Bush's failed campaign to rebrand America.

Military analysis.
May 30 2007 5:50 PM

Bush's Failed Campaign To Rebrand America

The administration believes public relations is a synonym for diplomacy.

(Continued from Page 1)

The problem wasn't Beers, Tutwiler, or Hughes personally. Rather, it was the assumption that led Bush to believe that they were qualified for the job to begin with—the assumption that public relations is a synonym for diplomacy.

Back in 2004, the RAND Corporation issued a report that anticipated the main point Floyd would later make from the inside, equally in vain—that the key factor in public diplomacy is not what the U.S. government says but rather what it does.

Advertisement

"Misunderstanding of American values is not the principal source of anti-Americanism," the report concluded. Many foreigners understand us just fine; they simply don't like what they see. It's "some U.S. policies [that] have been, are, and will continue to be major sources of anti-Americanism." (Italics are in the original.)

One crucial aspect of this problem antedates George W. Bush's presidency. It goes back to the mid-1990s, when Jesse Helms, then the xenophobic Republican chairman of the Senate foreign-relations committee, gutted the U.S. Information Agency and swept its tattered remnants into a dark, dank corner of the State Department.

In its Cold War heyday, the USIA had been a fairly independent agency mandated with blaring the principles of American culture and democracy across the world. It sponsored jazz concerts and radio broadcasts, speaking tours, public libraries filled with classic political documents. The operation was so independent from policy-makers that, during the 1960s and early '70s, some American scholars sent out on USIA-sponsored speaking tours openly opposed the Vietnam War.

The agency's relative independence—and its staff's attunement to foreign cultures and languages—conveyed an attractive image of America. But it was also what annoyed Sen. Helms, and so he dismantled the whole operation.

Price Floyd traces the decline of America's standing in the world to this moment. "Back then, the USIA transmitted American values—and this was separate from selling American policy," he said. "The two aren't separated now. There's no entity that makes it possible to separate them. So, if you disagree with our policy, which is easy to do now, then you hate America, too."

In the interview and in his Star-Telegram op-ed piece, Floyd called for something like a restoration of the old USIA, at least in spirit—a return to public diplomacy (as opposed to public relations), a sustained demonstration that America is about more than bombs and soldiers, a realignment of America's words and its actions.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.