Friday, May 31, 2013

May 31 Public Diplomacy Review

"I've had all the fame a man could want."

--Painter and ex-president (to some war criminalGeorge W. Bush; image from Max Read, "George W. Bush's Art Teacher Says He's Painted 50 Dogs,"


Is American Cultural Diplomacy a Hot Potato? - John Brown, Notes and Essays


Hagel to discuss cyber threat with China - AFP/xq, "The United States must develop 'rules of the road' with China and other countries to mitigate cyber threats, Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said Thursday. The defence secretary spoke after a Pentagon report found that Chinese hackers have gained access to secret designs for a slew of sophisticated US weapons programs, possibly jeopardizing the American military's technological edge. ... The Pentagon chief

said Washington would press Beijing using both public diplomacy and private talks. 'I think it's always important when dealing with other nations that you use a very significant range of options,' he added. 'I've rarely seen that public engagement resolves the problem but it's important that people understand to state where they are on these issues.'" See also. Hagel image from

U.S.-India School Partnership for Real Communication - "Funding Opportunity Description [:] The U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Section in New Delhi is soliciting proposals for grant agreements that fall into the area specified in Section II below from non-governmental organizations, and other legally-recognized non-profit institutions that meet U.S. and/or Indian technical and legal requirements to develop and implement educational and cultural programs ... . U.S.-India School Partnership for Real Communication [:] Individual high schools in India are linked with high schools in the U.S. for curriculum development partnerships, joint projects on selected themes, sharing cultural information and developing personal relationships between students and teachers. Making the most of available technology, students and teachers communicate and collaborate on a regular basis. School linkages would provide the platform for American Studies/Indian Studies curriculum development in the partner schools. Partner schools also collaborate on projects related to global issues: climate change, innovation, conflict resolution, etc. – according to an annual theme selected by the U.S. Department of State (hereafter called USDOS). The recipient organization will identify schools in all major cities in India and America."

Birthright-style program proposed for non-Jews - Sam Sokol, Jerusalem Post: "European leaders should send university students to Israel as part of efforts to combat rising levels of

anti-Semitism and xenophobia, Foreign Ministry director general for public diplomacy Gideon Meir declared on Thursday. He was speaking at the close of the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem." Image from article, with caption: Taglit-Birthright Israel participants celebrate.

The many faces of Dr. Qanta Ahmed, an unlikely defender of Israel: Ahmed, a sleep disorder specialist, is often accused of being a 'Zionist in a Muslim guise.' And her critics were given more ammunition this week when she arrived in Israel for her first-ever visit - Judy Maltz, "Dr. Qanta Ahmed defies most of the usual stereotypes. She’s a staunch defender of Israel, but also a deeply committed Muslim. She’s written a book on gender discrimination in Saudi Arabia, but makes a point of

covering her own arms and legs ‏(albeit with fashionable snug-fitting jeans and a stylish white blazer, with toes and fingernails painted in matching color‏), in compliance with Muslim religious law. ... Despite her personal roots and extensive travels in the Muslim world, Ahmed says she only became interested in Israel in recent years, thanks to a friendship she struck up with a South African-born, Jewish-American philanthropist who had a sister living in Ra’anana, with whom she immediately hit it off. ... That philanthropist is Leslie Sachs, the founder and seed funder of Women’s Voices Now, an organization that seeks to empower women in the Muslim world through an annual film festival ‏(Ahmed sits on its board‏). ... Because she is often accused of being a 'Zionist in Muslim guise,' Ahmed wants her critics to know that ... [her] trip [to Israel] was paid for entirely out of her own pocket and not by any organization or foundation interested in enlisting her in the cause of public diplomacy." Image from article, with caption: Qanta Ahmed. "I have empathy for both sides - but I think there's an unfair portrayal of Israel." |

U.S. efforts to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiation: Too little, too late? Israeli proponents of a two-state solution say settlers can be evacuated if there's political will, but the facts on the ground suggest otherwise - By Amos Harel: "[T]he PA is battling Israel ... in the judicial and public-diplomacy spheres." Image from article, with caption: A Palestinian working in the West Bank settlement.

In the 20 years since Oslo, an eastern bloc of settlements has been created, possibly thwarting future Palestinian development plans.

NA deputies worry about the East Sea conflict - Ngoc Le, VietNamNet Bridge: "Many National Assembly (NA) deputies showed their concern about tensions in the East Sea at group discussions, while the government’s report to the NA does not discuss much about this content. ... Before the NA’s session, HCM City voters suggested the state to take more drastic moves, step up public diplomacy, firmly maintain maritime sovereignty, enhance budget for national security, promote marine economic development and give more support for fishermen. The maritime patrol force should be organized in time to protect property and life for fishermen."

Diplomacy, leadership and future Polish diplomats. Part I - "Exclusive Interview with Jason Worlledge - Executive Director of the European Academy of Diplomacy ... What would you describe as the three attitudes and traits needed most by future diplomats?

1. A global view and understanding of the world; 2. Social Media and Technology / People’s approach (Public Diplomacy); 3. A strong understanding of business and economics." Image from entry

Uncomfortable small talk doesn't do anything for mutual understanding - Public Diplomacy and Student Exchanges: Possibly the first study of the Fulbright Program to be conducted by someone who isn't affiliated with it in any way... - "I've been working on ... interpersonal communication and the emphasis that PD puts on face-to-face conversations. They're supposed to lead to increased understanding, but ... outcomes are not always positive."

Job: Head of OECD Washington Centre - Sam Bedker, "The OECD is recruiting the Head of the OECD Washington Centre, located in the OECD offices in Washington DC. As the OECD's key representative in Washington, he/she will manage activities of the Centre in Washington, while reaching out to the United States and Canada. The selected person will have a strategic approach to stakeholder engagement and media relations across the United States and North America, as well as exceptional leadership, management, communications, public diplomacy and analytical skills.

S/he will have an excellent understanding of policy issues and implementation in different contexts. The Head of OECD Washington Centre will report to the Director of the Public Affairs and Communications Directorate (PAC) in Paris and will liaise closely with the Office of the Secretary-General." Image from


Perils of peace conferences: In Syria, and between Israel and the Palestinians, will we make things worse? - Aaron David Miller, What the U.S. confronts with both the Syrian civil war and the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is a kind of twilight zone that's betwixt and between. The parties involved don't know whether they really want to start a political process, and they certainly don't know how to conclude one. In the end, if the Kerry effort produces another false start or leads to more process and no peace, it would have been better had the secretary of State not engaged at all.

Obama’s Dorothy Doctrine - Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post: We were defenseless on 9/11 because, despite Osama bin Laden’s open written declaration of war in 1996, we pretended for years that no war against us had even begun. Obama would return us to pre-9/11 defenselessness — casting Islamist terror as a law-enforcement issue and removing the legal basis for treating it as armed conflict — by pretending that the war is over.

Al Qaeda propaganda mag crows about Boston and London attacks, urges more - Mike Brunker, NBC News: A new issue of the al Qaeda-published propaganda magazine Inspire crows about recent terrorist attacks in Boston and the U.K. and urges young Muslims to carry out similar

“lone wolf” operations against the West. An English-language version of the spring 2013 issue of the online publication, obtained Thursday by NBC News, contains multiple articles praising alleged Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and one on last week’s gruesome knife slaying of a British soldier in London.

The Romantic Advantage - David Brooks, New York Times: In the race to be the world’s dominant economy, Americans have at least one clear advantage over the Chinese. We’re much better at branding.

Inside China: China’s anti-American column - By Miles Yu, Washington Times: The People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee, has hosted since March 20 a column titled “Immoral and Untrustworthy Americans,” dedicated to a “comprehensive understanding of the United States and the Americans.” According to its editorial introduction, the column has a key objective — to correct the “erroneous impression among overwhelming majority of us Chinese that Americans are honest, trustworthy and virtuous people.” However, that mission statement is followed by a seemingly disingenuous disclaimer: “We don’t mean to say that all Americans lack honesty and trustworthiness, devoid of morality; our goal is to present to all our readers the other side of our experiences in America in order to comprehensively know the true United States and the Americans.”

The column collects and publishes examples of American society’s pathology in order to expose the immorality and untrustworthiness of the American people. It marks a departure from  China’s 70-year tradition of anti-American propaganda by attacking the American people as well as their government. Even at the height of Maoist anti-American hysteria, the party line was always that the U.S. government  was evil but the American people were good. The column has sparked hot debate among China’s Internet users. While many echo the column, others have ridiculed it as a sign of the Chinese government’s own immorality and untrustworthiness because it singles out all the negative aspects of the American people and presents them as the entirety of Americans’ character. Facing mounting ridicule in cyberspace, the People’s Daily on May 25 changed the column’s title to “The America You Don’t Yet Know.” But the negativity, or what the newspaper calls the “negative energy” of the American people, continues. Image from article, with caption: The People's Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee, started a column in mid-March titled "Immoral and Untrustworthy Americans," though two months later it changed the title to "The America You Don't Yet Know."

Larry King to launch show on Russian propaganda network - Jamie Weinstein, The iconic 79-year-old American broadcaster is joining the Russian-funded propaganda network RT America two and a half years after he was gently pushed out at CNN after a quarter century at the network.

RT will carry King’s online program, “Larry King Now,” as well as a new program, “Politics with Larry King.”RT will carry King’s online program, “Larry King Now,” as well as a new program, “Politics with Larry King.” See also: Larry King clarifies working relationship with RT network
- Alexander Panov, Russia Today Larry King, via Facebook, denies claims that he has been hired by the American branch of RT TV channel; via RM on Facebook King image from entry

50 Types of Propaganda - Mark Nichol, Are you a propagandist? If you write nonfiction intended to persuade, yes, by a broad definition, you almost certainly are. Here are fifty terms for, and definitions of, forms of propaganda, at least one of which such writers will likely employ in a given piece of content. Propaganda (the word is from a New Latin term meaning “propagating,” synonymous in this connotation with publicizing) has been defined as “communication intended to shape perceptions, manipulate cognition, and direct behavior.” That’s a broad definition — a narrower one would limit propaganda to willful, prejudicial manipulation of information — but it helps writers and readers understand that because almost any content can be considered propaganda, they must be alert to the subtext of almost any content they produce or consume.

The Sculptor Who Will Represent America In The Art World’s Battle Royale - Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan,  The Venice Biennale is kind of like the Olympics of art. Every other year, each country picks a single artist to represent it on the international stage — a weird but interesting way to quantify success in the art world. So who’s the most interesting artist in America right now? Meet the 43-year-old sculptor Sarah Sze, whose complex installations are made from millions of fragments of found objects. Sze’s installation, which opened on Wednesday, is

called Triple Point, and cascades from the roof of the American pavilion in a wave of bits and pieces and loops through the interior like a well-organized tornado. The piece, like many of Sze’s science-inspired installations, has an unlikely connection to physics. It’s named after the thermodynamic concept of a temperature and pressure at which a substance exists at all three phases — gas, liquid, and solid — at the same time. Top image from; below image from article


World Russia Forum in Washington D.C. 11 June:  Please join the leading American and Russian experts at the Russian Cultural Center in Washington D.C. to discuss the role of NGOs, Public Diplomacy, and Media in formulating the agenda for US - Russia political, educational and cultural cooperation. Agenda: 10.00 - 11.00 AM: What are the most important disagreement issues between the United States and Russia? 11.00 - 11.15 AM: Coffee Break 11.15 - 12.45 PM: Is it possible to find common and mutually beneficial approaches to resolve at least some of these issues and what is the role of NGOs, Public Diplomacy and the Media in this process? 12.45 - 2.00 PM: Lunch Break 2.00 - 3.15 PM: Educational and cultural exchanges as an effective tool in promoting US - Russia rapprochement. How one defines the role of "Soft Power" in this process? 5.00 - 7.00 PM: Concluding Reception

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Is American Cultural Diplomacy a Hot Potato?

Is American Cultural Diplomacy a Hot Potato?

John Brown

(Note:  This paper is a near-final draft that, it is expected, will be published in the near future. The author would appreciate comments/criticisms, 
but asks that the piece not be cited until it is published -- if it indeed will be.)

"Ô douce Volupté, sans qui, dès notre enfance, Le vivre et le mourir nous deviendraient égaux."

--La Fontaine

Enter Cultural Diplomacy

In 1959, the term “cultural diplomacy” officially entered into the U.S. State Department lexicon.

In that year, in remarks [1]  at the University of Maine recorded in Vital Speeches of the Day, Robert H. Thayer, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for the Coordination of International Educational and Cultural Relations, stated that:
[F]oreign relationships are no longer relationships between government, or heads of state – foreign relationships are the relationship between people of all countries – and relationships between peoples are governed by the way people think and live, and eat, and feel and this represents the culture of a people; and so today we have in the forefront of the implementation of our foreign policy, CULTURAL DIPLOMACY, and to my mind the most important means of bringing complete mutual understanding between peoples, which in turns compels mutual understanding between governments. ...
The objective of American cultural diplomacy is to create in the peoples of the world a perfect understanding of the life and culture of America.
Also in 1959, a State Department 50-page publication (describing foreign USG foreign outreach program) stated its own definition of cultural diplomacy: “the direct and enduring contact between peoples of different nations” aiming to “help create a better climate of international trust and understanding in which official relations can operate.” [2]

Can the Undefinable Be Defined?

Since these two Cold War definitions, countless others have appeared worldwide, all trying to clarify what has become, according to C.E. Gienow-Hecht and Mark C. Donfried in a recently published volume, “an increasingly perplexing and controversial term.” [3]

Efforts to define cultural diplomacy have included distinguishing it from related forms of communication: propaganda (first highlighted as a term in the 16th century by the Roman Catholic Church) [4] and public diplomacy, coined in its original Cold War era meaning at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in the mid-1960s. [5]

Distinctions have been made between cultural diplomacy and cultural relations. The introduction to former U.S. diplomat/scholar Richard Arndt’s study, The First Resort of Kings -- a magnificent achievement, charmingly idiosyncratic -- states:
“Cultural relations” ... (and its synonym – at least in the U.S. – “cultural affairs”) means literally the relations between national cultures, those aspects of intellect and education lodged in any society that tends to cross borders and connect with foreign institutions. Cultural relations grow naturally and organically, without government intervention. ... [C]ultural diplomacy can only be said to take place when formal diplomats, serving national governments, try to shape and channel this natural flow to advance national interests." [6]
Cultural relations and cultural exchange are also differentiated. According to Nicholas J. Cull, author of widely admired studies about the United States Information Agency, cultural diplomacy “is an actor’s attempt to manage the international environment through making its cultural resources and achievement known overseas and/or facilitating cultural transformation abroad.” For the online Oxford English Dictionary (OED), it is “the furthering of international relations by cultural exchange.”

As for cultural exchange, the OED says it is “a temporary reciprocal exchange of representatives, students, or artists between countries, with the aim of fostering goodwill and mutual understanding.” For Cull, it is “an actor’s attempt to manage the international environment by sending its citizens overseas and reciprocally accepting citizens from overseas for a period of study and/or acculturation.” [7]

What the hell is it, anyway?

Does the lack of a universally accepted definition of cultural diplomacy make it an “awkward or delicate matter” -- in other words, a “hot potato”? [8]

My inclination is to say yes.

The more traditional political diplomacy and economic diplomacy are more straightforward and thus less problematical. The former, according to Thayer, is “the method used to implement our foreign policy.” The latter occurred, says Thayer, due to “our rapid economic development,” which caused foreign relations to become “involved in trade agreements, customs duties, export and import duties and the like.”

The use of military force, an expression of “hard power,” can be more acceptable to policymakers and the public than the vague “soft power” with which cultural diplomacy is associated. Does not labeling a program as a war against something (terror, drugs, poverty) mobilize voters to support it more willingly than calling for activities focused on mutual understanding with other peoples, and especially those who, as George W. Bush put it, “hate our freedoms?”[9]

“When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked about soft power in 2003, he replied I don’t know what it means,” soft-power guru Joseph Nye notes in his 2006 essay on the subject. [10]

In order to justify funding for cultural diplomacy, its advocates focus on its concrete educational dimension (e.g., the Fulbright program [11]) rather than its more nebulous cultural ones. Michael Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, thinks that teaching arts management to foreigners is a no-nonsense “new approach” to cultural diplomacy, better than taxpayer-provided foreign artistic performances that don’t "really" influence citizens by entertaining the elite. [12] Even the culturally sensitive Arndt, in a recent interview, said cultural diplomacy should be “probably 60 or 70 percent education.” [13]

“Seeing,” to quote Thayer’s speech again, is “believing” -- but with cultural diplomacy you can’t see precisely what you’re supposed to believe! As the eminent cultural diplomacy scholar Frank Ninkovich writes:
[C]ultural ... programs cannot effectively promote narrow national interests (of which the United States has many). That sort of thing must be left to the traditional instruments of foreign policy. The programs themselves, like internationalism more generally, are based at bottom on an act of faith." [14] 
The musician Dave Brubeck and his wife Iola, who travelled the world over on jazz tours sponsored by the State Department, provided the essence of cultural diplomacy with this quotation from their musical: “No commodity is quite so strange/As this thing called cultural exchange.” [15]

Culture and Diplomacy

There is a tension between culture, in all its strangeness, and diplomacy, in all its seriousness. To be sure, diplomacy and culture are forms of communication. But they are different kinds of communication. At is most basic, diplomacy consists of negotiations that traditionally were (and still are) held behind closed doors.

On the other hand, culture -- highbrow, lowbrow, or seen anthropologically (to quote Thayer again, “the way people think and live, and eat, and feel”) is essentially an open conversation or declaration, expressed most strikingly and memorably by artists sharing (and, let's face it, sometimes spitting)  their genius at their audiences.

Negotiations, in theory (but, granted, not always in practice), can lead to a signed, formal agreement, whereas the outcome of “mutual understanding,” putatively produced by cultural diplomacy, cannot be so clearly measured. [16] And sometimes, as Ninkovich suggests, the meeting of one culture with another can lead to shock and deracination, not kumbaya people-to-people love-ins.

Of course, the boundaries between art and diplomacy are at times fuzzy. Some ambassadorial political appointees with taste and money have admirable art exhibitions, with the State Department curating their display through its Office of Art in Embassies.[17] And some artists can be savvy negotiators.

Take Picasso. He was probably far tougher at getting his own way that low-ranking “cultural diplomats” negotiating with their foreign counterparts about a cultural agreement on how many academics they should exchange. As the anecdote goes, when a visitor to the egocentric Spaniard’s studio “stood in front of a painting for several minutes, and asked  ... ‘What does it represent?’ Picasso replied without hesitation, ‘Two hundred thousand dollars.’ ” [18]

Still, wouldn’t most agree that Picasso was an artist first, and a negotiator second? Michael K. Busch, Program Coordinator at the Colin L. Powell Center for Leadership and Service at The City College of New York, notes that at the State Department “Bureaucrats are rarely celebrated for their aesthetic sensibilities. Indeed, the modern machinery of state seems to suffocate the creative spirit by design.” [19] 

As one distinguished former U.S. ambassador (kind enough to read this piece in draft) put it to me:  a "normal cultural activity" is when "the artist or museum or poet gets paid, and that's the end of it."

William Benton, an assistant secretary of state during the Truman administration, noted in 1959 (the year the term cultural diplomacy was coined "officially" by the USG) that the U.S. State Department
was in the propaganda business and not in the art business. The State Department will always be in the propaganda business and will never be in the art business. 'Art' judged from the standpoint of the U.S. Government and its Congressional appropriations, applied to overseas activities, must always be judged from its impact as propaganda – and never from its impact as art. [20]
The uneasiness of diplomatic and other government officials when dealing with cultural diplomacy was demonstrated during the so-called “golden age” [21] of American cultural diplomacy during the Cold War. At that time, a considerable number of USG-supported artistic initiatives caused consternation -- some, granted, no more than tempests-in-a-teapot -- for being at odds with American “values,” with the State Department and the United States Information Agency (USIA)[22] involved, not to speak of the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government. [23]

Today there is more tolerance among USA lawmakers and their constituencies for the U.S. government using unconventional forms of cultural expression (especially if they are obtained at bargain-store prices) as a way to promote American interests overseas. But it is hard to imagine that the State Department -- currently enamored with hip-hop as the premier American musical form for export ("Hip hop is America," said Hillary Clinton [24]) -- would dare using truly risqués artists of this musical genre, with its often scatological, misogynistic lyrics, in order to make the world safe for democracy by improving the American image overseas. [25]
“Culture should never be diplomatic.”

The diplomat-artist mutual suspicion goes both ways. To some of the artistically inclined, cultural diplomacy is a not-so-hidden effort camouflaged to manipulate them. In the words of Brandon Woolf: 
We are compelled to ask: Is cultural diplomacy a marketing tool for a damaged American image abroad? ... Or: Is cultural diplomacy a tool for disseminating the varied lore of neoliberal ideology? ... Or: Is cultural diplomacy in a slightly more sinister light  a tool of American “soft power,” as it was considered during the Cold War? Or: Is cultural diplomacy a strictly functional or transactional tool veiled somehow by fuzzy invocations of 'culture' employed to achieve particular policy objectives. Or: Is cultural diplomacy ... a tool designed to engage 'today’s and tomorrow’s leaders in the discussion and development of approaches, mechanisms, and actions that use culture as the keystone in effectively addressing and anticipating national, international, and human security concerns.' Culture as/for security? Interesting. [26]
Brandon Woolf’s skeptical if not conspiratorial attitude is echoed by sociologist and cultural commentator Tiffany Jenkins who, in her piece titled “Artists, resist this propagandist agenda,” argues that “culture should never be diplomatic.”

She notes that “The relationship between culture and politics has never been straightforward. The arts have been used by leaders throughout history to bolster their status and authority, and to lend weight to concepts such as ‘the nation’. Artists, in turn, have used their talents to promote different agendas and to take sides in conflicts and revolutions. But, in recent times, this relationship has been formalised, made more explicit and prescriptive. After the failures of the ‘war on terror’, politicians are now elevating the role of culture in international policymaking.”

She adds that “Cultural diplomacy encourages art to be aligned with government and politics, when the relationship is always more complicated. ... Even when art is political, it is usually at its most powerful when it is nuanced.” [27]

To be sure, some artists, no matter how “high” or “low” their art, have long collaborated with the powers-that-be. As Jenkins herself states, “many cultural leaders -- eager for affirmation and purpose -- have embraced the 'agenda' of international policymaking." The degree of this collaboration (or submission, in the case of authoritarian/totalitarian states) has varied throughout history and from country to country. [28] 

But I would say that the modern artistic sensibility finds too close a rapport with the government party line (foreign or otherwise) unsettling, despite the existence of a cultural diplomacy that arguably aims by its very tortuous terminology to reconcile a tension between art and the state that has existed since Plato -- who wanted, as is well known, to expel troublesome artists from his ideal Republic. [29]

Here’s what the British rapper Lowkey (Kareem Denis) declares: “Hip hop at its best has exposed power, challenged power, it hasn't served power. When the US government loves the same rappers you love, whose interests are those rappers serving?’"[30] Or, as one commentator put it, “The argument goes that when the government touches Hip Hop, it’s been sullied beyond value.” [31]

Dare not tell its name

Cultural diplomacy can be a hot potato for three reasons suggested thus far:

--It’s hard to define and thus to justify its being government-funded;

--It can be at odds with the no-risk diplomatic/bureaucratic mentality, especially in the case of its artistic dimension;

--It is viewed with suspicion by its some of its beneficiaries, potential or actual. Also, the cultural diplomacy of a sending country, intended to improve “mutual understanding,” can actually offend the receiving country. [32]

A final reason why cultural diplomacy can be a hot potato -- and this especially applies to the United States -- is that it includes the word “culture” in its adjectival form. Our Cold War coiner of “cultural diplomacy” Robert Thayer, who lived abroard -- France and Rumania, where culture played such an important role in national life -- confessed in his 1959 Orono, Maine speech: 
What is cultural diplomacy and how is it coordinated? Culture is a word considered by  many people as carrying weird and unpleasant connotations -- long hair, bohemian living, musty books, and ivory towers -- or else it is considered as being either something way up in the intellectual stratosphere, or a false facade of artificial refinement.
In a previously published article, [33] I speculate on historical reasons for America’s “anti-cultural” attitude, including why it has no ministry of culture, so I will not repeat them here. But, to make my point that the word “culture” has historically been discomforting for Americans, let me cite what President John F. Kennedy’s appointee to then-new post of assistant secretary of  state for educational and cultural aairs, Philip H. Coombs, had to say:
[T]here is the unhappy fact that in our society this excellent word "culture" is in some quarters its own worst enemy, as anyone will agree who has ever sought funds for "cultural aairs" from a congressional appropriations committee. There are still those who find it a less than manly word and deride the notion that anything wearing the label could possibly have important bearing on the serious business of foreign policy. (Even the British have their troubles with it. The London Times in 1934 congratulated the founders of the British Council for avoiding "culture" in its title. It was a word, the Times observed, which "comes clumsily and shyly o the Englishman’s tongue.") [34]
And here’s CIA agent Thomas W. Braden’s public confession, appearing in a May 20, 1967 mass circulation magazine on why his agency secretly supported foreign “cultural outreach” operations during the early Cold War:
Does anyone really think that congressmen would foster a foreign tour by an artist who has or has had left-wing connections? And imagine the scuffles that would break out as congressmen fought over money to subsidize the organizations in their home districts. ...  Back in the early 1950's, when the Cold War was really hot, the idea that Congress would have approved many of our projects was about as likely as the John Birch Society's approving Medicare. [35]
Finally, the observations of a practicing Cultural Affairs Officer (an accomplished poet, rare among State Department functionaries) who served in Western Europe during the last decades of the past century are still relevant on how cultural diplomacy -- or at least its cultural side -- is perceived today:
I am always embarrassed when people ask me what I do. And people, for the lack of anything better to say, seem to be asking it all the time. I reply, sotto voce, that I am the Cultural Attaché, hoping that they won't hear and that we can go on to something else. "But what does a Cultural Attaché DO?" they come back brightly, sensing they've got me on the defensive. I try to pass it off with a melancholy quip like "as little mischief as possible," hoping that my unwillingness to supply information will discourage them. Such a happy solution is rare. They persist (more inquisitorial now): "But I mean, what you DO?"

I'd really like to explain that my purpose in life, if you want to get down to that, is being, not doing, but even I have come to realize that there's no point trying to go into all that at a cocktail party. So I resign myself and try to fabricate a version of "what I do" that will confer on my activities some semblance of respectability.

I cast about for the proper retort. Education. That's it. It's a respectable word. (Culture is still a "dirty" one.) So I reply, in that serious, deliberate tone proper to the civil servant, that I am involved in setting up exchanges of students and professors.

"Oh, how interesting," warbles the little old lady, her birdlike eye taking on a glitter, "how glad I am to meet you. My granddaughter wants to get a Fulbright and go to Europe to study singing. Could you tell me ... "

You're saved. For, as all of you know, our exchange apparatus is as complicated as a Dr. Seuss machine, and you can spend a very very long time trying to explain it.

Educational exchange is a fine face-saver. But it's only a part of my job. [36]
John H. Brown, former diplomat dealing with press and cultural affairs, joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1981 and was promoted into its senior ranks in 1997. He served in London, Prague, Krakow, Kiev, Belgrade, Moscow, and Washington, D.C. He currently teaches a graduate-level course at Georgetown University, “Propaganda and U.S. Foreign Policy: A Historical Overview,” and is a consultant to the Open World Leadership Center Trust Fund program. He compiles the near-daily “Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review Blog.”

Image from

[1] Robert H. Thayer, “Cultural Diplomacy: Seeing is Believing,” Vital Speeches of the Day 25 (October 1, 1959): 740-744. According to Thayer, however, the cultural diplomacy of the Soviets was not to be trusted: “When the Soviets speak of peace they have in mind red peace – the absolute victory of world communism.” A year after Thayer’s speech, Frederick C. Barghoorn published his study, The Soviet Cultural Offensive: The Role of Cultural Diplomacy in Soviet Foreign Policy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960). (On Barghoorn,  who arguably helped to give “cultural diplomacy” a bad name in the U.S. as a form of Soviet propaganda, see The Library of Congress online catalog provides evidence that this was the first scholarly volume to use the term “cultural diplomacy.” On Thayer and U.S. cultural diplomacy in the late 1950s, see Richard T. Arndt, The First Resort of Kings: American Cultural Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, Inc, 2006), chapter 13, especially p. 295. As the scholar Nicholas J. Cull kindly pointed out to me, the term “cultural diplomacy” was mentioned in four newspapers prior to 1959, the most important among these articles being Aline B. Louchheim, “Cultural Diplomacy: An Art We Neglect,” New York Times, January 3, 1954, 16-18, in which she writes (p. 18):
One remembers vividly the virtual inquisition to which Congress subjected members of the State department in 1946 when the latter sent a moderately “modern” art exhibition abroad [see endnote 20]. One thinks of the prevailing, violent antagonism of the majority of Congress toward modern art today. (Ironically, whereas the Congressional Record contains many damnations of abstract art as part of a disruptive Communist plot, in Brazil, when the social-realist Communist painters want to castigate abstract art which they hate with the worst possible epithet, they call it “arte Americana.”) ...
[T]he State Department could have a well-organized, adequately financed program of cultural relations by experts in the fields of all arts in which contemporary expression would not be taboo. ...
[O]ne of the ways in which we might turn reluctant and uneasy military allies into friends would be to earn their respect for our contemporary culture. We can never do this if we are officially indifferent to their cultural efforts and if we remain officially antagonistic to our own most advanced, imaginative and best achievements in modern art and modern architecture.
[2] Cultural Diplomacy, International Educational Exchange Service, Bureau of International Cultural Relations, U.S. Department of State (1959), iv; cited in Jessica C. E. Gienow-Hecht  and Mark C. Donfried (eds.),  Searching for a Cultural Diplomacy (New York and Oxford: Berghan Books, 2010), 25, footnote 2.

[3] Gienow-Hecht and Donfried, 13. Other recent attempts at defining cultural diplomacy (including in the 21st century) can be found in the following: ICD Blog Team, “What Does Cultural Diplomacy Mean to You? 2013, Cultural Diplomacy News (April 4, 2013). For some re; Karl-Erik Norrman, “Definitions, Ideas, Visions and Challenges for Cultural Diplomacy” (January 3, 2013), e-International Relations; Cultural Diplomacy: does it work? A Note by the Director, The Ditchley Foundation (March, 2013);; “Public and Private Cultural Exchange-Based Diplomacy: New Models for the 21st Century: Salzburg Global Seminar Session 490 [April 28–May 2, 2012];.

[4] “Sacred Congregation of Propaganda,” Catholic Encyclopedia online

[5] Nicholas J. Cull, “‘Public Diplomacy’ Before Gullion: The Evolution of a Phrase,” USC Center on Public Diplomacy

[6] Arndt, xviii.

[7] Nicholas J. Cull, “Public diplomacy: Taxonomies and Histories,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 616, Public Diplomacy in a Changing World (March, 2008), 33-34.

[9] “Text: President Bush Addresses the Nation,” Washington Post, September 20, 2001. Skepticism about the benefits of "culture" are shared among members of academe:  "Everything depends in the end on whether we can find direct, causal evidence: we need to show that exposure to literature itself makes some sort of positive difference to the people we end up being. That will take a lot of careful and insightful psychological research (try designing an experiment to test the effects of reading 'War and Peace,' for example). Meanwhile, most of us will probably soldier on with a positive view of the improving effects of literature, supported by nothing more than an airy bed of sentiment."  From Gregory Currie, "Does Great Literature Make Us Better?" New York Times, June 2, 2013

[10] Joseph S. Nye, Jr., “Think Again: Soft Power,” Foreign Policy, February 23, 2006

[11] On the Fulbright program, see the section of the State Department homepage at

[12] Michael Kaiser, “How Helpful Is Cultural Diplomacy?” Huffington Post (September 21, 2009) On Kaiser, see 

[13] Brian Hardzinski, Suzette Grillot and Joshua Landis, “Evolution Of Embassy Construction Shows The Terrorists Won,” KGOU (May 13, 2013);. Other justification are used, as stated by Cultural Diplomacy: The Linchpin of Public Diplomacy Report of the Advisory Committee on  Cultural Diplomacy (September 2005), 1-2  “Cultural diplomacy:  • Helps create ‘a foundation of trust’ with other peoples, which policy makers can  build on to reach political, economic, and military agreements;  • Encourages other peoples to give the United States the benefit of the doubt on  specific policy issues or requests for collaboration, since there is a presumption of  shared interests;  • Demonstrates our values, and our interest in values, and combats the popular  notion that Americans are shallow, violent, and godless;  • Affirms that we have such values as family, faith, and the desire for education in  common with others;  • Creates relationships with peoples, which endure beyond changes in government;   • Can reach influential members of foreign societies, who cannot be reached through traditional embassy functions;  • Provides a positive agenda for cooperation in spite of policy differences;  • Creates a neutral platform for people-to-people contact;  • Serves as a flexible, universally acceptable vehicle for rapprochement with  countries where diplomatic relations have been strained or are absent;  • Is uniquely able to reach out to young people, to non-elites, to broad audiences  with a much reduced language barrier;  • Fosters the growth of civil society; • Educates Americans on the values and sensitivities of other societies, helping us  to avoid gaffes and missteps;  • Counterbalances misunderstanding, hatred, and terrorism;  • Can leaven foreign internal cultural debates on the side of openness and tolerance.” Comment: This list is so all-inclusive as to be meaningless. Another, more recent, example of "over-hyping" cultural diplomacy is Alan Baker, "Conflict resolution through cultural diplomacy in the Middle East," Regarding the tendency of cultural diplomacy advocates seeking support/funding for it (with the best of intentions) by depicting it essentially as an instrument rather than a "cultural" end in and of itself, see John Brown, "New Initiatives in Cultural Diplomacy: A Comment," Notes and Essays, January 8, 2012 Consider the statement by Antonin Bawdry, current Cultural Counselor at the French Embassy in the U.S., “Les fins de la diplomatie culturelle ne sont pas culturelles.” École normale supérieure, “Puissance de l’autre. A quoi sert la diplomatie culturelle? -1: Séminaire d’Antonin Baudry“ (February 9, 2012)

[14] Frank Ninkovich, U.S. Information and Cultural Diplomacy (New York: Foreign Policy Association, 1996), 58.

[15]  Cited in Anastasia Tsioulcas, “Up the World:  Penny Von Eschen [:] Satchmo Blows Up the World,” JazzTimes, January/February 2006;

[16] Moreover, cultural diplomacy, no matter how defined, can cause “deracination, the uprooting of traditional cultural identities” (Ninkovich, 44) and may not be as benign as Thayer envisioned.

[17] “Arts in Embassies” is one of the State Department’s best (and least known) cultural diplomacy programs (see, which strategically is not under the jurisdiction of the Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (see, but under its Overseas Building Operations. The perfect way to package support for high culture from the eyes of Congress by putting it under “Building Operations”?

[18] Allen Adamson, “What Picasso Knew: Branding Tips For Artists From An Art Basel Insider,” Forbes (May 22, 2013)

[19] Michael K. Busch “Diplomatic Dissent in the State Department,” (July 8, 2012)

[20] Cited in Marilyn S. Kushner, “Exhibiting Art at the American Nation Exhibition in Moscow, 1959,” Journal of Cold War Studies 4 (Winter 2002): 6. As assistant secretary of state, Benton had learned from bitter experience what a hot potato cultural diplomacy (not yet designated as such) could be when an exhibit of contemporary American art displayed overseas under State Department auspices in the late 1940s came under strong U.S. media, Congressional, and White House criticism. See John Brown, “Arts Diplomacy: The Neglected Aspect of Cultural Diplomacy,” in William P. Kiehl, ed., America’s Dialogue with the World, Public Diplomacy Council (2006), 76-78 More on this cultural diplomacy fiasco, quite well documented in the scholarly literature, can be found in the undated brochure produced by the University of Oklahoma, Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and The Politics Of Cultural Diplomacy See also Georgia Museum of Art, Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy. (Athens, GA : University of Georgia, 2012)

[21] A term used by William Glade, “Issues in the Genesis and Organization of Cultural Diplomacy: A Brief Cultural History,” The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society Vol. 39 (Winter 2009): 240. Says Brandeis professor Stephen J. Whitfield: “Studies of cultural diplomacy continue to grow exponentially—or does it only seem that way? The number of historians who have been explaining the triumph of West over East in terms of the fine arts, the popular arts, and the black arts of propaganda threatens to exceed the number of pianists, painters, and trumpeters who were showcased in the ‘soft power’ programs that may have accelerated the end of the Cold War.”  Stephen J. Whitfield, “Upstaging the Cold War: American Dissent and Cultural Diplomacy, 1940–(Fall 2011): 233.

[22] On USIA, see “United States Information Agency,” While USIA carried out some cultural diplomacy programs, its focus was more on information/ public diplomacy. See also Brown, 81-82.

[23] For a summary of these “hot potatoes,” in the late 1940s and 1950s, which could be the subject of many opere buffe, see Kushner: 7, footnote 4.

[24] Cited in Hishaam Aidi, “Leveraging hip hop in US foreign policy: Diplomats and officials use the music of the oppressed to connect with disaffected Muslim youth,” Aljazerra, November 7, 2011

[25] See Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, “Hip-Hop Diplomacy? How the State Department Uses Rap to Spread Propaganda Abroad,”  AlterNet January 4, 2012

[26] Brandon Woolf, “Questioning Cultural Diplomacy,” The Arts Politic (Spring 2010): 28-30

[27] Tiffany Jenkins, “Artists, resist this propagandist agenda,” Spiked (October 27, 2009)

[28] A noteworthy article arguing that the U.S. State Department-sponsored Cultural Presentations Programs beginning in 1954 were not culturally imperialistic is Danielle Fosler-Lussier, “Music Pushed, Music Pulled, Cultural Diplomacy, Globalization, and Imperialism,” Diplomatic History  36 (January,  2012): 53-64.

[29] Bob Zunjic, “Plato: The Republic Books 2, 3 and 10: An Outline,”

[30] Cited by Aidi (see endnote 25).

[31] Alex Dwyer, “Samsonite Man: A Look At Hip Hop's Diplomatic Affairs,” HipHop DX, January 27, 2012

[32] See Peter Aspden, “Olympic censors and sensibility in Qatar,” BD Live, May 2, 2013

[33] I share the views of Gienow-Hecht and Donfried: 22 that in the case of cultural diplomacy, “though pure and absolute neutrality is impossible, distance from governments and private-sector agendas seems advisable,” although from my experience as a U.S. Cultural Affairs officer, mostly in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, local publics actually welcomed official Embassy support of cultural events. But that was the twentieth-century in lands occupied by the Soviets.

[34] Philip H. Coombs, The Fourth Dimension of Foreign Policy: Educational and Foreign
Affairs (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), 18. See also endnote 1.

[35] Thomas W. Braden. "I'm Glad the CIA is 'Immoral.'" The Saturday Evening Post, May 20, 1967 The covert promotion by the CIA of American culture during the early Cold War has received increased scholarly attention in recent years. See John Brown, “Should the piper be paid? Three schools of thought on culture and foreign policy during the Cold War,” Place Branding 1 (November 2005): 420–423. George Kennan who, unlike many of his diplomatic colleagues, had literary aspirations, had this to say a propos of this episode: “This country has no Ministry of Culture, and C.I.A. was obliged to do what it could to try to fill the gap. It should be praised for having done so.'' Cited in Josef Joffe, “America's Secret Weapon: A study of how the C.I.A. sponsored modern art exhibitions and literary journals during the cold war” [A Review of The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters by Frances Stonor Saunders], New York Times, April 23, 2000

[36]; first published in the Foreign Service Journal 41 (June 1964) [pages not provided in link]. On John L. Brown, whose voluminous papers are stored at the Georgetown Special Collections Research Center, see Arndt, especially pp. 357-59.