On Friday, the New York Times once again slammed Karen Hughes on her tour of the Middle East. (Subbing for Clay Waters at TimesWatch, Ken Shepherd questioned the trend Wednesday and Friday.) In Friday's piece, Times reporter Steven Weisman mentioned the views of retired diplomat Edward Djerejian, who issued a report two years ago on America's failed efforts at public relations (or public diplomacy, as the goverment calls it).
But while Weisman uses Djerejian to whack at Bush's low standing in opinion abroad, Djerejian's report (see here in PDF form) raises questions about what on Earth was going on in the Clinton years. Djerejian's answer: they let the public-diplomacy apparatus fall apart. Or, as the report states in Section I, "A process of unilateral disarmament in the weapons of advocacy over the last decade has contributed to widespread hostility toward Americans and left us vulnerable to lethal threats to our interests and our safety."
Section III puts more meat on the bone: "In the mid-1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States abandoned many of the tools of public diplomacy that had helped win the Cold War. Funding for the United States Information Agency was slashed repeatedly as isolationists and budget hawks combined with long-time domestic opponents of the use of 'propaganda.' For example, in the 1980s and 1990s, staffing for public diplomacy programs dropped 35 percent, and funding, adjusted for inflation, fell 26 percent...In 1999, the USIA was abolished as a separate agency, and most of its functions were folded into the State Department. When the terrorists attacked on September 11, the importance of opposing anti-Americanism with words as well as weapons became obvious, but the United States was unprepared."
Someone may have thought this was the right policy during the late 1990s. But when the world changes overnight, and the Times thinks you can blame America's PR problems on Bushies alone, shouldn't someone question whether the Clinton people failed to defend America rhetorically as well as militarily?