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Public diplomacy begins with you

To revive America's image in the world, we all must be citizen diplomats.

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President-elect Obama's intent to help "reboot" America's image in the world is most welcome But as the US retools its efforts to reach out beyond governments to foreign audiences, not all is what it seems.

In recent years, there has been an avalanche of academic studies, government reports, and think tank analyses that offer various "fixes" for US public diplomacy. In November, it made the Government Accountability Office's list of 13 urgent issues. Despite unprecedented attention, however, myths prevail:

Myth 1: The main goal of US public diplomacy is to improve America's image in the world. That, and countering anti-Americanism are certainly part of it. But the overarching goal is to build a web of human relationships that provides a context for traditional diplomacy – and outcomes commensurate with long-term US interests.

Myth 2: Everyone needs to get on the same page. A communications strategy is important. But reciprocity is at the heart of truly successful public diplomacy. We must listen as much as we transmit messages. A brass plaque reading "Telling America's Story" adorned the building housing the US Information Agency until its oft-lamented demise in 1999. Perhaps it should have read, "Telling America's Story Is Done Best by Good Listeners."


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