37 Former Ambassadors Urge Appointment of a Career Diplomat to State Dept’s Public Diplomacy Bureau

A group of 51 retired senior foreign affairs professionals including 37 former ambassadors recently wrote a letter to the Secretary of State urging that  “a career foreign affairs professional be appointed as the next Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.” Below is an excerpt from the letter.  The full text of the letter is at the end of this post:

A career foreign affairs professional, with years of overseas and Washington experience, is more likely to understand the larger world context and how public diplomacy can help achieve America’s policy goals.   
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The President’s and your public engagements are among our country’s greatest diplomatic assets.  You have over a thousand skilled, culturally-aware, and language-trained public diplomacy officers ready to leverage advanced technology and person-to-person communications skills in order to change foreign outcomes in America’s favor.  All they need is truly professional, experienced leadership.

 

Tara Sonenshine, the incumbent of what is known as the “R” bureau  was appointed on April 5, 2012 and reported to be leaving post early this summer. This position was created on October 1, 1999 after the abolishment of the United States Information Agency. The Under Secretary oversees three bureaus at the Department of State: Educational and Cultural Affairs, Public Affairs, and International Information Programs.

Matt Armstrong’s Mountainrunner posted a backgrounder on this position: R we there yet? A look at the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs) in January 2012.

No career diplomat has ever been appointed to this position (via history.state.gov):

  1. Evelyn Simonowitz Lieberman (1999-2001)
  2. Charlotte L. Beers (2001-2003)
  3. Margaret DeBardeleben Tutwiler (2003-2004)
  4. Karen P. Hughes (2005-2007)
  5. James K. Glassman (2008-2009)
  6. Judith A. McHale (2009-2011)
  7. Tara D. Sonenshine (2012-)

The ambassadors’ letter and the reportedly forthcoming “scathing” OIG report on the IIP Bureau might just be the nudge to move this bureau under a career professional. But that remains to be seen.

If you haven’t read that OIG report, that’s because it has apparently been floating around for months but has yet to be released to the public.  Somebody got tired of waiting, of course, and leaked a portion of it to WaPo’s Al Kamen:

“The unredacted version of a new IG report on the state of the Bureau of International Information Programs the modern successor to the USIA and a part of the underscretary’s portfolio, says that “leadership fostered an atmosphere of secrecy, suspicion and uncertainty” and where staff “describe the . . . atmosphere as toxic and leadership’s tolerance of dissenting views as non-existent.”

There’s a “pervasive perception of cronyism,” the 50-page draft report says, “aggravating the serious morale problem.” But before you think the place needs a good old-fashioned reorganization, staffers already talk about what the report calls “reorganization fatigue,” for the constant prior reorganizations.”

Below is the text of the letter sent to Secretary Kerry.  The signatories include John R. Beyrle, Director, U.S. Russia Foundation, and former Ambassador to Russia and Bulgaria; Barbara K. Bodine, former Ambassador to Yemen; Edward Brynn, former Ambassador to Burkina Faso and Ghana, and Acting Historian of the Department of State;  Brian Carlson, former Ambassador to Latvia and Public Affairs Officer (PAO) in Spain, Norway, and Bulgaria; John Campbell, Ambassador (Retired), Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; Walter L. Cutler, former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Zaire; John Evans, former Ambassador to Armenia; Linda Jewell, former Ambassador to Ecuador;  Robert Finn, former Ambassador to Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

It also includes Richard LeBaron, former Ambassador to Kuwait and Founding Coordinator of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications and Thomas R. Pickering, former Ambassador to Nigeria, Jordan, El Salvador, Israel, the United Nations, India, and Russia, and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. Full text below:

We urge that a career foreign affairs professional be appointed as the next Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.  Such an appointment would support your efforts fully to integrate public diplomacy into U.S. foreign affairs.

No career professional has served as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.  Coincidentally or not, today there is a wide consensus that U.S. perspectives are less well understood abroad, and people-to-people exchanges are less robust than they should be.  In today’s globalizing but still threatening world, and as our military forces abroad are drawn down, it is more important than ever that America strengthen its “soft power.”  For this, public diplomacy is an essential and powerful tool.

A career foreign affairs professional, with years of overseas and Washington experience, is more likely to understand the larger world context and how public diplomacy can help achieve America’s policy goals.  And it is challenging to direct and energize public diplomacy if the leadership  has brief tours or vacancies are lengthy.  Prior to the incumbent Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, leaving after just over a year in office, the previous four served, on average, nearly two years.  By comparison, the previous four Under Secretaries for Political Affairs, all career professionals, served, on average, nearly three-and-one-half years.  The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy reports that the position of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs has been vacant more than 30% of the time since it was created in 1999.  The position of Under Secretary for Political Affairs has been vacant only 5% of that time.

Studies by the Defense Science Board, RAND, and other independent groups have found that America’s engagement with foreign publics succeeds best when led by experienced officials having the authority to establish priorities, assign responsibilities, transfer funds, and concur in senior appointments.  Leaders must have direct access to you and the President on critical communication issues as policies are formulated and implemented.

When done well, public diplomacy works.  Large numbers of foreign heads of government, legislators, and social, economic, and political leaders — many of them America’s staunch allies and stalwart friends — have participated in U.S. public diplomacy programs.  The University of Southern California recently reported that of individuals exposed to U.S. public diplomacy, 79 percent have used what they learned to bring about positive change in their own communities by running for political office, organizing a civil society group, doing volunteer work, and starting a new business or other projects.  Fully 94 percent say the exposure has increased their understanding of U.S. foreign policy, and America’s people, society, and values.

The President’s and your public engagements are among our country’s greatest diplomatic assets.  You have over a thousand skilled, culturally-aware, and language-trained public diplomacy officers ready to leverage advanced technology and person-to-person communications skills in order to change foreign outcomes in America’s favor.  All they need is truly professional, experienced leadership.

End text/

 

We’ll see if anything happens.  In the meantime, we’re looking forward to reading that IG report.  We hope it comes out before the end of summer.

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