WASHINGTON: A severe lack of funding, convoluted bureaucracy, and a near-total absence of research and measurability are badly undermining US attempts to bolster its image via public diplomacy in Muslim countries, according to a report released last week by the Advisory Group on Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World.
"In this time of peril, public diplomacy is absurdly and dangerously underfunded," read part of the 81-page report. "The entire system of public diplomacy urgently requires a broad and deep transformation."
The report's primary recommendations include the creation of a cabinet-level public-diplomacy advisor to the President, whose office would direct strategy on all US diplomatic activities; a mass increase in funding for outreach in the Arab and Muslim world; the establishment of an independent Corporation for Public Diplomacy to increase private-sector involvement; and a renewed commitment to metrics and research.
Congress ordered the creation of the advisory panel this June in response to polls suggesting a recent plunge in America's popularity in the Middle East. That drop came despite heavily increased US public diplomacy efforts over the past two years in the region.
Those efforts, known collectively as the Shared Values campaign, also came under the panel's review. While they approved of conducting diplomacy via TV advertisements (the centerpiece of the campaign), they criticized the initiative for taking too long to go from research to execution.
"The process took far too long," read the report. "Flexibility and speed are urgent requirements in this kind of public-diplomacy effort."
Indeed, the need to establish "a new culture of measurement" was a constant throughout the report. "We recommend that no public-diplomacy activity be launched without as
much testing and research as possible, and that programs be continually measured for effectiveness," it read.
Former Middle East ambassador Edward Djerejian headed the 14-member panel. The report is nonbinding, and its recommendations are now under consideration by Congress and the State Department.
While the panel was directed to make recommendations on public diplomacy only, the report was careful to note that "much of the resentment toward America stems from our policies." Hence the recommendation that the President have a permanent diplomatic advisor who would have "access to the formulation of foreign policy in order to advise on methods of presentation and likely responses in other countries."