1. PUBLIC DIPLOMACY VETERAN RETURNS TO EL SALVADOR: It is always good to see when the services of an experienced PD professional are appreciated. The best recent example of this is Secretary of State Blinken’s May 26, 2021 designation of Ambassador Jean Manes as Charge’ d’ affaires ad interim to the Republic of El Salvador. She previously served as ambassador in that country from 2016-2019. State Spokesperson Ned Price praised Manes: “In almost 30 years of service as a diplomat, she has extensive experience overseeing U.S government programs, and she also brings relationships with a broad array of Salvadorans, from government, civil society, and the private sector. These attributes ideally situate her to work collaboratively to improve conditions in El Salvador and address the root causes of irregular migration.”
Ambassador Manes, who since 2019 has been on detail as civilian deputy and foreign policy advisor to the Commander at U.S. Southern Command, started her distinguished career in 1992 with USIA. She has held numerous PD and other diplomatic positions, including Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan; Principal Deputy Coordinator in the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP); and Director of Resources for the Undersecretary of Public Diplomacy. Based on her work on the Youth Ambassador Program when she was Cultural Affairs Officer in Brazil, she contributed a chapter to The Last Three Feet: Case Studies in Public Diplomacy, a 2014 Public Diplomacy Council publication.
2. FARNOVA IS BACK (AND DISCUSSING AFGHANISTAN)!: The Washington area has been noting the dramatic return — after 17 years — of the cicadas with their famous mating cacophony. But also back — after a 16-month absence due to the pandemic — are the in-person speaker activities of the Foreign Affairs Retirees of Northern Virginia (FARNOVA). On May 26, 2021, the independent organization of former diplomats headed by John Naland, whose other hats included serving as AFSA Vice President for the retiree constituency, held a successful luncheon event in a private room of a suburban Fairfax, VA. restaurant. Almost 60 people attended the event, which was significant because FARNOVA is probably the first foreign affairs professional organization to resume in-person programming since the pandemic began.
The audience — eager to resume contact with former colleagues and discuss current affairs — was not disappointed. The distinguished speaker was veteran career diplomat Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann, President of the American Academy of Diplomacy, and his topic — the future of Afghanistan once all remaining U.S. forces withdraw by September 11, 2021 — could not have been more timely or controversial. Few Americans know more about that country than Neumann, who was Ambassador in Kabul from 2005-2007. His book, Three Embassies, Four Wars: A Personal Memoir, covers his long experience with Afghanistan. Since retiring, he has revisited numerous times and still serves on the advisory board of a nonprofit girls school in Kabul.
In his FARNOVA remarks, Ambassador Neumann stressed the complexity of the situation and addressed numerous questions and challenges related to U.S. interests and our evolving partnership with Afghanistan after nearly two decades of war: How can the United States and other embassies be secured? How can the Kabul airport be kept open? How can the United States make sure its tax-payer dollars are well spent? How can the United States support its values through continued development and public diplomacy programs in areas like human rights, girls’ education, women’s development, independent media, and civil society? How can the special immigrant visa process for loyal Afghans who worked for the United States be better managed?
For an excellent update on America’s current strategy and programs in Afghanistan, see the May 18, 2021 statements by Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for Asia Karen Freeman before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Both texts are posted at: https://docs.house.gov/
3. TOO MANY U.S. SPECIAL ENVOYS? The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) likes to keep track of a unique, sometimes controversial category of diplomatic appointees — “special envoy, representatives, coordinators” — who are usually named to oversee a particular issue that requires high-level, continuous attention. As of May 24, 2021, AFSA’s list shows 21 filled positions, including the high-profile appointments of John Kerry for Climate Change and Gayle Smith for Global COVID-19 Response & Health Security. Other recent Biden appointments include Sung Y. Kim for North Korea; Ricardo Zúñiga for the Northern Triangle; Richard Norland for Libya; Rob Malley for Iran; and Tim Lenderking for Yemen. A few, like Zalmay Khalilzad for Afghanistan Reconciliation, are carry-overs from previous administrations. A couple, like Robert A. Wood for Biological & Toxic Convention Issues and Donna A. Welton for Security Negotiations & Agreements, are even career public diplomacy officers. To track these so-called “czars,” go to: https://afsa.org/special-
It is too early to say whether the Biden Administration will rely heavily on special envoys or use and empower existing talent and bureaus and channels to deal with tough issues. But two former career foreign service officers have spoken out against reliance on such positions, which sometimes go to high-profile political appointees. (Classic examples are former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as special envoy on Northern Ireland Peace Talks and, later, advisor on the Middle East, and Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to the Balkans and, later, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.)
In a POLITICO piece titled “How Many ‘Special Envoys’ Does Joe Biden Need?,” Brett Bruen, Director of Global Engagement in the Obama White House and currently president of the PR firm Global Situation Room, and Adam Ereli, former U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain, Deputy State Department spokesperson, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for ECA, argue that having “Special” in your title “often just creates more layers of complexity” and doesn’t always solve thorny problems. They conclude: “Instead of appointing more special envoys, our political leadership could produce greater long-term impact by giving existing State Department undersecretaries and assistant secretaries the power, authority, and personnel resources required to do their jobs. Doing so will permit diplomats to spend less time on bureaucratic turf wars and more time on the work of diplomacy.” For their article, go to: https://www.politico.com/news/
4. “YALI” MARKS TEN YEARS WITH A VIRTUAL SUMMIT: Congratulations to the U.S. Department of State and USAID — in partnership with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Africa Program — for hosting an invitational, all-virtual event May 24-28, 2021 to highlight the achievements of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and show America’s enduring commitment to Africa’s youth.
The program is well-known as the U.S Government’s signature effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders. Established in 2010, YALI has grown from 115 young leaders to include more than 24,000 alumni of the Mandela Washington Fellowship exchange program, four Regional Leadership Centers in Africa, and an extensive digital community called the YALI Network with more than 750,000 members.
With the theme “Ten Plus Ten: YALI and the United States Look Back, and Ahead, Together,” the summit featured a variety of high-level speakers, policymakers, YALI alumni, and experts from the United States and Africa. The event gave both YALI alumni and American stakeholders an opportunity to address issues like democracy and governance, U.S. trade and investment with the continent, and peacebuilding in fragile areas and explore new opportunities for skills development, networking, mentoring, and collaboration.
For more information about YALI and the Summit, go to: yali.state.gov and accelevents.com/e/YALI10. For background on Wilson’s Africa Program and the Summit, visit: wilsoncenter.org/program/
5. WILL EMBASSIES SAVE WASHINGTON’S SOCIAL SCENE POST-COVID? As Washington, D.C. slowly returns to “normalcy,” foreign and American diplomats are wondering how their work, including official entertaining or “representation,” will have changed in the wake of the year-long pandemic. Sally Quinn, one of Washington’s best-known journalists and long-time hosts, has written a fun but thoughtful May 23, 2021 The Washington Post Magazine cover story that concludes that the capital’s “elite social scene is never coming back from the double blow of Trump and covid,” and that’s a good thing because the times have radically changed.
But Quinn also predicts that “one of the few parts of Washington that may continue to see something resembling traditional, in-person power gatherings are the embassies.” She concludes: “Socially, Embassy Row was once considered, with very few exceptions, Death Row. Now it might well be where a lot more socializing — and business — gets conducted, which would, of course, suit some ambassadors just fine: If the ‘elite,’ the ‘A-list’ and ‘hostesses’ don’t really exist anymore, the embassies could fill the void and end up exercising more soft power in Washington.” For Quinn’s article, go to: https://www.washingtonpost.
What Quinn doesn’t really emphasize — and what any public diplomacy officer will tell you — is that an embassy’s in-person social events help diplomats work more effectively. An official reception, meal, or “soft” cultural program — usually pretty unglamorous — brings people together where information can be gathered, contacts and friends made, and a country’s policies and values explained and promoted to a specific audience. Most PD officers, like ambassadors, undoubtedly are hoping that their traditional, face-to-face work hosting in-person events can return as soon as public health circumstances permit. Virtual, or even hybrid, events are no substitute for direct communication.
In Washington, a good example of an embassy that still knows the value of in-person diplomacy is the Embassy of Sweden. It has been said that its attractive House of Sweden building — with 12,000 square feet of excellent meeting and event space plus rooftop views — along the Potomac in Georgetown is partly reopening. (The building was specifically designed to represent the Swedish ideals of openness, transparency, and democracy.)
Although the country’s national day on June 6, 2021 will be observed virtually, the House of Sweden itself is eager to fully reopen to the public following a series of virtual exhibitions and other PD efforts since the pandemic began. Sweden’s Ambassador Karin Olofsdotter and her staff, for example, have made good use of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Flickr, and YouTube to reach American audiences. But, like other diplomats who know the value of direct contact, they are anxious to get back to engaging with their host-country publics soon as it is safe to do so.
Meanwhile, the House of Sweden has reopened on Saturdays and Sundays with two exhibitions, “Smart Mobility” and “Dreamland,” which features photos by Swedish artist Helene Schmitz. (Twenty persons are allowed into the public spaces at one time.) For a review of the Schmitz exhibit, visit: https://washdiplomat.com/
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.