Missing in Action: Obama’s Public Diplomacy

Morgan Lorraine Roach /

When Director of the USC for Center Public Diplomacy, Philip Seib told Professor Nicholas Cull that the anthology, Toward a New Public Diplomacy (released September 14, 2009) was going to be written, Cull was pessimistic regarding the book’s potential impact on the Obama administration’s public diplomacy initiative. On September 14, 2009, during a panel discussion at Washington, DC’s Newseum, Cull revealed his expectation that the Obama administration would already have its foreign policy strategy crafted ten months into the presidency was realistic. As it happens, he was wrong. It is fortunate timing for Seib, the editor, and the book’s authors that the Obama administration’s foreign policy and consequent public diplomacy strategy are undeveloped.

The collection of essays included in Toward a New Diplomacy, analyze America’s outreach efforts in Africa, promotion of religious freedom, privatization of public diplomacy versus initiatives headed by the Department of State, etc. Furthermore, it is intended to be used as an instruction manual from leading experts in the field, providing recommendations to the new administration.

Despite the plethora of reports vying for executive acceptance, it would be an understatement to say that the administration has been slow in formulating a strategic plan for remedying America’s neglected state of diplomatic outreach. For example, the late nomination and subsequent Senate confirmation of Judith McHale, Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs raises many questions over Obama’s dedication to public diplomacy. Considering Obama vigorously campaigned for robust public diplomacy, it is surprising that he has not delivered on his adamant campaign.

Furthermore, Obama’s eloquent speeches, (expertly read from a teleprompter,) are no replacement for strategic policy. Until the president takes the initiative to implement actions that follow up on his eloquent promises,” the United States will continue to find itself disadvantaged by a credibility gap in the international community.