Public diplomacy is one of the most powerful tools a president has to inform and influence the world by communicating American values and interests. By engaging with citizens overseas, we expand and extend our national security through the dissemination of news, information, culture, education, entrepreneurship and everything else that make a democracy strong.
Irrespective of where you stand on the legality, morality and practicality of President Trump's refugee ban, the way in which it was communicated at home and abroad was abysmal.
The announcement of an executive order of this magnitude on a Friday afternoon, with little or no briefings and explanation, invited global chaos in airports, embassies, businesses, universities and nonprofits.
It left our friends confused and our enemies emboldened. It left an information void — an information crater, actually. When a public information vacuum is created, the result is misinformation, disinformation or no information, and the result is always negative.
Public diplomacy has a long and distinguished track record. It was used by everyone from Benjamin Franklin to President Obama. Every government over the centuries has used people-to-people diplomacy, cultural engagement, educational outreach, public affairs and, most recently, social media, to inform, educate and inspire others. It is used in times of peace and war to build public support for policies and ensure that we define and defend our values and interests.
Trump had an opportunity last week to practice public diplomacy. A ban on the arrival of citizens to American shores affects everyone, everywhere, from Embassy Row to a college campus. We have international teams of experts in space and in labs, working on projects such as the cancer "moonshot." We have international aid workers bringing water to villages and English to remote areas of the world.
In a complex world of global connections, there are implications for every sector of society when one country closes down — especially when the country is America. For a president to issue that kind of order without setting the table for it and with complete disregard to its impact on the world is not only disrespectful; it is downright dangerous.
We are opening ourselves up to random attacks on embassies, violations of civil and human rights in the name of defending borders, unchecked violence, and undue stress on human beings caught up in the chaos of the moment.
President Trump would get an F in my public diplomacy class.
Then again, he never registered.
Tara Sonenshine is a former undersecretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs. She serves as a senior career coach at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.
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."