1. U.S. IMAGE REBOUNDS DUE TO “THE BIDEN EFFECT”: Many Americans — and most foreigners — feel that four years of the Trump presidency did considerable damage to the country’s reputation around the world. Since June 10, 2021, they have some solid, independent research to support that conclusion. A Pew Research Center survey of 16 publics released that day revealed that “the United States’ global reputation has rebounded to a remarkable degree.” The findings noted “a significant uptick in ratings for the United States, with strong support for Biden and several of his major policy initiatives” and found that, “in most countries polled, people make a stark distinction between Biden and Trump as world leaders.”
For details of the new survey, go to: https://www.pewresearch.org/
PD practitioners — and effective diplomats — know the importance of staying “on message” and quoting polls to help explain policy. Secretary of State Blinken clearly proved that during a round of almost back-to-back June 3, 2021 major network Sunday morning interview shows from the G-7 Summit. In interviews with ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox News, he used almost the same language in mentioning that a major recent poll — Pew — had found that 75% of publics surveyed expressed confidence in American leadership. According to Pew, “Looking at 12 nations surveyed both this year and in 2020, a median of 75% express confidence in Biden compared with 17% for Trump last year.”
2. THE FULBRIGHT-PULITZER CONNECTION TO EXCELLENCE: The June 11, 2021 announcement of the 2021 Pulitzer Prizes in journalism, books, drama, and music had few surprises. Several of the awardees were for coverage related to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. One surprise, however, was a “Special Citation” award to a non-journalist, Darnella Frazier, the Black teenager who at 17 courageously used her cell phone to record the Floyd killing. The “International Reporting” prize went to a team of BuzzFeed News journalists for “a series of clear and compelling stories that used satellite imagery and architectural expertise, as well as interviews with two dozen former prisoners, to identify a vast new infrastructure built by the Chinese government for the mass detention of Muslims.”
The news about the latest Pulitzer winners was a reminder of the fact that 88 recipients of another prestigious honor – the U.S. Government’s Fulbright awards — have won a total of 94 Pulitzers. One Fulbright alumnus, writer Edward Albee, has won three Pulitzers. Three other Fulbrighters have won twice — writer John Updike, historian David Herbert Donald, and historian Richard Hofstadter. In 2020, two alumni won the Pulitzer — Professor and author Greg Grandin, a 2006 Fulbright U.S. student to Guatemala, who won the prize in General Nonfiction, and journalist Emily Green, a 2006 Fulbright U.S. Student to the Philippines, who won the prize in Audio Reporting.
For a 2021 Pulitzer fact sheet, go to https://www.pulitzer.org/
3. AMERICA — NOW SPLIT INTO FOUR TRIBES?: Public diplomacy practitioners pride themselves on being able to explain U.S. society and values — not just policy — to foreign audiences. That task has gotten increasingly challenging over recent years as the country has become more divided, diversified and complicated. PD officers have found themselves having to increasingly address those who see America in decline. But George Packer, the well-known journalist whose last book was a biography of diplomat Richard Holbrooke, has written a provocative piece for the July/August 2021 issue of The Atlantic that may help “tell America’s current story to the world” and stimulate useful discussion both at home and abroad.
Titled “How America Fractured into Four Parts,” the article explains that the nation’s narratives are competing and constantly changing so that today four rival stories have emerged to explain America’s identity. The new tribes are: “Free America” (libertarians); “Smart America” (high earners and technocrats); “Real America” (white Christian nationalists); and “Just America” (a young generation that believes injustice is the problem and speaks the language of identity politics). According to Packer, these narratives “overlap, morph into one another, attract and repel one another,” and they “emerged from America’s failure to sustain and enlarge the middle-class democracy of the post-war years.”
For Packer’s article, which is adapted from his new book, Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal, go to: https://www.theatlantic.com/
4. INSPECTORS PRAISE ECA’S RESPONSE TO COVID-19 CRISIS: A new State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) report, “Review of the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the International Exchange Programs of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs,” has concluded that ECA did a good job handling the “risk management challenges” associated with the pandemic from March 2020 through January 2021. The May 2021 report noted that when the pandemic became widespread, ECA was running more than 100 programs involving about 4,500 Americans overseas and more than 7,500 foreign nationals in the United States. By March 2020, ECA had canceled or postponed nearly all ongoing FY 2020 exchange programs, and most new in-person programs have remained suspended.
The OIG concluded that “ECA successfully repatriated thousands of exchange participants, both to and from the United States, in a timely manner” and “ECA’s early decision to coordinate its pandemic response through a bureau-wide task force, established on January 27, 2020, was a key to its success.” Also, the report found “the move to virtual platforms allowed many programs to continue either fully or partially” and “the bureau’s increased use of virtual technologies since 2013 left it well prepared to meet the soaring demand for virtual exchange programs during the pandemic.” The inspectors also noted: “The consensus of both ECA and embassy staff was that virtual programs cannot replace in-person programs, but the pandemic experience yielded lessons learned that will strengthen future programming.”
Unlike most OIG reviews, this one was an “information report,” but ECA should still be very pleased that the inspectors made no recommendations. For the text of the report, go to: https://www.oversight.gov/
5. RISING STARS MAKE PASSIONATE PITCHES: It is always good to see foreign affairs-related organizations doing innovative things to attract young people and encourage rising professionals. This certainly was the case on June 15, 2021 when the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) hosted, as part of its 2021 National Security Conference, its second annual event to showcase emerging and diverse voices in national security.
Called “The Pitch: Competition of New Ideas,” the virtual event featured 12 up-and-comers making two-minute pitches on how to meet new challenges in one of three categories: Sharpening America’s innovation toolkit; reimagining America’s alliances and partnerships; and strengthening America’s national security institutions. Each finalist enthusiastically presented his or her new policy idea before a live interactive audience and a distinguished panel of judges. Participants were judged on the ingenuity and practicality of their idea, academic rigor, and clarity of their presentation.
The “Best in Show” winner was Bethan Saunders, an MPP candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School, who proposed that DOD’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) give more attention to climate technology. One of the finalists was Jake Brooke, a contractor in State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and an MA candidate at SAIS. His pitch was for the State Department to establish a new Foreign Service cone, or specialty, called Public Health Officer, to strengthen global health engagement.
“The Pitch” event was co-hosted by Shai Korman, CNAS director of communications. A former Presidential Management Fellow, he spent more than a decade in the State Department, where he was director of the Office of International Media Engagement and led the six regional media hubs. For information about “The Pitch” and to watch the competition, visit: https://www.cnas.org/the-pitch
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.