Friday, January 30, 2009

Judith A. McHale: Democratic mega-donor...and Undersecretary for public diplomacy?

Al Kamen, columnist in the Washington Post, reported last week that newly appointed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "is poised to tap [Judith McHale] a longtime friend and Democratic mega-donor as her undersecretary for public diplomacy." Judith A. McHale's diplomatic credentials were explicitly questioned in the WaPo article but it also struck a conciliatory tone by reminding the reader that undersecretary for public diplomacy "is a job that involves selling a message," and in her capacity as former President and Chief Executive Officer of Discovery Communications and current Director of Polo/Ralph Lauren Corporation, Mrs. McHale certainly has a knack for branding.
Marc Lynch of Foreign Policy, however, did not strike the same tone in his overtly critical blog post entitled, "Why Judith McHale would be a bad public diplomacy choice." Mr. Lynch, as a staunch proponent of Obama's vision of global engageme
nt and public diplomacy, recalls Hilary Clinton's inattention to public diplomacy during the primaries, and sees the prospect of McHale's appointment as just a reaffirmation of Clinton's lackadaisical commitment to public diplomacy. Mr. Lynch insists that, "the position of Under-Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs should go to someone with experience in and a vision for public diplomacy, and who will be in a position to effectively integrate public diplomacy concerns into the policy-making process," while recalling Charlotte DeBeers short tenure in the position as evidence that simply being able to "brand" America is not good enough. Lynch maintains that American public diplomacy is currently in the balance, and that whoever Clinton's appointment is, they need, "to be in a position to quickly assert authority over an inter-agency balance currently sharply skewed towards the Pentagon."
MountainRunner, a blog by Matt Armstrong, the principal and co-founder of Armstrong Strategic Insights Group, offers a similarly insightful observation with regards to the duties of the new undersecretary. Similarly to Lynch, he maintains that, "[p]ublic diplomacy is not public relations. For too long, public diplomacy languished u
nder absent leadership and a lost appreciation of its value and purpose." While he does not directly reference the WaPo rumor, the general inclination of his blog suggests that he also views the position as a "a national security imperative" and not just "selling a message," and would surely be critical of McHale's appointment.
If an unsubstantiated rumor can cause this much buzz, the future is indeed looking interesting as we await Clinton's appointment for the chief position of the public diplomacy office in the State Department. Whoever it is, the appointment is likely to draw intense scrutiny and rigorous debate both in the blogosphere and in mainstream media. To be Continued...(as they say).

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