The Bush administration's latest budget contains a significant increase in spending on ''public diplomacy" -- government-sponsored programs to communicate with the citizens of other countries through the media and cultural and educational exchanges. The increase has been met with a sigh of relief from foreign policy watchers who believe public diplomacy is an essential pillar of American ''soft power" and have watched that pillar slowly crumble since the end of the Cold War.
During the Cold War, the U.S. Information Agency led America's public diplomacy assault, broadcasting Radio Free Europe to Soviet Bloc states, broadcasting the Voice of America throughout the world, and sponsoring numerous alternatives to state-sponsored media in nonfree countries. The agency was dissolved in 1999 and its programs absorbed into the State Department, where critics say long-term public diplomacy efforts have been starved for attention in a department culture that is focused on short-term solutions to immediate crises.
After flat funding for public diplomacy over the last decade, the president's fiscal year 2006 budget request would increase spending on broadcasting, education, and cultural exchange programs by about 15 percent, to $1.08 billion, according to the State Department.