Feldman is seen here on Oct. 26 with Indonesian President Joko Widodo (middle) also known as Jokowi, and Indonesian Trade Minister Tom Lembong. The photo was taken at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce before a dinner Feldman’s organization co-hosted with the Chamber and the US-Indonesia Society.
by Alexander Feldman
— Part three
Alexander Feldman, since June, 2009, the President and CEO of the U.S.-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Business Council, a 31-year-old trade association, grew up in Chestnut Hill and graduated from Chestnut Hill Academy. Feldman, 48, has one of the world’s most unusual jobs. He represents 140 major U.S. corporations in negotiating trade agreements with 10 Southeast Asian nations. During the George W. Bush Presidency, Feldman held a high-level State Department job and worked closely with then-Secretary of State Colin Powell. Here are some of his reflections on his time there:
It was a very difficult period, and America’s standing with many people around the world had dropped mostly due to our invasion of Iraq. However, I do feel that my years at the State Department had an impact. The Bureau I ran was formerly a part of the U.S. Information Agency, and many of the almost 400 staff members and contractors in the Bureau of International Information Programs had been part of the team that won the cold war.
However, by 2004 the world and especially the media environment had changed. General Colin Powell brought me into the State Department to help my bureau adapt to that change. One of the biggest changes was that you now had to take your message directly to the general public.
The strategy for public diplomacy could no longer rely solely on a small group of “influencers.” The Internet and television allowed you to reach tens of millions of people directly. Yet, even the TV environment had changed cable TV, and multichannel platforms meant that you had to make sure that whatever you produced was interesting, informative and entertaining, and it had to be on the right channel to reach your intended audience.
During the Cold War, it was pretty easy to make a program more interesting than the state-run single TV option that most people behind the Iron Curtain had access to but not so when I joined the State Department. While we took significant steps forward in how the State Department communicated over the Internet, including adding web chats and digital marketing to our tool kit, I am most proud of a project I led using an even older medium, radio.
“Greetings From America” was part of an inter-agency effort that I led to reach critical audiences around the world. It was a 1-2 minute program which aired 5-6 times daily and told the stories of the real lives of students from the country where the show was broadcast studying at the high school and university level in the U.S.
Initially launched in Indonesia, the fourth largest country in the world and the largest Muslim majority country, to a daily listenership of over three million young people on the top radio stations across the country, this peer-to-peer program went on to be localized and broadcast in Pakistan and Nigeria as well.
Today, it continues to be broadcast to millions of listeners across Nigeria. After its first six-month run, Indonesian surveys proved that it significantly changed the views of young Indonesians about the U.S.
I was a member of the senior staff of the State Department and as such met every morning with Secretary Powell and initially every morning with Secretary Condoleezza Rice. (She would later cut back the meetings with the full senior team to three times a week.)
General Powell and I are still in touch, and he recommended me for the position I currently hold. General Powell was by far the best manager I have ever worked for and really knew how to motivate and inspire his staff and run a large organization like the State Department.
In addition to a deep understanding of geo-political, strategic and economic issues around the world, he knew what was happening in popular culture and music and somehow knew what happened on the late night shows, even though he was in the office by 6 a.m. or so every day. He was the one that for the first time made sure that every State Department employee had access to the Internet from their desk. He also fought to bring Blackberry hand-held devices to American diplomats. He and I were part of the very first trial group of just a handful of officials who had these devices.
General Powell’s staff meetings always started punctually, and unless the world was falling apart, you were never late, and if you were, you just did not join the meeting. On the rare days when he was not rushing to the White House or off on a trip, his meetings would sometimes last an hour and would help us gain an insight into who General Powell was as a person.
I worked for Secretary Condoleezza Rice for a longer period of time but did not have the same relationship. She was clearly smart and worked hard, but I never really felt I got to know her as well as General Powell. I was one of only two Powell senior staff members that lasted more than six months on her staff, but the relationship was very different. She did not have his management gift nor his ability to run the State Department.
Ed. note: Colin Powell was Secretary of State from January, 2001, until January, 2005. After he resigned, he was replaced by Condoleezza Rice, who was Secretary of State from January, 2005, until January, 2009.
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United." Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."