will only out-recruit Bin Laden if we deny him the economic and social environment that breeds desperation. Nothing will dissipate desperation in the Arab world faster than economic reform. And nothing will frustrate the recruitment of terrorists more than the rise of a vibrant new business class. As it happens, that’s more within the charters of the Treasury and Commerce Departments than the Pentagon’s. And American companies have a major role to play since they are, almost by definition, vehicles of liberalization.

There’s a certain comforting neatness in the notion that anti-American feeling around the world is all about the War in Iraq, which in turn is all about the War on Terror.  The world, alas, is seldom that neat.

Rebuilding Brand America

America's reputation is at a low ebb around the world. Many people blame the war in Iraq, but the problem actually predates the events of 9/11. A succession of government officials have tried to restore America's reputation with little effect. Some of their initiatives (e.g., warm and fuzzy ad campaigns, pop music-based radio stations, etc.) seem to channeling the private sector. But in reality they have adopted the trappings without the substance.  The government could learn a lot from the private sector, but first it has to listen as I explained in this post to on the eve of the State Department's latest effort to tap the expertise of corporate America.