Making Foreign Affairs Less Foreign

Kerry_Townhall

Yesterday, Secretary of State Kerry held a town hall-style meeting in Foggy Bottom with a group of university students. Transcript and video are available here: http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2014/03/223660.htm

I found it interesting that the State Department has very deliberately held an event with the U.S. domestic population as its audience. This appears to take into account the perspectives of PD writers like Ellen Huijh, who has advocated including domestic engagement as part of foreign policy.

One observation I made watching this online is that Secretary Kerry was late. This was for good reason- he hinted that his tardiness was due to a very important phone call on the day Crimea was annexed- but it is problematic that events like this must come second to the ‘real’ business of diplomacy (again, for good reason).

It is not fair to expect that someone like Secretary Kerry can properly engage with domestic audience while dealing with international crises. If there was a figure in the State Department with similar gravitas to Kerry but who was directly tasked with engaging the U.S. audience, this might mitigate the problem. I’m not sure what such a position would be called or would look like.

Also, the fact that the audience comprised of students from the Washington area shows that the department could do more work to engage with more different demographics. An introductory point made before the town hall was that most U.S. citizens believe the government spends many times more on foreign aid than it really does. The people the State Department needs to educate about this reality probably weren’t the kind of people in that lecture hall. Diplomacy may no longer be a “secret garden”, but the garden still appears to have a dress code.

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