Posted by: ourvoicestogether | December 24, 2007

Washington Times Publishes Opinion Piece on Citizen Diplomacy

The Washington Times has published our Citizen Diplomacy op-ed, co-written with the National Council of International VisitorsI really can’t think of a better way to greet a new year than to look for bridges to understanding, foster dialogue, and represent ourselves as global citizens.

In Washington, it is a season of packing. Not just gifts for the holidays, but suitcases. Karen Hughes is packing this month to head back to Texas, another official resigning before the end of the administration.

As with the resignations of both of her predecessors, the nation is losing yet another undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs when our nation’s image abroad continues to decline precipitously, and the distaste, and sometimes outright hatred, toward our nation is a festering threat to the security of our country.

Mrs. Hughes’ tenure at the State Department has been marked by a public focus on positive portrayal of the United States in the Arab and Muslim worlds and an internal focus on getting the State Department bureaucracy to understand and indeed embrace public diplomacy. Unfortunately for our nation, these goals are elusive.Her resignation announcement prompted the predictable articles — report cards on her performance.Most were critical. All cited escalating antipathy for America among traditional allies as well as foes.

When will we realize that reversing these dangerous trends is not a one-person job? In fact, unless exponentially more American citizens appreciate their own responsibilities for U.S. public diplomacy, no undersecretary — no matter how talented or well-connected — will make real progress.

At no point in history has our national security depended as much on our ability to be a respected and integral part of the world community. Nor has our nation’s credibility ever been so low around the globe. Global public opinion polling continuously finds that the Bush administration’s policies and actions are the lightning rod for public opposition worldwide. Polls also indicate that underlying suspicions of the United States will not be erased with the coming change in administrations or with clever government public-relations campaigns.

The challenge of public diplomacy is not government packaging of unpopular policies for international audiences; rather, it is presenting the fuller context of our nation so that unpopular policies and policy disagreements do not become indictments of our people or our future trustworthiness, and definitely not justifications or excuses for condoning terrorist acts.

Government packaging cannot do what ordinary citizens can do: build understanding and mutual respect, irrespective of the person in the undersecretary for public diplomacy’s chair, or even in the Oval Office. Mrs. Hughes conveyed this when she stated: “We must empower our most important international asset: individual American citizens.” Citizen diplomacy is the concept that, in a vibrant democracy, the individual citizen has the right — even the responsibility — to help shape U.S. foreign affairs. Citizen diplomats are people who recognize that by reaching out to people around the globe, we can make the world a better, safer, more compassionate place, one handshake at a time.

For many years public opinion polling has consistently shown that the rest of the world views Americans as hardworking but also arrogant, greedy, violent and loud. People around the globe want the United States to do more to help solve the world’s problems. They feel left out of the benefits of business expansion worldwide. They feel trampled by America’s overwhelming presence and they want us to listen to them.

How do we change these increasingly lethal negative perceptions of our nation? By utilizing our nation’s core strengths — generosity, entrepreneurship, volunteerism, diversity of religions, ethnicities, cultures and countries of origin — to build relationships one person at a time.

Citizen diplomacy consists of ordinary folks reaching out internationally — not in the service of a government campaign, but with private- and public-sector support for their own efforts.It involves engaging communities abroad honestly, respectfully acknowledging human differences and appreciating common human aspirations. It involves building trust and understanding one person at a time. Citizen diplomacy includes inviting foreign visitors into our homes, schools and offices. Itwelcomes learning about other cultures, countries and religions. Citizen diplomacy strengthens our communities, our nation and our international relations.

Whether we are students befriending an international scholar in a college classroom, business representatives who take the time to learn about the customs and protocol of another nation or athletes welcoming a foreign teammate, we can make a difference.

So while we lose another undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs in Washington, we gain a new citizen diplomat in Texas. We welcome Citizen Diplomat Karen Hughes.

We hope she will focus attention on and participate in various citizen diplomacy organizations hard at work in her home state known for its expansiveness and hospitality. We hope she will choose to host international visitors or foreign students at her home, foster global service, build international business ties, support contributions to global scholarship and science or counterterrorism through international exchange. As a private citizen, she can make a difference.

Marianne Scott, a former Foreign Service officer, is executive director of Our Voices Together — a network started by September 11 families and friends.

Sherry Mueller is president of the National Council of International Visitors, which promotes excellence in citizen diplomacy.



  1. I can’t agree more, part of the overall US image is a result of us – the citizens. We need, and our leaders need, to practice citizen diplomacy in a much more active and applied sense. After reading a recent book on citizen diplomacy in Japan I’m convinced that this is a solid method for beginning to change our overall image around the world. Plus, it is so easy to do.

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