1.“TRACKING” CURRENT U.S. AMBASSADORS: With the constant turnover in U.S. heads of missions and challenges getting nominees speedy Senate confirmation, it is not always easy to keep track of who today’s ambassadors are. The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), therefore, provides a terrific public service by posting a list of who presently is running each embassy at: afsa.org/list-ambassadorial-appointments. The tracking makes it easy to see – by post – both the incumbent and any nominated successor.
The public diplomacy community is always interested in which PD officers achieve ambassador rank. Unfortunately, no one seems to report career ambassadors by their cone or specialty. The latest AFSA list would seem to have fewer than ten career ambassadors who rose up through the PD cone ranks or have held key public affairs positions. Included would be Ambassadors Susan N. Stevenson, Republic of Equatorial Guinea; M. Lee McClenny, Paraguay; Roxanne Cabral, Marshall Islands; Michael P. Pelletier, Madagascar and Comoros; Michael A. Hammer, Democratic Republic of Congo; Kate Marie Byrnes, Northern Macedonia; Karen L. Williams, Suriname; and Robert A. Wood, U.S. Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament.
Meanwhile, two articles by former political appointee Ambassadors are worth reading. Cynthia Schneider, Ambassador to the Netherlands under President Obama and now a Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, has written a hard-hitting Business Insiderpiece titled “Trump’s Politically-Appointed Ambassadors Are Wrecking America’s Global Image.” Explaining that the political appointee system “can be abused and actively undermines the U.S. image in the world,” she concludes:
“Restoring our bipartisan tradition of political appointee ambassadors who put American interests and principles first, and who respect the knowledge and experience of career foreign service officers, will help accomplish a core goal facing the first post-Trump president: rebuilding trust in the United States as a global leader guided by ethics, values, rule of law, and expertise.”
Career diplomats will welcome her view that “Ambassadors come and go, but the relationship between the United States and our allies should be a reliable continuum,” and, “for this to happen, political appointee ambassadors need to respect and listen to the career foreign service officers with whom they serve.” See her article at: https://www.businessinsider.com/state-departments-ambassadors-ruining-image-abroad-politics-trump-2020-8.
And the always controversial Richard Grenell, President Trump’s Ambassador to Germany and then briefly Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and now Senior Advisor on LGBT outreach to the Republican National Committee, strongly defends political appointees close to a President and concludes that the Foreign Service is massively underutilized. In “How to Remake the Foreign Service and Embassies for Today‘s World,” an opinion piece in the August 28, 2020 The Hill, Grenell argues that embassies should not be “mini newsrooms or think tanks,” but should be thought of as “satellite Commerce Departments,” and “economics sections should be far larger and more central to a diplomatic mission’s operations than any other department.” For his article, go to: https://thehill.com/opinion/national-security/513810-how-to-remake-the-foreign-service-and-embassies-for-todays-world.
2. PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IN FULL SWING: As the election heats up, three items are worth reading. A thought-provoking article about “the crumbling post-Cold War order” and U.S. interests and values appeared in the September/October 2020 Foreign Affairs issue.
Titled “The End of American Illusion – Trump and the World as It Is,” the piece was written by Nadia Schadlow, Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy in 2018, and now a Fellow with both the Hudson Institute and the Hoover Institution. She credits the President with recognizing a new reality of “the unexpected consequences of globalization and the unfilled promises of global governance” and argues that “in a world of great-power competition, economic inequality, and dazzling technological capabilities, where ideologies as well as pathogens spread with viral ferocity, the stakes are too high and the consequences too dire to simply stick with what worked in the past and hope for the best.”
She concludes: “To properly navigate this new era, Washington must let go of old illusions, move past the myths of liberal internationalism, and reconsider its views about the nature of the world order.” For the text, go to: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/americas/2020-08-11/end-american-illusion.
“Restoring U.S. Public Diplomacy” is a timely blog written recently for the USC Center on Public Diplomacy by Ambassador (ret.) William Rugh, the respected public diplomacy and Middle East expert. He teamed up with Zachary Shapiro, a Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy graduate student, to argue how PD might be strengthened under a Biden presidency. Declaring “the Trump administration has undermined public diplomacy efforts through poor policies and chronic mismanagement,” the two suggest three serious reforms that are needed to revive PD after President Trump. They conclude: “The Trump administration has ignored traditional principles of the practice, undermined American broadcasters and some of their content, and harmed America’s reputation worldwide. But with strong bureaucratic reforms, the Biden administration can restore American public diplomacy.” For the text, go to https://www.uscpublicdiplomacy.org/blog/restoring-us-public-diplomacy.
Finally, Professor Klaus W. Larres, a foreign policy analyst from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has written an article titled Trump’s Foreign Policy Is Still ‘America First’ – What Does that Mean, Exactly? He found that the President’s “America First” vision has three primary strands: “disengaging the U.S. from global politics, disdaining allies and befriending autocratic leaders.” Arguing that even the administration’s most initially promising diplomatic initiatives have not resolved chronic international crises, he concluded: “Today, the U.S. has all but abdicated its position as the world’s most globally engaged power. China and Russia are busily working to fill the vacuum.” For the text, go to https://theconversation.com/trumps-foreign-policy-is-still-america-first-what-does-that-mean-exactly-144841.
3. VOA EDITORIALS – THEY’RE BACK! Amidst all the recent controversies over U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) and its new CEO, Michael Pack, the PD community may have missed one important development: VOA editorials have been restored to their former prominence. As CEO Pack explained:
“It is imperative that VOA editorials, broadcast by the Voice of America, once again be fully employed by VOA. These editorials do not just communicate the policies of the U.S. government, further they express the foundational American principles and values in which those policies are grounded. Editorials, by their very nature, are meant to express the views of their house institution. In this case, the house institution is the U.S. government, of which VOA – a federal public service media organization – is a part. As such, it has been invested with both the trust and the funding of the American people.”
The USAGM Office of Policy has been tasked with restoring proper usage of editorials on all platforms so that the Administration’s foreign policy can be presented and explained.
For the press release and a 4-minute video explaining the new VOA policy on editorials, go to: https://www.usagm.gov/2020/06/24/usagm-ceo-michael-pack-moves-to-restore-voa-editorials-to-former-prominence/.
4. GRADING THE GREATER MIDDLE EAST: Any PD professional or area studies expert concerned about the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region will want to read a new, blunt Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) report by Anthony H. Cordesman, Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy. Titled The Greater Middle East: From the ‘Arab Spring’ to the ‘Axis of Failed States’, the report – admittedly subjective – ranks and provides a summary narrative of how each government in the region has met the needs of its people and the hopes of the April Spring since 2011.
Not surprisingly, the results are discouraging. Cordesman concludes: “Far too many countries have become ‘failed states’ in ways that go beyond the threat posed by Iran, extremism, and ethnic and sectarian divisions. They have failed to make adequate progress in civil and economic reforms, and they have stopped short of reducing corruption and incompetence in national policies and governance.” His message: “The last decade is a warning for most countries that their leadership has failed to meet the needs of its people, and that promises of progress and reform are rarely kept.”
Cordesman doesn’t let the U.S. off the hook when he writes that the United States “could easily be classified as a Category A to Category B failed state by the standards used in this analysis for its failure to achieve lasting results from its long wars, for its lack of progress in dealing with racism, and for the scale of its failures to use its wealth to deal with inequities in income.” For the report, go to https://www.csis.org/analysis/greater-middle-east-arab-spring-axis-failed-states.
5. CHALLENGES OF U.S. EDUCATIONAL TIES WITH INDIA: Kudos to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) for recognizing that China isn’t the only country doing major educational exchange with the United States. On August 20, 2020, the think-tank organized a stimulating online event on India. It was supposed to focus on how Covid-19 had impacted U.S.-India higher education cooperation, but the discussion ended up covering a range of new and continuing issues, including the pandemic, online courses, student and H-1B U.S. visa problems, student safety, best practices among existing institutional partners, and policy towards foreign universities operating in India and clearance of foreign scholars’ research proposals.
Last November‘s IIE Open Doors 2019 study reported that India is second only to China as the largest source of our international students. Before the pandemic, more than 200,000 Indians were studying on U.S campuses, but only about 4,000 American students were studying abroad in India.
The virtual program, hosted by Richard Rossow, CSIS Senior Advisor and Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies, featured three discussants: Dr. Patrick McNamara, Director of International Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO), and a former Fulbright-Nehru Senior Scholar; Dr. Linda Liu, Vice President-International, The College Board; and retired Foreign Service Officer Katherine Hadda, a former Consul General in Hyderabad, one of the world’s busiest issuers of U.S. student visas. To view their discussion, go to https://www.csis.org/events/online-event-covid-19-impact-us-india-higher-education-cooperation.
The CSIS event had at least two key takeaways: “Partnership 2020: Leveraging U.S.-India Cooperation in Higher Education to Harness Economic Opportunities and Innovation,” a 3-year State Department grant to UNO with CSIS playing a key advisory role, has been preparing policy recommendations and encouraging partnerships between the two countries; and on July 29, 2020 the Indian Cabinet finally approved a long-awaited “New Education Policy” (NEP), which aims to make “India a global knowledge superpower.” Indian Prime Minister Modi has welcomed the NEP, which he has said was “a long due and much-awaited reform in the education sector, which will transform millions in the times to come!”
The experts agreed that the potential and challenges are great, but felt it was too early to say what impact the sweeping reforms to an old policy – framed back in 1986 – will have on universities, the Indian bureaucracy and educational relations with the United States. For information about the State-funded “Partnership 2020,” go to https://www.unomaha.edu/international-studies-and-programs/engagement/partnership2020/index.php.
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.