- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
Back in June, 2003, current GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich wrote a piece for Foreign Policy titled, "Rogue State Department," which accused the department of undermining the Bush administration’s foreign policy and argues that it needs to "experience culture shock, a top-to-bottom transformation that will make it a more effective communicator of U.S. values around the world." (As far as I can tell, this makes Gingrich and Ron Paul the two past FP contributors in the race.
Published just weeks after Bush’s "Mission Accomplished" speech, the piece feels a like a bit of a relic of the short-lived triumphalism of the early Iraq war. For one thing, it, just a tad prematurely, refers to the war in the past tense and mockingly notes a leaked internal State Department memo that worried that "liberal democracy would be difficult to achieve [in Iraq]".
Gingrich’s thoughts on global media coverage of the Iraq war are interesting:
Moreover, the rise of a global anti-American network of activists and nations — including left-wing non-governmental organizations, elite media, and most of the elite academics around the world (including in the United States) — further increases the country’s need for a comprehensive communication and information strategy. The British Broadcasting Corporation, according to some observers, was at least as hostile to the United States as Al Jazeera was during the entire Iraqi conflict. Today, the United States does not have a strategy, structure, or resource allocation capable of dealing with this sort of opposition. That must change if the United States is to gain sufficient popular appeal with ordinary people around the world, such that their governments will in turn support U.S. policies.[…]
[T]he U.S. government should commission a comprehensive study on the international press coverage of the United States leading up to and during the war in Iraq. The study should encompass state-owned media in the Arab world to determine if those outlets are a major contributing source of anti-American hostility. Private media organizations attacking the United States represent a different phenomenon from state-owned media attacking the United States. The latter is a government-sponsored act of hostility and should be dealt with accordingly.
Government-sponsored act of hostility? Does that mean sanctions on Qatar? Or Britain, for that matter?
It’s also interesting to note that Gingrich believes the success or failure of U.S. diplomacy should be judged on the basis of global public opinion:
An independent public affairs firm should report weekly on how U.S. messages are received in at least the world’s 50 largest countries. One can hardly overstate how poorly the United States communicates its message and values to the world: Large majorities in France, Germany, and South Korea opposed the U.S. perspective on Iraq — not to mention the 95 percent disapproval rate in Turkey. Without external professional help and guidance, internal efforts by the State Department will be a waste of time. Wherever possible, U.S. chambers of commerce should help explain and develop the rule of law, transparency and accountability in government, and free markets across the globe. And business advisory groups drawn from effective, internationally sophisticated corporations should advise the State Department on how to improve U.S. communication strategies.
The president should receive a weekly report on U.S. successes and failures in communicating around the world from a special assistant for global communication, a new post with coordinating authority over the State Department, the Defense Department, and other agencies engaged in international communication efforts. Only by raising this critical challenge to the level of presidential concern will dramatic improvements ever materialize. And progress should be gauged with measurable improvements in public and elite understanding of U.S. values and positions around the world — not by how much money is spent on the communication program.
The ultimate thrust of the piece is that the poor international reception for the Bush adminsitration’s policies — particularly the war in Iraq — was not inevitable and should have been counteracted by aggressive public promotion by the State Department.
The notion of creating a "special assistant for global communication" and judging the success of U.S. diplomacy, presumably, by looking at how U.S. policies are viewed in global opinion polls, seems like a pretty novel notion and I’d be curious to know if Gingrich still supports it eight years later. Perhaps some fodder for discussion in his upcoming "Lincoln-Douglas-style" foreign-policy debate with Jon Huntsman.