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Three Quick Steps to Jump-Start America's Public Diplomacy

US Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 13, 2009 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

US Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 13, 2009 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Second, we must transform the American government's primary means of public communication from a one-way broadcast model to a two-way dialogue model. American broadcasts like the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, and statements through a wide array of spokespeople, have been effective tools at least since the Second World War and remain important today. But as globalization and the information revolution transform the global communications environment, one-way broadcast dissemination of content is becoming relatively less important as two-way interactive communication emerges as the new model.

The State Department has taken some important first steps in engaging bloggers and holding press events in virtual worlds like Second Life, but what is ultimately needed is an overall paradigm shift in how the United States government thinks about communications. The technological foundation needs to be laid for much broader public engagement by US diplomats, but more importantly, the job descriptions and training programs must be transformed to place this type of engagement at the center of what any US diplomat does. US government-funded television networks should feature debates that articulate both sides of a given position, and the US government should do far more to support the development of indigenous independent media around the world, even those that can be critical of American actions. America's public diplomacy will be far more effective if it concentrates on promoting what America stands for more than on selling its case. At the end of the listening month, all US Ambassadors and other officials can engage in online and broadcast open dialogues with key constituencies impacted by US actions.

Third, America needs to speak to the world in the languages the world understands. For some, those languages will be twitter-speak, but for even more, they will be actual foreign languages. Secretary Clinton should therefore appoint dedicated State Department spokespeople to give weekly briefings in Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic. Some diplomats will rightly express concern that there can only be one official language for the careful expression of diplomatic communications. Because US statements are being translated into local languages anyway, it seems far better for America itself to be doing the translating. Most countries have spokespeople who communicate officially in English. The time has come for the United States to demonstrate its respect for other language groups by holding regular briefings in foreign languages from the official State Department press room in Washington.

Far more will need to be done to rehabilitate American public diplomacy on many levels, but the new State Department team will only have one chance to make a first impression. Taking these three first steps will help pave the way for even greater improvements in America's public diplomacy profile that are likely to come under the new team.

Jamie Metzl is Executive Vice President of the Asia Society. He coordinated US Public Diplomacy for the National Security Council during the Clinton Administration and served as Senior Coordinator for International Public Information in the Department of State.

Copyright: Project Syndicate/Asia Society