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John Lenczowski discusses public diplomacy at the Heritage Foundation

On March 20, 2018, IWP founder and president Dr. John Lenczowski participated in The Heritage Foundation’s panel discussion on “Public Diplomacy Challenges for the Trump Administration.” The Institute of World Politics has been instructing its students on the “war of ideas” in foreign policy for many years, and this subject has recently been an increasingly prominent debate topic in the world of foreign policy.

The panel on which Dr. Lenczowski participated was on the topic of “The State Department and the BBG: Urgent Need for Reform.” It consisted of three speakers: Dr. Lenczowski; Haroon K. Ullah, Chief Strategy Officer of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG); Thomas M. Hill, a visiting fellow in Governance Studies from The Brookings Institution; and Helle C. Dale, a senior fellow for Public Diplomacy at The Heritage Foundation, who served as moderator.

Dr. Lenczowski discussed the strategic forces surrounding broadcasting, noting that, currently, the focus of foreign affairs is primarily materialistic. He argued, however, that it is important to focus on relations with people, not only the relationships with the governments. Dr. Lenczowski called for the State Department to reform to reward the practice of public diplomacy.

He asserted that, as a nation, it is necessary to attack an adversarial regime’s “center of gravity,” which is the monopoly of communication. A regime can have the power to control people’s minds, thoughts, and behaviors. Consequently, in order to influence people to rise up against an oppressive regime, they need to have the ability to communicate ideas between one another.

A strong broadcasting ability helps the citizens connect with Western ideas and undermines the regimes’ power. For this reason, Dr. Lenczowski argued that the United States needs to be broadcasting to the entire world. Specifically, the U.S. needs to make investments and fund the Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM), which allows citizens to reach once moderated and even restricted internet sources anonymously.

Dr. Ullah discussed the importance of information as weapons and the BBG’s data-driven approach. Information statecraft is a key component to foreign policy in terms of informing, engaging and connecting people with Western ideals, according to Dr. Ullah. He argued that, in today’s foreign affairs, there are no battle lines, rather, overlapping oppressive groups, regimes, and terrorist organizations that have mastered the art of media to influence followers and supporters throughout the world. For example, in the Middle East, Mohamad al-Arefe has 20 million followers and is the number one encourager of the younger generations to join ISIS. Thus, it is BBG’s goal to combat such propaganda through broadcasting Western ideology.

Specifically, Dr. Ullah argued that the BBG has been focusing on who their audience is because “the narrower the audience, the bigger the impact.” Furthermore, he asserted, the most effective messages come from our journalists in the field, and BBG is having a prominent influence in the world.

Mr. Hill argued that the BBG has not been as effective as it could be throughout the years. He stated that the BBG’s three charters are not equally enforced or achieved within the organization. The three charters state that the Voice of America will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news, will represent America by presenting a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions, and will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively.

Specifically, Mr. Hill argued that the BBG does not effectively present the United States’ foreign policy. Rather, it simply presents and broadcasts the news its audience wants to hear. The problem with this approach is that all other news sources report on the same incidents. Therefore, the BBG needs to report the unknown stories on the United States government’s effectiveness and success in foreign policy in areas outside of military operations. Mr. Hill urged the BBG to fulfil its mandate given by Congress to effectively present United States foreign policy.

To conclude, the panel deliberated on how Congress needs to reform its outlook on public diplomacy, and the general consensus was that Congress should view all diplomacy, including public diplomacy, as equally important, especially when it comes to funding. Congress should do this by providing equal support via the Federal Budget and funding. In Dr. Lenczowski’s words, “It is reckless and irresponsible to not fully support public diplomacy.”