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Vital corollary to President Biden COVID/Relief Speech: “A Foreign Policy for the American People”

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, establishing the United State Information Agency, 1953:

” … to understand, inform and influence foreign publics in promotion of the national interest, and to broaden the dialogue between Americans and U.S. institutions , and their counterparts abroad”.

The USIA is no longer with us (absorbed into the U.S. State Department in 1999), but its global people-to-people mission is as important as ever – and it’s already being addressed in robust fashion by the Biden Administration.

On March 3rd, – in his “A Foreign Policy for the American People”, Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken summarized the new U.S. foreign policy framework, tone, and relevance to Americans. He stressed international understanding and cooperation:  “President Biden has pledged to lead with diplomacy because it’s the best way to deal with today’s challenge.”

A key element of that commitment, too often under-appreciated, is “soft power” public diplomacy:   “Soft Power and Public Diplomacy Revisited” 

“Soft power is the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction and persuasion rather than coercion or payment. A country’s soft power rests on its resources of culture, values and policies. A smart-power strategy combines hard- and soft-power resources. Public diplomacy has a long history as a means of promoting a country’s soft power, and soft power was essential in winning the Cold War. Smart public diplomacy requires an understanding of the roles of credibility, self-criticism and civil society in generating soft power.”

It should also be noted that the Secretary of State stressed the importance of balance in U.S. foreign policy: “We’ll make sure that we continue to have the world’s most powerful armed forces … the President has promised diplomacy – not military action – will always come first.” And this on the U.S. message: “The Biden administration’s foreign policy will reflect our values … We will respect science and data, and we will fight misinformation and disinformation, because the truth is the cornerstone of our democracy.”

U.S. soft power/public diplomacy is now implemented mainly through two high-level, high-powered government agencies – The U.S. Agency for Global Media’s well-known Voice America international regional networks; and the lesser well-known but highly important State Department  Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) – a remit of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Leadership at both these agencies was changed immediately after the Biden inauguration with top management responsibilities undertaken by news executives well experienced in these soft power/public diplomacy organizations.

Many Americans are familiar with the Voice of America but may not realize that it is the keystone of U.S. Agency for Media (USAMG):  which oversees U.S. international. public media networks. “The five media organizations that comprise the USAGM complement and reinforce one another in a shared mission vital to U.S. national interests: to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. Together, USAGM networks communicate each week with more than 354 million people [in 47 countries]across the globe.”

The people-to-people mission of the State Department ECA is more direct:

“The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) designs and implements educational, professional, and cultural exchange and other programs that create and sustain the mutual understanding with other countries necessary to advancing United States foreign policy goals. ECA programs cultivate people-to-people ties among current and future global leaders that build enduring networks and personal relationships and promote U.S. national security and values.”

The “educational” reference is especially important. Samantha Power, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, in her recent Foreign Affairs commentary, explains that a key area for American leadership now is “ramping up educational opportunities for foreign students … American universities have a special place in the global imagination, and lowering visa hurdles for study in the United States while creating better, more accessible pathways to international students to work in the United States after graduation can pay both short-term and long-term dividends in expanding U.S. influence.

” The Can-Do Power, America’s Advantage and Biden’s Chance”   (by subscription).

In soft power/public diplomacy, public relations practitioners and educators may well recognize the fundamental principles of our profession writ large..

Perhaps call it, “inter-nation” public relations.