Using Public Diplomacy to fix Public Diplomacy

I propose implementing Amr’s plan by initiating, on a country-by-country basis, an open and ongoing dialogue process. Ambassadors have held “roundtables” and conferences in the past, but this proposes to be different. It shall bring together the stakeholders of a region with the Ambassador and his foreign policy making circle, and through changes in how U.S. foreign policy is constructed, create a system to bring feedback back to Washington.

The United States administers policy from Washington, often with little or no feedback from the recipients of its policies. Foreign Service Officers give feedback to Washington through cables, and do so often through the press and contacts with local government officials. This is often limited to contacts made in capital cities, or consulates in the field. Poor language capabilities exacerbate this further. Seldom are the views of local citizens taken into consideration. It is important to initiate a dialogue, on a state-by-state basis, appropriately applying overarching US policy through dialogue.

According to Amr, “Muslim citizens desire – indeed crave – a dialogue with America.”[1] The first step in achieving a dialogue is to identify the stakeholders within a state or a region concerning a particular policy. This is especially important in the Muslim World, as identified by Amr. It is also important throughout the world, where NGO’s and civil society play an increasingly important role.

Once a U.S. Embassy identifies stakeholders, they can come together with U.S. Policy makers, Embassy officials, and experts from the U.S. to identify common interests and values. The United States and the Muslim World share many basic values, but there is a disjuncture between those values and current U.S. policy.

Finally, the stakeholders, U.S. Embassy officials, and others can create a plan of action for implementation. Amr defines this as a “paradigm of ‘joint planning for joint benefit.”[2] As an example, just exchange of individuals is insufficient. Propaganda is also insufficient. It is necessary to give the stakeholders ownership of both the problems and the solutions to the issues that face both the United States and the target country.

The NGO Habitat for Humanity is a prime example of an organization following this model of self-help and using the principal of ownership, literally. A core principle at Habitat for Humanity is the nature of grass-roots participation. “Habitat operates through locally governed affiliates with a strong emphasis on grassroots organizations and local autonomy. Habitat affiliates are independent, nonprofit organizations that operate within specific service areas in a covenant relationship with Habitat for Humanity International.”[3] Through this structure, local stakeholders and community members have ownership in both the homes and the organizations that they lead. It is not a gift from above, but help from within.

The United States can initiate this through its own programs and practices, and in some cases already does. For example, JUSEC or the Japan-U.S. Education Commission was established in 1979 by the governments of Japan and the United States. According to JUSEC’s website, “Binational governance is the fundamental concept of the Fulbright Program. In Japan, this is realized through a ten-member Commission of five Americans and five Japanese who are appointed annually by their respective governments. Two members on each side represent the government while the remaining members come from the private sector.”[4]

According to Amr, this is critical in order to increase participation in the formation of U.S. foreign policy, where appropriate. In referring to exchange activities, Amr notes that, “simple immersion, without dialogue, fails to induce communication and therefore does not constitute effective public diplomacy. Similarly, sending experts to the Islamic world to speak about the United States may accomplish some goals, but cannot achieve a fulfilling or sustainable two-way dialogue with Muslim communities.”[5] The same is true for any nation or community.

[1] Amr. Page 22.

[2] Amr, Page 22.

[3] “Myths about Habitat for Humanity.” Habitat for Humanity International. Homepage. (February 14, 2005).

[4] Japan United States Exchange Commission. Homepage. (February 14, 2005).

[5] Amr, Page 23.

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