Political and social trends in much of Latin America and the Caribbean appear to be headed against the long-term interests of the United States. This challenge may be ameliorated by a combination of development assistance, public diplomacy, and tools that would allow policymakers to exert greater political leverage.
Organizations and governments hostile to the United States are operating throughout Latin America and the Caribbean to radicalize and organize groups and populations against pro-U.S. governments.
As the president’s National Security Strategy suggests, one cannot expect bilateral development assistance and related programs to succeed without strong public diplomacy and political warfare components. In the Americas, as elsewhere around the world, the United States has allowed its once-effective public diplomacy machinery to disintegrate. Some of the disintegration has been willful, with unimaginative foreign policy leaders making conscious decisions to terminate important public diplomacy initiatives.
Consequently, in Latin America and the Caribbean, as elsewhere around the world, the U.S. has lost much of the leverage and human networks it had built for decades through its successful public diplomacy programs. The U.S. did away with crucial broadcasting, citizen exchanges, media services, cultural diplomacy, labor and entrepreneurial exchanges, and other education and training programs that had served the national interest so well in previous decades.
Two years after 9/11, the present administration has done a poor job of reviving public diplomacy – one would have to give it a failing grade – and has ceded the ground to the nation’s adversaries and enemies. Examples in the Arab and Islamic worlds are well-known, but significant examples in the Western Hemisphere illustrate that the U.S. is losing the war of ideas because, to put it plainly, it has chosen not to engage.