Thursday, April 26, 2007

Anti-Americanism on the March

About five pages into the GAO’s latest report on the image of America and Americans abroad, especially in the Muslim world, I was muttering aloud that it sure would be nice to have a functioning State Department about now!!!

The report is an indictment of a State Department in disarray; not merely understaffed, but with an existing staff that is largely unqualified for the positions they hold.. In May 2006, the GAO reported that approximately 15 % of the worldwide public diplomacy positions in the State Department were vacant. Updated information shows that this problem has worsened, with approximately 22 % of such positions currently vacant. Embassy officials indicated that insufficient numbers of staff (and the lack of staff time for public diplomacy activities) hinder outreach efforts. Keep in mind that key objectives of U.S. public diplomacy are to engage, inform, and influence overseas audiences. The department is in such disarray that recipients of American aid are often wholly unaware of the source of that benificence.

The State Department continues to experience significant staffing shortfalls in foreign language proficiency in embassies around the world. This is especially acute in the Muslim world. In May 2006 the GAO reported that 30% of language-proficiency-designated diplomatic positions are filled by officers who lack the level of language proficiency required for their jobs. The current report indicates this figure is up to 36%. Today. This has a negative impact on the ability of the diplomatic officers to engage with the public in the countries hosting our embassies.

In addition to communications deficits, the report highlighted a lack of strategic planning and inadequate coordination among embassy personnel pursuing various efforts and aims. Additionally; no standardized metric of measuring performance and results. This was first pointed out in a GAO report in 2003. Four years later, no strategy has been released, but State swears it will happen real, real, real soon...

State has not issued guidance on how its assorted public diplomacy activities will be coordinated to achieve these goals. In addition, posts’ public diplomacy efforts generally lack important strategic communication elements found in the private sector, which GAO recommended that State adopt as a means to better communicate with target audiences. Key steps in this approach include defining core messages, identifying target audiences, developing detailed communication strategies and tactics, and using research and evaluation to inform and re-direct.

A recent Pew Global Attitudes Project reports finding that favorable attitudes toward the United States in Indonesia (the worlds most populous Muslim country) declined from 75% favorable to a mere 30% between 2000 and 2006. The same time period saw favorable perceptions among citizens of Turkey decline from 52% to 12%. (Turkey, remember, is a NATO ally of the United States.)

Consistently negative polling data is significant because it reveals deeply seated perceptions that are difficult to palliate.

It must be pointed out that correlation is not causation, yet it is obvious that growing anti-American sentiment does nothing to help the United States achieve foreign policy, economic or security goals, and in fact bodes ill for the future of American interests in the Islamic world.

We know that the Iraq War has no singular military solution, that diplomacy will be a key component of the eventual solution.

So…Is anyone feeling inspired?

[--Cross-posted from Watching Those We Chose]

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