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The key to a better U.S. image

USIA helped world views of the US before the cold war; let's revive it.

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Both presidential candidates recognize the need to galvanize public diplomacy to improve the image of the United States abroad.

Congress is also seized of the issue. A House subcommittee has held a series of hearings that affirm a "precipitous decline in favorability" toward the US and its foreign policy in recent years.

At the urging of Congress, the Department of State, current home of the government's public diplomacy efforts, has commissioned a study to review the instruments and techniques needed to burnish the US image. Three interested organizations, the Brookings Institution, the Business for Diplomatic Action group, and the Washington-based Public Diplomacy Council, will also conduct hearings in July to assess the views of interested parties.

Key to the debate is whether the government's public diplomacy, or "soft power" effort, should remain based in the State Department or should become a separate institution. Republican candidate John McCain has already pronounced his choice. In "Foreign Affairs," he wrote:

"The Clinton administration and Congress mistakenly agreed to abolish the US Information Agency and move its public diplomacy functions to the State Department. This amounted to unilateral disarmament in the war of ideas. I will work with Congress to create a new independent agency with the sole purpose of getting America's message to the world – a critical element in combating Islamic extremism and restoring the positive image of our country abroad."

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