"The genius of Charlie Wick lies in his ability to recognize how changing information technology, especially satellite communications, has transformed the international political landscape. He understands the need for the United States to convey its message to the people of the world if we're to succeed internationally."
Ronald Reagan offered these remarks at a dinner honoring Charles Wick, the director of the United States Information Agency, in the fall of 1988. Reagan knew better than most the extent to which Wick's leadership of the U.S.I.A. contributed to the cause of freedom during the Cold War. He knew Wick's efforts led to the creation of WORLDNET, the first global satellite television network; the birth of Radio Marti, an anti-communist radio station; and the transformation of the Voice of America. Reagan also knew of the open access Wick had to the Oval Office. Indeed, one former Reagan staffer told me recently that Wick's access was nearly on par with that of the secretary of state.
What Reagan didn't know was that by 1999 the U.S.I.A. would be disbanded, folded into the State Department, and stripped of much of its resources and clout. This swift change led one diplomacy expert to say that the U.S.I.A had been reduced to "a shadow on the periphery of foreign policy."
Eight years later, public diplomacy remains such a shadow in American foreign policy. As the threat of radical Islam grows by the day, we remain woefully unprepared to carry our message of freedom, equality and tolerance to the world. Into this void step the enemies of freedom, who seek to falsely define America as imperialistic, intolerant and morally bankrupt.
We cannot allow this to happen. We must define ourselves to the world. This process should begin with a fresh commitment to a robust public diplomacy operation with long-term vision and the autonomy necessary for success.
In the same way businesses often look first to public relations to cut costs in lean times, governments often look first to public diplomacy. In some ways this makes perfect sense: both public relations and public diplomacy are difficult to quantify and therefore difficult to defend when deciding how to allocate limited resources. But trust builds slowly-whether it's between a company and its customers or between nations.
Public diplomacy combats this reality by establishing and nurturing long-term relationships with other countries. These relationships turn on an axis of open, consistent communication both with national leaders and the general population.
Doug Wilson is the the co-author, with Edwin Feulner, of Getting America Right: The True Conservative Values Our Nation Needs Today.
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