Read Before Burning: Debating the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act

Matt Armstrong has written a must-read piece on the Smith-Mundt Modernization debate. Something for those who did not get their Smith-Mundt Minute Maid boost before wading into the bush.

There’s this – Congressmen Seek To Lift Propaganda Ban

And then there’s this – Much ado about State Department ‘propaganda’

Here is an excerpt from Matt Armstrong’s Congress, the State Department, and “communistic, fascistic, and other alien influences”:

The current debate on the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act is filled with misinformation about the history of Smith-Mundt, some of it verging on blatant propaganda, making the discussion overall rich in irony. In 1947, the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional committee assembled to give its recommendation on the Smith-Mundt Act declared that it was a necessary response to the danger posed “by the weapons of false propaganda and misinformation and the inability on the part of the United States to deal adequately with those weapons.” Today, it is the Smith-Mundt Act that is victim to “false propaganda” and “misinformation” that affect perceptions of, and potential support for, the Modernization Act.

Many of the negative narratives swirling around the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act are based on assumptions and myths that, like true propaganda, have an anchor in reality but stray from the facts to support false conclusions. These fabrications include the false assertion the Act ever applied to the whole of Government or the Defense Department as well as fundamental confusion, and lack of knowledge, of America’s public diplomacy with foreign audiences.
[…]
From the information programs to the programs for the “interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills,” the Congress made its clear its concerns that the State Department may intentionally, or inadvertently, undermine the American way of life for reasons ranging from Roosevelt and Truman “New Dealers” to the liberal culture of the State Department.
[…]
[T]he distrust of State remained. Rep. Fred Busbey (R-IL) sought to delay the bill until the State Department was cleaned up: “I believe there should be in the State Department an Office of Information and Cultural Affairs, but it should be free of communistic, fascistic, and other alien influences.” Congressman Clare Hoffman (R-MI) believed the exchange program was for the State Department to establish an espionage net directed against the United States.

Continue reading, Congress, the State Department, and “communistic, fascistic, and other alien influences”

We should note that a tiny twig of the federal government had been charged with appraising U.S. Government activities “intended to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics.” That’s the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD), created in 1948 and defunded by Congress on December 16, 2011.

On the issue of trust or in this case, distrust — distrust of the Department of State is a shadow that started stalking the organization soon after it came into being following the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1789. Donald Warwick in his 1978 book on bureaucracy points out that the early image of State was influenced by its adoption of the European model of diplomacy and our country’s mistrust of foreign relations.

“As a concrete expression of concern with European contamination, the Continental Congress ruled that diplomats could remain overseas no more than three years. Rapid corruption thereafter was feared. […] Public mistrust of diplomacy in general and of its foreign-oriented practioners was to surface later in the McCarthy era.”

The limit on continuous duty overseas is alive and well. In the Foreign Service Act, Congress imagined that diplomats would still be contaminated but only after 15 years of continuous exposure abroad.

Domani Spero

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