Officials endorse revival of US public diplomacy efforts

WASHINGTON: The US government needs to take public diplomacy as seriously as it does homeland security in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, a host of government officials and international relations experts told Congress last week.

WASHINGTON: The US government needs to take public diplomacy as seriously as it does homeland security in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, a host of government officials and international relations experts told Congress last week.

A House subcommittee concluded hearings last week on the 9/11 Commission's recommendations for reviving US public diplomacy efforts. Those testifying included Keith Reinhard, chairman of DDB Worldwide and president of Business for Diplomatic Action (BDA); Tre Evers, a commissioner with the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy; and Patricia Harrison, who for the second time in as many years is acting undersecretary of state for public diplomacy following the departures of Charlotte Beers and, most recently, Margaret Tutwiler.

The report of the 9/11 Commission, released last month, called for a centralization of US diplomacy efforts, a more robust and targeted program, and dramatically greater funding of diplomatic exchanges and campaigns.

"If the US does not act aggressively to define itself in the Islamic world, the extremists will gladly do the job for us," read the report.

Those testifying before Congress last week were nearly unanimous in their endorsement of those recommendations, though certain proposals received preferential attention.

Reinhard, who last year formed BDA to get private US business more involved in diplomatic efforts, led the call for centralizing the government's diplomacy work under a single director - much like it has done with homeland security.

Post 9/11, "the government responded appropriately by prioritizing, reorganizing, and significantly restructuring the management of homeland security," he said. "In our view, we need a similarly bold reorganization of the management of our public diplomacy efforts."

Reinhard pointed out, as others did, that interests from the White House to the Pentagon to the State Department conduct their own diplomatic efforts. This results in "splintered and confused and, perhaps, contradictory" messages, he offered.

Harrison, however, urged patience, saying that changing hearts and minds overseas is a gradual process.

"This is not the work of weeks or months," she said. "It is the work of years and generations."

This year's budget for the State Department's public diplomacy programs worldwide is $685 million, a small increase from pre-9/11 levels. Comparatively, the budget for the Department of Homeland Security is more than $30 billion.

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