public diplomacy

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When Policy Meets Public Diplomacy: U.S. losing its edge in attracting international students

china education fair

Chinese students attend an Education Fair at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to learn more about study abroad programs in the U.S.


U.S. public diplomacy efforts are about attraction, rather than coercion. A major variable in measuring “attractiveness” of the U.S. is through attitudes of potential foreign exchange students. The ability of the U.S. to attract bright minds from around the world has bolstered the country’s development since its inception and fuels the U.S. “melting pot” narrative. China is now the primary source of these foreign exchange students. The recent release of Institute for International Education’s 2016 Report revealed that numbering almost 330,000, Chinese international students comprise 31.5 percent of the total number of international students in the U.S. Sheer volume holds weight, but from a public diplomacy perspective, the numbers are less important than the attitudes behind them. Why do Chinese students choose to study abroad in the U.S.? Will this trend last? Research I conducted in 2015 concludes that unless the U.S. sees major education and public diplomacy policy shifts, we have reason to doubt it will.

In 2015, I completed an in-depth study of the evolution of Chinese students’ motivations to study abroad in the U.S. Its findings highlighted a need for the U.S. to foster policies that attract foreign talent as the web of international politics becomes increasingly multipolar. These conclusions ring true today.

The rapid influx of Chinese exchange students, who make up the majority of foreign students in the U.S., will play an unprecedented role in Sino-U.S. relations, as well as in the U.S. economy as potential future skilled immigrants. Through historical contextualization, observations at U.S. Consulate Guangzhou, as well as primary interviews of study abroad participants from the 80s, 90s, and today, my research concluded:

  • In comparison with students from the 1980s, 1990s, and even early 2000s, today’s Chinese students have a greater freedom of choice and the economic means to take advantage of that freedom of choice. To date, that choice has overwhelmingly been to study abroad in the U.S., but both quantitative and qualitative data suggest that trend is waning as students begin to consider other countries in place of or in addition to the U.S. as study abroad destinations. 
  • Though modern-day students make the decision to study abroad out of desire for a better education and personal development, practical factors dictate which study abroad location and program students choose. Factors that may affect a student’s decision include the cost of a program and a country’s immigration policies, which may become even more important in the future as developed countries reach equilibrium in terms of education quality.

The student exchange trends described above call for the U.S. to adjust its education policies to continue attracting foreign talent, a factor that is crucial to the economy’s continuing success. Giving international student policies a more important role is not a betrayal to the “America First” rhetoric on the rise. In a recent interview, Thomas Friedman described his new book as a “manifesto for the eye people”. The “eye people” are those who thrive in the middle of the hubbub of globalization and interconnectedness and draw power from it. The “wall people” are those who withdraw into extreme nationalism. To thrive, the U.S. needs to maintain its status as a hub of global leadership. America’s largest group of international students is beginning to perceive the eye-to-wall shift. When will we?

Click here to read the full study.

Life After Learning to Love the Tweet: Twitter Diplomacy in the Age of Trump


In April 2013, Foreign Affairs published “Social Diplomacy: Or, How Diplomats Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tweet,” written by digital communications expert and Columbia SIPA professor Alexis Wichowski. Four years later, we live in an era where the public, the media, even politicians and members of government, wake up every morning, furiously refreshing their smartphones to see whether the President of the United States tweeted, and if so, what the topic du jour will be for at least the first half of the day’s news cycle, and how much damage may have been done to a crucial alliance or to the stock market.

Wichowski wrote this article during a time when diplomats and governments shied away from digital media as a mode of communicating with foreign publics. Burson-Marsteller’s 2013 edition of “Twiplomacy,” a study that evaluates social media usage of governments, diplomats, and world leaders found that neither the U.S. Department of State, nor then-President Barack Obama were among the top 25 most-connected users on Twitter, indicating that although President Obama was among the most-followed on the platform (33,510,157 followers in Summer 2013), his tweets may not be reaching the “digital influencers” the office is hoping to reach. According to the study, a quarter of the world’s leaders unilaterally followed @BarackObama–meaning he did not follow them back. This practice is commonplace on Twitter for key “influencers;” Twitter users tend to have a higher ratio of followers to those they follow on the platform. African leaders were among the most controversial on Twitter. Countries like Haiti, which experienced an earthquake and a cholera outbreak two years prior, saw Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe use social media to bring attention to the plight of his people.


This map displays the relationships between the Twitter accounts of world leaders. (Map by Burson-Marsteller)

The world saw digital media’s revolutionary effect of connecting activists in Egypt, Tunisia, and across the Middle East in 2011, forever changing the way public diplomacy foreign service officers study political movements and craft diplomatic responses to them. However, the largest question mark looming over the future of digital diplomacy hangs over an Android phone in the hands of the man who lives in the White House.

There is no doubt that the 2016 presidential election and President Donald J. Trump’s tenure in office are altering our understanding of how candidates and governments will use Twitter and other digital tools to communicate, and will shape our understanding of the day-to-day governing practices of a president that is highly active on Twitter.

While President Trump (@RealDonaldTrump) has tweeted about many different topics since taking office, one of his tweets from December 2016 raised concerns among the American diplomatic community about the future stability of U.S.-China relations.

While tweeting about taking a phone call from a foreign leader in and of itself does not mean a diplomatic crisis is forthcoming, the public acknowledgement of praise from the leader of Taiwan signaled a potential departure from the U.S.’ decades-long adherence to the One China Policy. This caused a shockwave to reverberate through the media, prompting several explainers like this one from The Washington Post, and this one from The Atlantic. Whether this call was meant to change the diplomatic landscape the U.S., China, and Taiwan face, or the then-president elect did not consider the ramifications of his tweet, this is an example of Mr. Trump quickly learning the currency valuation of his tweets when conducting diplomacy.

More recently, President Trump used the platform to comment on tensions with North Korea, and put the onus of solving the conflict squarely on China’s shoulders. Below are tweets that were sent over several days that reflect a departure from the collaborative nature of the Six Party Talks-approach to diplomatically solving this issue.


President Trump is not the first world leader to stir controversy on the digital communications platform. In August 2014, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan’s Twitter account appeared to go on a random rant threatening war with neighboring Armenia.

However, it was later revealed that the tweets were excerpts from a longer speech that was later posted to the president’s website. These tweets were also from the English language account for President Aliyev, which indicates the audience for these tweets was outside of Azerbaijan and for a primarily English-speaking audience.

Wichowski’s assertion that diplomats stop dismissing the platform’s importance has certainly held up, even while the practices surrounding how diplomats use social media have changed. In Burson-Marsteller’s 2016 edition of Twiplomacy, the authors discuss the digital divide between those governments like the U.S., U.K., Mexico, and Nordic states, that have embraced digital media, and the few governments that still view digital communications as an afterthought. Today, social media is used by embassies, ambassadors, and even individual public diplomacy programs to communicate with foreign publics about a variety of issues. Ambassadors often use Twitter to “humanize” themselves to the public. For example, when Samantha Power was the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, she tweeted often about her love of the Boston Red Sox. Sometimes, she intertwined sports and diplomacy, like in the tweet below with a photo of Power and Henry Kissinger at Yankee Stadium.

Given that the landscape has changed so much Twitter since Wichowski’s article was published, here are a few recommendations for diplomacy practitioners to use when using Twitter to communicate:

Don’t try to make or change policy only through tweets: This may seem like an obvious suggestion, however, given that President Trump’s tweets were recently referenced by the North Korean regime as reason for a ratcheting up in hostilities, I’ve included it here. The nature of the platform is such that it purposefully limits the actual space for a Twitter user to express his or her point with true detail and nuance. Therefore, tweets should be used to highlight events or articles rather than be the sole platform to announce a shift in complex policy details.

Use well-made infographics and video: When working within the limited confines of 140 characters, it’s important to use every bit of space the platform gives to communicate with detail. This means using infographics and video to further communicate statistics and facts. For example the U.S. Department of State’s Exchange Programs Twitter account does an excellent job of combining media with tweets. Below is an example that promotes a program by highlighting due dates for the application by using links and an infographic:





Remember that Twitter doesn’t exist in a vacuum: Social media managers are often overlooked, or considered an afterthought in the communications process. Leaving them out of the overall strategy formulation is where mistakes are most likely to occur. By ensuring that the entire communications team views Twitter and other platforms as important tools in the communications toolkit, in addition to press releases, television spots and other press hits, is critical to an effective communications strategy. However, the converse is also true, especially if an ambassador or a head of state manages their own account. We saw a scenario regarding this suggestion break down when President Aliyev’s account tweeted out inflammatory tweets without linking to a longer statement or speech to contextualize them. Having a plan for if a tweet goes viral, for good or for bad reasons, is integral to an effective communications strategy. Keeping people in the loop regarding what tweets will be sent is critical to ensuring any response is coordinated and deliberate.

In the four years since Wichowski’s article was published, diplomats have undoubtedly learned to embrace the tweet, and even the SnapChat story, and the Instagram post. Practitioners no longer view Twitter as some “bizarre or childish revolution” as Wichowski said, and its impact on diplomatic relations and communications will only become more prevalent, especially due to “breaking news” nature of President Trump’s use of the platform. Given all of this, it is critical that diplomats and heads of state alike treat social media as a component of their communications strategy and not as a stove-piped communications apparatus.



Event Recap The Jihadi Threat in Europe: Insights from Belgium


Nearly a year after the Brussels attacks, the GW Program on Extremism, coordinated an event analyzing The Jihadi Threat in Europe: Insights from Belgium. The goal of the discussion was to promote thoughtful commentary from multiple perspectives on the Belgian approach to countering violent extremism and how such tactics might be implemented elsewhere. The panelists included Professor Thomas Renard from the Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations, Matthew Levitt who worked as an analyst on extremism for both the FBI and Department of State, and Cedric Janssens de Bisthoven, a representative from the Belgian Embassy in the U.S. Throughout the discussion, several themes continued to arise pointing to the reasons for such a large threat in Belgium, and their successes and deficiencies in thwarting the expansion of the terrorist community living within Belgium.

Source: Daniel Berehulak for the New York Times

Thomas Renard explained that part of the threat in Belgium comes simply from geographic location. Situated in between Germany and France, Belgium often serves as a stopping point for immigrants and refugees on their way to begin anew, or a final destination for those seeking a new beginning. The problem with this is that these immigrants often come to Belgium expecting a welcoming society filled with opportunity, but instead find a country that lacks integration and is grappling with social discrimination and ethnic prejudice. The jobs these people were hoping to find are not available and the dreams of upward mobility and social satisfaction in the West come to a screeching halt. The lack of integration cannot be fully attributed to Belgium nor the immigrants, yet it is evident that the failure has created societal divisions and tensions surrounding the various ethnicities living independently of one another. This social division plays into the ISIS call for offensive jihad, violence against non-Muslims in regions outside of the caliphate, making the situation very dangerous.

Image result for map of belgium

Source: Fact Monster Atlas: Belgium

Belgium’s size contributes greatly to terrorism’s ability to flourish. Recruiters and fighters communicate through a network which is substantially smaller than other large countries, thus eliminating the issue of proximity. Moreover, Belgium has the highest ratio of foreign fighters per capita and lacks the capacity and the facilities necessary to combat the number of foreign fighters re-entering the country. Generally, these fighters are thrown in prison. Yet because Belgium’s prisons are not large enough to contain all of these extremists in solitary confinement, prisons become an incubator for terrorists’ recruitment and plotting. Also contributing to the proliferation of Islamic extremists in Belgium, is the isolated communities which foster the development of homegrown terrorism. Salafism, a radical sect of Islam, is quite pervasive in Belgium and facilitates a growth in the number of radicalized people. Belgium’s strategy to prevent extremism is to develop a new narrative steering Muslims away from radicalization. This plan would include creating a distinct Belgian Islam to help people find solidarity within the Belgian community and cut ties with Saudi Arabia.

Cedric Janssens de Bisthoven told of how Belgian security and CVE policy has undergone many dramatic changes in recent years. Following the Brussel’s terror attacks, European laws on terror acts and arms proliferation have been modified. This reflects the Belgian emphasis on security and prevention of attacks rather than a soft power approach aimed at turning people away from terrorism. Another recent complexity involves the transfer of CVE responsibility from the federal government to regional systems. This modification can lead to problems in cohesion and ability to perform some of the more sophisticated measures carried out by the national government. Huge changes in security procedures. Cedric Janssens de Bisthoven from the Belgian embassy, spoke to the recent technological developments and their implications for the CT effort in Belgium. Telephone companies are now allowed to store metadata, making the hunt for terrorists more efficient. Additionally, there are efforts to make the database of suspected terrorists more accurate and well maintained. This improvement can help in other efforts to keep terrorists from travelling by air and crossing national borders. One area that is relatively cohesive, is the training undergone by police to help them recognize and deal with early signs of terrorism.

Matthew Levitt from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was eager to emphasize the ways in which Belgian strategies can be implemented in other nations. He cited the example of the terrorism prevention partnership between Columbus, Ohio and cities in Belgium. Additionally, the BRAVE program in Montgomery County, Maryland is adapted from the police training programs used throughout Belgium. Though other nations can take several lessons from the Belgian CVE strategy, it was agreed amongst the panel that in order for Belgium to succeed in its fight against terror, there must be a transnational European force to develop proactive solutions to the influx of foreign fighters and their transit across borders.

The Future of MOOCs in Public Diplomacy

The classroom’s matriculation to the web, where larger audiences can be reached and wider breadths of information are available, is a natural course. Such transformation has already taken place from casual discussion of academic material on blogs and forums like this one, to more structured and sophisticated online learning platforms like Khan Academy.

Since their arrival over fifteen years ago, MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, have not only been an interesting development in higher education, but an inevitable one.

While most MOOC courses originate from American universities, majority of MOOC users live abroad and welcome the often-free resource with open arms. In fact, the bulk of MOOC users are living in developing nations. This statistic is not lost to the U.S. State Department, who saw the diplomacy potential in these courses early on.

Back in 2013, as part of their EducationUSA program, the State Department began hosting MOOC Camps in U.S. embassies across the world. Today, foreign students enrolled in Coursera MOOCs, one of the largest online-education platforms, can still attend weekly meetings where Fulbright Fellows are ready to discuss their course material.

The MOOC Camp program even offers each student the opportunity to meet with an EducationUSA advisor one-on-one to discuss a continuation of their studies through attending college in the U.S.

As State Department officials described at the onset of the program, both MOOCs and MOOC Camps aim to ensure access to high-quality education where it is lacking so as to promote a more peaceful and prosperous world.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

There’s just one problem: we may be over stepping our boundary. While U.S. led MOOCs are benefiting millions of students on a global scale, they may be harming the long-term development of local education systems.

For instance, Kepler University in Rwanda, a U.S. accredited MOOC program, has advertised in the past its superiority over any other cheaper education option in the area. However, while Kepler may be beneficial to the few Rwandans who are able to pay the tuition, it simultaneously detracts attention away from pre-existing university programs and regional efforts to develop the education sector at large. (It’s the supposedly superior nature of private U.S. universities that’s left American public schools in the lurch).

At the heart of MOOCs, is the idea that those with knowledge should share it with large and diverse audiences, who without the Web, and without the knowledge being low-cost, would not have access to valuable information. It is a generous, selfless concept.

However, if the U.S. wants to build long-term relationships and genuinely benefit our foreign partners, figuring out how MOOCs can enhance local education systems, instead of just challenging them, is the issue at hand.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Unfortunately, not much progress has been made in this area since the issue’s emergence a few years ago. Currently, EducationUSA remains solely dedicated to connecting U.S. higher education professionals with international students, and familiarizing foreign institutions with the U.S. system of higher education.

Additionally, and unlike most soft power initiatives, the Department has the unique opportunity to measure the programs’ successes through completion rates and grades; there is truly little room for the lack of improvement thus far.

In order to continue providing access to quality education, while building soft power and promoting U.S. interests, the State Department may want to double down on the face-to-face components of their MOOC Camps and other online learning programs.

Despite the great proliferation of online learning, the power of face-to-face interactions suggest that person-to-person learning will never fade away and are crucial to student success. In fact, face-to-face interactions in concert with online lectures is what has led to better, widespread student engagement in online courses around the world.

By uniting students through face-to-face interactions, foreign education institutions can use MOOCs as a learning tool instead of a crutch. Simply by physically coming together, can individuals recognize their need for better educational spaces, greater technology, or even for more rudimentary school supplies, such as pen and paper. In these ways, attention toward local education infrastructure will be renewed and strengthened.

Additionally, the State Department should encourage greater face-to-face interactions between higher-education MOOC users. Instead of solely focusing on connecting U.S. higher education professionals with international students, the State Department should focus on connecting foreign higher education professionals to other foreign professionals.

By facilitating engagement amongst highly educated citizenry, the State Department would be facilitating conversation between that foreign nation’s leaders. The State Department might even consider curriculum for foreign diplomacy officers specifically and create a platform where MOOC users can design their own educational system. In these ways, MOOC learners could use EducationUSA to more effectively realize local projects. With meaningful face-to-face interactions alongside accredited course material, the possibilities are endless.

Combating ISIS Influence in the West Through Entrepreneurship

ISIS Fighters

No country is safe from the Islamic radicalization process. On November 13, 2015, three coordinated teams of gunman and suicide bombers attacked the busy streets of Paris, France. 130 innocent people were left dead, hundreds others were injured, and the Western world was left shaken. Although not the first incident, it was the largest scale ISIS attack on the West since the formation of the caliphate in 2014. Other ISIS linked terrorist attacks have followed, striking the countries of Germany, France, Belgium, and the United States. What is most startling is that these attacks were not conducted solely by Middle Eastern men and women jihadists, but by those born and raised in the West.

ISIS is able to manipulate the minds of individuals through targeted campaigns appealing to the weakness and desires of the most susceptible. The United States, as well as other international governments, have enacted programs that are designed to try and limit the influence of ISIS propaganda on those in Islamic countries. Little attention, on the other hand, is given to enacting policy to combat the radical message of ISIS in other Western states. However, based on the Suffran Groups statistics, Western countries have the largest proportion of Muslims joining ISIS compared to that of the rest of the world. While Western countries are combating the threat through their own domestic programs, there is still a need for international assistance. The threat of ISIS is of international concern, thus no country should have to combat the message alone.

ISIS and their recruiting techniques in the West

The Islamic State, or ISIS, is a Sunni Muslim jihadist group, whose main goal is to establish a sovereign, utopian society rival to the Islamic empire that stretched across the Middle East during the days of Mohammed. The establishment of said state is vital in the preparation for the Day of Judgement, or the end of the world, brought about through a great war with the West. Their membership is made up of foreign fighters and cells of supporters living remotely who have pledged themselves to the new caliphate. Without a constant flow of devout followers, the organization is unable to sustain itself. Gathering devotees from the Western countries only solidify the ISIS’s claim to legitimacy.

ISIS Flag.png

There is no one motivation or a way to measure all the reasons for joining ISIS. There are, however, common similarities that can be assumed to have an effect. Despite popular belief, data gives evidence that the majority of foreign fighters do not join ISIS necessarily because of poor economic conditions, but rather from the feeling of alienation within a community. As a result, many of these fighters come from Western countries, since Muslims make up the minority of the population and often discriminated against. The growing fear of radical Islamic terrorism in the recent decades leads to increased anxiety from the non-Muslim population, only increasing the divide between the two cultures. ISIS is able to exploit this weakness in Western society through all platforms of media; including newspaper and magazine prints, social media, blogs, texting apps, and videos. The desire to belong to something trumps reason. While counter messaging and censorship of ISIS material is important, focusing on helping the targeted audience has greater long term outcomes.

Entrepreneurs programs against ISIS

In order to combat the Islamic State’s influence over the West, focus needs to be on closing the societal gap that leaves a population alienated. One of the best ways in doing so is through entrepreneurship promotion. Success in entrepreneurship is not based on culture, but on the ability to exploit the needs of a general population. As a result, an emphasis is on finding similarities across cultural and socioeconomic standings. The United States Government has done lots of work in promoting entrepreneurship on both the global and local level.

The largest scale entrepreneurial event that the United States plays a major role in producing is the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES). This annual event began in 2009 during the Obama administration with the goal of supporting individual economic opportunity around the world. Here participants can showcase their creations and ideas, gain investors, learn from experts in the field, and develop relationships with fellow self-starters. While this program is important in connecting the general global community together economically and socially, it falls short in connecting the divided society at the state level. The program also supports over 1000 smaller scale initiatives and programs globally to help projects get funding, but the large majority of these programs are for, and located in, developing countries. Western countries are often excluded because there are seen as comparatively economically established. As a result, Western citizens are missing the cultural and societal implications participating in entrepreneurship programs can have.

The U.S. Embassy in France is one of the few United States State Department run programs designed for developing entrepreneurs in the Western world. With the support of French business INCO,   the program “Yes Oui Can,” was created. It provides the opportunity for young adults that have been marginalized in France for their lack of education to learn the tools in becoming successful entrepreneurs through a fun, social camp. The free two week long camp takes on twenty participants, aged 18-25, that have a business idea but lack the formal education and societal opportunities needed to get heard. Through an equal mixture of workshops and sports led by leading French and American experts, participants push themselves to their limits. When the camp is over, they enter back into French society with the means of combatting the cultural and societal division with confidence in themselves and a well-established goal.

Although these programs are considered successful, they are far from perfect. The greatest problem is that there are a limited number of people who can participate compared to the population that hopes to attend. Therefore, there is an overall limited influence had on a larger scale. Just knowing that these programs and events exist is not enough. The Islamic State is able to reach anyone that has access to the internet, which is well over the majority of the western population. Therefore, that is where the focus should be.

There is great material out on the internet teaching entrepreneurship, but because it isn’t heavily publicized, it is often overlooked.  Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are courses taught online by prominent universities aimed at unlimited participation and open access information. These courses range in length, price, and amount of time per week. For the novice entrepreneur, there are beginner classes taught by United States schools such as  MIT and UPenn, but also international universities like IIMB. There are also more advanced classes that help with the launch of a product or learning more about impact investing.  Although these classes can be useful, the majority are taught solely in English. As a result, the Muslim population either in Europe or the Middle East that only speak Arabic, or any language besides English, are at a disadvantage. In order for these entrepreneurship programs to be most effective, the State Department should work with these online course providers and adopt them to global Muslim population.


Afghanistan’s Water Crisis

On March 17th, 2017 the Trump Administration put forth its first budget outline.  Along with beefing up military spending and cutting back on government size, this initial budget asks for a 28 percent, or $10.9 billion, cut to the State Department’s funding and international programming. Leaders, such Senator Murkowski, saw this cut to global programs, as having the potential to bring forth a new instability internationally. Others, like Senator Lindsey Graham, criticized the priorities the Trump Administration seems to have, saying that these budget cuts and increases, “come at the expense of national security”. 

In this Trump era, especially with this new budget that increases America’s already swollen military budget, it is evermore important to operate abroad in a way that will satisfy our alliances, while working on our reputation with countries that may not look upon us too fondly. Continuing to build upon the relationships that we have with friendly countries abroad, while fostering new relationships, can work in the interest of American foreign policy initiatives by setting up new areas of allegiance in case of issues that may arise. Here I will discuss the example of Afghanistan to show how working with the population on a local issue can in fact better our relationship with the country, and benefit U.S. foreign policy in the long run.


Afghanistan has been ravaged by wars for decades, which has in turn heavily depleted Afghanistan’s water supply, and has destroyed most of the country’s infrastructure.  Consequently, less than half of the people in Afghanistan have access to clean drinking water.  What is more, more than 20 percent of the rural population practices open defecation in the same rivers where they get their drinking water, this leads to sickness and plays a role in the high infant mortality rate and relatively low average life expectancy that plagues the country. (Afghanistan’s Water Crisis, 2013)

The major advantage of the United States working with the Afghani people to help solve this issue would definitely be to help better the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States. This could become beneficial in the fight against ISIS in the future, by having more support from native people in the region. Especially if this support is bolstered using soft power methods, the Afghani population could be potential persuaded to work with the U.S. not out of fear but out of trust. Historically, the winner in guerilla warfare is usually determined by the support of the local communities. However, sentiment towards the U.S. is still low in the country, especially since one of the wars that ravaged the infrastructure and helped lead to the water crisis the country is currently in was one waged by America.  With this in mind, one proposed solution to the crisis would be working with the rural populations, through village and town leaders, to educate the masses about the importance of water sanitation.

USAID Afghan Sustainable Water Supply and Sanitation (SWSS) agents could meet with these local leaders and provide them with the information and training they would need to educate those whom they lead. The aim would to hopefully disseminate information about the safety issues related to unsanitary water consumption.  By working through Afghani local leaders, the hope would be that we could earn the trust of the heads of villages, while also ensuring the message gets through to people, as it would be coming from leaders they trust, instead of Americans.  Another option, of course, would be a top-down approach that works with the leaders of the country to disseminate information about water sanitation over the radio. However, this would require jumping through the loops of their media censorship by the Afghani government, and the restraints and requirements that would have to be met would probably render this plan not worth the cost.

SWSS had a program similar to this from 2009 through 2012, where they met with village leaders, assisted in education of those in rural areas, helped build bathrooms in villages that lacked them, and worked to achieve better access to clean water for Afghani’s in general. These programs have proven to better the health of the local populations. However, this program ended after 36 months. While it was beneficial, another campaign, like the one mentioned above, would only continue to help foster pro-American sentiment in the country, and assist those Afghanis who still, even after the great work SWSS did from 2009 through 2012, have limited drinking water access.

Campaigns, such as the two described above, may seem loosely connected to public diplomacy; however, these are huge opportunities to allow state department officials, and professionals in the public diplomacy field, to reach out to populations in order to bolster the reputation of the United States.  This could be achieved by grassroots campaigns where officials reach out to local leaders, who can then voice public support for the programs: through this channel work to establish credibility in towns and communities throughout the country. This could be advantageous, especially under the current administration, where so many of America’s past policy stances are being questioned, and the way that the United States interacts with the world has the potential to change drastically.  Grassroots projects where local leaders are invited to advocate for American policy of water sanitization in Afghanistan and spread the word locally in tandem with public diplomacy professionals is one of the best ways to protect the reputation of our country, and ensure support in other endeavors from foreign nations.


Crisis Management for Covert Disclosures: A Public Diplomacy Perspective

This is the second of a two-part series on intelligence leaks and public diplomacy. Read part one here.

According to Pew, in 2013—before the Snowden leaks—81 percent of Germans believed the United States respected the rights of its citizens. After the leaks that number fell to 58 percent in 2014 and 43 percent in 2015. Germany it just one example; it is clear that US intelligence community (IC) leaks impact the perception of the United States among foreign publics.

The problem: international cooperation

When countries have a negative view of the United States, they are less likely to cooperate on issues of shared interest. After the Snowden revelations, Germany ended an intelligence sharing agreement between the U.S., U.K., and Germany. While the canceled agreement was largely symbolic, it sent a clear message that Germany was less willing to cooperate with the U.S., even on issues of international security.

It also became that clear that Germany wanted a no-spy agreement with the United States, as German Chancellor Merkel made clear at a European Union summit. And while the way she sought to achieve that would have led to greater intelligence cooperation between Germany and U.S. through the Five Eyes agreement, her posture to her public perpetuated a lack of willingness to cooperate with the U.S.

Our globalized world is increasingly reliant on international cooperation. On issues like countering violent extremism, increasing economic prosperity, and promoting freedom and democracy, international cooperation is essential. In so far as it weakens international cooperation, intelligence leaks severely impact the United State’s ability to achieve these goals.

The solution: public diplomacy

The Snowden leaks are far from the only example; from Abu Ghraib to the mission to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden, clandestine activities impact the willingness of foreign governments to cooperate with the United States. Classified information and covert actions will become public—it is inevitable. While it is impossible to eliminate adverse reactions, an effective public diplomacy strategy can mitigate a potentially negative response from foreign publics.

Public affairs strategies may be able to relieve short-term pressure, but for them to be effective, a public diplomacy approach must have laid the groundwork.

We don’t know when intelligence will leak, so American diplomats should adopt a long-term public diplomacy strategy that will be ready to implement when the inevitable happens. The strategy must include directed exchange programs and targeted speakers and programming, all while relying on credibility with, and an understanding of, the local population.

image 4Recommendations: a long-term approach

Exchanges expose foreign nationals to the United States in a manner that make them advocates for U.S. policy abroad. Upon returning from exchanges, they become thought leaders and policymakers who have an outsize potential to impact their nation’s perception of the United States. Even without U.S. government cooperation these individuals will be more likely to sympathize with U.S. policy and are often positioned to influence public opinion.

Leaks about U.S. surveillance abroad, like what was revealed in the Snowden leaks about Germany, have obvious links to data and Internet privacy. The world is more connected than ever before and the IC is increasingly reliant on that kind of signals intelligence (SIGINT). The more we rely on SIGINT, the more leaks we will face, so U.S. policymakers should implement focused public diplomacy programs to mitigate the leak of those IC products.

Directed exchanges should skirt around without quite touching the leak issue. For instance, exchanges on data privacy and national security would prepare thought leaders in the country to understand the implications of leaks, the rationale behind the spying, and understand what steps can be taken to ensure privacy. Additionally, embassies could offer programming on protecting individual privacy on the Internet, host speakers to discuss privacy protection in the U.S., and bring speakers to explain what the U.S. has done to safeguard the privacy of Americans and foreign nationals.

These recommendations are contingent on credibility. Public diplomats must ensure the U.S. means what it says—closing the so-called say-do gap—to be effective messengers. The U.S. must strive to match its actions to its words by limiting data collection of foreign nationals where possible and understanding how important privacy is in foreign cultures. In Germany, the legacy of the Gestapo and the Stasi loom large, and thus invasions of data privacy are an extremely sensitive issue there. International audiences must understand that the promises the American government makes to them are credible; that means understanding their culture and building trust over time.

For instance, after the Snowden leaks about spying on Chancellor Merkel, the U.S. talking point was: “the United States is not monitoring, and will not monitor, the communications of the chancellor.” It is imperative that the public diplomats have fostered trust and built creditability so that message is believed.

anticipate crisesfoster credibilitydeveloped responsePredictive not reactive: a public diplomacy crisis management strategy

Effective public diplomacy strategies for dealing with IC leaks should anticipate crises, foster credibility and have developed response tools—that requires a long-term approach. The U.S. should increase funding to its existing public diplomacy programs, including new directed exchanges and targeted speakers, and empower public diplomats to inform U.S. policy at the embassy level and in Washington.

By including public diplomats in discussions before a crisis occurs instead of just bringing them in for the cleanup, they would be well-positioned to improve the image of the United States abroad, increase willingness to cooperate on matters of shared interest, and counter narratives that oppose U.S. policy or actions.

This strategy—one that is predictive rather than reactive—would increase international cooperation on countering violent extremism, trade and economic issues, and the promotion of freedom and democracy around the world. All the while it would be preparing the United States to combat the impacts of intelligence disclosures from a position of mutual understanding and cooperation, ultimately improving foreign public’s willingness to work with the United States.

Reed Elman Waxham is a B.A./M.A. candidate in Media and Strategic Political Communication at the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter @reed_elman for insight into the intersection of media and politics. This blog is the second in a two-part series on intelligence leaks and public diplomacy. Read part one from the series here.


Public Diplomacy Can Address Israel’s Crisis of Credibility Among U.S. Millenials


American millenials are increasingly viewing Israel negatively despite the strong relationship between the two countries. Public diplomacy by the Israeli government is demonstrably insufficient and Israel must respond to criticisms from the world community instead of withdrawing and facing inwards. To respond to the increasingly negative views of Israel among American millenials, the Israeli government should acknowledge Israeli crimes and changing Israeli policy towards Palestinians and Arabs, expand the Hasbara program, and expand the Taglit program.

Only by using public diplomacy to directly address the people most disturbed by these conflicts and the horrific human rights abuses of the Israeli government can we have an open conversation with them – and that is the only way Israel can expect to change the narrative of s

Israel Map

Image courtesy of the State Department website on Israel

ettlements and apartheid.

From March 26 to March 28, 2017, 18,000 Zionists flocked to D.C. to hear speakers such as Nikki Haley and Mike Pence attend informational panels, discussions, and presentations, and connect with people from around the country at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference.

However, it wasn’t the event itself that was widely publicized on campus and social media. Outside of the AIPAC conference, organizations such as IfNotNow and Jewish Resistance protested the Israeli government’s coziness with the Trump administration and its silence on the issue of settlements. According to Pew Research Center, 43% of millenials support Israel while 27% support Palestine, compared to previous generations, which support Israel by more than a three-to-one margin.

These numbers are a shocking departure from decades of consensus on Israel in foreign policy circles, but they mirror a larger global trend. A 2013 BBC Poll found that Israel was one of the most negatively viewed countries among global publics, beating out only North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran. Although often lampooned in media like The O’Reilly Factor, today’s young people will influence the future and are now the largest generation in America after overtaking Baby Boomers.

According to Gallup, there is an 18-point gap between older and younger Americans on Israel. This has been highly visible in increased progressive and youth activism during and after the 2016 election. This has increased the support of the BDS movement on college campuses. Other movements such as Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March highlight the Palestinian cause as an intersectional issue and an extension of their fight for justice. 2016 Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the first Jewish American to win a U.S. presidential primary and the most popular politician among young people, questioned the bipartisan consensus on the Middle East by calling for a more even-handed role for the U.S. and less military aid to Israel. Although several other factors such as increasing foreign policy political polarization and anti-Semitism absolutely play a role, the most important reason Israel is now viewed negatively by a loud 27% of millennials are the policies the Israeli government has pursued and the reaction to those policies.

Most importantly, the Israeli government needs to regain its credibility by changing both its actual policies towards Palestinians and Arabs and the messaging of those issues. None of these other issues matter if the Israeli government lacks credibility. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, during the last election, broadcast that “Arab voters are coming out to the polls in droves,” presumably so that his right-wing base would go vote out of fear. Netanyahu must see the impact of his statements on the public of the world and the United States, not just the Israeli public. Changing the tone of Israeli government messaging will take a concerted effort. Critically, the economic and military barriers preventing Palestinians equal opportunity must be eliminated before Israel can expect results. The current policy is cruel and indefensible; the onus is on Israel to change policy and regain credibility among U.S. millenials.

Another public diplomacy strategy the Israeli government can employ is educating the American public about the history of the conflict through Hasbara (explanation), which has been successful, but the program has failed to connect with a new generation. Those who understand the history could be less likely to see Israel as the villain. For example, although people still call for a unilateral withdrawal from West Bank settlements, despite the Israeli government’s attempt to do that in the Gaza Strip in 2005 in what was viewed as a disaster by even pro-withdrawal Israeli leaders and led to the election of Hamas. If young people are aware of the history of the conflict and the nuanced questions they are raising, they might be more likely to view the conflict with some subtlety.

This program would be much more credible if it explained the whole situation and not only the Israeli side. Israeli public diplomacy should support truth and historical accuracy by owning up to Israeli transgressions and encouraging those who are hostile to Israel in the world community not to view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as black and white. There are also those who are blind to Israel’s atrocities and choose to be in denial. The Israeli-American public diplomacy approach should be to ask both parties to live in ‘the gray area’ and come to the table to address these issues without seeing the other side as the enemy. For those who see the conflict in stark terms of ‘oppressor’ and ‘oppressed’ and aren’t exposed to the nuanced historical context of the issue, it is easy to see Israel as the villain. That narrative cannot be the dominant one in such a complex conflict.

Finally, a public diplomacy program that should be expanded is the Taglit (Birthright) program, one of the most successful cultural exchanges in the world. According to their website, Birthright is now the world’s largest educational tourism program after only being started in 1999. This program should be expanded to include more people, as it currently only allows those who moved away from Israel before the age of 12 to return for birthright. The program is also restricted to 18-29 year-olds currently but there are many younger Jews that would go on the program earlier and could spread the word about it to their peers before they go to college. The program has faced controversy at times for ignoring the Palestinian issue., The Taglit program should discuss and reflect on the history of Israel and human rights violations, including recent ones.

As shown through polling and the activism of youth in recent days, views on Israel are changing in the millennial generation. Addressing that issue should be a key goal of Israeli public diplomacy and they can begin to do that by changing the policies and messaging and through improving existing programs. Only through renewed attention to the issue and key changes in public diplomacy strategy can Israel change the existing narratives among young people.


4 Tactics for PA, PD, and Principal Officers on Twitter


Both public affairs (PA) and public diplomacy (PD) officers have the privilege of representing a greater principal actor in whatever position they hold. This was the case with President Obama, having Samantha Powers one of  his PD officers, and Josh Earnest as one of his PA officer; it is also the case with President Putin in Russia, and it is the case today under President Trump. However, the communication channels have changed for each of these actors in the new administration with the prominent role social media now plays, particularly Twitter, when speaking or tweeting with foreign and domestic publics. The constant use of the platform by President Trump has allowed him to create a sense of personal connection with reporters, constituents, and even international leaders, alluding to real-time and unfiltered content, but also weakening the role of the PA and PD officers who have a pervasive role of communicating policy. By analyzing the tweets from the current administration’s officials, President Trump (@POTUS), US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley), and Press Secretary Sean Spicer (@PressSec), each will give inside unto how the three should represent themselves and their policies on a social media platform such as Twitter.

The “I” in Team

President Trump has a unique role apart from the others because of the fact that he initiates the policies the other two advocate. For this reason, it is incredibly important for anyone in the role of the principal actor, as he is, to speak directly for himself. Out of the 238 tweets sent out in the first 70 days of the administration, 47 of which seem to be written by the president himself (using I, my, or me). In comparison, Spicer never used a pronoun in reference to himself, but Nikki Haley did. Seven of her 74 tweets in the same time period were about topics related to herself, from moving to New York to meetings she held. These personal pronouns are important for public diplomacy officers because of their ability to provide independent perspectives on the role they represent – this simple communication tool allows an audience to perceive a unique voice. Had Spicer or a public affairs officer used these pronouns, his primary audience of reporters would no longer use him as a source who is close to the principal actor they truly want information on.

Distance from the Principal

25 percent of the active user population on Twitter are journalists, therefore allowing Spicer the opportunity to speak with his most direct audience quickly. His credibility as a PA officer, comes from two things: proximity to the president, and ability to control the message of the White House. This represents the 129 tweets out of 225 total related directly to the president. The second aspect however, as mentioned above, can sometimes be interrupted when the principal actor, or President Trump in this case, tweets his own messages without putting a message through the office of the Press Secretary. Not including the messages using personal pronouns, the @POTUS account wrote 144 more in third person or spoke about the administration more broadly. On the other hand, Haley is also able to distance herself. Although she does represent the government which the president leads, as a principal officer, or head or a mission, she can refer to him less, as can other PD officers reference principal actors less, as seen in her two tweets about the president.


In addition to the importance, or lack, of showing personal use of the account, it is equally relevant to discuss mentioning personal topics on particular accounts. PD officers have the greatest ability of the three to show personality through their tweets because it allows them to portray to their followers knowledge of culture in their host country. Haley tweeted 25 times about topics such as her new favorite song, a television show she just watched, or her dog, Bentley. As she is representative of her own perceptions of the US actions, she is not as subservient as Spicer does to the President. Spicer does not have any tweets about personal matters. President Trump has one tweet about the Super Bowl, even signed DJT which occurs in seven other tweets – three of which were about the US generally, two about his role, and two about the media. While the principal actor may show personality in his tweets, as in the case of the Super Bowl, the 47 tweets mentioned above that speak directly about the president are a better use of this tactic. This allows any communications officers to direct audiences to the tweets for official opinions about important topics.

Foreign publics

While there are many other ways to analyze the tweets of leaders, from work related topics, family related, relaxed use of hashtags, etc., the last topic of importance to the PA, PD, and principal agent is communication with foreign leaders. As Twitter has a world-wide platform, it is impossible to contain messaging to just one part of the world. Therefore, a large part of tweets should be directed at foreign publics, but in different ways for each of the roles. From a PA standpoint, with the example of Spicer, it was appropriate for the small number of 19 tweets to discuss foreign affairs or meetings held with foreign leaders because his position is not to represent the foreign publics, but the principal. An even smaller number however, was that from President Trump. Only nine of his tweets related to issues of other countries. This may be due to the fact that he is yet to travel out of the country and is only taking meetings or calls in the US. Haley on the other hand had 33 percent of her tweets focused on foreign leaders and publics. This increase is due mostly to her face-to-face interaction with foreign diplomats every day. The real reason is the Haley’s mission is to represent the U.S. to foreign bodies, whereas Trump as part of his America first doctrine has focused mostly on domestic issues. However, this can also lead to problems when overlapping with personal content such as f the tweet from March 8, 2017, “On what will be an intense day on N. Korea and Syria, this was a sweet way to start the day…”Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran. Happy Wed!” This could be seen as inappropriate when discussing such a serious topic.

Changes to make

From each of these four factors, there are many tips for future PA and PD officers as well as their principal actors. Social media can spark revolutions, but it can also be misconstrued. For example, on February 9, 2017, Spicer spoke at a daily briefing when he received a question about why the president tweeted one topic, but not another to which he responded, “you’re equating me addressing the nation here and a tweet?” As a spokesperson for the principal, PA officers must simultaneously contain a message, while maintaining credibility. Not only were the tweets of his principal actor discredited, so was the method, and the message at large.

On another note, to spread a message on a world-wide scale as Twitter can, it is important to connect with the audience you want to see the message. In many cases, this is foreign publics, whether these actors like it or not. Because seventy-nine percent of Twitter accounts are held by users outside of the United States, and over 68 percent of world leaders hold accounts, it is important for each to follow and be followed by foreign leaders. President Obama was criticized for following only three foreign leaders – Nikki Haley is following Prime Minister Netanyahu aside from President Trump, Spicer is only following the president, and President Trump is not following any foreign leaders.


Clean water should be a priority for the State Department


Pictured is a Darfurian woman using a water roller to bring water back to her household from a well Courtesy of UNAMID ©️2011

We all know that water is essential for life. Living in a developed country, many may forget how challenging it is for some to obtain sufficient amounts of water daily. In states in sub-Saharan Africa, access to clean water is limited. Trekking out to a clean water source is a job passed onto women and children, especially young girls, leading to a gap in education. According to the State Department, 800 million people globally, approximately two and one half times the population of the United States, are lacking accesses to clean water. The Department of State is not doing enough to promote programs that fund clean water initiatives and should be doing more. The advantages of doing so would help promote American interests abroad in states that are currently not receptive to western influence. In this blog, I will lay out a public diplomacy strategy that the State Department should take to promote clean water programs, and how said clean water programs will help the State Department build relations with states negati
vely affected by the water crisis.

Currently, the State Department has one active clean water program listed on its website, and it is with the People’s Republic of China. The program is run interdepartmentally with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Manufacturing Engineering Partnership, which is a part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The ten-year project is meant to be a mutually beneficial learning experience for both the United States andChina; to learn how to keep water sources clean and deliver it to communities effectively. This program is not enough, however.


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

One of the biggest players in the clean water game is the Coca-Cola Company. Through their initiative, they have 248 projects in 71 countries. But have you e
ver heard about these accomplishments? Probably not. But now, aren’t you more likely to purchase a Coca-Cola product after learning that? Executives at Coca-Cola must have decided that their domestic marketing money is better spent advertising their products rather than their philanthropic accomplishments.

The programs that Coca-Cola have in place generate good will both locally and globally.  Coco-Cola even posted a self-critical article on their blog, Unbottled. The mere fact that the company posted about how they are viewed critically on a website designed to be viewed by investors signals that they are interested in helping the issue.

The State Department needs to think of itself the way Coca-Cola does, focus on building good will and being at the front of the mind when one thinks “helping other states.” How could the United States government go about doing this? Securing funding would be difficult, especially given the fact that soft power initiatives have always been relatively unpopular in the U.S. The best way to go about promulgating clean water initiatives is to reach out to the biggest player and offer them what they don’t have, access and . The State Department has the ability to work in concert with foreign governments to get programs—like clean water—off the ground.

Coca-Cola does not have the power of the United States government behind them, even though they are a very large company. But they do have the money ad ability to spend that the State Department does not have. The match is seemingly perfect.


Courtesy of Jay-P ©2007

What does the Coca-Cola Company stand to gain from a partnership with the State Department? Publicity and positive messaging for their corporation. The State Department should hold competitions domestically to come up with ideas for names for this clean water initiative, and while doing so, make the Coca-Cola brand front and center. Many people will be exposed to this advertising, giving Coca-Cola an incentive to play ball. Plus, Coca-Cola has partnered with institutions on public diplomacy programs in the past, like this one inviting several Chinese students to learn U.S. foreign policy.

What programs can result from a partnership between Coca-Cola and the State Department? The State Department offers convening power while a large corporation like Coca-Cola offers money. One program that the two could partner on would be a multiplatform marketing campaign internationally urging people to donate to clean water funds. Coca-Cola would be able to fund such an effort while the State Department would be able to reach a wide audience internationally through its embassies and connections abroad. This program would signal to a foreign audience that the United States cares about those who face water insecurity.

Another possible program could be a competition among university students in the United States to come up with infrastructure solutions to the water crisis abroad. The incentive for the student to participate would be a scholarship provided by Coca-Cola or another large corporation. The State Department would judge the contest and implement the best solution from it based on which entry would be the most viable. This program would crowdsource some of the best minds in the United States to work on a solution. It would also promote the United States abroad by showing that young people are invested in helping the world.

Lastly, the State Department and Coca-Cola could take Coca-Cola’s money and distribute it to various clean water charities and NGOs to help fight the water crisis. This solution would offer Coca-Cola to have its name all over the projects and the State Department could use this opportunity to build relationships with NGOs that it might not be close with. This solution, while not the most creative, would provide for the advancement of promoting the United States to foreign audiences while helping people around the world who need clean water.

Of course, the corporation in question does not have to be Coca-Cola, and the State Department would have to open this partnership opportunity to everyone, including competitors such as PepsiCo (who do have a clean water program, but provide less information about it than Coca-Cola Co.). I have used Coca-Cola as the example in this blog because they are one of the biggest corporations that have expressed interest in the clean water issue.

The most important thing that the State Department can do is promote this issue. There is not enough coverage on this issue in the news because the agenda-setters have not called any attention to it. This issue is so important that a woman was willing to attempt to walk 12,000 kilometers across the African continent to raise awareness for the clean water issue. The only coverage it got was on Voice of America, The Huffington Post (for which she was a writer), and her hometown news affiliate. The Department of State partnering with a large corporation like Coca-Cola can bring eyeballs and pocketbooks to the issue of clean water funding.

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