Indeed, Clinton, for reasons that are not clear (was she trying, in a moment of jet-lag weakness, to be honest?) acknowledged that, in fact, both the United States and the Soviet Union had practiced propaganda in the last decades of the twentieth century.
Well, it now seems that the Secretary is back on the official USG track, repeating our government's oft-repeated message regarding how "they" spread propaganda while "we" tell the truth. Here, from her remarks at the United States Institute of Peace at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, on October 21, 2009, as duly recorded by the U.S. Department of State:
QUESTION: ... I just want your comments on two questions: How to increase the speed of your counter-propaganda in Pakistan, and second is to coordinate across the whole government to ensure continuity and cohesion of approach? Thank you.When noticing such a righteous proclamation (rather than a well argued, fact-based ["truthful"?] presentation one would expect from a U.S. government official -- and a Yale Law School graduate to boot), I did not take out my revolver -- if I had one; I have never used a weapon in my life, except my bad temper -- but rather remembered the essay by Francis Bacon, in which he wrote: "What is truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer."
SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay. Well, I’m actually very glad that you raised your questions and made your comment, because I think we have, as a government, not done a very good job in responding to what you rightly call propaganda, misinformation, even in some instances disinformation, about our motivations and our actions in Pakistan. That became clear to me as we were doing our review, and I saw how often there were stories in the Pakistani media that were totally untrue, but we were not responding as effectively as we need to.
We have, under Judith McHale, our Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy, undertaken a very thorough analysis of what better we could do, and we are moving very rapidly to try to fill that void. We have a new team going in to Pakistan. A Public Affairs officer may be already there. We have adopted a new approach, which is we do not leave any misstatement or inaccuracy unanswered. It may be that people won’t believe it at first, but we intend to counter a lot of this propaganda with the best weapon we have; namely, the truth [my emphasis].
2. The build-up to the Iraq war was one of the most notorious and crude propaganda campaigns in U.S. history (although not entirely untypical), leading some Department of State employees to leave the Foreign Service. While Obama's decision to continue the war in Afghanistan is, in my view, a major strategic mistake, committing the U.S., as was the case with the war in Viet-Nam, to a part of the world where we have no vital national interests -- and an adventure our economically declining country simply cannot afford -- his administration's current relatively "publicly open" reconsideration of American strategy regarding the "graveyard of empires" does contrast rather "favorably" (if such a word can be used in this tragic case) with the cynical marketing of the Iraq war by the secretive White House Iraq Group, in which the person Bush was to appoint as his Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Karen Hughes, took part.
While Obama and his advisers are, in my modest opinion, wrong in getting the U.S. "engaged" (to use one of his administration's favorite words) in Central Asia (engaged, that is, in the wrong way), at least he's not selling our intervention there (and whatever form it ultimately may take) to the American public with the Bush-like hubris regarding Iraq -- that "we know what we're doing; we'll get the job done no matter what; we're sure of the outcome."
I think there is no military mission, with any kind of benefit to ordinary Americans, to be accomplished in Afghanistan, but at least Obama is not saying that he's totally sure how the mission will be accomplished.
If only Obama, and I suspect that is where his instincts lie, could go a step further -- and cancel the "mission" altogether.
Yet he must go a step further -- and get us out of a quagmire we Americans, at heart no empire builders (I say optimistically), cannot afford. But I am giving those in power too much credit.
For eerie parallels between the U.S. and the USSR in Afghanistan, see the Rhambo III video, now on my list on "must see movies" (along with, for persons who wish to join the Foreign Service, "The Man Who Would be King," based on a Kipling story: Two British soldiers in India decide to set themselves up as deities in Kafiristan).
Also, when Clinton meets with tribal leaders in "Af-Pak," I am reminded of our Indian wars -- wars that, I believe, are the forerunners of the senseless so-called "war on terror" -- a term abandoned, but an activity murderously continued, by the current administration.
3. My well intentioned reservations regarding the name of the University of Southern California student organization, Association of Public Diplomacy Scholars, have drawn critical, if not bitter, reactions from its members. I much appreciate their getting back, but I stand by my contention that the word "scholar," as used by USC MA students to describe themselves, does no service to the English language.
A scholar may be a perpetual student but a student is not an accomplished scholar.
(Full disclosure: although I was charitably given a Ph.D by Princeton University, in no way am I a "scholar," fully realizing this after having had the privilege of meeting some scholars worthy of that name -- and, believe me, there are not too many -- while in academic life).
Also, on a very practical level, I don't think the eager and ambitious USC students pretentiously labelling themselves "Public Diplomacy Scholars" -- yes, I'll repeat the adverb pretentiously -- will help them get real, paying jobs during these hard times (and after the considerable costs -- frankly, I would say outrageous costs -- of getting an MA in PD).