Obama's Voice Corps: recruit and train fluent speakers of Arabic, Bahasa, Farsi, Urdu and Turkish
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Sun May 25 00:55:51 UTC 2008
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Whose face to the world?
By Steven W. Barnes
Friday, May 23, 2008
*PRINCETON, New Jersey:*
There is a growing debate in the United States and abroad over which
presidential candidate is best positioned to improve America's standing in
the world. The candidates themselves are taking this issue seriously; all
seem to agree that America's current public diplomacy efforts are badly
flawed.On the Democratic side, Senator Barack Obama outlined elements of his
public diplomacy program in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in
February. He talked of funding "America Houses" overseas that would
"incorporate youth centers and libraries that are needed throughout the
broader Muslim world."
He also promised to establish a "Voice Corps" - an administration would
"rapidly recruit and train fluent speakers of Arabic, Bahasa, Farsi, Urdu
and Turkish who can ensure our voice is heard - and that we listen -
throughout the world."Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's foreign policy
speeches have included the theme of re-establishing America's "moral
authority" on the world stage.
The Clinton supporters Lissa Muscatine and Melanne Verveer recently argued
on the popular Huffington Post blog that "Hillary Clinton has been
practicing public diplomacy for years and is widely respected around the
world for her longtime commitment to international development, human rights
and America's global leadership." On the Republican side, Senator John
McCain, last year outlined a key element of his plan for overseas outreach
in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel.
"I would establish a single, independent agency responsible for all of
America's public diplomacy," he said. Such an agency would, among other
things, establish "American libraries with Internet access throughout the
world" and create "a professional corps of public-diplomacy experts who
speak the local language and whose careers are spent promoting American
values, ideas, culture and education."
The candidates' positions have generated a lively debate among analysts,
particularly online. One contributor to a public-diplomacy blog hosted by
Marc Lynch of George Washington University, Steve Corman of Arizona State
University, recently wrote of the candidates' positions: "They all seem to
assume that the problem is in the way we have been designing, organizing
and/or deploying messages [overseas], and that if we just correct that we
will start winning the 'war of ideas.' But the problem goes much deeper than
that: As study after study has shown, the international credibility of the
U.S. is in the basement, if not underground."
A former American diplomat, John Brown, also weighed in on Lynch's blog,
saying that the next president should "take foreign public opinion into
serious consideration at the beginning, not at the end, of the policy-making
process." On a blog cohosted by the University of Southern California's
Center on Public Diplomacy and the Foreign Policy Association, a
representative of the Association of International Educators asserted, "U.S.
foreign policy must be underpinned by a strong foundation for dialogue and
collaboration with other nations." This goal may be accomplished, they
advised, by "building the international knowledge and cross-cultural skills
of Americans through study abroad and foreign-language and area studies; and
attracting the international students and scholars who are the world's next
generation of leaders and innovators."
Recently, Justin Logan, blogging for the libertarian think-tank, the Cato
Institute, as part of a wider public diplomacy discussion, hit on a key
aspect of the larger debate, citing a 2006 U.S. Government Accountability
Office report evaluating how the State Department engages Islamic audiences
abroad. The GAO, Logan noted, unequivocally stated that "U.S. foreign policy
is the major root cause behind anti-American sentiments among Muslim
populations and that this point needs to be better researched, absorbed, and
acted upon by government officials." The presidential contenders and voters
should ignore this dialogue at their own peril, for the next president's
foreign policy will determine whether and how America's standing in the
world improves or founders.
By engaging in this important policy debate now, the candidates will be
better prepared to achieve a consensus on the way forward, so that the full
measure of America's diplomatic strength may be brought to bear come January
2009. Fortunately, there is a wealth of research and analysis being
conducted in policy and academic circles that can inform how the next
president employs the various elements of public diplomacy, so that U.S.
foreign policy more effectively shapes, rather than is shaped by, global
*Steven W. Barnes is assistant dean of public affairs at Princeton
University's Woodrow Wilson School.*
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