1. THE PRESIDENT’S 2022 “WISH LIST” AND PUBLIC DIPLOMACY: President Biden has submitted his FY 2022 budget to Congress, and it requests a historic, mind-numbing $6 trillion to “help us build back better, leaving us stronger at home and on the world stage.” This request includes $58.5 billion for State Department and USAID, a 10 percent — or a more than $5 billion — increase over FY 2021 as enacted.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained the vision of restoring U.S. leadership and delivering security and prosperity:
“These increased diplomatic and foreign assistance resources will enable us to deliver for the American people by bolstering global health security, addressing the climate crisis, helping tackle the root causes of irregular migration from Central America, reasserting American leadership to promote democracy and counter rising authoritarianism, providing international humanitarian leadership, and meeting competition head-on from nations that do not share our values of freedom, democracy, and respect for human rights.”
For a May 28, 2021 fact sheet on the State and USAID requests, go to: https://www.state.gov/state-
Department spokespersons seem to have made no specific reference to public diplomacy, but the hope — after several years of neglect — is that additional PD positions can be added and that programs will receive roughly 10 percent more funds than they had in FY 2021. If the new Administration is serious about explaining and promoting priorities like the promotion of democracy and human rights, the climate crisis, engaging China, preventing future pandemics, and strengthening cybersecurity, PD will need to be involved, and that will take people and program resources.
Budget documents are always lengthy and complex. Since USIA’s consolidation into State, the appropriation for overseas information and cultural programs has been administered by State and funded from “Diplomatic Programs” and other accounts within the Department since 2000. For an indication of what the Administration is proposing for FY 2022, visit: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-
“Overseas Program – Public Diplomacy” levels (past current and requested future) are on page 812, and Educational and Cultural Affairs levels are on page 816. In general, the numbers look encouraging, but they are only requests. The final amounts will depend on tough negotiations and, of course, ultimately on Congressional action.
2. CYBER ATTACK HITS CLOSE TO HOME FOR THE PUBLIC DIPLOMACY WORLD: Problems of countering both state disinformation and the malign influence of nonstate actors seem to have become almost a routine part of everyday U.S. life. One minute, an east coast fuel pipeline gets attacked, and the next its meat processing plants. And the American foreign affairs community remains vulnerable. A recent round of cyberespionage incidents seems to have struck unusually close — and maliciously — to not only a State Department agency but to civil society, and it merits attention from PD practitioners since they and their contacts could be future victims.
On May 27, 2021 Microsoft announced that hackers from the Nobelium group, linked to the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, had gained access to USAID’s Constant Contact account used for mass email marketing. The phishing attacks sent out official-looking “USAID Special Alert” emails to approximately 3,000 email accounts at more than 150 organizations involved in international development, humanitarian, and human rights work. The intent seemed to be to steal data or infect other computers as part of intelligence gathering efforts. Targeted victims spanned at least 24 countries, but the largest share were American. Homeland Security and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), as well as USAID and the FBI, are investigating the attack, and the subject of the growing threats of problems like ransomware should come up June 16, 2021 when President Biden meets President Putin in Geneva.
For the text of the Microsoft statement by Tom Burt, Corporate Vice President, Customer Security & Trust, go to: https://blogs.microsoft.com/
3. THE PODCAST ACTION AND PUBLIC DIPLOMACY: Story-telling plus new technology can foster PD effectiveness, so it would seem to be a cool idea for public diplomacy professionals to use podcasts. But this doesn’t seem to be happening very much. Despite the recent tremendous growth of podcasts by the private sector, including companies, media groups, celebrities, think-tanks, the State Department and our embassies don’t seem to be giving the relatively inexpensive, on-demand tool much attention as a way of informing and inspiring “niche” audiences, particularly young people. (Wikipedia defines “podcast” as “an episodic series of spoken word digital audio files that a user can download to a personal device for easy listening.” Podcasts are usually free and easily accessible to anyone with a computer, a smartphone, or tablet.)
To its credit, the Department has experimented with podcasts. The Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau (ECA), for example, until recently had an innovative unit called the Collaboratory. In 2019, it started producing first-person narratives and anecdotes from people who have been involved with exchange programs. It even produced a useful “podcasting toolkit,” which was designed to “support the creation of podcasts within U.S. government settings.” PD Foreign Service Officer Christopher Wurst, then the director of the Collaboratory, led the initiative. (Wurst is now Acting Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Dublin, where the Public Affairs Office has started “The Diplomatic Pouch,” a smartly-produced podcast that gets into transatlantic topics from a U.S. and Irish perspective. Episodes can be accessed at: anchor.fm/us-embassy-
Wurst’s innovative ECA weekly series, called “22.33”, delivered what the Bureau called “unforgettable travel stories from people whose lives were changed by international exchange.” Past episodes are still available at: https://anchor.fm/2233.
When “22.33” wrapped up in early 2021, ECA Alumni Affairs on March 31, 2021 launched “Voices of Exchange,” a podcast featuring the voices of exchange alumni, cultural and sports envoys, exchange visitors, and U.S. Speakers. New episodes are released every two weeks on iTunes and wherever else you access your podcasts. For information, visit: https://alumni.state.gov/
Meanwhile, outside the State Department at places like think tanks, podcasts seem to be an increasingly popular medium for compelling story-telling and even foreign policy engagement (not to mention commercial use by platforms such as Spotify, Apple, SiriusXM, iHeartMedia, and many others). New podcasts are being launched all over the place, and an estimated 90 million people listen to podcasts every month. Let me recommend two nonprofit, unscripted podcasts by retired diplomats who are doing a good job specifically explaining the importance of diplomacy.
“The General and the Ambassador,” a project of the American Academy of Diplomacy in partnership with the University of North Carolina Global Affairs at Chapel Hill, features producer and host Deborah A. McCarthy, former Ambassador to Lithuania, conversing with U.S. military leaders and diplomats about how they worked together during a major crisis. To listen, go to: https://
4. FOX NEWS INTERNATIONAL EXPANDS, CNN RESTRUCTURES: The lives and media relations of a number of ambassadors and public diplomacy officers serving in some key countries may have recently gotten more complicated. FOX News International — FOX News Media’s international streaming service — recently announced that the platform is now available in 37 countries worldwide, following the debut of service in Turkey in March and the late May expansion into Asian countries like Japan, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Maldives. The global expansion of Fox News, known as a conservative news outlet run by the father-and-son team of Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, means that our diplomats will need to give more attention to how host-country audiences react to Fox coverage, which is known to lean pro-Trump and can be controversial.
The service, which features live streaming of Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network along with a catalog of 20 on-demand programs, was launched last August in Mexico and has spread to many other Latin American and European markets. Priced at $6.99 per month, it is offered via iOS, Android AppleTV, Android TV, and Amazon Fire TV. Only time will tell whether foreign audiences will turn to FOX over more traditional, longer-established news sources like CNN and BBC. Owned by FOX Corporation, FOX News Media reportedly reaches 200 million people each month. For its May 26, 2021 press release, visit: http://press.foxnews.com/2021/
CNN, meanwhile, is coming under a new, global corporate structure. In a May 17, 2021 announcement, AT&T Inc. and Discovery, Inc. announced agreement to combine WarnerMedia’s premium entertainment sports and news assets with Discovery’s nonfiction and international entertainment and sports businesses to create what they call “a premiere, standalone global entertainment company.” CNN — whose parent is WarnerMedia — is just one of more than 100 brands that in mid-2022 will come under one global portfolio and a direct-to-consumer streaming platform. The new company will be named Warner Bros. Discovery. For details about the deal, go to: about.att.com/story/2021/
5. NEW DATA ON HOW U.S. “SOFT POWER” HELPS CHANGE “HEARTS AND MINDS”: Public diplomacy practitioners have the latest results from an independent annual international survey to cite on the importance of soft power. The Eurasia Group Foundation (EGF), whose Board President is political scientist and writer Ian Bremmer, has released Democracy in Disarray: How the World Sees the U.S. and Its Example by senior fellow Dr. Mark Hannah and research associate Caroline Gray. The study asked more than 5,000 people in ten geographically diverse countries detailed questions about America’s role in the world, U.S.-style democracy, and their own values and political beliefs. According to EGF, the survey was “designed with the premise that listening and understanding, especially in the context of a humble foreign policy, is intrinsically as well as instrumentally valuable.”
The main finding was “that hard power hinders rather than helps the promotion of American democracy, and that soft power sows support for the United States internationally.” Its key recommendation to the new administration: “If the president follows through on pursuing a more humble foreign policy, people around the world may look upon American-style democracy as a model for their own governments. But, if the Biden administration struggles to prioritize fixing American democracy at home and pursues hard over soft power in America’s quest to shore up its global influence, anti-American sentiment could replace feelings of goodwill.”
For the full text, including detailed findings from Brazil, China, Egypt, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Poland and Russia, go to: http://egfound.org/wp-content/
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.