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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
|
DECEMBER 2012
41
BOOKS
The Longest Yard
Te Last Tree Feet: Case Studies in
Public Diplomacy (Public Diplomacy
Council Series)
William P. Kiehl, editor, CreateSpace
Independent Publishing Platform, 2012,
$14.99/paperback, $4.99 Kindle Edition.
Reviewed by Patricia Kushlis
As editor William P. Kiehl points out in
his introduction to
Te Last Tree Feet
,
not a single one of the countless vol-
umes written about American public
diplomacy since the demise of the U.S.
Information Agency in 1999 and the 9/11
attacks has focused on what public diplo-
macy ofcers actually do in the feld. Tis
small, readable volume seeks to fll that
gap.
Te Last Tree Feet
is not about
Washington operations, or what academ-
ics think public diplomacy is. It simply
explains how some experienced State
Department public diplomacy ofcers
have dealt with PD challenges all over the
world.
Several of these case studies are atypi-
cal, to be sure. How often is the consul
general located in a city where a world
expo is about to open, only to fnd herself
faced with an intransigent Washington
bureaucracy and politicians hesitant
to move outside an outdated congres-
sionally limited funding box? How many
embassies make a small youth exchange
program a top priority? And how often
does a U.S. mission transfer public afairs
from the military to Foreign Service of-
cers with a civil war still in progress? In
all three cases, the answer is: rarely.
Even so, most of these studies usefully
discuss how embassy public diplomacy
ofcers have used, or attempted to use,
social media to reach across fortress
embassy walls, despite the loss of many
American Centers in
the 1990s.
Truth be told,
I think the cen-
ters’ closures have
proven to be a
penny-wise, pound-
foolish approach,
especially consider-
ing their potential for communicating
with local youth. Teir replacement by
American Corners, or other small instal-
lations without American staf—consist-
ing of books, periodicals and Internet
access ensconced in someone else’s
library, or even a shopping mall—just
doesn’t cut it.
As cultural afairs ofcer in the Philip-
pines from 1992 to 1994, I evaluated a
raft of such installations just as fewer
resources became available to devote
to them. Te ultimate solution, imple-
mented after I left post, was to close the
popular U.S. cultural center in the heart
of Manila’s commercial district and
donate its 30,000 well-read volumes to a
private suburban university.
Tis was done, I understand, for
fnancial, not security reasons. Te
result? An 85-percent drop in use of the
facility’s remaining oferings: a tiny col-
lection of reference works, a skeleton staf
and some Internet-accessible computers.
By then Filipinos already had the Inter-
net, but not books or current American
periodicals.
Te main thread that runs through
this book is the fact that social media
(providing social media are important
in a country) interactions cannot be
handled “staf-lite.” Tey require at least
one full-time American ofcer and two
locally hired staf with sophisticated
knowledge of U.S. policy and the ability
to rapidly articulate it, both in writing
and orally (think YouTube), in the coun-
try’s vernacular.
Tese case studies also make a com-
pelling argument that embassy care and
feeding of the social media should not
be spread around like grass seed in the
fall on already overworked public afairs
ofcers, with the low priority of watering
it as time permits.
Furthermore, social media units
cannot be hamstrung by cumbersome
bureaucratic clearances. Blogging, tweet-
ing, interacting and listening are the crux
of the job in today’s high-speed media
environment. Of course, this kind of fex-
ibility and nimbleness requires faith on
the part of risk-averse senior ofcers, as
well as policy and cultural savvy on the
part of the staf.
Kudos to the Public Diplomacy
Council for supporting this book, to the
speakers and interviewers whose work
is included—and, most of all, to editor
William P. Kiehl for producing this badly
needed volume.
If you want to know what public
diplomacy ofcers do—and you should if
you’ve gotten this far—read this book.
Patricia H. Kushlis was an FSO with the
U.S. Information Agency from 1970 to 1998.
A longer version of this review is available
on Whirled View, the world politics, public
diplomacy and national security blog she co-
writes with former FSO Patricia Lee Sharpe.
Many of these studies
usefully discuss how to use
social media to reach across
fortress embassy walls.