Time to resurrect the Global Engagement Caucus in the House
Remembering the Global Engagement Caucus proposal that became a real thing
Recent conversations reminded me of the Global Engagement Caucus proposal that became a real thing in Congress. Back in 2008, I was able to get funding for an all-day event in January 2009 to discuss US global engagement that included speakers from the former US Information Agency, the State Department, the Defense Department, the US Agency for International Development, think tanks, the press, and Congress. The event came about because it was clear there was an absence of informed discourse around the activities that broadly fell under the umbrellas of public diplomacy, strategic communication, and the soon-to-be-emerging term global engagement. In late summer 2009, I began developing the Global Engagement Caucus proposal with others to try to get Congress more informed, which would hopefully result in more engagement on the underlying and not just obvious issues. Here is how the original proposal to House Members and staff opened:
The Global Engagement Caucus will serve as a critical forum for creating informed and multifaceted understanding of the issues related to strategic communication and public diplomacy in the modern environment. The objectives include:
• Increasing awareness and understanding of the requirements and purpose of strategic communication and public diplomacy.
• Bringing together different but related constituencies that have a stake in successful strategic communication and public diplomacy, including foreign affairs, development, armed services, health, appropriations, and others.
• Supporting America’s governmental, non-governmental, and private actors involved in strategic communication and public diplomacy through better understanding, support, and oversight.
The caucus will facilitate meetings with guest speakers, presentations, Q&A’s, etc., as well as provide email distribution of important and related information. Even with busy schedules and overflowing inboxes, this is a critical issue that requires significant awareness and collaboration to ensure that the mission and purpose is understood and to ensure taxpayer dollars are prudently allocated.
Several themes were tied together in the conclusion of that one-pager:
Simply put, strategic communication and public diplomacy are the cheapest, most cost-effective, and most enduring methods of influencing people while at the same time denying sanctuary, both ideological and physical, to our adversaries. The realm of engagement is broader than undermining terrorism or holding our enemies accountable for their actions. It extends into all aspects of American life that intersects with foreign audiences such as tourism and trade as well as facilitating greater exposure to global affairs in order to build more meaningful connections for the American public.
“Global Engagement,” however, wasn’t a favored term. Based on early feedback, the project was renamed the Strategic Communication Caucus. In a couple of months, sponsors were found, and the caucus was launched as the Caucus on Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy.
The caucus held a few meetings, though I only participated in the first meeting (at the request of staff as I had no intention of doing so).
This first meeting hit all the reasons we wanted the caucus: staff came from the Armed Services Committee, the defense appropriations subcommittee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, the foreign affairs appropriations subcommittee, the Congressional Research Service, from the offices of Members interested in the topic but not on these committees, etc. Having this varied bunch in the same packed room – some folks were standing – meant they heard discussions and questions and answers normally outside their purview and learned how the “other side” did things. On the latter point, the defense appropriators grilled Rosa Brooks, which was expected, and then turned to Walter Douglas and asked, to paraphrase, “How do you do budget and plan for your side of it?” The “inter-cultural” (or call it cross-denominational) exposure was a met objective.
I understood the caucus had a few more meetings, but not many. This was not because the demand diminished, but because the necessary quality of care and maintenance of the caucus was not supported. As an outsider, I was able to help get it launched, but once launched I had to be on the outside, which makes perfect sense.
When I was the executive director of the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, I sought to have the commission take its rightful place – and required and expected, if one looks back at the original purpose and the first several decades of the commission – as the facilitator of such conversations the caucus intended to provide. From a one-pager I distributed in August 2011:
On the Hill, the demand for information is there, but resources, distractions, and obfuscations limit access while also inhibiting the ability to place what information is gleaned within the necessary contexts to act. It is time for another caucus to jump-start conversations on the Hill. It is also time for the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy to provide relevant, timely, and actionable advice to Congress.
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