Two respected foreign policy experts recently spoke out about how U.S. policy should change when fledgling Iraqi politicians assume "sovereignty" (whatever that means) over their country's affairs on Wednesday. Both experts emphasized the importance of "public diplomacy" - overseas information and cultural programs - and agreed that it will take more than public diplomacy to develop a healthy, long-term relationship between the U.S. and Iraq.
In a Tufts University commencement address in late May, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., identified a chronic problem within the Bush administration: an apparent unwillingness to fully engage the rest of the world to rebuild Iraq.
"If we are to be successful in Iraq," Lugar said, "the United Nations and the international community must play a more central role." Hopefully, that process began early this month when the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution giving Iraqi authorities full control over their own security forces and a say on "sensitive offensive operations" by U.S.-led multinational forces. It's a promising step toward a new day in war-torn Iraq.
Lugar, a longtime student of foreign affairs, has questioned the Bush administration's unilateral, military-dominated approach to international crises. "We are worried about terrorism," he said at Tufts, "but the evolution of national security policy has not kept up with the threat. We have relied heavily on military options and unilateral approaches that weaken our (international) alliances."
The veteran senator urged the Bush White House to "assign economic and diplomatic capabilities the same strategic priority that we assign to military capabilities." What a concept!
Lugar recommended "a sustained program of repairing and rebuilding alliances" and strong support for democracy, development and trade programs if we are to successfully meet the challenges we face in postwar Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East and the Muslim world. Somewhat surprisingly, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker echoed Lugar in mid-June when he acknowledged that "this war cannot be won militarily .... (It) will be won at the informational level and at the economic level ...."
About the same time, an old U.S. Information Agency colleague, Barry Zorthian, wrote an incisive op-ed piece for the Washington-based Public Diplomacy News File. Zorthian, who was our chief spokesman in Saigon at the height of the Vietnam War, knows all too well the limitations of public diplomacy. He noted that several 9/11 reports have called for more effective communication of American values and policies to foreign audiences on the theory that if they only knew us better, they would like us a lot and endorse our policies, which isn't necessarily true.
"Certainly, more support for these (public diplomacy) programs is needed to make up for the damaging reductions of the post-Cold War '90s and greater understanding of American values by others would be helpful even though much of the world is already aware and appreciative of American values," Zorthian wrote. "There are those who dislike our culture and concepts but most approve and simply ask, 'Why doesn't America live up to those standards itself?'" Good question, Barry.
"The crux of our problem lies elsewhere," he added. "One is tempted to paraphrase Charlie Brown (Or was it Pogo?) and say, 'We have met the enemy and they is us.'" His point is that senior public diplomacy specialists have been out of the policy loop since USIA was merged into the sprawling State Department nearly five years ago.
President Kennedy's USIA director, legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, once said that if his agency was to be in on the government's crash-landings, it needed to be in on the takeoffs too Ð that is, public diplomacy officers needed to participate actively in the policy-making process.
I couldn't agree more but, as Zorthian noted, the last two undersecretaries of State for public diplomacy, Madison Avenue advertising executive Charlotte Beers and Amb. Margaret Tutwiler, who escaped to Wall Street, "didn't take part in the takeoffs and sometimes, one senses, not even in the landings." According to Zorthian, although "the reaction of foreign peoples ... is critical to the successful conduct of our foreign affairs ... we seem to go out of our way to project an arrogant, single-minded and insensitive deployment of (American) power and enforcement." He urges "a comprehensive overhaul and fine tuning of our foreign policies and actions with the interests and aspirations of other peoples in mind," and so do I.
And who better to carry out a major foreign policy course correction than Sen. Lugar? It's apparent that Colin Powell is a one-term secretary of state, and Lugar has been preparing for that job for many years. Powell, who has been a lonely voice for diplomacy within the Bush war machine, is obviously tired of losing bureaucratic battles and is ready to return to private life.
For his part, Zorthian seeks another Powell-like secretary of state "whose vision goes beyond a hard-nosed, thumb-in-your-eye approach to our relations with the world." After all, our worldwide PR is only as effective, or as flawed, as the policies it attempts to advocate and explain.
"Does this mean abandonment or dilution of America's security interests?" Zorthian asked. "Absolutely not. Quite the contrary; it would further those goals. We're not doing too well right now. Let's try a changed approach." I concur and support Sen. Lugar for that challenging assignment if President Bush is reelected - a big "if" as things stand at this turbulent moment in world history.
Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.