Selling America--Short

Selling America--Short

Mini Teaser: America's public diplomacy stinks. It's time to learn some lessons from the Cold War.

by Author(s): Jeffrey GedminCraig Kennedy

THERE WERE calls for an end to "U.S. warmongering." Washington had been overtaken by "a small clique of hate-mongers", claimed one speaker. American unilateralism was denounced. The United States itself had turned into "a state of holy terror", argued another speaker. The current administration was bent on a new "world war", contended still another.

No, these are not statements from a recent anti-war, anti-Bush rally. They are remarks given at a 1949 conference, convened to condemn U.S. policies toward the Soviet Union. Prominent literary and artistic figures from the United States and Europe, including Aaron Copland, Norman Mailer and Dimitri Shostakovich, played an active role. So when a senior French minister today calls the American President a "serial killer", or when a counterpart in Germany compares the U.S. leader to Adolph Hitler, it may be useful to remember that such strident expressions of anti-Americanism are hardly new.

The United States today has a public diplomacy crisis--not just in the Islamic world, but in the heart of Europe. America's traditional allies--those who stood with it in the fight against communism-are turning against the United States in droves, and little is being clone to stop or even slow this anti-American stampede. Instead of stumbling about trying to explain America to the world, the United States needs a serious campaign to open European minds to our positions. And, in order to determine what this campaign should entail, it may be useful to draw lessons from history.

After World War II, U.S. officials were forced to think hard and creatively about how to respond to a vigorous Soviet-sponsored peace offensive. The American challenge was to win hearts and minds in Europe. The result was, among other things, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, counter-conferences over the next two decades, the political opinion magazine Encounter and crucial alliances with leading intellectuals like Melvin Lasky and Sidney Hook. The Ford Foundation and other charitable organizations were enlisted in a concerted effort to portray American culture in a fair and positive light. While it is true that some intellectuals abandoned their communist sympathies over time, they did not shed their cultural anti-Americanism. One Ford Foundation official noted in 1959 that Europeans "spent a lot of time worrying and stewing and griping about American domination, about the inferiority of our values and so on." This campaign, now often maligned incorrectly as a "CIA front", did not win over every European intellectual. It did, however, nurture a nucleus of thinkers and activists who were open to American ideas and willing to engage in serious discourse on the major issues of the day.

As the Cold War entered its final decade, America's reputation struggled once again. In the early-1980s, one poll showed that half of West Germany's population was eager for more independence from the United States, and nearly two-thirds opposed the stationing of new missiles on German soil. As the peace movement gathered steam across Western Europe, Kenneth L. Adelman lamented in a 1981 issue of Foreign Affairs that "a penny wise and pound foolish" strategy of public diplomacy had resulted in "America's disengagement" from its closest allies. Josef Joffe, writing that same year in those same pages, argued that "the few premises still shared by Europeans and Americans are dwarfed by the many disputes where they clash not only over tactics but over Weltanschauung." Perhaps not coincidentally, the successful public diplomacy of the 1950s and 1960s was abandoned in favor of softer, less controversial approaches like the Fulbright program. This was one of the more foolish errors of our time.

Some Americans and many Europeans would like to explain the rise of European anti-Americanism today simply as personal loathing of George W. Bush. But the current round of problems in U.S.-European relations did not begin with Iraq. French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine was complaining about the American "hyperpower" in 1997. Capital punishment, it was alleged in the 1990s, represented evidence of America's cultural inferiority, just as the Clinton Administration's rejection of the anti-landmine treaty was proof of America's unilateral tendencies and disdain for international agreements. Though the United States had a kinder, gentler secretary of defense in the 1990s, the German weekly Der Spiegel complained nonetheless: "Americans are acting, in the absence of limits put on them by anybody or anything, as if they own a blank check in their 'McWorld.'"

Recognizing that the United States was losing public support in Europe and elsewhere, Clinton, in the final year of his presidency, established the International Public Information Group. Part of its mission was "to address misinformation and incitement" about the United States and its foreign policy objectives. Today, the Bush Administration has followed suit, establishing a White House Office of Global Communications. "I'm amazed that there is such a misunderstanding of what our country is about", the President himself has remarked. "We've got to do a better job of making our case."

MAINTAINING the Atlantic Alliance today is arguably a more formidable task than ever. America and Europe have already grown apart in some ways, quite naturally. The September 11 attacks transformed the foreign policy debate in the United States and generated healthy arguments about America's global priorities, the relevance of Europe and the purpose of the Atlantic Alliance. For our west European allies, the end of the Cold War meant the end of Cold War dependence. "Old Europe" has sought to renegotiate its relationship with the United States ever since the Berlin Wall fell 14 years ago. It is important to think creatively about how the United States should engage Europe in the postCold War, post-9/11 world.

To address the fimdamental source of this problem, both sides must recognize that the argument contained in Robert Kagan's Policy Review essay, "Power and Weakness", is right. In important respects, America and Europe have parted ways. There are serious differences indeed, not only in tactics but Weltanschauung. In a recent survey of American and European public opinion, 79 percent of Europeans and 88 percent of Americans said that they believe major transatlantic cultural and social differences exist. On the necessity of war to deal with serious international problems, less than 50 percent of Europeans (as opposed to 88 percent of Americans) believed military force could be a means for achieving justice.

But there is some silver lining within this dark cloud of public antagonism toward the Unites States and its policies. Europe remains an important strategic partner of the United States, as evidenced by the twelve European countries that supported America in the Iraq War. Great Britain retains its special relationship with the United States, and NATO has found a credible role in Afghanistan. Attorney General John Ashcroft and German Interior Minister Otto Schily have become close partners in crafting a common domestic counter-terrorism plan. European Union policy has shown signs of convergence with the United States on the containment of Iran's nuclear program. In promoting global free trade, moreover, despite fierce competition, there is still far more that unites America and the European Union than divides them.

Can this level of cooperation be sustained in the face of growing anti-Americanism in Europe? Will a future British or Spanish or Danish prime minister be willing to put his political life on the line if the United States does not make at least a modest effort to dampen public antipathy to American policy? Though winning hearts and minds in the Muslim world is undoubtedly necessary, remaining indifferent to those of our European allies is a terrible risk to run. After all, psychology is just as important as politics and ideology in understanding the current European milieu. Thomas Friedman has argued publicly that, in the context of the Muslim world, a feeling of humiliation is perhaps the most underrated factor in foreign policy. If this is so, then envy and resentment, especially in the case of our European partners, surely can be counted a close second.

Post-Cold War Europe has its ambitions. It yearns to be an equal partner to the United States while, at the same time, it knows its capabilities, especially in the military realm, continue to lag far behind. It is incumbent upon Europeans to address this imbalance of power by building themselves up and not tearing America down. Yet the United States must also do its part to make the disparity in capabilities more palatable by building a base of support for active engagement with America. Candidate George W. Bush once spoke of the need for a "humble" approach to the world. More than a hundred years after Teddy Roosevelt coined the phrase, Americans still have much to learn about speaking softly and carrying a big stick.

Revitalizing Public Diplomacy

THE UNITED States should adopt four tactics to advance its strategy of stemming the loss of public support among Europe's elites and common citizenry. First, senior officials must accept that public diplomacy is an integral part of U.S. foreign policy. There should be a clear understanding of the need to address legitimate European concerns. The signal that such a campaign for public opinion is crucial must originate with the president.

Second, senior administration officials need to travel and be willing to engage in serious debate with America's critics abroad. This nation's allies complain that top U.S. officials were conspicuously absent in major capitals during critical moments of the Iraq debate. In March 2003, the British magazine, the New Statesman, observed with disappointment that Secretary of State Colin Powell "rarely ventures out of the country." In addition to increased travel among administration principals, the U.S. government must ensure that it has ambassadors in key countries who are wilting and able to participate actively in local debates over U.S. foreign policy. Delivering canned speeches and hosting ceremonial events are not enough; America's ambassadors must have the rhetorical skills to debate their nation's critics in all international public fora, including television.

Third, adequate financial resources must be made available. Adelman noted this problem in 1981: "Since 1954", he wrote, "the number of American information officers in Western Europe, individuals whose task it was to explain U.S. policies there, had declined by 80 percent." Proponents of this draw-down argued that sufficient information about the United States was already available through private sources and independent media (the same arguments made nearly two decades later when the State Department finally subsumed the U.S. Information Agency in 1999). Such arguments fail to convince. In 1994, Walter Laqueur wrote in Foreign Affairs that a single company like Philip Morris spent more on advertising in one year--$2 billion--"than the combined budgets of all U.S. agencies, official and semiofficial, engaged in public diplomacy." Since then, resources have further dwindled, as the need for public diplomacy has sharply increased.

Finally, the United States needs a renewed debate on what form effective public diplomacy should take. Unlike the marketing campaigns of Philip Morris, the primary goal of U.S. public diplomacy cannot be merely "to sell" the product of American foreign policy; it must offer explanations of, and facilitate open debate about, the ideas underpinning those policies. This kind of approach represents the United States at its best and gives Americans the best chance to persuade others of a particular policy's merits.

Failure to recognize this fact was reflected by the ill-fated appointment of Madison Avenue advertising executive Charlotte Beers immediately following the September 11 attacks to serve as the Bush Administration's top official for public diplomacy. Powell defended her appointment at the time by saying, "There is nothing wrong with getting someone who knows how to sell something. We are selling a product. We need someone who can re-brand American foreign policy, re-brand diplomacy." Besides, he added, "she got me to buy Uncle Ben's rice." By the time Ms. Beers resigned last year, this slick new style of marketing America had made little headway with U.S. allies and ambivalent Arabs.

Traditional diplomacy can only go so far. The United States must bring its case to European publics more effectively, both to advance their understanding of U.S. policies and to support those European political leaders and intellectuals who are willing to take the increasingly unpopular stand of backing America. In each of the ten countries that supported the U.S. position on Iraq, public opinion was mostly unified and strongly opposed to the U.S.-led intervention. It may be that more effective public diplomacy, increased shuttle visits by top officials and clearer, more cogent explanations of U.S. positions could at least mitigate the hostility that erupted recently against the United States. In the case of Iraq, a senior White House official conceded to one of us, "It was the American President versus Saddam Hussein, and the Iraqi dictator won in the court of world opinion."

This was not for lack of ammunition on the American side. The United States has undertaken many "Europe-friendly" initiatives, and communicating them during this same period would surely have helped win the struggle for European public opinion. President Bush conferred with the Europeans on Bosnia and Kosovo during his first year in office and refrained from withdrawing American troops. He followed Europe's advice again with regards to Russia, pursuing greater partnership and constructive dialogue with President Vladimir Putin. In addition, Bush has launched a major initiative to combat AIDS in Africa. He has called for a major increase in the foreign aid budget. He has worked assiduously to reach out to America's Muslim community, repeatedly declaring that the war on terror is not a conflict with Islam itself. The President has paid his country's UN arrears, announced the United States would rejoin UNESCO, tackled Afghanistan's problems with a multilateral coalition of ninety nations and sought, at least initially, to resolve the problem of Iraq at the UN Security Council. That little of this news has penetrated European debates was sorely evident when the Italian newspaper La Repubblica described President Bush as "Texas's 'eternal youngster'", arguing that he sees the world as "his family ranch, full of mustangs to tame with America's lasso."

If there is a need to get good news out, there is an equally pressing need to knock down slander of the United States in a comprehensive and timely fashion. Misled by their own media and mischievous politicians, many Europeans still believe Americans have tortured prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay facility. European outrage exploded after the Pentagon mistakenly released a photo showing prisoners shackled and blindfolded--reasonable precautions taken while the detainees were being transported. Everyone seemed to hear voices like those of Spain's El Mundo, which decried Guantanamo as reminiscent "of the torture centers in Eastern Europe during the Cold War." No one seemed to hear the voices of Red Cross workers and French and British representatives who had visited the detainees and found no evidence of mistreatment at all, as Joshua Muravchik noted in the December 2002 issue of The American Enterprise.

Even in influential European circles, considerable misinformation persists about America and the looting of the Iraqi National Museum, about alleged U.S. atrocities in Afghanistan and about America's role in Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction program. When a Vanity Fair reporter mischaracterized an interview conducted with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in May 2003, headlines around the world proclaimed that a top U.S. official had finally admitted the truth: the intervention in Iraq was really about American greed for oil. It should be the job of American public diplomacy to challenge such shoddy journalism before popular opinion on a given issue is allowed to solidify.

TRADITIONAL diplomacy is not quick and deft enough to address these challenges, Foreign Service Officers frequently lack the necessary skills for such tasks, and institutional constraints often inhibit "rapid reaction." On a range of issues--such as the need for pre-emption, the development of international law, the prospect of reforming the UN Security Council and the idea of what precisely constitutes an "imminent" threat in the post-9/11 world--a substantive transatlantic debate is desperately needed and long overdue. These sorts of challenges require serious intellectual combatants. This means a critical mass of writers, thinkers and diplomats who can engage editorial boards, join the television talkshow circuits, participate in Internet chatrooms, operate websites--not to mention debate Europe's scholars, business leaders and university students alike. Above all, it means developing a broader, nonpartisan network of like-minded individuals on both sides of the Atlantic who are dedicated to the cause of keeping the idea of the West and its ever expanding community of liberal democracies alive. Though times have changed, and the context may be different, institutions like the Congress of Cultural Freedom once worked. Perhaps it is time to consider what additional lessons history can offer.

Jeffrey Gedmin is director of the Aspen Institute Berlin. Craig Kennedy is president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Essay Types: Essay