1. A CALL FOR PEACEFUL U.S. ELECTIONS: Less than a week before the November 3, 2020 U.S. general elections, Freedom House — the independent watchdog organization that advocates for democracy and human rights around the world — issued a rather remarkable press release, which called on “politicians and journalists to protect the electoral process.” In so-called “normal” times, such a release would likely have been about a developing country with a fragile electoral process. But in this case, the country in question was the United States, and Freedom House found itself almost pleading that American elections be safe and fair. The NGO’s president, Michael J. Abramovitz, explained: “A breakdown in the American democratic process would do irreparable damage not only to this country but also to the cause of freedom in every country where people look to the United States for solidarity and leadership.” Freedom House urged politicians, journalists, and other public figures to take these steps: “Promote the rule of law; manage expectations; avoid incitement; provide context; and check wayward colleagues.”
For the full statement, go to:
Another leading NGO, the International Crisis Group, which is a non-profit, transnational organization providing independent analysis and advice on how to prevent, resolve or better manage conflict, also issued a rather chilling, thought-provoking report just a few days before the U.S. elections. Titled The U.S. Presidential Election: Managing the Risks of Violence, the report “explores the factors that have made the 2020 U.S. presidential election potentially dangerous” – the “red flags,” such as a polarized electorate, the proliferation of hate speech and misinformation through social and other media, racial tensions, distrust of institutions, the existence of armed non-state actors or militias, and a political leadership that fuels division. The report makes clear that “just because the guardrails that have helped keep the US from devolving into election-related unrest in the past are being tested in 2020 does not mean that they will fail,” and “there are, in fact, a number of reasons to believe in their resilience.” If they fail, the group worries that “the world’s most powerful country could face a period of growing instability and increasingly diminished credibility abroad.”
For the group’s full report and recommendations, go to https://www.crisisgroup.org/united-states/004-us-presidential-election-managing-risks-violence.
2. POST-ELECTION FOREIGN POLICY SCENARIOS: With all fingers and toes crossed and the world watching intently, the American people anxiously await the historic 2020 Presidential election results. Whoever wins, the hotly contested election will affect America’s role in the world and the shape of the future global order, and challenge public diplomacy. Of all the foreign policy analyses prepared just before Election Day, one of the most balanced and readable was an “issue brief” from the Atlantic Council. 2020 Election Scenarios: Implications for American Foreign Policy, co-authored by Ash Jain, Senior Fellow in the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, and Barry Pavel, Senior Vice President and director of the Center, assessed each candidate’s likely policies across key issues such as relations with allies, China, Russia, and trade and defense policies. For the text, go to: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/in-depth-research-reports/issue-brief/us-election-scenarios-implications-for-americas-role-in-the-world/
The paper predicts that if the internationalist Biden wins two scenarios are possible: “One in which the United States adopts a proactive leadership role, galvanizing collective action with allies and partners, and one in which the United States is more restrained, focuses primarily on domestic issues, and leaves allies and partners with the responsibility to shape and address global concerns.” If President Trump is re-elected, a more unpredictable pattern of behavior would result with, again, two potential scenarios: “One in which Trump largely maintains the status quo, an ‘America First’ approach that regards allies with skepticism and pursues greater unilateralism, and another in which Trump, no longer restrained, makes transformative moves on alliances, trade agreements, and other commitments that have underpinned America’s role in the world for the past seven decades.”
3. DECLINE OF U.S. DIPLOMACY: The 2020 election and today’s corrosive partisan politics aside, many in the public diplomacy community would probably agree that over recent years there has been a disturbing decline in the influence or effectiveness of American diplomacy. The reasons are complex and come from various players and observers, who generally understand that rebuilding will not be easy.
Let me cite two of the many recent works that lament the problems afflicting U.S. diplomacy and are trying to improve things. Dr. Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, has written an op-ed headlined, The Dangerous Decline of U.S. Diplomacy. Arguing that diplomats need to give more attention to mutually-beneficial business ties, he concluded: “If the United States could learn from both allies and adversaries and reinvent diplomacy for the 21st century, it might truly preserve American greatness and economic power and, along with it, the decades-long liberal order which brought freedom and escape from poverty but now stands on such shaky ground.”
For the full Rubin text, go to: https://www.aei.org/op-eds/the-dangerous-decline-of-u-s-diplomacy/
A second view, How to Bring American Diplomacy Back from the Brink, is from Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), the Vice Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Castro is concerned that, under President Trump, “the United States is missing in action and its infrastructure of diplomacy is crumbling.” Calling for a new Foreign Service Act to “equip the State Department with the right people, capabilities, and organizational structure to advance U.S. values and interests in the 21st century,” he argued that “Congress must invest in making the State Department a model workplace, cultivating diversity, deepening expertise on crucial issues, and making sure that career diplomats are not sidelined.”
For the Congressman’s Foreign Affairs piece, go to: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2020-10-28/how-bring-american-diplomacy-back-brink.
4. RE-IMAGINING STATE’S PRIVATE SECTOR EXCHANGES: State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) has given long-overdue attention to the challenge of how to re-imagine and brand the private sector component of the Exchange Visitor Program (EVP). That’s the part of ECA that manages such diverse programs as Professor, Research Scholar, Short-Term Scholar, Trainee, Intern, College and University Student Teacher Secondary School Student, Specialist, Alien Physician, Camp Counselor, Au Pair, and Summer Work Travel. Some of these programs have been misunderstood or confusing and even at times controversial, so ECA has announced that all of these private sector parts of the EVP will now function under the new brand identity of “BridgeUSA,” and will have a new logo, tagline (“Connecting global leaders, creating lasting impact”) and mission-driven language. According to an October 27, 2020 State press release, “The BridgeUSA moniker embodies ECA’s mission to build enduring bridges of friendship between people and nations.”
For more information about the rebrand, visit its website at bridgeusa.state.gov, and view a new video at https://youtu.be/yPOSOV4glBk.
5. “AMERICAN PURPOSE” LAUNCHED: Starting up a new media operation is – in the best of times – a risky operation, but that has not deterred a group of well-known intellectuals and opinion-leaders from trying in today’s highly competitive and risky environment. Under a high-powered editorial board chaired by political theorist Francis Fukuyama and including people such as Eliot Cohen, SAIS Dean and former State Department Counselor; former Ambassadors like Eric Edelman and Michael McFaul; and scholars such as Larry Diamond, William A. Gaston, G. John Ikenberry, and Adam Garfinkle, “American Purpose” had a “soft launch” October 5, 2020. Its CEO/editor-in-chief is Dr. Jeffrey Gedmin, former president and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. According to the founders, “American Purpose” will use digital publishing, conversation and convening, and podcasts to offer a spirited examination of politics and culture. “Our aim is to support the revitalization of liberal democracy at home while addressing the authoritarian challenges to liberal democracy abroad. And we will offer lively and engrossing discussion of history and biography, arts and culture, science and technology.”
Check it out at www.americanpurpose.com. Whether the new product will find a niche and be sustainable remains to be seen, but proponents of “reform” and “ revitalization” of America’s long-standing role as leader of the world’s liberal democracies are hopeful, and there is always room for much-needed dialogue about the U.S. role in global affairs.
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.