By Rob Cline and Olivia Dupree
Facebook has come under fire by Washington lawmakers and the American public in recent
months for their apparent involvement in the 2016 election. It has been discovered that Russian
disinformation operations paid for targeted Facebook ads that promoted Donald Trump and
sowed divisions in the electorate by touching on cultural wedge issues.
Facebook’s leadership failed to identify and curve these propaganda operations on their site, raising questions about
the company’s ability to independently maintain a truthful and fair media platform for Americans to get information.
While this problem seems uniquely American, we need to point out that Facebook is a global
website. Nations across the world have experienced Russian disinformation campaigns through
Facebook over the past two years. It has been discovered that the Brexit campaign in the UK was
plagued by Russian social media influence, as well as the French presidential campaign.
While it’s majorly important that Russian intelligence is interfering in the elections of Western
democracies, there are places in the world where groups utilize Facebook for much more
dangerous outcomes. In Myanmar, the militant government in power is engaging in ethnic
cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims. This brutal violence against the Rohingya has been fueled,
in part, by misinformation and anti-Rohingya propaganda spread on Facebook.
In countries like Myanmar, social and governmental instability means that traditional news
outlets like newspapers and cable TV have much less sway with the public, something both
Patricia Kabra and Louisa Williams spoke to when visiting our class. Without these forms of
media, the public forum moves to open social media platforms like Facebook. Facebook has
become the primary news source for most citizens of Myanmar.
This sets up a huge problem: Facebook creates a massive, open public sphere and leaves
everyone else to deal with the consequences. As the New York Times put it: “Correcting
misinformation is a thorny philosophical problem for Facebook, which imagines itself as a
neutral platform that avoids making editorial decisions.” Unfortunately, like we saw with fake
news in the US presidential election, people seem to have a willingness to accept what they see
on Facebook as true. This means the government of Myanmar has been extremely successful in
alienating the Rohingya through misinformation campaigns.
For PD practitioners, this represents an information crisis. On one hand, Facebook is an essential
tool in the modern age to reaching broad audiences that you would normally not reach with
traditional media. On the other hand, Facebook is an untrimmed landscape ripe for
misinformation and deceit by those who want to manipulate public opinion.
Battling social media disinformation will likely become a common practice of public diplomats
around the globe. US envoys who want to maintain the US’s image abroad will most likely have
to deal with Russian backed anti-American propaganda campaigns. Additionally PD
practitioners will have to learn how to deal with the social and political upheaval that comes
when disinformation campaigns are successful in their host countries.
Resource: Facebook as a Tool of Global Propaganda
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s). They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.
by Samantha Cookinham and Meredith Hessel
Washington Post Contributor Bren Flanigan feels that the importance of the Peace Corps’ role in public diplomacy is forgotten with the budget cuts that President Trump proposed in the spring.*
Flanigan finds he, along with others in the Peace Corps are cultural ambassadors for the country showing interest in other cultures, showing the truth about American culture and showing a memorable impression of America.
While in Benin, he found that food was key to sharing culture. He cooked pizza for his host
family and celebrated the Fourth of July with A1 steak sauce and the Whitney Houston version
of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
These interactions helped with cultural diplomacy by “addressing questions like these gives Peace Corps volunteers the opportunity to shatter the stereotypes about the United States portrayed in television and movies.” Flanigan wants to influence societies not solely through intimidation or economic isolation, but through integrated cultural exchange because this will “endure through political administrations and fluctuating diplomatic relations.”
Soft power may be difficult to measure, but it is effective because it is memorable and able to
shatter stereotypes about America. These cultural exchanges are necessary to share diplomatic
relations through experience and genuine interest in cultures and traditions. People in the Peace
Corps are cultural ambassadors.* Flanigan’s reflection that Peace Corps volunteers are “for many communities… the real American ambassadors, the only ones they will ever meet, and the only ones they will remember.” This is similar to how Flanigan was welcomed by his host family in Benin with questions about the 2016 election. Their questions showed that they were looking for a refreshing first-hand account of what Americans think and if they agree with the rhetoric of the
Further, this emphasizes the importance of face-to-face or person-to-person public
diplomacy, as Peace Corps volunteers represent America and are “direct extensions of American
values and principles.” In all, Peace Corps volunteers strengthen an understanding of people and
cultural values between the U.S. and the country they are volunteering in.
* The Peace Corps “is a service opportunity for motivated changemakers to immerse themselves
in a community abroad, working side by side with local leaders to tackle the most pressing
challenges of generation[s].” As an independent agency within the executive branch that was
established by President John F. Kennedy through an Executive Order in 1961, the Peace Corps’
mission is to promote global world peace and friendship. The President appoints the Peace
Corps’ director and deputy director and the appointments must be confirmed by the Senate. As
an agency, it has bipartisan support in Congress, as both Democrats and Republicans and even
representatives and senators have served as volunteers. The Peace Corps’ budget is 1% of the
foreign operations budget and the annual budget is determined each year by the congressional budget and appropriations process.
You can learn more about the Peace Corps’ leadership and initiatives at https://www.peacecorps.gov.
*Bren Flanigan contributed to the Washington Post’s Global Opinions section on August 31
the-peace-corps-in-u-s-foreign-policy/?utm_term=.df698d912f8f) with his insights from serving
as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Benin.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s). They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.
In honor of the Centennial of Walter Roberts’ birth, the Institute for Public Affairs and Global Communication and the Walter Roberts Endowment organized a panel on Challenges in the New Public Diplomacy Environment.
Honoring Walter Roberts and Navigating the New Media Landscape: Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs, Frank Sesno, introduced the program by recounting the contributions Walter Roberts has made to public diplomacy in general and George Washington University in particular. Mr. Sesno described how the new media age has transformed our lives, changed the way we obtain and share information, how we organize, mobilize and win. Each person now sustains a unique news feed and serves as his or her own executive producer, which upends old assumptions. The notion of objective journalism, of gate keepers, and even the notion of fact itself is being challenged as never before. Changes in public diplomacy reflect these changes in the real world, which the four panelists addressed.
U.S. Media Diplomacy and Foreign Opinion: Emphasizing that there is nothing more practical than a good theory, George Washington University Professor Robert Entman presented an updated model showing how information cascades from elite government circles through the media to the public and back again in feedback loops complicated by the growing power of social media. It is difficult enough to explain when and why Americans support U.S. policy as leaders try to spread their interpretations or frames through a hierarchy of networks, complicated by the ability of leaders to now bypass gatekeepers such as the media by addressing the public directly through social media. Persuading foreign publics to adopt pro-American frames becomes even more complicated as more communication paths form. Foreign leaders and the elites need to be motivated and have the power to spread pro-American frames to their public and gatekeepers. The public needs to be receptive to these frames as well for public opinion to be moved. The challenge is particularly acute in countries and publics hostile to the U.S. but even in close allies the multiple paths and networks for information to flow complicate the mediated public diplomacy efforts of the modern diplomat.
Connecting People to Policy – Leveraging Digital Tools/Social Media to Advance U.S. Foreign Policy: Macon Phillips, Coordinator of the United States Department of State Bureau of International Information Programs described three challenges facing public diplomacy at the Department of State: 1. thinking of policy in terms of objectives. Setting well defined, achievable objectives allows one to have an effective strategy and to measure success. This involves moving from telling people what they need to know to what they need to do. 2. Identifying priority audiences to achieve these objectives, which will affect even something as minor as putting together the traditional guest list. 3. Maintaining relations. One must maintain relationships and develop trust. The thousands of alumni of our international visitor and educational exchange programs should be viewed as allies and not just alumni. Nurturing and maintaining relationships will inoculate contacts, making them more resistant to disinformation. This will allow the USG to be less reactive and more proactive – a much better strategy.
Reaching global audiences – A changing saga of platforms, paradigms, censorship and ever narrower echo chambers: André Mendes, Chief Information Officer and Chief Technology Officer of the Broadcasting Board of Governors André Mendes outlined three challenges. The first is budgetary, reaching out to the world while following Congressional and other mandates requiring continued investment in certain areas and technologies. The second is overcoming censorship with some of the most sophisticated censorship in the area of online software. BBG has the world’s largest anti-censorship operation with one trillion hits while continuing to overcome short wave and satellite censorship from countries such as Ethiopia and censorship of all kinds from countries ranging from Mali to Russia. The third challenge is the echo chamber effect, the fact that people naturally gravitate towards information they already believe in. The problem though is that every search we perform creates a micro environment as ads, articles, and preferences are directed to what we already like. The objective of online platforms is to make money by gathering clicks rather than to inform. Individuals from all corners of the world know that they can make money by generating clicks on our preferred platforms by writing articles that will outrage us even if not true. We are all willing accomplices by participating. Finally, Mr. Mendes described the progress the BBG had made in the last seven years, from 165 million monthly followers, mostly in radio to 270 million today, half TV and half radio and digital platforms. Given that this expansion has occurred under budget cuts of 150 million in an environment in which media in general is shrinking this is one of the world’s great success stories.
Public Diplomacy in a “Post-Truth” World: Andrea De Arment, incoming Information Officer and Spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu Andrea De Arment emphasized that diplomats need to make the tough transition from a reliance on facts and figures to the realization that most people paying more attention to what people care about: feelings, personal beliefs, culture and religion. To be truly effective, PD professionals need to be at the table when policy is being made to make the decision makers aware how a given policy will be perceived in various regions of the world. One cannot be served a plate made in the policy making sausage factory with the mandate to make people think it is delicious. Successful public diplomacy must engage so that diplomats don’t just push out information but listen to what is coming back. Digital diplomacy also needs to entertain in a strategic manner. Soft diplomacy grows audiences but one needs to go where the audience is to engage. This requires leaving the safety of the walled compound to engage with the public to close the last three feet to use E Murrow’s phrase.
Discussion Session: The discussion session revolved around issues of building trust both within institutions and with the public at large. Our partners can carry our message sometimes even more effectively than we can, which is particularly important when working with hostile publics. Diplomats need to use social media not only to transmit messages but to listen and to engage in the necessary give and take which builds relationships. The best way to inoculate oneself from Fake News is build relationships of trust and to be credible sources. To keep up with rapid developments, the State Department needs to move from a default clear to a default open culture, which will improve efficiency and motivate employees. To be effective, one must have well defined goals of what success looks like, which also allows one to identify failure more easily. One needs to change in order to survive but innovations should not be made for innovation sake but to more effectively support U.S. policy goals.
In a conversation moderated by IPDGC’s program director Janet Steele, National Security Council Press Spokesperson Emily Horne answered questions about her role in the NSC, its media strategy, and elaborated to students about her career path. Students, faculty, and industry professionals attended this event and were invited to join in for the second half of the conversation.
Emily Horne is currently an Assistant Press Secretary and Director for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council, where she serves as spokesperson for a range of foreign policy issues and advises White House and other senior U.S. government officials on media and strategic communications. Before joining the National Security Council she was the director of communications for General John Allen, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, where she built the communications strategy for the Obama Administration’s counter-ISIL efforts and traveled to over 30 countries supporting international efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL. She has also served as Spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, including temporary tours as spokesperson for the U.S. Embassies in Sri Lanka and Nepal. She began her career in government as an unpaid intern in the State Department’s Office of the Historian.
In an insightful and entertaining session on March 24th, U.S. Ambassador to the UK Matthew Barzun discussed the importance of engagement and networks in public diplomacy. Ambassador Barzun described how since almost all phones sold nowadays are mobile phones, the term itself has become an oxymoron. Barzun believed that the term public diplomacy was following the same trend line as the importance of public engagement increases.
To illustrate his point, Barzun asked the audience to describe which 130-year old company produced the first digital encyclopedia. The answer was Encarta, which was backed by the world’s most powerful and rich software company Microsoft. Yet this multi-billion dollar company was driven out of business by a ‘kid from Alabama,’ Jimmy Wales, who developed a bottom up model called Wikipedia, ‘the largest knowledge transfer engine in history.’
Barzun then asked the audience to imagine four squares along the following lines:
According to Ambassador Barzun, the magic was not going digital but going network and digital. But one could have very effective combinations of analogue and network such as conference calls. The key Barzun emphasized is to engage. Inside an organization one can be surprised what one can accomplish if rather than task people, one asks people for help. In public events the key is to listen, seeking not so much to be understood as to understand. “Outreach” or “reaching out” is not nearly as effective as engagement, which involves understanding and listening.
“If you listen, people will hear you differently,” he said. “If you repeat the pattern, good stuff happens.”
Answering a question about socio-media analytics, Ambassador Barzun noted that “things can be very precise without being accurate.” Judge the effectiveness of what is happening in the digital world by comparing the same to the analogue or real world. Computer or digital tools can be misused or overused. Twitter can allow an overuse of a broadcasting approach or power point can be overused to bombard audiences with information: “If power corrupts, Power Points corrupt absolutely.”
Ambassador Barzun stated that public diplomacy can build a reservoir of good will. You can fill the reservoir ‘a cup at a time’ or sometimes with a ‘hose’ and refill it when it gets punctured and fill it again. A positive example was President Obama’s dancing the tango in Argentina, which he said demonstrated humility and an interest in the local culture.
Ambassador Barzun closed by describing the image of the hierarchy, which could be described as triangles, with, for example, a Minister of Foreign Affairs at the top of the pyramid, and the circle of influences such as journalists to the wider public, which could be imagined as a cloud encircling the other two. We are living more and more or our lives online but engagement remains paramount. If one approaches challenges in a hierarchy mindset, one will fail just like Encarta.
Continuing our series in highlighting the interviews Walter Roberts conducted with former fellow Mark Taplin, this week’s installment features Walter discussing how Yugoslavia got a Fulbright program in the 1960s:
The New York Times also published an article in 1964 that discussed Senator J.W. Fulbright and former Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, William R. Tyler, pending visit to Belgrade the following November to sign the agreement.
By Mark Taplin, Former Public Diplomacy Fellow, George Washington University
In 2010, while I was assigned to George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs as a State Department Public Diplomacy Fellow, I had the good fortune to conduct an on-camera interview with Dr. Walter R. Roberts – a U.S. diplomat, broadcaster and scholar who lived a long, extraordinary life in public diplomacy.
The interview, which took place over two sessions in February and April of that year, was done under the auspices of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication (IPDGC), with the support of the university’s Documentary Center. The interview clips are now available on IPDGC’s YouTube channel.
Dr. Roberts first came to the U.S. in 1939 as a graduate student and refugee from his native Austria. He began his career at the Voice of America, at the very outset of the U.S. government’s wartime information effort. At the end of World War II, Walter transferred to the State Department’s Austria desk before joining the newly organized U.S. Information Agency in 1953. He served at USIA with distinction over two decades, occupying a number of senior posts in Washington as well as in Yugoslavia where he worked as U.S. Ambassador George F. Kennan’s public affairs counselor.
After his retirement from federal service, Dr. Roberts taught public diplomacy at George Washington University’s Elliott School, in what was certainly one of the first U.S. university courses devoted to the study of international information programs. He was a prolific writer throughout his life – on international broadcasting, on diplomacy, on Yugoslavia and on many other topics – and created a fund that supports the study of public diplomacy, the Walter R. Roberts Endowment.
Dr. Roberts passed away in June 2014, at 97, remarkably lucid and insightful to the very end. His seventy-some years of professional involvement in the field of public diplomacy were unprecedented; accordingly, his recollections and observations are particularly valuable to scholars and practitioners alike.
Dr. Walter Roberts, a veteran U.S. diplomat and pioneer of U.S. international broadcasting, died the end of June. This obituary is by Charles H. Dolan, Jr., a former vice chairman of the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, which Dr. Roberts served on.
Dr. Walter Roberts, an American diplomat and scholar who pioneered the practice of public diplomacy through radio broadcasts to Nazi Germany during World War II for the U.S. government died June 29 at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 97.
Dr. Roberts was born in Austria and was educated at the University of Vienna. In 1938, anticipating Hitler’s aggression in Europe, he (and his soon to be wife Gisela) left Austria and went to Great Britain on a scholarship to Cambridge University, from which he earned his Ph.D. In 1940, he emigrated to the U.S. and was working as a research assistant at Harvard Law School when the U.S. entered World War II.
While walking across Harvard Yard he was approached by Professor William Langer, who, with ties to the government said, “Walter you are fluent in both English and German, your country needs people like you to help with the war effort.” Without hesitation, Roberts signed on as one of the first employees of the newly created Office of the Coordinator of Information, which later became the Voice of America, in New York.
This early public diplomacy effort included broadcasts into Germany, starting in February 1942, called “Stimmen aus Amerika” (“Voices from America”) and included the pledge: “Today, and every day from now on, we will be with you from America to talk about the war. The news may be good or bad for us. We will always tell you the truth.” Throughout the war years and during the allied occupation, he was responsible for broadcasting credible news reports of both the successes and failures of allied efforts in Germany.
After eight years of service with Voice of America he was transferred to the Austrian Desk of the Department of State in 1950. While there he devised a way for the U.S. Government to make use of the its holdings of then unconvertible Austrian currency into a useable form while, at the same time, demonstrating the value of what would become “public diplomacy.” He employed the currency to fund the prestigious “Salzburg Seminar in American Studies.” He served on its board for over forty years. It continues to this day as the Salzburg Global Seminar, an innovative public diplomacy project that supports regions, institutions and sectors in transition.
In 1953, he was appointed Deputy Area Director for Europe in the newly created U.S. Information Agency (USIA). In 1955, he was a member of the American Delegation to the Austrian Treaty Talks that culminated in a State Treaty, signed in Vienna by the four occupying powers (U.S., Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union) on May 15, 1955 which ended the occupation status of Austria and restored its independence.
In 1960, he was appointed Counselor for Public Affairs at the American Embassy in Yugoslavia where he frequently interacted with President Josip Broz Tito, the Yugoslav revolutionary, Communist and leader of the non-aligned movement. Tito was very impressed with Roberts’ diplomatic skills and his scholarly knowledge of the complexity of the cultures and history of the Balkans, and invited Walter and his wife Gisela to many social functions.
With an impeccable memory not just for diplomatic issues but also the finer things in life, Roberts recalled, “Tito impressed me as a gracious host and an informed conversationalist. Witty at times, he seemed to enjoy recalling past events. He was elegantly dressed; his suit appeared tailored on London’s Savile Row.” Roberts’ recall for such details was extraordinary. Only several months before his death, he wrote about a dinner party he attended with Tito in the early 1960s at which the featured wines were “a Croation Cabernet and a Slovenian Riesling.”
Roberts was assigned as Diplomat in Residence at Brown University in 1966, and in 1967 he was transferred to Geneva to serve as Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. In 1969, he was appointed Deputy Associate Director of USIA and in 1971 was elevated to the Associate Director position, then the senior career post in USIA.
In 1973, his book Tito, Mihailovic and the Allies, 1941-1945 was published; it was praised by Foreign Affairs as “the best book on the subject.” It was highly controversial in Yugoslavia and banned as it shed light on Tito’s ambiguous relations with Nazi Germany. As a testament to its longevity, it was reprinted and released in the former Yugoslavia last year. In 1974, he received the Distinguished Honor Award from USIA. He retired from the U.S. Government in 1974 to take the position of Director of Diplomatic Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). His influence on America’s approach to public diplomacy is demonstrated by the fact that while he left the Foreign Service almost thirty years ago, he continued to be a major influence on the practice of public diplomacy until his death.
In 1975, he was called back into government to serve as executive director of the Board for International Broadcasting, which oversaw Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. In 1985, he retired for the second time from the U.S. Government and was appointed diplomat-in-residence at George Washington University, where he taught a course on “Diplomacy in the Information Age.” He presciently predicted in a 1986 New York Time article, “The communications revolution is going to be a major headache for the Soviet Union.”
A testament to his expertise in the practice of public diplomacy was the fact that two Presidents from different parties appointed him as a member of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. President George H.W. Bush made the initial appointment in 1991 and President William J. Clinton reappointed him in 1994.
In 2009, he received the Voice of America “Director’s Special Recognition Award”. While officially retired, he continued to write prolifically and speak on public diplomacy. In 2005 Roberts helped establish a Public Diplomacy Institute at The George Washington University, and generously created an endowment in his name for what is now the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communicatin
His work as a great communicator was recognized in a March 22, 1986 New York Times article which opened with, “It is Ronald Reagan who is known as the Great Communicator. But in the capital, the Government communicator with what is probably the longest and most comprehensive tenure is Walter R. Roberts”.
In his final major public appearance, at the Public Diplomacy Council Fall Forum last November, Dr. Roberts told an audience of more than 250 members: “On February 1, 1942, American public diplomacy was born. That was 72 years ago, seven weeks into the war… I have no idea what future communications media will bring to us, but of this, I am sure: that international broadcasting will continue to exist because it is an integral part of public diplomacy, and public diplomacy, of course, is an integral part of diplomacy.” There was resounding applause.
Dr. Roberts (born to the late Ignaz and Elsa Rothenberg) is preceded in death by his beloved wife (Gisela Katherine) and is survived by three sons (William, Charles and Lawrence) and daughters in law (Patricia, Valerie and Shavaun), 7 grandchildren (Sherra (Fritz), Chelsea, Trevor, Matthew, Kevin, Katherine, and Mark, and two great grandchildren.
On February 12, multiple peaceful-turned-violent protests erupted in the major cities of Venezuela. These rallies conducted by university students have snowballed into a national conflict between the state and its citizens. The students were pacifically voicing their discontent against the government for the innumerable injustices currently plaguing Venezuela. The mandate to arrest these students turned highly controversial and thus incited the monumental manifestations, teeming with violence, that have taken place over the past few weeks. The nation’s president, Nicolas Maduro, commanded militarized police authorities to inhibit the protests, which has regrettably resulted in many injuries and deaths.
These incidents simply add further lines to the long list of mistreatments of citizens by the Venezuelan Government. Although international media has been scant as the crisis unfolds internally, manifestations and pleas for support have now reached a worldwide audience.
However, as we know there are always two sides of the story. Instead of addressing or planning to resolve the issues tormenting Venezuelan citizens, President Maduro’s tactics included a massive campaign to portray his government, at least attempt to, as victims of a conspiracy plan to overthrow their regime.
Venezuela’s public diplomacy abroad
This week, President Maduro’s administration began strategic movements to diffuse their two important messages: first, that information reaching international audiences regarding the situation in the country has been manipulated and exaggerated by media agents; second, to convince the international public’s opinion that the United States is partly to blame for the instability in the country due to their intervention with internal affairs through supporting the opposition.
These approaches have been used both domestically and internationally. Within Venezuela, it has been easier to manipulate due to the government’s ownership over the majority of communication outlets, and the immense oppression of information over private or international ones.
One of the main global venues used to broadcast these messages are Venezuelan embassies throughout the world; mostly through their social media pages. Additionally, just this week the Venezuelan Chancellor for external affairs, Elias Jaua, has commenced a global tour in search for support of the current government and more broadly the continuation of the Bolivarian Revolution.
Have their public outreach efforts been effective?
The problem with Venezuela’s credibility is the shocking and inspiring number of demonstrations taking place in the country, as well as the increasing momentum gathering world-wide denouncing the events and actions taken by the government. What is being protested against President Maduro’s administration transcends above local needs; citizens demand fundamental democratic principles.
For instance, 1) media repression and the current control of information and media outlets, 2) Oppressing freedom of assembly by using militarized security force against protesters, and 3) jailing his opponents such as the incarceration of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. These tactics, historically used by authoritarian regimes, have made it difficult for President Maduro to hide violations and defend his so-called democracy.
The social, political, and economic conditions in Venezuela are favorable to the development and continuation of large-scale protests and discontent with the government. However, it is the hope all Venezuelans to see their government actively working towards the amelioration of the country’s conditions, rather than actively seeking international approval and support of their 15-year failed socialist revolution.
The United States’ role
The structural conflict that has allowed for institutionalized state violence is due in part because all opposition groups or organization voicing the smallest criticism against the Venezuelan government are silenced, rebutted, punished, or censored by the government or its supporters. Thereunto, the United States government is indirectly forced to opt for ambiguous remarks and denunciations against Venezuela; carefully wording its discontent against the actions and the situation as a way to avoid accusations of “invading in internal affairs.”
Yet, even when President Obama’s administration is selective in its statements, Venezuela’s government will take any hint of criticism as a window of opportunity to rally up “anti-imperialistic” sentiments among its supporters and the region. For example on February 17, after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made his remarks about the situation evolving in Venezuela, President Maduro expelled three U.S. diplomats from the country, claiming they were associated with and supported the opposition’s plot. Evidently, the United States responded with the same method. It is worth reminding the reader that the countries have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010, proving the dire diplomatic relationships between the two governments.
The United States’ public diplomacy goals in this complicated situation should focus on defending its image among Venezuelans. Through this, the ultimate long term objective is the improvement of America’s reputation among Latin America’s left-wing countries.
Oriana Piña is a graduate student at the George Washington University pursuing a M.A. in Global Communications, with a concentration in Latin American Studies. She is passionate about democracy, diplomacy, cultural understanding and international affairs. Follow her at @OrianaIntl.
The below message was distributed to members of the public diplomacy community via e-mail on Feb. 18, 2014 by the State Department.
On my first morning as Under Secretary, I wanted to reach out to our many friends and partners who extend, amplify and inform our public diplomacy. You are valued stakeholders in the public diplomacy community and I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself and share my vision for public diplomacy.
While I am new to government service, I feel I’ve been involved in a form of public diplomacy for much of my life as a journalist and editor. We are living in a new age of diplomacy and global engagement and America is leading that effort. As Secretary Kerry always says, “Diplomacy works.” Diplomacy can, and does, make the world a better and safer place, and every day, in thousands of different ways, America is engaged all across the globe.
Public diplomacy and public affairs have a vital role to play in our foreign policy and national security. We will continue to make sure that our public diplomacy is focused on advancing our foreign policy objectives and goals. To that end, I’m looking at a few priorities vital to our national interests.
First, two larger points about youth and technology that affect everything else.
Now some specific areas of focus:
Entrepreneurism: We are the entrepreneurial nation and our ability to innovate is one of our most valuable exports. It is also an integral and positive part of the American brand, especially with young people. Economic diplomacy is also a priority for the President and the Secretary. I intend to scale up programs that help entrepreneurs and start-ups around the world and connect successful American business leaders with aspiring entrepreneurs. We should be looking not only to promote economic opportunity but to do so among disadvantaged groups.
Educational Diplomacy: Higher education is one of America’s greatest strategic assets, and we must use it. Our educational institutions are laboratories of democracy, while English skills are critical to success in the new global economy. Our educational exchanges need to move into the 21st century and adapt to new technologies like MOOCs and new areas of expertise such as STEM so that they can continue their role as incubators of democracy. We need to use our leadership in technology and innovation to create young scientific and technological innovators – especially young women who have been under-served in this area.
Environmental Diplomacy: Secretary Kerry has stressed from day one that it will take nothing less than a global conversation to educate, inform, awaken and activate millions of people around the world about the environmental challenges the world faces – challenges which cannot be solved by any single nation. Whether it’s global climate change or the plight of the oceans, the Secretary is determined to help the President awaken our consciousness globally about a range of environmental issues. This requires a massive public diplomacy effort.
Countering Violent Extremism: It is vital to our national security that we provide people, particularly young people in at-risk environments, with alternatives to the misguided ideological justifications for using violence. We must confront distortion with reality and rebut lies with truth. We will expand and coordinate the State Department’s worldwide efforts to counter radicalization and combat violent extremist messaging.
Professional Growth: We cannot succeed unless our people are prepared and supported to succeed. It is critical that public diplomacy be valued as a core element of our overall foreign policy mission and that our public diplomacy professionals receive the training, resources and institutional recognition to ensure success in that mission. We need a new 21st century tool kit for public diplomacy. I am passionately committed to the growth and development of our profession.
These are big issues that require a focused alignment of resources, and sustained effort. I aim to reinvigorate public diplomacy, ensure our practitioners are on the forefront of technology, and keep public diplomacy an integral part of our larger policy goals. I am keenly aware of the robust contributions you can bring to our mutual interests. So I welcome your thoughts and seek your support. You are part of a broad public diplomacy network and your partnership is critical to successful, dynamic American public diplomacy. I look forward to meeting and working with you in the coming weeks.