Over the years, the United States government has targeted a
string of foreign individuals destined for greatness and brought
them to America to be steeped in the culture and ways of Americans,
and be exposed to the strengths and weaknesses of the American
political system. They came on an international visitor program and
though they may not have necessarily agreed with the policies of any
particular administration, they generally left with warm memories of
individual Americans and respect for American institutions.
The list includes people such as the late Anwar Sadat, Prime
Minister Margaret Thatcher and later Prime Minister Tony Blair,
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and German Chancellor Gerhard
Schroeder. It is tempting to speculate whether Saddam Hussein, had
he visited the US on this program, might have taken a different tack
in his relationship with the US.
Most of these visits were orchestrated by the United States
Information Agency (USIA) as part of its public diplomacy mission -
engaging in dialogue with the publics of other nations, and
spreading understanding of US principles and values.
With the demise of the cold war, public diplomacy ceased to be a
priority and funding for it declined sharply. US cultural centers,
libraries, and information offices abroad were closed. Finally, in
1999, USIA was abolished, its remnants located in the State
Department. Today the budget for educational and cultural programs
is about 4 percent of the overall State Department budget and about
three-tenths of 1 percent of the Pentagon's annual budget.
The private sector continues with some of the former programs.
Journalistic organizations, for example, bring key editors to the US
to study American media organizations in all their strengths and
weaknesses. Similarly, teachers and doctors and writers are hosted
by various professional groups, but resources for such programs are
generally leaner than even those available through government
Since 9/11 and the thrusting of the US into a new war, this time
against terrorism, the value of a public diplomacy program in
addition to military operations has become evident. Influencing
public opinion in lands where Al Qaeda and its satellite groups are
seeking dominance is an imperative. It is also a long-term project.
In Iraq, for instance, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has
suggested American involvement may require "a generational
commitment." Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has warned that of
even greater concern than today's terrorists, may be the mind-set of
a coming generation throughout the Islamic world which has long been
subjected to the angry teachings in the madrassahs, or Islamist
schools, of the region. …