Those of us who have endorsed this statement speak only for ourselves. We believe our views are shared by many of our colleagues in the Washington elements of USIA and in the 110 countries around the world in which our programs operate. Moreover, we believe this statement represents a positive and reasoned approach to the conduct of American public diplomacy.
We are convinced that the overseas information and cultural programs of our government can be made more responsive and more effective. To that end, we propose redefining the function of USIA, and reorganizing it to support that function.
Much of what we propose is not new. We believe that a realistic and workable public diplomacy can be conducted within the framework of the original mandate set out for the country’s information and cultural programs in the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948:
“. . . to promote a better understanding of the United States in other countries and to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.”2
USIA has been largely ignored by the Executive Branch and threatened by the Congress over the past decade. Our accomplishments [Page 2]have come in spite of, rather than because of, those to whom we are accountable. Not surprisingly, our achievements have fallen short of our potential. We believe the time has come to establish realistic goals and to seek the active support of the Administration in providing the leadership and resource stability needed to achieve those goals.
Our statement includes three major recommendations:
government-wide agreement that the mission of USIA is not to manipulate foreign attitudes, but to seek understanding of American policy as well as the society and values from which it flows;
acceptance of an operating style characterized by open, frank discussion of issues (including responsible non-government opinion) and the depiction of American society and culture in all its diverse aspects;
integration of the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs into a revitalized, independent USIA.
The Role of USIA
Our Agency was formed in an age when the media were regarded as powerful weapons in the battle for men’s minds. If propaganda could be directed against the enemy in wartime, it was argued, why not use the same means in peacetime to win friends? USIA has long since outgrown that simplistic view. We know that manipulation through international communication fails on two counts: its pursuit represents a naive conception of human nature and a self-defeating contradiction of the values we seek to represent in the world.
We also know that USIA is a comparatively small voice in an increasingly sophisticated and noisy communications environment. Our role must be carefully defined, lest our message be lost in the babble of competing voices.
The basic task of USIA has always been to support American foreign policy. From this mission devolves a responsibility not only for the careful representation of government policies, but also for the candid depiction of American society and values.
In the long run, the response of foreign nations to our policies will be motivated first by their own self-interest, and second by their perception of ours. USIA can sharpen these perceptions and can seek understanding. But we cannot change deep-seated attitudes. Rather than trying to make policy more palatable, we must strive to make it more understandable. And rather than trying to make America more lovable, we must strive to make it more comprehensible.
If this definition of our role as one of representing foreign policy and depicting American society is more modest than the rhetoric of past years, we believe it will lead to a program that is more fruitful.
Although what we say is necessarily limited by our resources, our message must encompass the diversity of our pluralistic society. We [Page 3]must not fear portraying America as it is.USIA should be expected to present persuasively the Administration’s policies along with responsible non-government opinion, even though such opinion may at times be critical of those policies. Presenting the diversity of American opinion produces long-term benefits which far exceed the occasional short-term risks.
To represent our society and its values with candor and to enunciate the policies of the government with precision, we believe the proper mode of discourse is the dialogue, in the sense suggested by Harry Ashmore: “As opposed to argument or debate, dialogue is not intended to resolve issues, but to clarify and illuminate them. It is essentially a rational exercise by which differences may be narrowed and perception improved.”
We recommend dialogue not because American views will necessarily prevail, but because rational discussion will best ensure their fair exposure in the world marketplace of ideas.
Dialogue involves listening as well as speaking. USIA has traditionally reported on foreign public opinion. We urge that this role continue. Otherwise the dialogue we advocate becomes a monologue—we speak and they listen. Even if government action is infrequently influenced by foreign public opinion, it should at least be heard before policy is formed.
In summary, we urge the promotion of responsible discussion abroad of American policies and purposes, and the repudiation of the sometimes captivating but superficial notion that USIA’s goal should be simply to win friends and influence people. There is, we submit, a considerable difference between responsible and representative public diplomacy (which we advocate) and public relations (which we reject).
USIA has long been plagued by arguments over whether we should address mass audiences or opinion leaders. We dispute those who would exclude either; the relationship is clearly complementary. Moreover, a nation which represents the Jeffersonian principle of full public participation in decision-making can hardly disavow this ideal abroad by channeling its efforts only to elites. In fact, it is because of our concern with publics outside government that the mission of USIA is fundamentally different from that of the Department of State. However, our interest in communicating with the broadest possible audience must be tempered by budgetary pragmatism and by an awareness of inter-cultural sensitivities.
As a practical matter, mass audiences are accessible, if at all, only through the Voice of America or through materials placed in the indigenous media. With the press, television, and other media in most coun[Page 4]tries subject to government control or sanction, placement of all but the least controversial materials is frequently limited. Access to the media in democratic societies is less a question of ideology than of willingness to accept materials from a foreign government, even a friendly one. In each case, access is at the pleasure of the media gatekeepers (e.g., editors, producers, and commentators), with whom we must unquestionably seek to develop a relationship of mutual trust. For unless we first establish a dialogue with those who control the foreign media, we will fail in the broader dialogue between America and the people of other nations.
There are other publics whom we must continue to address because of their pre-eminent role in the development of ideas: scholars, artists, writers, and government officials concerned with education, information, and cultural affairs. We look upon them as essential interpreters in the process of cross-cultural communications.
U.S. officials must also maintain close personal contact with administrators, foreign affairs officials, military officers, and business leaders. However, it is clear that other elements of the American mission abroad—particularly State, Defense, and Commerce—must bear primary responsibility for these relationships. We can often support these contacts with media skills and resources, but our primary concern should remain those audiences with whom we uniquely share a community of interest.
In this information-rich age, we must carefully shape our programs in each country to complement the existing patterns of influence, culture, and communication. This strategy requires both mass communication and personal contact.
Organization and Leadership
USIA has been the subject of a number of studies. The most recent of these is the Stanton Panel Report.3 While we endorse the Stanton Panel comments on the essentiality of public diplomacy, we disagree with its proposals for reorganization. They would compound the fragmentation that already exists in Washington—the separation of USIA and CU (the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs)—and would create fragmentation overseas where none exists.
The purposes of public diplomacy are best served, we believe, by an independent organization combining USIA and CU. USIA already [Page 5]administers the State Department’s educational and cultural exchange program overseas. Our programming experience has shown that the present distinction between information and cultural programs is arbitrary and awkward. Both relate to policy; both relate to the society we represent.
By bringing USIA and CU together, we can ensure that the dialogue we seek involves the flow of ideas and people to, as well as from, the United States. We are confident that this can be accomplished without violating the Congressional stricture that USIA not be used by any Administration to pursue domestic political goals, nor to mobilize American public opinion in support of Administration objectives.
The Stanton Panel would have USIA join the State Department, with the Voice of America remaining outside as an independent agency. In support of this proposal, the Stanton Panel argued that the differences between association with State and continued independence “are more cosmetic than substantive.” We wish to argue that the differences are substantive indeed, and must follow logically from the definition of USIA’s role. If that role is primarily advocacy of State Department policy, we rightly belong in the Department of State. If, on the other hand, it is the representation of U.S. Government policies and the depiction of American society, it follows that our continued independence must be assured. But neither role is enhanced by the creation of new and overlapping bureaucracies.
We advocate the full integration of CU within a revitalized and rechartered USIA committed to the support of American policy through the exchange of persons and ideas.
There is a second option which we believe is far less desirable, but still preferable to the fragmented organization proposed by the Stanton Panel—combining USIA with all educational and cultural exchange activities in a single inter-cultural communications agency within the Department of State. This position was taken by the State Department which, like USIA, has opposed the Stanton Panel reorganizational recommendations.
Even if the second option is chosen, we believe that VOA should remain closely associated with USIA. But we fear that the State Department, whose primary responsibility is the formulation and execution of American foreign policy, will find itself particularly uncomfortable with an independent news gathering and reporting organization to which the Congress recently granted a charter for news integrity. If USIA becomes an element of the State Department, VOA’s special responsibilities must be protected. And if the redefined role we seek for USIA is accepted, it, too, will need special guarantees.
As representatives of the U.S. Government serving abroad, we do not seek or expect to be exempted from official accountability for our [Page 6]actions. Since we are part of the American diplomatic mission, our activities may understandably be regarded by others as indicative of the direction of U.S. policy. Where we present, as we must, dissenting voices, they must be identified clearly as such. And we accept the necessity, in sensitive circumstances, to avoid the creation of dangerous confusion over U.S. policy directions.
For this reason, the desire of some employees of the Voice of America for complete and unfettered freedom of action could only be realized were the Voice cut loose from all organizational ties to State or USIA—including access to classified information, the protection and advantages afforded by official status for its employees overseas, and the negotiation for and protection of its overseas transmitters by our embassies.
We think this extreme course inadvisable. VOA is an integral part of our information program. We believe that its employees can perform with journalistic integrity alongside their USIA colleagues, and that the requirement for VOA news to be reliable and authoritative can be further protected if our redefined goals are accepted.
Whatever structure is chosen, we support the goals proposed by the Department of State for strengthening a reorganized international communications organization:
“Encourage respect for America and American policies in our interdependent world. This requires coherent articulation, honest explanation and fidelity to our commitment to individual liberty and cultural diversity.
“Promote interactions which deepen mutual understanding, encourage rationality, and strengthen cooperation among Americans and other peoples.”
We recognize and strongly support the need for organizational change. And we believe that one organization, not two, should be responsible for international communication. Hence, we reject the Stanton Panel proposals to divide the functions of USIA. We endorse the consolidation of public diplomacy within a restructured, independent USIA.
Finally, there is the question of leadership. If caution is the preserve of the State Department, boldness must be that of USIA. The necessary catalyst for successful public diplomacy is leadership which is politically sophisticated, culturally sensitive, experienced in international communications, and dedicated to the pursuit of ideas and the promotion of understanding.
We believe the national interest is best served by a public diplomacy based on dialogue. And we believe the considerable energy and talent of the Agency’s personnel should be directed toward this end.
Source: National Archives, RG 306, USIA Historical Collection, Subject Files, 1953–2000, Entry A–1 1066, Box 44, United States International Communication Agency, Reorganization, 1978–1985. No classification marking. The petition is entitled “USIA and the Future of Public Diplomacy.” On November 7, The New York Times reported that the petition, signed by 148 USIAemployees, “was ‛by committee’ and ‛with the knowledge’” of Keogh, who had tendered his resignation to Ford following the election. (David Binder, “U.S.I.A. Workers Ask Carter to Keep Unit Independent,” p. 26)↩
Reference is to the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (P.L. 80–402), which Truman signed into law on January 27, 1948. The Act, commonly known as the Smith-Mundt Act after Senator H. Alexander Smith (R-New Jersey) and Representative Karl Mundt (R-South Dakota), established guidelines by which the United States conducted public diplomacy overseas.↩
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."