Strategic or Scary? Public Diplomacy Commission Cut

Cross-cutting a treeAfter Tripoli fell to anti-Gaddafi forces last August, I remembered a particularly clairvoyant blog post/radio interview I ran across a couple of months earlier. The blog post/radio interview gave a spot on analysis of how information could be used to empower Libyans to take back their own country.

When I went back to the blog to find out if its author had any new predictions, I found out the Mountain Runner blog was on hiatus because its author had recently become executive director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD). I was relieved to learn somebody was at the helm who understood social media’s power to create communications swarms and was presumably on top of implications for foreign publics’ support of U.S. culture, values, policies, and interests.

To my shock and surprise, however, I ran across a tweet and blog post just before Christmas indicating the ACPD was being abolished after 63 years of service. Apparently, due to efforts to balance the federal budget, the ACPD was not reauthorized by Congress and ceased operations on Dec. 16, 2011. So what happened to its visionary executive director? Matt Armstrong was laid off just a little over a week before Christmas.

Ho ho ho!!!

If Congress’s actions really are guided by budget-cutting zeal versus a strategic reorganization of U.S. public diplomacy and strategic communications initiatives (as far as I can find out, the new Integrated Strategic Counterterrorism Communications Initiative has nothing to do with this), we’re in trouble as a country. Today, more than ever people unfriendly to U.S. culture, values, policies, and interests have the potential to take control of the political dialogue across geographic boundaries. All they need is passion, Internet or mobile connectivity, and social media savvy to spread their messages and potentially fuel mass collaboration in instigating change (or wreaking havoc as the case may be).

I, for one, would sleep a lot better knowing Congress had a team advising it on making sure U.S. Government activities that intend to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics break free of conventional wisdom, recognize discontinuity, and react to change.  Until we discover some sort of grand strategy behind Congress’s move, however, we’re left to find comfort in the fact the U.S. Department of State is abandoning its Cold War mindset only now.

Do you think cutting the ACPD was a good cost-cutting measure? Please feel free to challenge my analysis in the comments section.

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About Monica

Monica specializes in strategic communications, web and new media, and print materials with an international or multi-cultural context. She has worked on national public outreach campaigns targeting multi-cultural audiences and has conceptualized, written, and/or designed multiple websites. Monica also has written, edited, and/or designed high-profile newsletters, brochures, and reports, including some prepared in collaboration with the White House. She holds a bachelor’s in journalism and a master of international service with a focus on international communication. Monica is based in Washington, D.C.


  1. RensMicroDiplo says:

    It amazes me that the ACPD was around for 63 years. I wonder what in all those years the ACPD has “delivered” other than advice. I think it has done good work, but perhaps has not brought enough attention to its past successes, and, thus, not justified its existence. It’s not something the last few incarnations of the ACPD could have righted during their short tenures, but more of a long-term observation.

  2. RensMicroDiplo’s comment is relevant: the past was a factor in the Commission’s undoing. This was an underlying theme in my response at the Public Diplomacy COUNCIL’s website Monica linked below. The efforts of the Commission since I came on board March 28, 2011, have largely been behind the scenes, the four well-attended and well-regard public events notwithstanding (see the 2011 entries at The Nov 29, ’11, meeting of the Commission in Santa Monica, CA, was arguably the highest caliber gathering on the subject of narratives in memory (link to the webcast and other material is to be available at the above link soon, if not yesterday). Substantial work was done on building relations across the executive branch and the Congress, and sharing information and knowledge as well as building bridges between organizations, not to mention fact gathering. We were, in fact, we re-establishing the role and purpose of the Commission.

    On the past work of the Commission, look back to the archive, which I had staff build up: It is a sad statement that many of the reports from 1949 (the Commission’s first) through the 1960’s may be plagiarized without anyone realizing you pulled from a decades old report. It is noteworthy, however, how many of the reports note how many recommendations were adopted.

    On our future work, only starting at the beginning of September did I have a competent staff of 3, otherwise it was just me from March 28 – Aug 29. We laid out an aggressive research and reporting schedule, with flexibility to add / remove topics of course, for 2012.


    (note: RensMicroDiplo was a student in a class I taught at USC)

    • @MountainRunner Thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog, Matt, and for expanding on your comments on the Public Diplomacy Council website. I didn’t know that Candace was your former student, but it doesn’t come as a surprise to me that you were an inspiration behind a rising star in the social media-public diplomacy nexus so to speak. I’m also glad to know many of the ACPD’s recommendations were adopted over the years. My comment below wasn’t an informed one related to the ACPD… just a commentary on the nature of technical advisory services in general (my background is more from the contractor side). I hope the new year brings good things your way!

  3. Doudoune Moncler says:

    when I add it all up, look at the rangers as a organization and why they made a step backwards, there is only one problem and one solution. FIRE FUGGING SATHER!!!!!!!!