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To win the messaging wars, restore the US Information Agency

“Freedom in the World” in 2023 investigation“Over the past 17 years, global democracies have suffered setbacks under the pressure of authoritarian powers,” Freedom House said in a report. The group called on democracies to be more proactive in advancing the cause of freedom.

in Foreign PolicyDemocracy researchers Ivana Stradner and Anthony Ruggiero say one of the reasons for this setback is that the US is still losing the information war, which they say threatens world peace and democracy itself.

Winning that war will require a lot of battlefield action — technological superiority alone will not be enough — and we will need to once again devote resources to the kind of quiet diplomacy that the United States Information Agency (USIA) once conducted.

World leaders who oppose democracy are not waiting for the United States to decide. They are already dedicating significant resources to winning the battle with public opinion at home and abroad.

Russian President PutinFalse historical talesInfluencing elections in your own country and around the worldPolandToweand flooding social media around the world with false information; orThe scale of Chinese disinformationIt has recently come to light that billions of dollars have been involved in online “spamming” and outright threats against critics of Western countries.

The losses to the United States are noticeable among potential friends, neutrals, and even some traditional allies. The indifference of many non-Western countries to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine speaks to the alarming decline of U.S. and Western soft power.

This decline has fueled unchecked and often misguided resentment that the United States and Western countries have remained indifferent to the effects of the international economic crisis, positioned institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to the detriment of non-Western countries, and failed to provide persuasive leadership on a wide range of global problems.

This is not just a short-term battle. Like an orchard, it is an investment that requires constant attention, weeding, and pruning to produce a satisfying harvest. Today, we are reaping the bitter fruits of past stinginess and neglect. In many places, we are losing foreign nationals who once enjoyed a positive relationship with U.S. outreach programs and who were willing to listen to us.

Many factors lead countries to act in favor of U.S. strategic interests, but one factor is repeated exposure over time to the openness, generosity, and creativity that are enduring features of American culture. Overseas engagement that builds on these strengths was once a large part of U.S. foreign relations. This engagement was a central mission of the former USIA, and it must be rebuilt.

On October 1, 1999, as part of the post-Cold War economic policy of the Clinton Administration, the USIAIt has disappearedThe surviving programs were assigned to the State Department. Lacking strong executive branch support, they were placed in the State Department wing.Public Diplomacy and Public Policy. “

The bureau has had 17 leaders since then, eight of whom served in unconfirmed “acting” positions, most of whom were minor players in the country’s diplomatic establishment and had little say in short- or long-term soft power diplomacy efforts.

To be sure, some of this is anecdotal. But the data is not. Federally funded foreign intelligence activities have experienced two dramatic declines from which they have never recovered. The first began early in the Vietnam withdrawal in the late 1960s. The second lasted from 1994 to about 2000, when the USIA was abandoned.

sauce: OMB History Table

This is, of course, part of a significant decline in the overall international affairs budget that lasted for most of the post-World War II period and hit its lowest point in the years immediately prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Today, that budget is about one-fifth of GDP, whereas during the Marshall Plan era, the budget-to-GDP ratio was about 15 times.

sauce: OMB History Table

Winning a domestic budget battle in a never-ending information war with a foreign adversary is no easy task.Telling America’s story to the world“Even during the Cold War, the 9/11 attacks, the invasion of Ukraine, and the recent Hamas attacks against Israel sounded alarm bells.

We are also disadvantaged by polarization at home. Critics on the left have often dismissed the USIA as mere propaganda designed to cover up America’s failures at home and abroad. Some on the right, like former Republican Senator Jesse Helms in his prime, dismissed soft power as an illusion.Not worth pursuing.

Of course, it is impossible to provide conclusive evidence that past successes in expanding, or at least protecting, freedom and democracy were directly attributable to any particular long-term effort that worked in an instantaneous or traceable way.

President Kennedy’s USIA director, Edward R. Murrow, a noted journalist, emphasized his local presence through personal contacts.The last three feet“We will achieve effective international exchange.

One of us is a public affairs officer in a Latin American country and has seen the decline of once-thriving binational cultural centers close the doors of understanding for students and young people. We saw a similar effect in Germany when funding for a series of binational cultural centers dried up. America House Cultural Center It has almost dried up.

School visits and teacher training colleges were organized to counter widespread misunderstandings and anti-American propaganda, but the contacts were not enough to change sentiment, and after budget cuts there was no backing from younger diplomats willing to take on the task.

Building up our military to fight a single conflict, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, or Gaza, consumes orders of magnitude more resources than the public relations efforts needed to spread credible information abroad about our beliefs, our intentions, and more importantly, the enduring values ​​of an open and free society.

History will almost certainly record our inaction in this area, which has been damaging to both our own and foreign interests. In 2017, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis said:To summarizeThe overall result of the impending budget cuts is

“If we’re not going to fully fund the State Department, we’re going to have to buy more ammunition.”

C. Eugene Stuele is a research fellow and co-founder of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center in Washington, DC.