Day two of the IPRA Summit began yesterday with a spirited address by Ambassador Karen Hughes, under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs at the U.S. State Department. Ambassador Hughes is responsible for leading "America’s efforts to communicate with foreign publics and confront ideological support for terrorism".
Rather than do a lot of confronting -- ill advised anyway for an audience from 40 different countries -- she talked instead at length (and with extraordinary pace) about the new program of "listening" that she has instituted, accepting in doing so that hearing others is not a core competency of the U.S. government.
At first I thought she was speeding through her presentation in order to avoid questions about U.S. foreign policy, which she had apparently done at a recent roundtable of public relations professionals at the White House according to a couple of IPRA attendees who were invited to the discussions. But when a question was raised about why there are such negative sentiments about the U.S. around the world Ambassador Hughes acknowledged not only the resentment and mistrust but also their root cause --the war in Iraq. She offered a straightforward, but hardly convincing, defense. Full marks for openness at least, although her comment that the U.S. believes democracy "can't be forced only fostered" rang hollow and caused a little gag reflex in some.
The panel that followed tried to draw a link between the concepts of public diplomacy and corporate diplomacy (interestingly there is no Wikipedia entry for the latter) an issue of serious weight as Margery Kraus (CEO APCO Worldwide) pointed out because "51 of the top 100 economies in the world are companies". And why should companies care about diplomacy? Because, said Kraus, "You can't be a profitable business in a failed world." Nice.
And completely apropos of nothing related to this session, take look at this fun blog (in Portuguese) by an agency called Young Network in Lisbao run by former journalist Joao Duarte who I chatted with at the conference.