Monday, August 24, 2015

Getting down to brass tacks [letter to the editor]

image from

I am not an agent of the US State Department, writes Lynley Hood [see].
The US Consulate's response to New Zealand's anti TPPA [see] rallies brought memories of my Day of Disillusionment flooding back.
The May 2014 invitation to a Fulbright ''thought leaders forum on building an alumni culture'' was puzzling. We host incoming Fulbrighters. We hold social functions. What's the problem? I went along to find out.
The morning comprised pep talks interspersed with group discussions. Terms like ''motivation'', ''relevance'' and ''common understanding of purpose'' were bandied about. Some of us began asking, ''Why are we here?'' After lunch we found out.
US Consulate Public Affairs specialist Phil McKenna distributed two handouts and spoke on ''Alumni Engagement - US Embassy policies and goals''.
The first handout, a flowchart of State Department organisational structure, showed Education and Cultural Affairs (ECA) - of which Alumni Affairs is a part - under the control of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
ECA was born of Kennedy era idealism: ''As part of America's larger story of respect for and interest in all cultures and faiths, Education and Cultural Affairs's range of programs exist to encourage mutual understanding as well as international, educational and cultural exchange, and leadership development.''
But there is no ''respect'' or ''mutual understanding'' in the mission statement of ECA's controlling body.
Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs' mission is: ''to support the achievement of US foreign policy goals and objectives, advance national interests, and enhance national security by informing and influencing foreign publics and by expanding and strengthening the relationship between the people and Government of the United States and citizens of the rest of the world.''
McKenna's second handout itemised relevant State Department policies under two astonishing headings: ''What we say'' and ''What we mean''.
He told us that alumni of all US exchange programmes have a duty to promote US interests.
First, because we are indebted to Uncle Sam for our time in the US, and second, because we have more credibility with our fellow countrymen than representatives of the US government or international corporations.
More group discussion followed. Our task was to determine how New Zealand alumni of US exchange programmes could best implement US public diplomacy goals. At which point I gathered up my papers, announced, ''I am not an agent of the State Department'' and walked out [JB emphasis].
Lynley Hood is a Dunedin author.

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