We may differ on the withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan, but you may agree on this:
What would we have done without Qatar?
In the evacuation of American citizens and their allies from Afghanistan, the small Arab state stepped forward as a key enabler, accepting 40 percent of the 113,500 flown out since August 14. President Biden phoned Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to thank him personally and Secretary of State Antony Blinken payed a personal visit yesterday.
Why did Qatar agree to such a large role? The substantial U.S.-Qatar defense alliance is surely important. But a robust public diplomacy program and resulting longstanding relationships across Qatari society are the bedrock of the partnership, and the same is with the many other nations helping in the Afghan emergency.
That invites the question: how does public diplomacy work?
The United States’ public diplomacy apparatus contains several interlocking parts, which draw their funds from different parts of the U.S. budget. Here in Washington, it is natural to focus on what is before our eyes: the spokesperson on the dais. Or the educational and cultural affairs bureau, whose implementing partners (nonprofits) and collegiate beneficiaries keep a close eye on funding levels.
Less attention goes to those places where the American message meets its foreign audiences: the U.S. missions and consulates around the world like Embassy Doha. Bridging those “last three feet,” as Edward R. Murrow put it, are about 700 U.S. diplomats and many more locally-hired staffers. They make the public relations materials and exchanges programs matter.
Overseas operations are the PD that you don’t see, so I compiled this fact sheet to shine a light on them. Most of the information comes from a remarkable annual survey compiled by the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. It’s the best reference source for U.S. public diplomacy that I know.
While the numbers in this fact sheet reflect the 2018-2019 time frame, PD budgets have not changed much. Other figures, like foreign students at U.S. universities and attendance at American cultural centers, have changed, mostly because of the pandemic. So my fact sheet is, in that sense, aspirational, offering targets for recovery. The fact sheet also contains links to stories that demonstrate how PD staffers are advancing the national interest. (By the way, no fact sheet is perfect. I welcome suggestions and corrections to the document from readers, which can be made by leaving a comment at the end of this blog post.)
The aftermath of the war in Afghanistan will no doubt unleash debate about our national security strategy, and thoughtful observers are calling for much greater emphasis on diplomacy in our statecraft. In our time, that has to mean in large part diplomacy in the public sphere. Since 1994 public diplomacy spending over all has declined, factoring inflation. Moreover, looking at those pieces within the total, overseas operations cost significantly less than educational and cultural exchanges or U.S. international media. And they get much less attention from Congress.
I worry that with no Presidentially-appointed Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy on board at the State Department, the overseas operations function will suffer for lack of a politically influential voice.
And that’s why we need to make “the PD that you don’t see” more visible.
[Fact Sheet address below]
Joe B. Johnson consults on government communication and technology after a career in the United States Foreign Service and seven years in the private sector. He is an instructor for the National Foreign Affairs Training Center, where he teaches strategic planning for public diplomacy. Read More