1. MERIDIAN GOES VIRTUAL OVER GLOBAL HEALTH DIPLOMACY: Kudos to Meridian International Center for pulling off its groundbreaking, 5 ½-hr virtual event on October 23, 2020. Approximately 1,000 people around the world engaged in the nonprofit’s ninth annual Meridian Summit convened and produced by Meridian President and CEO Ambassador Stuart Holliday, former Coordinator of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), and his experienced team of cultural exchange program specialists.
This year’s event – held all online – focused on the unusually timely topic of The Rise of Global Health Diplomacy. The line-up of some 50 United States and foreign government, business and civil society expert speakers was impressive and diverse, and they engaged diplomatically in civil discussions and somehow managed to avoid partisan politics. Examples of a few of the speakers: U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Dr. Jerome Adams; First Lady of Rwanda Jeannette Kagame; Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Kristen Hillman; Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen, Deputy-Secretary-General, OECD; State’s Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Science, Space and Health Jonathan Margolis; Huda Al-Katheeri, Senior Director, Ministry of Public Health, Qatar; Congressman Gerald E. Connolly; Cleveland Clinic CEO Dr. Tom Mihaljevic; Howard University President Dr. Wayne Frederick; philanthropist and businessman David Rubenstein; Ford Foundation President Darren Walker; Joe Daly, Senior Partner, Gallup; Ann Stock, Meridian Board Chair and former Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs; and journalists Joie Chen and Elise Labott.
The summit had something for everyone. Besides two plenaries and two sets of solution sessions tackling pandemic and other health issues, the marathon event also included a pre-recorded performance by D.C. vocalist Nova Payton and the American Pops Orchestra; inspiring messages from several International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) alumni; and award presentations to honorees Dr. Albert Bourla, Chairman and CEO of Pfizer, and Rice University Prof. Dr. Rebecca Richards-Kortum, a bioengineer, global health care expert, and former Department of State Science Envoy.
Before a global audience, the event not only effectively promoted Meridian’s work and highlighted the importance of the exchange programs that it manages for State and other partners, but it also emphasized that the United States and others need to give more attention to fighting health problems collectively. As Holliday made clear:
“The traditional diplomatic principles of trust, relationship building and engagement, coupled with innovation in technology and science, will undoubtedly shape how we recover from the largest economic and health crisis of our lifetime. In the fight to save lives and build a more equitable economic recovery, global collaboration is not just the right strategy – it’s the only strategy.”
For details, go to summit.meridian.org
2. WATCHING AMERICA’S 2020 ELECTIONS:Veteran PD professionals serving abroad in countries that want or need outsiders to help ensure that elections are “free and fair” are used to U.S. election experts or citizen observers, as well as foreign journalists, coming into a country to monitor elections. This year, in many ways, the shoe is on the other foot with foreign election specialists coming to the United States to see how the November 3, 2020 general election is administered.
The international group which deserves the closest attention is probably the Limited Election Observation Mission (LEOM) being deployed by the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Based in Vienna, the intergovernmental body of 57 countries is sending a core team of 11 experts under Ambassador Urszula Gacek, a Polish senator and member of the European Parliament, to assess whether the U.S. elections are “held in line with OSCE commitments and other international obligations and standards for democratic elections, as well as with national legislation.” The OSCE observers have officially been invited by the State Department through the U.S. Mission to the OSCE in Vienna.
The U.S. Government has said it is proud of its democratic institutions and welcomes the election observers. Since the responsibility for organizing U.S. elections falls largely with state and local governments, the Department will facilitate the team’s efforts to contact state and local elections officials.
According to the OSCE, the mission members will visit a limited number of polling stations on election day but “will not conduct a systematic observation of voting, counting or tabulation of results.” The day after the elections, the preliminary findings and conclusions will be made public at a press conference.
For a media report on the team’s arrival in the United States, see: https://www.passblue.com/2020/10/07/international-election-monitors-arrive-in-the-us-for-the-nov-3-poll/. For an official summary of the OSCE’s mission to the U.S., see https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/usa/456787.
3. HAPPY 150th TO THE COPYRIGHT FOLKS: Anyone in public diplomacy — or any kind of communications or education work — at one time or another has had to deal with questions about copyright law. What is “fair use”? How do I comply with the law that requires mandatory deposit in the Library of Congress of two copies of every copyrightable work? How is a copyright different from a patent or a trademark? How has the digital age affected copyright? Why are U.S. trade negotiators and the American business community so concerned about intellectual property rights (IPR)? How does U.S. copyright law relate to copyright law internationally?
These sorts of questions came to mind when I saw the September/October 2020 issue of LCM, the bimonthly magazine produced — in hard copy and electronically — by the Office of Communications of the Library of Congress. The issue is devoted to marking a major milestone reached this past summer by the U.S. Copyright Office: “150 years of promoting creativity and free expression through the administration of the nation’s copyright laws.” On July 8, 1870, Congress first centralized copyright at the Library of Congress.
To check out the latest issue of the Library’s attractive and informative magazine, go to https://loc.gov/lcm/pdf/LCM_2020_0910.pdf.
4. ENHANCING U.S. GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT: Current partisan politics aside, there seems to be a consensus among foreign policy experts and career professionals that a complex set of international crises, including COVID-19 as just the latest, requires that the United States get its act together at home and abroad and stop withdrawing from world leadership. Let me highlight three of the many new reports that are trying to get the attention of key politicians and policymakers.
One report, The First 100 Days Toward a More Sustainable and Values-Based National Security Approach, comes from the progressive Center for American Progress. It offers an ambitious foreign policy and national security plan on how nearly 250 actionable policies, ideas, legislative initiatives, and speech and travel recommendations can help the administration elected on November 3 start to reverse some of the damaging policies of the past four years. Many of its recommendations will resonate with public diplomacy professionals who tend to favor a diplomacy-first foreign policy, believe that the U.S. should live our democratic values and promote concerns such as human rights, commit to productive U.S. engagement in international institutions, etc. To see the plan, go to https://cdn.americanprogress.org/content/uploads/2020/10/
A second report, from a task force appointed by respected former Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns in his current capacity as president of the Carnegie Institution, is titled Making U.S. Foreign Policy Work Better for the Middle Class. Arguing that “if the United States stands any chance of renewal at home, it must conceive of its role in the world differently,” the task force addressed a basic question: What will it take to fashion a foreign policy that supports the aspirations of a middle class in crisis? It answered with five broad recommendations: “Broaden the debate beyond trade; tackle the distributional effects of foreign economic policy; break the domestic/foreign policy silos; banish stale organizing principles for U.S. foreign policy; and build a new political consensus around a foreign policy that works better for America’s middle class.” For the report by multiple authors from different perspectives, go to: carnegieendowment.org/2020/09/23/making-u.s.-foreign-policy-work-better-for-middle-class-pub-82728.
A third report, from Brookings, struggles with recommendations to make both USAID and State better able to meet 21st-century global challenges and maximize America’s international influence. In Making U.S. Global Development Structures and Functions Fit for Purpose: A 2021 Agenda, Brookings Senior Fellow – Global Economy and Development George Ingram offers “short-term, incremental fixes and more ambitious, longer-term ways in which the development function can be strengthened and enhanced” and says “its companion diplomacy calls out for a parallel design.” Ingram’s long list of recommendations addresses both “four years of disrespect of diplomacy and the career service” at the State Department, and at USAID “four years of proposed budget cuts and one year of political appointees with radical social/political views at odds with USAID development knowledge and culture.”
None of these reports get into public diplomacy directly, but obviously, a lot of strategic communications and effective public diplomacy work will be needed if many of the recommendations are ever to be implemented. Regardless of the tool – diplomacy or development – PD has a key role to play in maximizing each function’s effectiveness.
5. PD FELLOWS SHARE THEIR VIEWS: The Council of American Ambassadors is a nonprofit, nonpartisan association of non-career U.S. ambassadors. Among its various efforts to support American diplomacy is its sponsorship of the Kathryn W. Davis Public Diplomacy Fellows program, which arranges specialized training and Public Diplomacy Council and other mentoring opportunities for two rising Foreign Service Officers each year. The awardees are encouraged to share their personal views by contributing an article to the American Ambassadors Review, the CAA publication. Checking out the CAA website recently, I noted a joint article by the 2018-2019 Fellows, Wes Jeffers and Katherine Tarr. In Looking Back, Moving Forward: Public Diplomacy at 20, the two FSOs shared their perspectives on the occasion of the October 1, 2019 anniversary of the consolidation of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) into the State Department.
Although written more than a year ago, the piece offered some very constructive suggestions on how PD can be strengthened, and it is worth reading. One of the authors’ concerns is that many U.S. diplomats are not savvy about “why and how public diplomacy is inseparable from policy.” Another concern is over the “historically short tenure” of those in the position of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and the two FSOs write that, “without an Under Secretary, public diplomacy at best stymies its development, and at worst risks losing credibility as an essential function of foreign policy.”
There has not been a permanent, Senate-approved Under Secretary for many months. Since September 28, 2020, under delegation of authority from Secretary Pompeo, PD has been headed by Nilda R. Pedrosa, whose title is “Senior Official for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.” Before beginning her current duties, she served as the Department’s White House Liaison and advised the Department on all personnel matters related to non-career appointments at State.
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.