That public-diplomacy piece I kept mentioning is out now at the Washington Independent. It’s an overview of evolving perspectives on the still-unfilled office of the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy & Public Affairs — whether to view the job as a cheerleader position for American values; or a national-security position to complicate the narratives presented by U.S. adversaries. At this point, I incline toward the second view, and I never thought I’d be nodding my head along with the guy who wrote Dow 36,000:

The most recently departed undersecretary, the libertarian publisher and economist James Glassman — known for his now-debunked financial analysis “Dow 36,000” — took the office in a much different direction. “In the war of ideas,” Glassman recalled in a phone interview, “it’s often more effective to destroy [U.S. adversaries’] brand than build up ours.” During his brief tenure as undersecretary in 2008, Glassman acted as a public-diplomacy “convener,” partnering with foreign organizations who opposed what he called “violent extremism,” rather than traveling to foreign countries to give cheery talks about America’s lofty values. Additionally, Glassman emphasized the organizational aspects of the office, which President Bush tasked in April 2006 to head the government’s strategic communications efforts, bringing together public diplomacy experts from the CIA, the Treasury Dept. and the military. Glassman’s efforts earned plaudits even from progressive public-diplomacy specialists; Newsweek magazine last month wrote that Obama should retain him.

Public diplomacy experts wonder whether the Obama administration will continue Glassman’s efforts, reverse them or pursue a different strategy entirely. “Ripping down others’ brands has not typically been, historically, at the center of the public diplomacy agenda,” said Michael Doran, who recently stepped down as the senior-most public-diplomacy official at the Pentagon. “We need to tear down Al Qaeda’s brand and build up the brands of our friends whose interests coincide with ours.”

At another point in our interview, I asked Glassman about Dow 36,000. It couldn’t make the piece, but he replied that he’s become "I dunno… subtle, nuanced since then. I learned in my job, you know? I’ve had many jobs during my lifetime, and I felt best way to approach them was to have clear goals, things you want to do, but to listen to people and learn and I think I did." 

For more on public diplomacy and the Obama administration, see Laura Rozen’s post from last night and also Marc Lynch (whom both Laura and I quote).

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman