By Patricia H. Kushlis and Patricia Lee Sharpe
Opportunity Still Beckons
Unfortunately, while the State Department puzzled over what to do with its public diplomacy step-child, the Pentagon began to spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on PD simulacra. The resulting series of highly visible fiascos will undermine the credibility of the real thing for years to come, assuming that the State Department can regain control over communications with foreign publics—or seriously cares to. Unfortunately, nine months into the Obama administration, there is no sign that the State Department’s budget will be proportionate to the need for savvy communications on a global scale. If State goes hungry, public diplomacy will continue to subsist at starvation level. Budgets speak. It looks as if
Yet, even if the merest fraction of Pentagon funds could be transferred to the State Department’s Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy to beef up PD staffing and enhance PD programming, that pittance (from the Pentagon point of view) could make a vast difference—providing, of course, the money is protected from the departmental raiders who have made a habit of siphoning PD-intended funds and staff slots into other State Department offices. Ever since consolidation in 1999, funds intended for educational exchanges and certain cultural programs have been firewalled by law, which is to say, they can be put to no other use. Yet, as we have explained elsewhere, a well-balanced public diplomacy program is not limited to those highly visible educational exchanges and cultural events. All public diplomacy funding, including desperately needed budget increases for beefed up information programs and the reestablishment of American centers abroad, should be equally non-fungible. Otherwise, even if the Pentagon lets more than a few dollars slip through its fingers, public diplomacy’s ability to influence events will continue to be compromised.