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Memo to Karen Hughes by John Brown

Published on Sunday, April 24, 2005 by
Memo to Karen Hughes
by John Brown

TO: Karen Hughes
FROM: John Brown, former Foreign Service officer

SUBJECT: Your New Job -- Some Advice from a 20-year Public Diplomacy Practitioner

Ms. Hughes -- The below is offered for your consideration as you think about your future position as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the State Department.

1) Get real! Face the fact that the Bush administration's foreign policy will continue to be unpopular abroad unless major corrective actions are taken, both in substance and style. Yes, the recent U.S. "democratization" push may be viewed less negatively abroad than unilateral military strikes in the "war on terror." But foreigners are still intensely suspicious of American motivations and actions.

2) Don't assume the world is like (or likes) America, and that what worked in getting George W. Bush elected will be successful in "selling" America's policies abroad. Don't treat foreigners as just potential Republicans. Listen to what they have to say.

3) Forget about spin, focus on intelligent persuasion and bi/multilateral communications. Take ideas seriously, including those of others.

4) Remember that America is a country, not a product, and that it can't be "sold" to the rest of mankind like a brand to be consumed. Leave marketing to the business sector. Don't over rely on polls but consult with area specialists.

5) Always be present when important foreign policy decisions are made, be it in the White House or the State Department. Constantly remind other decision-makers that policy and public diplomacy are intrinsically linked and that foreign public opinion counts. You must be there on the take-off, not the crash landing, of policy -- to cite the words your distinguished predecessor, Edward R. Morrow, head of the United States Information Agency (USIA) during the Kennedy administration.

6) With as few bureaucratic disruptions and endless "reorganizations" as possible, give public diplomacy an essential role at the State Department (today PD officers are second-class citizens in the foreign affairs bureaucracy).

7) Provide field public diplomacy posts greater autonomy, a larger budget, and direct lines of communications with your office at the State Department; remain in close contact with officers in the field. Visit the posts, using such occasions to inform foreign governments of the importance the USG gives to public diplomacy.

8) Remind political appointees assigned to direct public diplomacy programs in Washington that they should work with career civil servants with respect, and not micromanage them out of fear that they lack sufficient "loyalty."

9) Urgently deal with the Muslim world, but don't neglect other countries, including traditional allies. Forget about the flavor-of-the-month approach to foreign policy, when one region dominates all of Washington's attention at the exclusion of others.

10) Drop the one-size-fits-all attitude towards programs for overseas audiences; tailor outreach to individual countries and regions.

11) Increase educational exchanges worldwide and reemphasize the importance of cultural programs (e.g., exhibits, concerts).

12) Maintain funding for USG electronic media directed to overseas audiences, but don't make them the be-all and end-all of public diplomacy. Provide greater support for local independent media. Stop the silly warfare against Al-Jazeera. And remember that people the world over do more just than look at TV and listen to the radio.

13) Bear in mind that public diplomacy can only do so much, and that it is not the solution to all our foreign policy problems.

14) Thirteen isn't a lucky number, so here's one more: Keep your sense of humor.

John Brown, a former American diplomat, resigned from the Foreign Service in opposition to the planned war in Iraq, stating in his resignation letter to Secretary of State Powell that "The president's disregard for views in other nations, borne out by his neglect of public diplomacy, is giving birth to an anti-American century." He edits a "Public Diplomacy Press Review" available free by requesting it

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