Public diplomacy must rest on sound public policy
When President Kennedy in his inaugural address spoke of "a long twilight struggle," he signaled that the Cold War was the challenge and framework defining U.S. foreign policy, as it already had been through previous Republican and Democratic presidencies.
The current challenge is not a struggle against a totalitarian foe. It is not an ideological war. It is not a battle against an enemy called "Islamofascism." Most important, it is not a struggle for national survival against an existential threat. Jihadism and its use of terror are a dangerous threat, but they do not, and cannot, destroy the United States as the Soviet Union could do. From these false assumptions flow false choices, including the false choice between law enforcement and the administration's so-called war paradigm. Instead, law enforcement and military force both must be essential instruments, along with diplomacy, including public diplomacy.
Public diplomacy is not about meeting and greeting, working the rope line, shaking hands or kissing babies. It is not a political campaign. And it is not about convincing Muslim peoples that we too are monotheistic. Public diplomacy rests on policy, and to begin with, the policy must be sound.
The Bush policy has been refuted, but we still must cope with its consequences, and will have to cope with them after 18 more months of inevitable damage. The administration's assumptions have evaporated, but their precipitation remains. But just because Bush has broken things does not mean that the next president must rebuild those very things. Indeed, they cannot be rebuilt because the cracks and fissures were already in the making. As the next administration picks up the pieces, it cannot put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
One characteristic of the Bush administration's false premises, and perhaps the one that has most damaged the nation's reputation, is that its idea of America and its notion of American exceptionalism -- Messianic and Manichaean -- is the only idea of America. But there is another idea of the country, which began even before the country was a nation, before America became the United States, a nation under law. John Winthrop said (and has been cited by Republican and Democratic presidents since) that we must be "as a city upon a hill." The next sentence is: "The eyes of all people are upon us."
We must be unblinkered and unillusioned, conscious of "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind," as our Declaration of Independence put it, with the sense that America never is alone or isolated -- and not ultimately because we are scrutinized by others but because we understand ourselves and our history. America can begin to recover its reputation in the world only through self-recovery. Read more.