Will Someone Stand Up?
Monday, May 12th 2014
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.