Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Scholar Dr. Richard Arndt on Public Diplomacy (via e-mail; posted here with his kind ok)

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Mark Dillen's wake-up call in support of PD [Public Diplomacy] in John Brown’s blog, does the job . . . almost. Since many believe that a good portion of the day-to-day work of PD is funded by the programs of the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), might it not help to remind readers what is at stake in this domain?

ECA’s long-stagnant budget has drifted downwards at the rate of inflation for three decades, aggravated by Congressional micro-management and short-term initiatives breaching the firewalls shielding Fulbright’s dedicated funding. It took alert Congressional staffers in 2013 to block the “transfer of funds” which would have reduced Fulbright by 17%; such threats are common an will not go away. Fulbright, long undergirded by the understanding that half the ECA budget was dedicated to its support, has seen its share decline to under 40%; cuts in field-staffing have weakened its global infrastructure; the commissions, whose patient nurture adds more than $60 million annually in foreign government matches, are demoralized.

We all know why the educational and cultural components are rarely mentioned in discussions of PD. And now we have come to the crunch: if ECA funding is not stabilized and then steadily increased, the Fulbright Program, since 1947 the mainstay of US educational and cultural efforts abroad, cannot survive. Add to that the semi-informed scrutiny of zealous budget-slashers which seems a fair assumption, could end Fulbright with a lip of the pen. The slashers argue that the “hard power” of DOD needs more money; yet zeroing out the “soft power” of ECA and Fulbright will save less than 0.1% of the $54 billion proposed addition to this year’s DOD budget. To go farther and compare ECA’s funding to the entire DOD budget would add 4-5 zeroes.

For seven decades, the bi-national, bi-directional, university-to-university exchanges of Fulbright have been the flagship of American cultural diplomacy. Without ECA, PD, is little more than an embassy press-office. And yet, after decades of discussion, the role of education and culture is never mentioned in discussing the peculiar American creation, Public Diplomacy. PD proponents rarely mention its educational and cultural base. In the stormy months ahead more than ever, it might help to include ECA and Fulbright into the PD rhetoric. 

Or does no one care?

Dick Arndt (USIA-State 1961-85)

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