1.REMEMBERING JUSTICE RUTH GINSBURG AND “SCOTUS DIPLOMACY”: Amidst the avalanche of media coverage of the September 18, 2020 death of Justice Ginsburg, one photo may have stood out for many in the PD community. It was the unforgettable picture of liberal Justice Ginsburg seated behind her conservative friend and colleague, Justice Antonin Scalia, while riding atop an elephant. The iconic photo – widely distributed by AP and reportedly kept in Justice Ginsburg’s chambers – was taken in 1994 when the two were on a visit to Rajasthan, India. The picture reminded many of the numerous successful international visits made by Justice Ginsburg and other past and current SCOTUS representatives. Such official trips, which usually required embassy assistance, often included a program or reception to give the VIP visitor an opportunity to engage with local audiences about rule of law or human rights and explain the American judicial system.
Justice Ginsburg, for example, made a positive impact during strategic visits to important countries such as Egypt, South Korea, Vietnam, and Israel. Similarly, Justice Anthony Kennedy was a hit in China, where he visited and served in an advisory role to Soochow University’s Kenneth Wang School of Law in Suzhou; Justice Stephen Breyer in France; Justice Scalia in Hong Kong, Singapore and numerous countries in the WHA region; and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in Turkey and parts of the former Soviet Union. These trips often led to exchanges in which delegations of legal professionals would come to the United States. Inevitably, they would want to visit the Supreme Court and meet with one or more justices. The passing of Justice Ginsburg serves as a reminder of the influence that SCOTUS can have on public opinion and the wider global community.
Much of the credit for smooth international visits should be given to a tiny, unique PD office called Judicial Liaison (JL), which for nearly 30 years has been ably directed by a dedicated PD professional, John J. Jasik. The Deputy Judicial Liaison is Chandley McDonald, who joined the unit in 2013.
Established by USIA and other USG entities in 1991 and now attached to the Outreach and Communications Unit (R/PPR/OCOM) in the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, JL has Department-wide responsibilities and relationships with all functional and geographic bureaus plus USAID and other USG entities that engage in rule of law programs that involve the federal judiciary. Also, it serves as the principal foreign affairs advisor to the Chairperson of the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee on International Judicial Relations (IJRC), and maintains relations with a wide variety of partners, including the American and International Bar Associations, the International Association of Judges, law schools, World Bank, and foreign embassies.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plans for programs and visas are on hold, but once the situation is safe, the JL unit will again be operating 24/7 to make sure justices and court staff always get the support required in any situation. “Support” can include passport and visa advice, background and pre-departure briefings, security, embassy assistance when in a foreign country, and coordination on establishing judiciary-to-judiciary linkages and cooperation.
2. AN “IOWA NICE” AMBASSADOR’S ROCKY DEPARTURE: Ambassadors – when they depart a post for good — generally go rather quietly after the standard round of official good-byes and media events. That was hardly the case with folksy U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad, who recently retired from his position as U.S. envoy and returned home to Iowa, where, as Governor, he had signed a “sister state” agreement with Hebei province and in 1985 hosted a young Chinese agricultural official, current Chinese leader Xi Jinping, during a visit to Iowa. Branstad’s final days in Beijing were anything but quiet or easy, and Embassy and Washington personnel were kept busy right up to the very end.
The Ambassador left with U.S.-China relations rapidly deteriorating and amidst a nasty, public disagreement with the People’s Daily. The Chinese Communist Party’s main newspaper refused to run a farewell op-ed written by Ambassador Branstad, who wanted to speak directly to the Chinese people before departing. Clearly irked with new U.S. restrictions placed on Chinese journalists in the United States, Chinese editors explained why they rejected his piece:
“In our opinion, the op-ed in the name of Ambassador Branstad is full of loopholes and seriously inconsistent with facts. It does not meet the consistent standard of the People’s Daily, a prestigious, serious and professional media, for selecting and publishing articles.”
They not-so-diplomatically suggested that — if he wanted the op-ed published — he “should make substantive revisions based on facts in the principle of equality and mutual respect.”
The Chinese action prompted Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to issue a sharp statement headlined “The Hypocrisy of the PRC’s Propaganda System.” In part, the Secretary said:
“The People’s Daily’s response once again exposes the Chinese Communist Party’s fear of free speech and serious intellectual debate – as well as Beijing’s hypocrisy when it complains about lack of fair and reciprocal treatment in other countries… If Communist China is sincere about becoming a mature power and strengthening relations with the free world, General Secretary X Jinping’s government would respect the right for Western diplomats to speak directly to the Chinese people, allow foreign journalists back into China, and stop the intimidation and harassment of investigative journalists, foreign and Chinese, who strive to uphold the integrity of the fifth estate to serve the public good.”
To its credit, the U.S. Embassy posted the full texts of four documents: the proposed op-ed; the September 9, 2020 letter of rejection from the International Division, People’s Daily; Secretary Pompeo’s September 9, 2020 press statement; and a September 14, 2020 embassy statement on the Ambassador’s planned departure. Also, the Ambassador gave a September 29, 2020 farewell interview to AP in which he defended the tough approach to China.
The Ambassador’s major hometown daily, The Des Moines Register, on September 20, 2020 carried Iowa scholar David Skidmore’s op-ed assessment of the Ambassador’s service in China. It said an impressive part of Branstad’s legacy will be his “embrace of citizen diplomacy as a vehicle for building mutually beneficial ties among local governments, businesses, cultural groups and schools,” but “Iowa Nice goes only so far.” The Drake University political science professor concluded the Ambassador “found himself squeezed between an American president given to threatening and bombastic tweets and a China whose diplomats resorted to Wolf Warrior diplomacy at the slightest criticism.”
For the text of Skidmore’s September 20, 2020 article, go to: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/iowa-view/2020/09/20/terry-branstad-connections-werent-enough-slow-us-china-spiral/3477463001/
With U.S.-China relations seeming to deteriorate further every day, attention needs to be given to communications and other mechanisms to manage the tensions and rein in the rhetoric. For a timely, cautious overview of some possibilities within geopolitical realities, check out Thinking Strategically about Sino-American Crisis Management Mechanisms, a Texas National Security Review commentary by Jacob Stokes, senior policy analyst at the U.S. Institute of Peace, and Zack Cooper, American Enterprise Institute research fellow. See their views at https://warontherocks.com/2020/09/thinking-strategically-about-sino-american-crisis-management-mechanisms/
For a good summary of how the administration is addressing challenges from China, go to Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Pacific David R. Stilwell’s September 18, 2020 Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony. The video and text are available at: foreign.senate.gov/hearings/advancing-us-engagement-and-countering-china-in-the-indo-pacific-and-beyond.
China will surely get more attention at the November East Asia Summit, Indo-Pacific Business Forum, and APEC CEO Summit and Leaders Meeting. In his testimony, Stilwell mentioned that at the Forum the U.S. plans to “highlight the significant human capital element of our Indo-Pacific Strategy.” This was a reference to important programs like Fulbright, the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), and the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).
3. AN UPDATE ON COUNTERING DISINFORMATION: The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD) continues to produce timely and useful reports which keep PD issues before Congress and policymakers. Its latest special report, Public Diplomacy and the ‘New’ Old War: Countering State-Sponsored Disinformation, co-authored by Vivian S. Walker, ACPD Executive Director, and Ryan E. Walsh, Senior Advisor in State’s Bureau of Global Public Affairs, strives to answer this complicated question:
“What is the U.S. Government doing to push back against technology-enabled, information-based threats to national security?”
Their 59-page study assesses Department of State and U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) efforts to counter disinformation effects; gives a variety of both select U.S. embassy and host country perspectives on program implementation and impacts; and recommends ways to “improve deterrence and strengthen resilience to malign influence campaigns.” Veteran PD observers will be especially interested in learning how the so-called “legacy PD apparatus” — including the U.S. Government broadcasting services and State’s bureaus of Public Affairs (PA) and International Information Programs (IIP) — has been restructured to be more effective in countering evolving disinformation threats.
For the report’s full text, go to: https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Public-Diplomacy-and-the-New-Old-War-Countering-State-Sponsored-Disinformation.pdf
In connection with the report’s release, ACPD hosted a September 30, 2020 virtual public meeting (via Zoom) with three panelists: Ambassador (ret.) Bruce Wharton, former Acting Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs; Dr. James Pamment, Co-director, Partnership for Countering Influence Operations, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Graham Brookie, Director and Managing Editor, Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. They seemed to agree that — despite all the changes in the global information space — the proverbial “last three feet” of traditional public diplomacy work remain important.
4. THE “100% IN FOR DEMOCRACY” CAMPAIGN: Everyone knows that one of the jobs of American diplomats, including especially PD officers, is to promote and explain U.S. society and values, especially democracy. With the 2020 elections approaching and given the unusually challenging times which we find ourselves in, it seems as though a new pro-democracy advocate has appeared on the scene – U.S. businesses.
An example of this recent trend is the establishment of a non-profit, private group called Civic Alliance. Its message is loud and clear: “It is time to take decisive action to empower voters, build trust in our elections, and support our communities.” Behind the effort to be “100% In for democracy” are the executives many of America’s leading companies who have said they are “committed to strengthening our democracy by encouraging nonpartisan voter participation.” A shortlist includes business leaders from Deloitte, Discovery, Dow, Estee Lauder, Levi Strauss, NFL, Target, Tyson Foods, and Unilever, among many others, who have publicly pledged to “activate” their companies and communities. For a list of commitments, visit civicalliance.com/100. Given the international investment and communications reach of many of these businesses, the examples they set at home could influence some audiences abroad.
Meanwhile, much attention — and controversy — are focused on how a handful of U.S.-based, technology giants are behaving as the U.S. elections approach. Most of the debate has centered on what can be done to control political manipulation of various platforms. The company arguably drawing the most attention is Facebook, which has been struggling with issues of removing or restricting access to content on its platform. At the same time, Facebook has been pro-actively speaking out about voting as “the most powerful expression of democracy” and “a vote counted is a voice heard.” For more information about Facebook’s Voting Information Center initiative, which says it is trying to help register 4 million voters, go to: https://about.fb.com/news/2020/08/launching-voting-information-center/
5. LESSONS ON HOW NOT TO GIVE INTERNATIONAL AWARDS: The State Department’s Office of Inspector General produces a steady flow of reports on how programs and operations are being managed to achieve policy goals and to prevent and detect waste, fraud and abuse. Sometimes a report can be very embarrassing and can attract great public attention. A report posted September 25, 2020 is one of these. It has been of special interest to the PD community because it involved the prestigious International Women of Courage Award (IWOC), which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice established in 2007 as a way of annually observing International Women’s Day and honoring a select group of brave women who have advanced peace, justice, human rights, gender equality or women’s empowerment. First Lady Melania Trump attended this year’s awards ceremony on March 4, 2020 at the State Department when Secretary of State Michael Pompeo gave out the latest IWOC awards, which include International Visitor Leadership Program grants from ECA.
At the request of eight Senators, the OIG examined why the Department decided not to give one of the 2019 Awards to Jessika Aro, a highly respected Finnish journalist who had been nominated by the Embassy in Helsinki. The inspectors found that her award was rather unceremoniously rescinded after officials in Washington discovered that some of Aro’s social media posts were critical of the President. The new OIG findings, including an official response from the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, are worth reading for anyone who has been involved in awards and wants to protect the integrity of the process.
A few of the many lessons to be learned from the regrettable incident would include:
- very carefully vet all finalists;
- keep politics out of the selection;
- and always tell the truth to the public and to Congressional staff.
Although the report noted that the Department had “broad discretion to select awardees,” it also made clear that the process needed improvement. For the text of the report, go to: https://www.stateoig.gov/system/files/esp-20-04.pdf
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.