12/07/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Improving US Image Abroad Top Priority for President-elect Obama

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO in guvspeak), today identified public diplomacy as one of 13 top priorities for President-elect Barack Obama. Public diplomacy involves both state and non-state efforts to inform, influence, and engage overseas publics. The U.S. State Department leads the charge as our main agency of diplomacy, but State's expenditures on public diplomacy pales in comparison to the Department of Defense. This urgent call for improving America's image in the world and confronting the rise of
anti-Americanism over the last five years is old news. What we urgently need now, as GAO points out, is a core of properly trained public diplomats who can communicate well in an intercultural context. And we need abundant resources in order to run the best global persuasion programs. International broadcasting is our mainstay in public diplomacy, but think about it. What influences you? For me, it's a person I trust, someone who sits across the table from me in two-way dialogue and who I may end up collaborating with on some project. Listening to Radio Sawa or watching Al Hurra may reach a larger audience but won't engage people.

The election of Barack Obama was a positive step to help stem the tide of anti-Americanism but Obama's victory alone can't overcome all the resentment that has built up over the years. We Americans need to listen more, talk less, and truly engage people in a spirit of mutual understanding. It doesn't have to mean that we naively agree with each other on everything or hold hands across the oceans. It does mean that we need to acknowledge that we're in this global lifeboat together.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. Often called the "congressional watchdog," GAO investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. The URL for the public diplomacy section includes previous reports by GAO over the years. I appreciate the work of this good government agency that cares about how we are spending our hard-earned public monies.