A LEVER TO MOVE THE WORLD
“The single biggest gift that America has shared with the
impoverished billions on our planet is hope. America has taught the
people of the world that one’s fate is not determined at birth.”1
—Kishore Mahbubani, diplomat and author of Beyond the Age of Innocence: Rebuilding Trust Between America and the World
MUCH OF WHAT IS LEFT OF THE UNITED STATES INFORMATION Agency—arguably the country’s most cost-effective weapon during the Cold War—is housed in two nondescript government office buildings just across the National Mall from the Smithsonian’s world-class collection of historical artifacts. From one of the buildings, erected just before World War II and adorned with art deco touches in its lobby, the Voice of America beams radio and television programs to the rest of the world. From the other much newer building, State Department staffers churn out government information in seven languages and manage cultural and exchange programs.
The nearby museums are an apt setting for communication programs that haven’t changed much since the 1950s, except in superficial ways. Government bureaucrats had dismantled the USIA so precipitously, they obliterated the part that was most relevant to the new challenges facing the country—its worldwide network of operatives schooled in the techniques of reading and influencing public opinion— and kept the Washington, D.C.-based broadcasting, information, and exchange services, though at much lower levels than during the Cold War.