1. WHITE HOUSE CEREMONIES AND PHOTO OPS: Veteran Middle East experts, public diplomacy hands, and White House observers will remember two dates that attracted intense international media attention and stimulated great optimism: March 26, 1979, and September 13, 1993. Both marked Middle East peace progress and produced iconic foreign policy photo ops and “deliverables” from the White House. The first was the Middle East Peace Treaty ceremony remembered for the three-way handshake among Egyptian President Sadat, Israeli Prime Minister Begin, and President Carter. The second date marked the time when two long-time enemies — Israeli President Rabin and PLO Chairman Arafat – shook hands beside President Clinton.
Partisan politics and personalities aside, the carefully staged September 15, 2020 signing of the Abraham Accords establishing normal relations between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain didn’t quite grab the attention some would have hoped.
Although generally welcomed as historic, the signing by President Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah, and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani from the White House balcony and South Lawn wasn’t a particularly dramatic event. Part of the problem was that the pandemic prevented the maskless leaders from literally shaking hands or embracing and another was that the Palestinians were absent.
Still, the development was important, as an upbeat, bipartisan POLITICO commentary co-authored by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former national security advisor Stephen J. Hadley made clear:
“These agreements preserve at least a slim hope of an eventual two-state solution between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. They might also do much more. Although Palestinian groups generally have been unhappy with these deals, we believe they could eventually benefit other Arab states and the Palestinian cause as well.”
For their September 15, 2020 analysis, go to: https://www.politico.com/
2. WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND THE AFGHAN PEACE TALKS: Few foreign policy problems have challenged public diplomacy longer and harder than messy, complex Afghanistan. The State Department is working overtime to explain the intense Afghanistan peace negotiations with the Taliban now underway in Qatar and led by U.S. Special Envoy Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. Among the most difficult issues to resolve in finally – after some 40 years — bringing peace to Afghanistan are women’s rights. A concerned international citizens group is trying to influence the historic talks and ensure that progress in integrating women into society as equal citizens is not lost. An open letter from more than 100 global leaders and foreign policy experts — including former First Lady Laura Bush, 60 former heads of government or foreign ministers, and five former U.S. Secretaries of State — has been released stating loudly and clearly that “peace cannot be made on the backs of Afghan women”.
The effort was coordinated by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and led by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The statement recommended “specific measures for the international community to support Afghan women’s involvement in the peace process, including persuading negotiators to preserve equal rights for all citizens as guaranteed by the constitution; conditional international aid on the preservation of the rights and liberties currently enjoyed by Afghan citizens, especially women’s rights; and establishing monitoring mechanisms to ensure the maintenance of rights.” For details, go to https://giwps.georgetown.edu/
3. THE WORLD’S VIEW OF AMERICA AND AMERICANS’ VIEW OF THE WORLD: Three survey research reports just out are “must reads” for professionals concerned about foreign policy and changes in America’s standing in the world. They serve to remind public diplomacy practitioners of the need to know their own citizens and to understand the attitudes of foreigners. One is a new 13-nation Pew Research Center poll that found “that America’s image has hit record lows in a number of countries, including key allies in Europe and Asia” and “favorability ratings of the United States in Canada, the U.K., France and Australia are lower today that even the previous nadir in 2003, when Washington’s decision to invade Iraq sparked condemnation abroad.” The September 15, 2020 report concluded that “lagging confidence in President Donald Trump” and U.S. handling of the COVID-19 pandemic are factors contributing to the poor image of the United States and that, “in several countries, the share of the public with a favorable view of the U.S. is as low as it has been at any point since the Center began polling on this topic nearly two decades ago.” For the full results, go to: https://www.pewresearch.org/
The second report, Diplomacy & Restraint: The Worldview of American Voters, is produced by the Eurasia Group Foundation (EGF) and investigates the foreign policy preferences of the American public as the 2020 presidential campaign hits the home stretch. Authors Dr. Mark Hannah and Caroline Gray are with the EGF, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization, which annually conducts a national survey on “hot button security and foreign policy topics.” According to the 33-page report, “Americans want their country to lead through diplomacy, decrease its reliance on the military, and focus more on the domestic needs and health of American democracy before championing democratic ideals abroad.” The findings include:
- “Americans favor a less militarized foreign policy”;
- “Americans want to increase diplomatic engagement with the world”;
- “they also want less military intervention”; and
- “support for military restraint is neither monolithic nor neatly aligned with either political party.”
The survey found that most Americans “want to step up efforts to work with other nations on transnational issues like climate change, migration, and human rights, and deepen U.S. participation in international institutions, trade and treaties.” For the full report, go to https://egfound.org/stories/
The third report, a Chicago Council on Global Affairs survey conducted at the height of the COIVID-19 surge, shows stark partisan differences in how the world is seen. According to the independent nonpartisan organization, the results “revealed a striking divide between Democrats and Republicans on the critical threats facing the country and how the U.S. should address these challenges and engage internationally. Democrats see global and domestic challenges as the most threatening, while Republicans continue to regard traditional security challenges as the biggest threats facing the country.” For the findings, go to https://www.thechicagocouncil.
4. YSEALI IS ALIVE AND WELL: The people-to-people Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) started under President Obama with great fanfare in December 2013 continues to get strong U.S. Government support. As the State Department’s “signature program” to educate and provide skills training to young people from the ten member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Timor-Leste, YSEALI has more than 5,000 alumni and nearly 150,000 members in its virtual engagement network. Through a variety of fellowships and programs, workshops, and summits, and more than $1.7 million in “Seeds for the Future” small grant funding, YSEALI continues to build leadership capabilities and foster a community of young leaders who work across borders to solve shared challenges.
Proof that the Department is committed to Southeast Asia and to YSEALI programs came in a September 11, 2020 statement by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo which included this news: “ To promote human capital development and provide people with skills and knowledge to participate and compete in the global economy, the U.S. Department of State intends to provide $5 million for the new Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Academy at Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) in Ho Chi Minh City.” This new YSEALI program at the first nonprofit, independent, U.S.-affiliated university in Vietnam is expected to start in 2021. For information, visit: yseali.state.gov.
5. OVERHAULING THE STATE DEPARTMENT: Anne-Marie Slaughter, the political appointee who served as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s director of policy planning and now is president/CEO of the think-tank New America, has written a think-piece in “Democracy” that is guaranteed to shake up the Foreign Service and annoy those who may wish a “return to a pre-Trump status quo”.
In “Reinventing the State Department,” she argues that “if the United States is to re-engage the world effectively in a post-Trump era, it will need a very different State Department to do it.” Emphasizing functional bureaus over regional bureaus, she proposes that if the extraordinarily complex, global problems of our era — terrorism, pandemics, disinformation campaigns, criminal networks, migration, shortages of food water and energy, etc. — are to be addressed the Foreign Service needs to be overhauled and diversified and a new entity called the Global Service created to “mobilize talent and resources from all parts of American and global society”.
According to Slaughter, a new Global Service “would ensure wide country and regional expertise, deep knowledge of specific global issues, and the ability to marshal talent and resources from the corporate, finance, NGO, social enterprise, educational, medical, scientific, religious, and other sectors that do globe-spanning work.” She also suggests that USAID could be transformed into a lean and flexible new entity, the Department of Global Development, which could operate like a consulting firm. For her article, go to: https://democracyjournal.org/
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.