• Weird Moments in Public Diplomacy, No. 54

    July 2, 2012

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State

    Are the public diplomacists at the State Department getting cranky? This blog has raised questions in the past about gauging the impact of State’s Public Diplomacy and social media efforts.

    The old saying, any road will get you there if you don’t know where you’re going, applies here. If I was allowed back into the building and to ask a question of someone important in Public Affairs, I’d ask this: why isn’t your whole “PD” strategy built around sending out messages in bottles dropped into the ocean? Now of course the analogy only goes so far, but just as the message in the bottle strategy can be dismissed with a quick thought experiment (who knows who reads what, and what they do after the read it), can anyone really make a different claim for the State Department’s current efforts?

    One of the core problems with the State Department, and the one that most significantly contributes to the Department’s increasing irrelevance in foreign policy, is that State seems just content to “be,” to create conditions of its own continued existence. So, if social media is a new cool thing, and Congress will pay for it, then social media it is. What if instead the organization had more concrete goals? Then we could measure back from them. I’ll not trouble readers with my own list of foreign policy goals, but if the best you can come up with is something so broad as “engage the public” then you are pretty close to having no real goal at all. Best to throw notes into the ocean and hope for the best.

    The good news is that apparently State is now ready to answer these questions, by the Twitter. Here goes:

    Um, OK. Any links to go with those? Proof? Statistics? Anything? Bueller? Need some help understanding the difference between an “assertion” and creating an “argument”?

    Credibility means more than just saying something in a loud voice over and over. God help us all, these are the same people we pay money to to carry America’s message abroad.

    Related Articles:

    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • Meloveconsullongtime said...


      “Lacking an analytical approach, many of our comrades do not want to go deeply into complex matters, to analyse and study them over and over again, but like to draw simple conclusions which are either absolutely affirmative or absolutely negative…. From now on we should remedy this state of affairs.”

      – by Chairman Mao, who also didn’t explain what the hell he meant by that

      07/2/12 4:37 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...


      quote: “God help us all, these are the same people we pay money to to carry America’s message abroad.” unquote

      No, these are the same people we pay ENORMOUS amounts of money to accomplish NOTHING. I mean, really show me, in concrete terms, besides filling a bottomless well(which is the same thing as Corporate bank accounts), exactly WHAT HAS
      STATE ACCOMPLISHED…say oh, I don’t know..in the last HUNDRED FUCKING YEARS???

      Every time I see Clinton do one of her repugnant talking head things..I think to myself…she doesn’t have a clue to how perversely STUPID she sounds.

      Personally, the whole “diplomacy” thing is a ruse for lying to the world. I don’t know how Clinton looks at herself in the mirror every morning.

      Dear Secretary Clinton.

      Would you please tell me, how in the world you can look at yourself in the mirror, knowing you’ve just made a speech on human rights, when at the same time, knowing 200+ civilian women/children have been blown to smithereens in the last two years via United States Drones?

      No? Bet I know why. No human being on the face of this planet could possibly look me in the eye and tell me our government isn’t a goddamned murderer. That’s why.

      07/2/12 4:51 PM | Comment Link

    • Frederick Fellow said...


      What this post is pointing out is that the only thing that the State Department engages in is Dumbed-Down Diplomacy. The “three Ds” can clearly be seen in the Chinese unit within the Bureau of International Information Programs (formerly part of the US Information Agency). This is a group that consists of contractors who are friends of friends working at the State Department. It’s cronyism of the worst kind, just like in China. They engage in idiotic messaging in which they allow themselves to be edited by Chinese censors just so that they can make it look like they are spreading American values and “engaging” audiences in China. Most people in China know that the State Department is in bed with the Chinese government so their idiotic messaging is largely meaningless. Hell, even the Voice of America is better than the crap that State puts out. Why even Radio Free Asia is better than State’s sycophancy. At least Google demonstrated some sense of principle when it moved its servers to Hong Kong to protest the self-censorship that the Chinese government required it to do if it wanted to do business in China. State, on the other hand, has shown that it has no integrity. It just doesn’t. They squat down just as fast as they can to kow-tow to their meta masters in Beijing. As Van Buren points out, it’s a major waste of money that is making America look dumb and dumber. As eunuchism spreads throughout the organizational culture of the US Department of State, growing a pair will become increasingly impossible. The only thing left for Congress to cut off is funding to State’s Bureau of Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy. The sooner the better. Stop the deception.

      07/3/12 4:09 AM | Comment Link

    • Janice said...


      IIP went through a massive “reorganization” during the prior administration.

      The stated objective was to recraft the USG’s public diplomacy voice and restaff IIP with people who would be — presumably — skilled to do that and an improvement on the so-called musty civil servants. The government, it was noted, should have a right to hire and fire whom it wants.

      That opportunity was utterly lost. The messages that came out of that bureau seemed geared more at US audiences and were disconnected from perspectives of regional audiences and what would matter to them. It was a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to disseminating our country’s priorities as identified at that time.

      IIP’s ‘products’ were written by contractors who often had no critical understanding of the regions and the constituencies they were supposed to be influencing or sharing information with.

      Instead, cronies and politically connected people were installed in those jobs, presided over by compliant supervisors. The message of the USG was utterly lost and crafted more like messages are during our campaign seasons. Contractors were paid big bucks to go into “internet rooms” and “engage” radicals, posting comments here and there. Meanwhile lower-level contractors, some hired for language skills, were penalized and lost their jobs if they dared make practical suggestions for improving PD efforts. The beauty of it, being contractors, who would care if they were dropped from the contract? The AFGE unfortunately did not get the seriousness of the situation, even when hoards of IIP employees came and asked for its assistance. The biggest success of the reorganization at IIP was the breaking of the civil service union and gaining the right to install people who didnt always know the difference between a Sunni and a Shia.

      07/3/12 2:24 PM | Comment Link

    • Janice said...


      *…for using social media for trying to foster a civil society in Egypt that would be seen as a challenge by the Egyptian government ..

      07/3/12 2:41 PM | Comment Link

    • Frederick Fellow said...


      Janice: The civil service union hasn’t been broken enough, as many civil service employees at State seem to think that they are untouchable. Some get away with flagrant abuses of the system. The gall of some bureaucrats is incredible. In addition to the union problem, the budgeting system is really insane and has also played a role in State’s decrepitude of attitude. The guiding principle of “use it or lose it” really translates as “waste it or give it back”–and nobody wants to give it back when they can buy favors and influence for later on. The place is loaded with conflicts of interest. They have a system that encourages waste and maintenance of the status quo. And because managerial oversight of civil service employees is sorely lacking, the spirit of the Milgram experiment is something that can be seen in action at State on a daily basis. It’s just a little too freakin’ cozy over there at State.

      07/3/12 6:18 PM | Comment Link

    • Public Diplomacy: “… then Social Media it is” | Justrecently's Weblog said...


      […] Diplomacy: “… then Social Media it is” One of the core problems with the State Department, and the one that most significantly contributes to the Department’s increasing irrelevance in […]

      07/5/12 5:41 PM | Comment Link

    • Anthony said...


      While there are, of course, improvements that can and should be made for State to be more effective, there is much more involved in diplomacy then being able to quantitatively measure changes that occur. Firstly, when dealing with perception it is incredibly difficult to measure and then be certain that the measured change is directly and solely related to any specific action. Not to mention that such changes take a great deal of work and time, so results can rarely been seen in only a few years.

      Diplomacy is important, but it is not a ‘quick fix’ and the reputation of the United States has suffered tremendously – it will not be easy to remedy this problem. Dialog, exchange and interaction will make a great deal of difference in the long-term relationships with governments and publics worldwide. Social media is not a magic bullet and in my discussions at State there is no delusion that it is, but it is seen as an important tool.

      We noticed the devastating results of removing ourselves from the conversation in the late 1990’s with divestment in USIA and State department operations and we cannot afford to risk that again. It might not yet be perfect, but we must experiment and experience to understand the best method and strategy. Tearing down these individuals while they work to make a safer environment for current and future generations is sad, appalling and perhaps even ignorant.

      08/6/12 3:32 AM | Comment Link

    Leave A Comment

    Mail (will not be published) (required)