Twenty-one extraordinary women from around the world were honored. It was clear that the new Biden Administration was fully and enthusiastically on board not only with the award program, which the Office of Global Women’s Issues and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) manage, but also with advancing human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Besides the virtual nature of the ceremony itself and the awardees’ follow-on International Visitor Leadership Program virtual meetings with American counterparts, two other features of this popular event stood out and made this year’s ceremony seem more special than usual. One was that seven of the awardees were honored posthumously. All seven women were courageous leaders and activists from Afghanistan who were assassinated in various incidents while working to improve their country. The other was the strong presence of senior Biden team members at the ceremony and the fact that a number of State alumni are now working in the White House.
First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave remarks at the ceremony in the Department’s Acheson Auditorium, and other “heavyweights” graced the occasion and showed their interest. These guests included new UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield; Ambassador Cathy Russell, former head of Global Women’s Issues, who is now director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office; Kat Fotovat, the senior official for Global Women’s Issues; Acting ECA Assistant Secretary Matt Lussenhop; Ambassador Julissa Reynoso, the First Lady’s chief of staff; and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mala Adiga, now the First Lady’s policy director.
For Secretary Blinken’s remarks, which made clear that “the equal rights and dignity of women and girls is a foreign policy priority for the United States,” go to: https://www.state.gov/
Meanwhile, FFP –“feminist foreign policy” — is getting increased attention. For a discussion of how the United States and a few other countries have taken steps toward a “more feminist foreign policy,” see How a ‘Feminist’ Foreign Policy Would Change the World, by GWU Associate Professors of International Affairs Rollie Lal and Shirley Graham at https://theconversation.com/
“As the evidence grows that women’s well-being is central to everyone’s well-being, the connection between gender equality and global security can be naturally incorporated into updated global strategies focusing on traditional American goals like security and human rights. Afghanistan shows the necessity of — and opportunities for — a feminist U.S. foreign policy.”
Also, see Why NATO Should Adopt a Feminist Foreign Policy, a March 9, 2021 Atlantic Council piece by Gabriela R.A. Doyle, Madeline Olden, Leali Scheunemann, and Christopher Skaluba at: https://www.atlanticcouncil.
2. OUCH! NEW PEW FINDINGS ON DEMOCRACY AND ON CHINA: With the Biden Administration focused domestically on selling its $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, the American Rescue Plan, to address the pandemic, new Pew Research Center findings may not have gotten the attention they deserve from policymakers and PD practitioners. But they were noteworthy because they helped explain what Americans think about two objectives of Biden’s foreign policy.
The results — in a word — were rather alarming, especially to those who want the United States to use its leadership to both promote democracy and deal effectively with China. President Biden has made clear that “it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture,” and he plans to hold a democracy summit later this year. “Deeply negative feelings” towards China are relevant because Secretary of State Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will be meeting shortly in-person with their Chinese counterparts, and neither side seems to want to further complicate the already confrontational relationship.
An early February Pew survey found that just 20% of U.S. adults cited “promoting democracy in other nations” as a top foreign policy objective. It finished at the bottom of a list of 20 long-range foreign policy goals. Only about a quarter of Democrats and Democratic leaning-independents saw promoting democracy abroad as a priority. Among Republicans and GOP leaners, support was even smaller — 15%. For details, see Pew Research Center senior editor Bruce Drake’s March 2, 2021 report at: https://www.pewresearch.org/
The second finding — which clearly showed “a growing chill” between the United States and China — may be less surprising. A new Pew survey showed that 89% of U.S. adults “consider China a competitor or enemy, rather than a partner,” and “many also support taking a firmer approach to the bilateral relationship, whether by promoting human rights in China, getting tougher on China economically or limiting Chinese students studying abroad in the United States.” For a lengthy report of the latest findings on how Americans view China, see a March 4, 2021 Pew report by Laura Silver, Kat Devlin, and Christine Huang at: https://www.pewresearch.org/
3. “REPORT ON REPORTS” SEEKS COMMON GROUND: Think tanks, policy institutes and professional groups — including both the Public Diplomacy Council (PDC) and the Public Diplomacy Association of America (PDAA) — have not been shy about advocacy. Many have been making recommendations to the Biden Administration and Congress about America’s role in the world and ways to strengthen U.S. diplomacy. One important, new report stands out because it offers upbeat, fresh perspectives to the new administration by stressing consensus on the importance of U.S. engagement.
2021 Report on Reports: A Roadmap for U.S. Global Leadership, the latest four-year report from the non-partisan U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC), analyzes more than 100 reports from across the political spectrum for “areas of consensus in the hopes American policymakers can find common ground.” (The USGLC calls itself “a broad-based influential network of 500 businesses and NGOs; national security and foreign policy experts; and business, faith-based, academic, military, and community leaders in all 50 states who support strategic investments to elevate development and diplomacy alongside defense in order to build a better, safer world.”)
The March 8, 2021 report “reveals agreement for strengthening and elevating diplomacy and development tools to tackle global challenges affecting Americans’ health, safety and security.” Although not PD-focused, the report obviously has implications for public diplomacy. It highlighted broad consensus over U.S. efforts to: “Fight the global COVID-19 pandemic; address growing economic competition; mitigate the impacts of climate change; defend against rising authoritarianism; respond to global humanitarian crisis; and influence global alliances and partnerships.” For the full report, go to: https://www.usglc.org/media/
As a follow-up to the USGLC report, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) hosted a timely virtual event on March 11, 2021 with USGLC President/CEO Liz Schrayer. She and AFSA President Ambassador Eric Rubin discussed the future of U.S. leadership and how best to communicate the value of global engagement to domestic audiences. AFSA is working to develop a more “robust” outreach program, and the recent event inaugurated its new “Inside Diplomacy” outreach series.
4. A GLIMPSE INTO FUTURE TECHNOLOGY: The State Department has never been known for being particularly up-to-speed on technology, and every public diplomacy officer struggles with keeping up on new ways of communicating and knows the value of career-long technology training. Officers find themselves constantly needing more technical support and greater training in the latest social media and other tools and technologies to help get official messages out and tell America’s stories more effectively.
Most diplomats and PD practitioners, of course, have little technology background or time to look into the future. But for a quick, painless glimpse into what lies ahead, a good place to explore is the March/April issue of MIT Technology Review with its 10 Breakthrough Technologies list for 2021. The advances cited are not directly PD-related, but several of them have positive — and even negative — communications and diplomatic implications, and are worth understanding.
According to the editors, the year’s 10 advances predicted to have a big impact on lives are: “Messenger RNA vaccines; GPT-3; data trusts; lithium-metal batteries; digital contact tracing; hyper-accurate positioning; remote everything; multi-skilled Artificial Intelligence (AI); TikTok recommendation algorithms; and green hydrogen.” For more information, visit: https://www.technologyreview.
5. “ZOOM FATIGUE”: It’s no secret, but now it has been documented. The “zooming” — videoconferencing — that individuals, governments, and private sector organizations, including the Public Diplomacy Council and its partners, are constantly doing during the pandemic is likely to tire you out, according to the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, directed by Communication Professor Jeremy Bailenson.
In the “first peer-reviewed article that systematically deconstructs Zoom fatigue from a psychological perspective,” the journal Technology, Mind and Behavior identifies four reasons why prolonged video chats fatigue people: “Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense; seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing; video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility; and the cognitive load is much higher in video chats.” Also, the article offers practical suggestions on how individuals and organizations can decrease fatigue.
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.