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The Ideal Un-Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

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A recommendation suggesting the ideal person to fill the post of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the State Department, coming from a private citizen who has publicly given "ten reasons why we don't need an Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs" (as posted recently by HP) may seem like an oddity if not a contradiction.

But I feel, as a former Foreign Service officer, that perhaps I should voice my preference, since we Americans aim to live in a democracy, even if voters do not select State Department officials. Also, I'm following the example of several esteemed public diplomacy (PD) commentators, all far wiser than I, who have expressed their written opinions on who should be the next key PD point person at State.

My choice, which I believe few reasonable persons would disagree with:

Ambassador William Rugh.

Why? Because he is, in my view, the ideal un-Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

Yes, I do mean un-Undersecretary, given the recent Under Secretaries chosen up to now.

Let me explain why.

First, take a look at his bio:

William Rugh
U.S. Department of State (Ret.)

William Rugh was a career Foreign Service Officer for 31 years, 1964-1995. He had several assignments abroad for the U.S. Information Agency including as Public Affairs Officer in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In Washington he was Assistant Director of USIA for the Near East, North Africa and South Asia 1989-1992, having served in that same bureau 1971-1972 as Senior Policy Officer and again 1973-1976 as Deputy for Near East and North Africa. He received the Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy in 1991, and Presidential Awards for Meritorious Service three times.

His Foreign Service assignments abroad also included one as Deputy Chief of Mission, at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus 1981-1984, and two as Ambassador: to the Yemen Arab Republic 1984-1987, and to the United Arab Emirates 1992-1995.

After retiring from the Foreign Service, he served from 1995 until 2003 as President and CEO of America-Mideast Educational and Training Services (AMIDEAST), an American non-governmental organization that promotes understanding between Americans and peoples of the Middle East through education and training, with offices in a dozen Arab countries.

He is now a consultant to AMIDEAST and a member of the Executive Committee of its Board.

He is also a Trustee of the American University in Cairo, a member of the Suffolk University International Board of Advisors, and an Adjunct Scholar at the Middle East Institute.

Mr. Rugh holds an MA in International Relations from Johns Hopkins and a PhD in government from Columbia University. Between 1987 and 1989 he was Adjunct Professor at the Fletcher School of Tufts University, where he taught courses in public diplomacy and U.S. Middle east policy. He is the author of a number of books, book chapters, articles, and opeds on issues relating to the Middle East and to public diplomacy. His books include Diplomacy and Defense Policy of the United Arab Emirates (2002), Arab Mass Media (2004) and American Encounters with Arabs: the "Soft Power" of U.S. Public Diplomacy in the Arab World, (2005)

His articles have appeared in the Middle East Journal, Middle East Policy, the Carnegie Endowment's Arab Reform Bulletin, the Global Media Journal, and elsewhere. His opeds have appeared in Arab and American newspapers.

How many recent PD/PA Under Secretaries have such qualifications?

None. Absolutely none.

Instead, for the past eight years, we have had:

--A marketeer and ad-lady who was into "branding" the USA (Charlotte Beers);

--The former press secretary for James Baker who quickly left her job for a lucrative position on Wall Street (Margaret Tutwiler);

--A politico who could not tell the difference between a campaign for George W. Bush and interacting with the outside world, and who was derided the globe over for her provincialism, ignorance, and very questionable taste (Karen Hughes);

--Finally, an apologist for uncontrolled capitalism who argued that by demeaning our "enemies" and using the Internet we could win "the war of ideas" (James Glassman).

I am simplifying, at the risk of appearing unnecessarily hostile to the above honorable individuals, all of whom served the Republic as they knew best.

Unlike them, however, Dr. Rugh brings the right credentials for the job.

I hope he will not object if I list -- in a cursory fashion -- his qualifications to run American public diplomacy (indeed, he is far more qualified to describe his achievements than I):

--He has extensive diplomatic experience at the highest level;

--He has worked in the field of public diplomacy for decades;

--He understands the importance of the work of PD officers overseas and how embassies function;

--He knows the nuts and bolts of government and is familiar with PD programs;

--He is fluent in a crucial language, Arabic (if not others), and is intensely familiar with the Arab world, having written books on its media;

--Self-effacing but exuding confidence, he is not a publicity hound, though he knows how the press works;

--Given his background, he can deal with key public diplomacy audiences: journalists and academics;

--A true diplomat, he can speak with persons from all sides of the political fence -- including Karen Hughes when she was Under Secretary (how I wish I had that admirable level of tolerance).

To repeat: I vote for Bill Rugh for Under Secretary -- or others like him with his talents and wisdom (although Bill is, needless to say, unique) -- because our country, in its dealings with foreign public opinion at this critical time, needs a knowledgeable professional, not a rebooted replica of the inadequate Under Secretaries of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs we have had up to now.

Full disclosure: Some years ago, when Bill was working on one of his books, he was kind enough to share his thoughts on his project with me over lunch at a Greek restaurant. He picked up the tab; I had forgotten my wallet and could not contribute to the festivity.

In addition to his many virtues, Bill is forgiving of the absent-minded.