1. ICE CHILLS INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS: Surprise July 6 guidance from ICE — the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – modified temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant foreign students taking online courses in U.S. schools this coming fall semester. The stunning, new ruling has caused widespread confusion, uncertainty and concern since it will harm many of the one million international students who attend U.S. schools annually. It seems to mean that international students (on F-1 and M-1 visas) attending schools operating entirely online due to the pandemic may no longer remain in the United States.
Universities and the affected students are frantically scrambling to try to understand the new guidance and their options, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction or face deportation. Critics see the new move as a way the Administration is pressuring schools to reopen, and fear it could risk lives as well as contribute to a further loss of confidence of international students in U.S. higher education (they contribute some $41 billion a year to the U.S. economy). In a blunt July 8 editorial, “U.S. to Foreign Students: Go Home,” The Washington Post concluded: “The president’s goal is to turn America’s back on the world. Sadly, it is Americans, and institutions like U.S. universities, that will pay the price.”
Meanwhile, Harvard and MIT have announced they are suing the government for being arbitrary and capricious. The prestigious American Council on Education (ACE) has called the guidance “horrifying” and “both disappointing and counter-productive.” It said: “At a time when institutions are doing everything they can to help reopen our country, we need flexibility, not a big step in the wrong direction.” NAFSA: Association of International Educators said the new ICE guidance “is harmful to international students and puts their health and well-being and that of the entire higher education community at risk.” For the ICE guidance, go to: https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/sevp-modifies-temporary-exemptions-nonimmigrant-studentstaking-online-courses-during. For ACE President Ted Mitchell’s statement, go to: https://www.acenet.edu/News-Room/Pages/Statement-by-ACE-President-Ted-Mitchell-on-ICE-Guidance-on-International-Students.aspx. For NAFSA Executive Director and CEO Dr. Esther D. Brimmer’s statement, go to: https://www.nafsa.org/about/about-nafsa/ices-guidance-limits-decision-making-authority-higher-education-leaders
2. MAY “THE FOURTH” BE WITH YOU: America’s Independence Day is usually an embassy’s most important public diplomacy event of the year. This year things were very different. Due to a combination of several global and U.S. crises, ambassadors and their staffs found themselves challenged over how to appropriately celebrate the Fourth of July. The occasion was too important to ignore, but public health concerns and other realities and “visuals” led to a realization that hosting traditional, in-person events — with many guests and even expensive fireworks – was not possible. A few posts did hold a more-or-less usual Fourth event, like a reception or barbecue, but most seemed to favor smaller, more subdued events or “virtual celebrations,” say through special video messages or events. Some posts scrapped the fancy representation event altogether and opted for a community service project or illumination of their building with the American flag.
Of the many ways that our embassies creatively marked this year’s Fourth, the one I liked best came out of U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur. Through a special cultural diplomacy collaboration, the Embassy took the time to professionally produce a bilingual (English and Bahasa Malaysian) video featuring musicians from the United States and Malaysia and a new recording of the Malaysian popular song ‘Standing in the Eyes of World’.” The video included several alumni of the State Department ECA Bureau’s American Music Abroad programs and a percussionist from the U.S. Air Force’s Band of the Pacific. U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir explained the idea: “While Americans and Malaysians can’t gather in person to celebrate our relationship this year, we can find other means to highlight our long history of partnership and cooperation. Today, more than ever, music is a universal language that transcends borders and brings people together, and in that spirit, the Embassy is proud to release a new recording of the Malaysian classic ‘Standing in the Eyes of the World’.” For details, go to https://my.usembassy.gov/us_embassy_kl_celebrates_
3. THE DECLINE OF AMERICA?: Domestic partisan politics and personalities aside, PD professionals and those who follow public opinion generally understand that their country is facing enormous image problems. Three recent articles by Americans who understand foreign policy and engage with people around the world are worth reading. Robin Wright, the well-known foreign correspondent and analyst who has reported from 140 countries, has concluded that “much of the world believes that the country is racist, battered and bruised,” and “the mood globally feels different now.” In an important July 3 New Yorker article, “To the World, We’re Now America the Racist and Pitiful,” she concludes that “the United States, long the bedrock of the Western alliance, is less inspirational today – and perhaps will be even less so tomorrow,” and “is destroying the moral authority it once had.” For her essay, go to: https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/to-the-world-were-now-america-the-racist-and-pitiful.
American Enterprise Institute (AEI) senior fellow and public opinion guru Karlyn Bowman and research assistant Samantha Goldstein have written “State of the Nation on July 4: And How It Has Changed Over Time,” a fascinating July 1 blog post about Americans being down in the dumps. Summarizing poll trends on issues such as the United States in the world, race relations, and consumer confidence, they write: “Putting today’s sentiments in historical perspective using polls conducted over many years helps to assess our current malaise.” Their somewhat optimistic conclusion: “There’s no doubt that this is a bad patch for the U.S., but we’ve been resilient in the past.” For details, go to: https://www.aei.org/politics-and-public-opinion/state-of-the-nation-on-july-4-and-how-it-has-changed-over-time/.
Finally, Tara D. Sonenshine, former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and now a fellow in public diplomacy at the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, has written about the decline of American power and respect due to its handling of COVID-19. In “American Prestige Hits Rock Bottom,” an essay in The Hill, she writes: “At some point, Americans will feel ashamed and alone – outcasts in a closely-knit world where technology, travel, and trade move markets, goods and people. The virus will end, but a global cultural quarantine may linger, and that would set back years of exchanges and confidence building among judges, teachers, businesses, artists and writers.” So what does she think can be done? “This is the moment to create a message campaign from a coalition of artists, foundations and non-governmental organizations to implore our friends and allies not to lock us out. Give us an opportunity to pull together a sensible team of public health experts, foreign and domestic policy thinkers, and wise moral voices to show our better selves.” For her article, go to: https://thehill.com/opinion/international/504754-american-prestige-hits-rock-bottom
4. LESSONS FROM U.S. DIPLOMATIC HISTORY: Former U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Norman Eisen and researcher Kelsey Landau have edited a new Brookings book, “Democracy’s Defenders: U.S. Embassy Prague, the Fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia, and Its Aftermath,” which argues that the best practices of U.S. diplomacy made a successful transition from a repressive Communist regime possible back in the fall of 1989. The book, however, offers more than a case study of the “Velvet Revolution” and Cold War diplomacy. It has useful lessons for diplomacy and for the current pandemic.
In a July 2 Brookings article, “Democracy’s Defenders No More: Trump’s Failure to Learn from History in the Global COVID-19 Fight,” the same two authors argue that “robust American leadership, guided by democratic principles and exemplified by its diplomats, has been sorely lacking in the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19.” They conclude that by studying the lessons of history, we can “look forward to a day when the United States government returns to its proud tradition of global leadership as the world continues its fight against COVID-19.” The three key lessons they cite are: Support international organizations; exercise moral leadership; and work across the aisle. For the text of the article, go to: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2020/07/02/democracys-defenders-no-more-trumps-failure-to-learn-from-history-in-the-global-covid-19-fight/
5. HELPING MICHAEL PACK CARRY A HEAVY LOAD: Debate continues over the recent installation of conservative filmmaker Michael Pack as the Trump Administration’s new chief executive officer of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees all U.S. international broadcasting. Much of the media and PD professional reaction has been critical of the new management, but one alternative view deserves hearing. James Jay Carafano, a Heritage Foundation vice president and expert in national security and foreign policy challenges, has argued that “rather than make him (Pack) a dartboard for controversy, Washington should mount a bipartisan effort to make him successful.”
Writing a commentary titled “Michael Pack Will Need to Tackle America’s Great-Power Problem” in the July 6 The National Interest, Carafano concludes:
“The agency has not had decisive strategic leadership since the start of this administration. USAGM has been challenged keeping up with the revolutionary changes in media and global media environment, global competition, particularly from Chinese state media and Russian disinformation, and riddled with internal controversy and division over how to meet its mission.”
He says now is the time for the agency to rise to the occasion of helping America overcome its great-power competitors and for everyone to “put aside their politics, bureaucratic squabbling, and fiefdoms and agendas” and let the agency serve both America’s interests and policy goals and deliver objective reporting. For the text, go to: https://nationalinterest.org/feature/michael-pack-will-need-tackle-america%E2%80%99s-great-power-problem-164183.
Dr. Michael H. Anderson is a public diplomacy and Asian affairs specialist with nearly 30 years of Foreign Service experience serving in the US Department of State and the US Information Agency (USIA) and working in South Asia and Southeast Asia. His Public Affairs Officer (PAO) postings included New Delhi, Jakarta, Karachi, Singapore, Manila and Port Moresby. He also has been a journalist, a teacher, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia, an information officer with UNICEF, and an East-West Center grantee. He is a member of the PDC Board.