Will Someone Stand Up?

Monday, May 12th 2014

Secretary Kerry at Fulbright

Because this is the Public Diplomacy Council, and because we believe public diplomacy works, we should  speak up when there is a danger of damage to America’s public diplomacy.

Speaking up is even more appropriate when American diplomacy in general seems to be most in need of all its strengths and tools.  I mean, would you cut off the water while the firefighters are dealing with a burning building? Would you take arms away from soldiers in the midst of a battle? 

But that’s what someone seems to be doing to the diplomats at the State Department.  Just at the moment when America is bringing the troops home, when Vladimir Putin is challenging us as no one has since 1939, and when the United States needs friends and partners more than ever before, the State Department  proposes a 30.5 million dollar cut in the Fulbright Program, America’s flagship international educational exchange program.

Why would State Department officials do this? A low level spokesman said the Department needs to make some “strategic shifts.” 

The strategic shift that needs to be made is a dramatic increase in public diplomacy of all kinds, but especially the kind that has proven to work.  Over the years, Fulbright has arguably produced more friends and supporters for America than any other State Department expenditure. 

As Ann Jones summed it up recently in Tom Dispatch, Fulbright alumni number “more than 325,000, including more than 123,000 Americans.  Among them are 53 from 13 different countries who have won a Nobel Prize, 28 MacArthur Foundation fellows, 80 winners of the Pulitzer Prize, and 29 who have served as the head of state or government.”   But, even more important are the hundreds of thousands who returned to their countries with greater understanding and respect for America and American values. 

There is an entire new team in the public diplomacy leadership slots in Foggy Bottom: Rick Stengel, the Under Secretary, Evan Ryan, the Assistant Secretary at ECA, and Macon Phillips in IIP.  As newcomers, perhaps they have not yet figured out the Foggy Bottom rules.  So here are three:

First, one of the advantages of being a political appointee is that you don’t have roll over and play dead like the bureaucrats.  You do not have to accept budget numbers handed to you by either OMB or the green eyeshade types in the State Department itself.   (I mean, who nominated or confirmed them?)

Second, people inside the Beltway only respect you if you stand up and speak out.  You were nominated to your position by the President and confirmed by the Senate (well, not in the case of Phillips, but that’s another issue) to use your own judgment and argue hard for what’s right.   

Third, and finally, no one has ever been hailed in the history books (or headlined in the New York Times) for cutting a good program.  You will be remembered for what you do, not what you diminish.

Congress needs to hear someone from the State Department speak up for the Fulbright budget.

We all need to see someone stand up for public diplomacy.

6 people have commented on this article so far

Board member 

Summary: A career public diplomacy officer, Brian Carlson advises the InterMedia research organization on military and foreign affairs issues and manages communication strategies for private clients. 


Ambassador Brian E. Carlson, a former Career Minister in the United States Foreign Service, currently assists international media and audience analysis firm InterMedia on defense and diplomatic sector activities. 

...click authors name for more info

Author: Brian Carlson

We welcome comments from our readers that advocate and shed light on the subject of public diplomacy. We avoid discussion that is politically partisan, commercial in nature or offensive. To prevent inappropriate comments and spam we screen each comment before publishing it, so please excuse us if you do not see your remark right away.

Fulbright Program Cuts

Political appointees may not have to "roll over and play dead" like the bureaucrats, but they do have to toe the party line, and if the White House, OMB and State Dept. leadership tell them they need to make a particular cut, they will do it. In a separate agency focused on public diplomacy, PD directors and senior officials could advocate more forcefully for these programs. As part of a much larger bureaucracy with its own priorities, the PD bureau has lost that ability, which is truly unfortunate. The new U/S for PD and PA comes from the media, so will surely manage information and press matters well. Whether he understands the critical role exchanges play in PD work remains to be seen. Will university presidents send a letter of support on the value of the Fulbright program to the President and Secretary of State? Will senior American statesmen and women speak up? Will a fiercely partisan Congress unite to ensure robust funding? These are the people whose voices need to be heard.

Proposed Cuts to Fulbright Program

Anne Chermak's comments are very much to the point. Additionally, it might be noted that a cut of the size proposed would have an impact on programs governed by binding legal agreements between the US and other nations.

Those looking for evidence of an American retreat from the world will add these proposed cuts to our recent withdrawal from UNESCO, another move sadly gone largely unnoticed except in very restricted circles.

Those of us who have worked with and in the Fulbright program and understand its value ask that the leadership of public and cultural diplomacy and public affairs at State reconsider any "strategic shift" that inflicts damage on this essential program. It will be a grim inheritance of this Administration especially if one of its lasting decisions is an unprecedented attack on the Fulbright program.

Fulbright program and Public Diplomacy

Instead of silly tweets and even sillier popularity contests to get the current non-career ambassador in more than half our overseas posts to be a name recognized by the general public of the host country, the Fulbright program always dug deep to create real mutual understanding and respect between crucial people in our country and those in host countries. Naturally, those who think only in soundbites and today's tweets and tomorrow's political polls have no time for it. What a shame!

Remember that some of us

Remember that some of us "green eye-shade types" are fighting for the Public Diplomacy budget every day in every way. I believe that policy drives programs and programs drive budgets. You can't have any of it without budgets. We are on the side of Public Diplomacy!

Fulbright Cuts

Sadly, Anne Chermak is correct that Ambassador Carlson's exhortations to public diplomacy's political appointee leaders will go unheeded. Assistant Secretary Evan Ryan, after all, had to approve the 2015 budget submission as it worked its way through the Department of State's resource management bureau to the Office of Management and Budget. If he was in his position when this went forward, Under Secretary Stengel may have had a chop as well. They are unlikely to change their views, at least in public, but they should face serious questioning over this issue.

The 2015 budget request and the accompanying Congressional Budget Justification seem clear. If I read the document correctly, Fulbright student, scholar, teacher, Humphrey Fellows, and undergraduate programs saw a reduction of some $30.4 million in the request. Most of that amount went, instead, to fund the Young African Leaders program ($19M) and exchanges for Southeast Asia ($10M).

Surely it is important to provide substantial resources for Africa and Southeast Asia, and I'm glad to see it. But was it really necessary to cut over 13 percent of the Fulbright request to accomplish this worthy goal? I know that money in different accounts of the public diplomacy budget request may not be fungible, but would it really have been that difficult to come up with additional funding for programs the current Administration favors, including those for Africa and Southeast Asia, without having to cut the request for Fulbright? Does this shift reflect some discontent in the White House or State bureaucracy with Fulbright or its implementation? If so, it would be helpful to know what perceived issues were behind the reduction. If this is, as Anonymous suggests, simply further evidence of an American retreat from the world, then it is a grave strategic error.

I strongly urge those of us who are concerned about this to contact Congress. The Administration's request is what it is, and any changes at this point will have to come from the appropriators, and to a lesser degree, the authorizers. I have passed my questions to relevant Hill staff and suggested that they raise them with OMB, RM/BP and ECA. I hope others will do the same.

As part of a much larger

As part of a much larger bureaucracy with its own priorities, the PD bureau has lost that ability, which is truly unfortunate. http://www.hotellyonouest.com

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <h2><h3><h4><h5><h6><a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <u> <span> <p class=""><img>

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Stay Connected

Follow the Public Diplomacy Council on Facebook and YouTube and share your opinion about up-to-date issues with us. 

For more public diplomacy events, check out PDAA's website.