However Iraq feels after the surgery, the Persian Gulf crisis has proved the need for - and worth of - U.S. public diplomacy.
Call the effort what you will: telling America's story, informational-cultural activity, or propaganda. The program is more important than the name. Without favorable world opinion, the United States has little chance of winning its diplomatic battles.Since Iraq seized Kuwait, the immediate assignment of U.S. public diplomacy has been to convince other nations, particularly their citizenry, to support U.S. policies. Once, diplomacy had to concentrate only on a country's government. Today it is absolutely vital to convince the public as well.
The task of public diplomacy is to get across to foreign countries a nation's policies and the culture that gives rise to their formation. If the United States does not have an organized public diplomacy program, then the country has abdicated a key element in modern leadership.
Leadership is a fact of life whether the American wants the mantle or not.
Timely questions about public diplomacy:
Q: Since the Cold War is over and democracy has won out over communism, why do we still need to explain how democratic methods affect a nation's policies and actions?
A: We need public diplomacy now more than ever. England, France, Germany, Turkey and others would not have helped in the Persian Gulf crisis if the United States had not tried steadily to influence their publics' opinions since World War II.
Q: Does public diplomacy work in wartime?
In the ill-fated (to North Vietnam) Easter Invasion of South Vietnam in 1972, which attracted little attention in the United States, Voice of America - USIA's broadcasting arm - went on the air to Hanoi for an unheard-of 18 hours a day. A North Vietnam captain's diary, found upon his death in action well outside Hue, recorded his thoughts. He listened to VOA because it broadcast the facts while Radio Hanoi lied by saying his unit had helped capture Hue a few days before.
More recently, Radio Baghdad destroyed its credibility, to Arabs as well as the rest of the world, when it said after four days of the latest air war that Iraq had downed 154 Allied aircraft.
Q: Should a democratic government rely on disinformation - spreading deliberate lies for the media to pick up?
A: No. Benjamin Franklin was right when he said honesty is the best policy. Since the opposition will spread disinformation, however, the United States has an obligation to counter it by giving the facts.
Radio Baghdad reports that Allied aircraft have bombed Islamic religious sites. False. But the United States and its allies need the machinery to point out the disinformation and its absurdities.
Television, radio, press services, magazines, English-language classes, educational exchange - all are part of America's public diplomacy program and fundamental to U.S. responsibility. The audience is the world at large.
(Robert A. Lincoln is a former assistant director of USIA, where he was in charge of operations in the Near East, South Asian and Western Europe. He currently is president of the Public Diplomacy Foundation.)