Public Diplomacy 101

Score one for the public diplomacy guys: the U.S. Soccer Federation just formally invited the Iranian national team for a pair of friendly tune-up matches this summer. This is the sort of quiet stuff that can sometimes go a long way, because when it comes to information ops, the old saw applies: Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes? Seeing is believing, and that’s why exchange programs are so effective at dispelling the kind of misinformation about America that has formed the basis of so many anti-American narratives around the globe.

In the same vein, last week Le Parisien wrote up [French language] an outreach program that the American embassy in Paris has been implementing in the Parisian banlieues since 2001, but which was ramped up in the aftermath of the 2005 riots. Not only is the public diplomacy office extensively funding local community projects, it’s also actively recruiting young community leaders for its sponsored tours of the States. Of course, not every French tourist gets greeted by American Congressmen, let alone Magic Johnson. But the fact is, that kind of VIP treatment makes a big impression on a world that wants to love America.

There’s been a tendency to frame public diplomacy campaigns in terms of letting Madison Avenue loose on the world. But a better play is to bring as many influential people to the States as possible. We’ve got a ton of unused capital when it comes to the War of Ideas: the concrete practice of the idea of America that goes on every day in the United States. It’s a shame that in many respects we’ve made that harder, rather than easier, to access in the aftermath of 9/11.