US Public Diplomacy


The United States is one of the most successful countries in the world to use soft power and public diplomacy, and its soft power elements like economic power, popular culture, quality of the education facilitate its public diplomacy. According to the data of 2019, the US, which has a GDP of 20.58 trillion dollars and constitutes about 25 percent of the global economy alone, can benefit from its great power of the economy for public diplomacy activities. Such that, companies such as Microsoft, Coca Cola, Facebook, and McDonalds are seriously supporting public diplomacy along with Hollywood, which exports US popular culture. Along with these; student exchange programs, world-renowned American universities and media institutions are important elements that strengthen the US’s public diplomacy efforts.[1]

In 2016, the USA, which ranked first in the Soft Power 30 list, dropped to 4th place in 2019 due to the isolationist policies implemented after Donald Trump. However, despite the decline, the United States is still the most powerful country in the fields of popular culture, digital diplomacy, and education. The advantage of having the best universities and companies in the world adds strength to the country despite political disagreements.[2]

1.What is Public Diplomacy

The concept of public diplomacy, introduced by US diplomat Edmund Gullion in the 1960s, is defined as policies aimed at influencing and winning public opinion of other states for the purposes and interests of states’ foreign policy.[3] At the same time, it is to correct existing misunderstandings, to convey your own point of view, to exchange culture, and to meet in common ground.[4]

Although public diplomacy emerged because traditional diplomacy was unable to keep up with the globalizing world conditions, it did not completely exclude traditional diplomacy. Instead, these two types of diplomacy exist simultaneously, and when traditional diplomacy is insufficient, public diplomacy replaces it. Because public diplomacy is not limited with foreign officials, ambassadors etc. As it is known, public diplomacy includes non-state actors, new instruments, and new methods.

 2. US Public Diplomacy from the Past to the Present

2.1. Before the Cold War

The history of public diplomacy in the United States goes back to its founding period. Shortly after the founding of the United States, Benjamin Franklin visited Britain and France, and wanted to promote his country to Europe. During this trip, Franklin wrote various articles and published them in the European press, and invited European writers to do research in his own country. With this move, Franklin gained sympathy to the USA in European countries.[5]

A careful examination of history reveals that the United States increases its public diplomacy activities when it feels national security threat.[6] During the World War I, public diplomacy activities were increased. President Woodrow Wilson established the Creel Committee, which served during the war and then terminated, and made propaganda against Germany to the world.

Public diplomacy activities of the United States increased significantly with the Second World War. President Franklin Roosevelt founded the Department of War Information (OWI) to convey their messages to the world and gain an advantage in psychological warfare. In this way, the news of war, US policies, activities, and values ​​advocated were transmitted to the world. The Voice of America, an OWI-affiliated channel, has worked to maintain faith in democracy of the European continent during the war and has indeed succeeded to convey “the voice of America”. Voice of America continues its activities today and contributes to public diplomacy activities by reaching over 100 million people around the world.[7]

2.2. During the Cold War

The Cold War years that started after the Second World War caused the USA to give more importance to public diplomacy. During this period, the US had to develop policies against the influence of the Soviet Union, and public diplomacy was the most effective way to influence people. For this reason, in 1953, the Eisenhower government established The United States Information Agency (USIA), and the US Congress has also contributed to the development of US public diplomacy through new laws like the US Information and Education Exchange Act.

 2.2.1. The United States Information Agency

The United States Information Agency, founded in 1953, is an independent organization that conducted American public diplomacy during the Cold War. It was the largest publicly funded public diplomacy organization in the world during the Cold War and led the United States to about 150 countries. USIA had some functions such as informing the world about the policies of the USA and proving the legitimacy of these policies to the world, convincing and assisting US citizens to connect with overseas people and develop long-term cooperation, and supporting US government officials on effective foreign policy production.[8] The slogan of the organization was determined as “Telling America’s Story to the World”[9]

The USIA has organized many cultural and information programs to support American foreign policy and improve dialogue between the US and other nations. For example, thanks to Fulbright, the most prestigious scholarship program in the United States, American students, academics, and artists benefit from educational and research opportunities in many parts of the world while students, teachers, and academics from around the world are able to conduct research and study in the United States.[10] At the same time, thanks to the International Visitor Leadership Program, nearly two thousand participants from various countries come to the United States each year to meet their colleagues from other countries and to make professional and cultural exchanges, while the US has the opportunity to explain its foreign policy goals to the world.

Throughout its existence, the USIA has been aware of the importance of the media and has invested to international broadcasting. Previously, broadcasting activities were carried out under USIA, but the Board of International Broadcasting was established in the following years and media activities have continued here. After the International Broadcasting Act of 1994, it changed its name to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Meanwhile, although it was an independent institution, worked in connection with the USIA. BBG has led their messages to the world with TV and radio channels like The Voice of America, Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia, and Middle East Broadcasting Networks.

The public diplomacy activities of the US during the Cold War period have been successful. During this period, the United States, which conveyed American popular culture and anti-Soviet propaganda to the world through the press, succeeded to influence the communities in the Eastern Bloc. So much so that Radio Free Europe’s Hungarian broadcasts had an impact on the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the anti-communist rhetoric of the radio affected the Hungarian people and increased the opposition to the Soviet Union.[11] In addition, during this period, some iconic brands such as Levis attracted the attention of the people living in the Eastern Bloc countries.

The importance the US attaches to public diplomacy activities tended to decline after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Because the USSR, the US’s greatest enemy, was destroyed, so their perception of security threats was diminished. However, after the end of the Cold War, the USIA’s activities were not stopped completely. During this period, exchange programs were established for the New Independent States and Eastern European countries to enable them to rapidly transform into a Western-style economy and democracy. Despite all budget cuts, the USIA operated in 142 countries in 1999, employing 6772 staff and had a budget of around $ 1.4 billion.[12] However, the activities were stopped within the same year. Since 1999, public diplomacy has been carried out by the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, which is affiliated to the Department of the State.

2.3. After the 9/11

The September 11 attacks completely changed the US view of public diplomacy. This attack has caused American public opinion, political elites, and theoreticians to think about the question, “Why does the world hate us?”.[13] Indeed, surveys show that support for US superpower status has declined from 64 percent to 31 percent, even in Europe.[14] At that time, American political elites saw US public diplomacy as a necessity of national security. As a result, public diplomacy strategies after 9/11 were based on the fight against terrorism. As in the Cold War period, a common enemy was identified and the whole world was aimed at collecting against them. Their message was “America, a land of hope and opportunity, is fighting with terror and extremism!”.[15]

In this period, the region where the most anti-Americanism was seen was the Middle East. For this reason, many attempts have been made to win the hearts of the people of the Middle East. Al Hurra TV, Radio Sawa, and Hi Magazine have been established and with these channels, US have tried to put its lifestyle and popular culture in the minds of people. These media channels have broadcasted western music, Hollywood movies, and sports programs. In addition, significant budgets have been allocated to the region for student exchange programs. However, reports from the United States

Department of State show that US public diplomacy has failed after 9/11.[16] Nevertheless, it should be noted that American values continued to be loved in countries known to be anti-US. For example, while 59 percent of Lebanese people think negatively about the US, 65 percent like popular cultural products such as Hollywood, American music, and American TV channels.[17]

The Bush administration’s use of military force and public diplomacy together after 9/11 created a serious contradiction. The military policies and public diplomacy policies carried out in this period can be evaluated as two independent policies, not as smart power. On the one hand, the US, which called Iran as the devil, and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, on the other hand, used public diplomacy to gain the people of the region. In such a situation where actions and words contradict, public opinion could not be expected to sympathize to the United States.

The failure of the Bush era was not limited to the Middle East, and the idea of anti-Americanism in the world increased its popularity. For example, surveys published by the BBC in 2008 showed that public opinion in 23 countries around the world sees the US as a greater threat than North Korea. In addition, anti-Americanism has increased in Canada, Germany, Australia, and Britain and lastly, 64 percent of the population in Turkey thought that the USA would be a threat to Turkey in the future.[18]

Barack Obama, who took office as President of the United States in January 2009, has made significant changes in the strategy of public diplomacy and has implemented a smart power strategy in which military power has been pushed back.[19] The understanding of global cooperation and mutual respect was the basis of Obama’s public diplomacy activities.[20] During this period, the Obama government, which adopted the principle of direct communication with other countries, developed reconciliatory rhetoric and attempted to restore its image, which had deteriorated during the Bush era.

Obama’s words during his June 2009 visit to Cairo highlight the difference between Bush and Obama. Obama stated that he was looking for a new beginning with the Islamic world and that there was no separation between the US and the Islamic world.[21] At the same time, Obama tried to separate al-Qaeda from the Islamic world and tried to win the heart of the Islamic world by saying that he came from a Muslim family. As can be seen, during the Obama period, public diplomacy was tried to be achieved through communication and instead of developing specific methods, hearts were tried to be gained through dialogue.

In contrast to Obama, Donald Trump, who pursues an isolationist foreign policy, has put forward the “America First” rhetoric. Unlike Obama, Trump did not distinguish between Islam and terrorist organizations in his words, brought visa exemptions to seven Muslim countries and focused on military power by eliminating the soft power elements in the fight against terrorism.[22] At the same time, Trump imposed tariffs on products from many countries around the world, particularly in China, and threatened Russia and North Korea with nuclear missiles, therefore, undermines America’s legitimacy improved by Obama.

Following Trump’s takeover, there has been no technical change in US public diplomacy policies and organizations in the United States have continued their previous habits. However, Trump’s Twitter diplomacy came as a major innovation during this period. Staying away from the diplomatic language, Trump announces his policies to the public with his daily speech and interacts with the public without any intermediaries and can change the world agenda with a tweet.


When we are based on the elements of national power approach, the United States is indisputable the most powerful state in the world. It uses its power in the field of public diplomacy activity, although its activities fluctuates from time to time. The US has succeeded in creating an “American dream” by using the power of the state, its large corporations, universities, and media. Insomuch that, almost everyone in the world is influenced by the popular culture of America, and carry the traces of American popular culture in their life. This shows that the US has succeeded to some extent in public diplomacy.

However, there is another fact that the rate of anti-Americanism in the world is quite high. The United States’ moves using hard power cast a shadow on public diplomacy and make the US look like a greedy monster. And, public diplomacy activities only change people’s life style, but hatred towards America is strengthened in many places. Therefore, in order to achieve maximum efficiency in public diplomacy activities, the US should reduce its hard power activities and become more conciliatory. The soft power elements of the US are enough to be the leader of the world. At the same time, pushing military power into the background could reduce the power of anti-Americanist rhetoric in the world and the possibility of China being seen as an alternative.


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Beehner, Lionel. Perceptions of U.S. Public Diplomacy, 2005. (D.A. 25.12.2019).

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Dünyanın en büyük ekonomileri sıralaması (2019), (D.A. 25.12.2019).

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 Text: Obama’s Speech in Cairo, (D.A. 25.12.2019).

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[1] Emine Akçadağ, ‘‘ABD’nin Kamu Diplomasisi Stratejisi: Akıllı Güç. Kamu Diplomasisi Enstitüsü, p.1. (D.A. 25.12.2019).

[2] United States, (D.A. 25.12.2019).

[3] Muharrem Ekşi, Kamu Diplomasisi, December 2016, (D.A. 25.12.2019).

[4] Mark Leonard, Public Diplomacy, The Foreign Policy Centre, London, 2002, p. 8.

[5] Injy Galal, The History and Future of US Public Diplomacy. American University in Cairo, p. 1.

[6] Kennon H. Nakamura and Matthew C. Weed, U.S. Public Diplomacy: Background and Current Issues. Congressional Research Service, December 18, 2009, p. 9.

[7] A.A. Bardos, Public diplomacy: An old art, a new profession. Virginia Quarterly Review, 77: 3, 2001, p. 428.

[8] William M. Chodkowski, The United States Information Agency, American Security Project, November 2012, p. 2.

[9] Indy Galal, ibid, p. 2.

[10] Fulbright Programı Hakkında,ı-Hakkında (D.A. 25.12.2019).

[11] Abdülsamet Günek, Amerikan Kamu Diplomasisinin Üç Evresi: Propaganda, Geleneksel Kamu Diplomasisi ve Stratejik İletişim, The Journal and Social Science, 2: 3, 2018, p. 58-59.

[12] Kennon H. Nakamura and Matthew C. Weed, ibid, p. 15.

[13] Emine Akçadağ, ibid, p.1. (D.A. 25.12.2019).

[14] Ibid, p.2. (D.A. 25.12.2019).

[15] Abdülsamet Günek, İbid, p. 63.

[16] Ibid, p. 2. (D.A. 25.12.2019).

[17] Indy Galal, ibid, p. 3.

[18] Kristin M. Lord, U.S. Public Diplomacy for the 21st Century, Foreign Policy at Brookings, Washington DC, 2008, p.7.

[19] Emine Akçadağ, ibid, p. 2. (D.A. 25.12.2019).

[20] K.R. Fitzpatrick, U.S. Public Diplomacy in a Post-9/11 World: From Messaging to Mutuality. CPD Perspectives on Public Diplomacy, Paper 6, Los Angeles, Figueroa Press, 2011, p. 22.

[21] Text: Obama’s Speech in Cairo, (D.A. 25.12.2019).

[22] Muhammed Asım Öncel, ABD’nin Ortadoğu’ya Yönelik Kamu Diplomasisi: Obama ve Trump Dönemi, Journal of International Relations and Diplomacy, 1: 1, October 2018, p. 101-102.