Today, American public diplomacy is in crisis. Official outreach to foreign publics represents one of the most potent instruments of "soft power" available to the United States. Yet U.S. public diplomacy has eroded significantly since its heyday at the height of the Cold War, when American broadcasts and messaging engaged foreign publics behind the Iron Curtain and played an integral role in shaping the ideas that brought down the Soviet bloc. Through a combination of bureaucratic reshuffling and official neglect, the post-Cold War era has seen an erosion of the efficiency, vision and impact of American strategic communications. The aggregate result was that, by 2003, a high level governmental advisory panel had already concluded that the United States had undergone a process of "unilateral disarmament" in "the weapons of advocacy."
Yet the situation has only worsened in the years since, as the proliferation of new communications technologies, the rise of social media platforms, and the spread of "fake news" and disinformation have made the international media environment more contested — and more saturated — than ever before. Competing in this new, hostile terrain requires the United States to rebuild the vibrancy, impact and persuasive potential of its international outreach. Such an effort begins with an accurate understanding of today's more congested, adversarial and crowded global media environment.
In 1963, Edward R. Murrow, the country's preeminent journalist, testified before Congress on the role of public diplomacy in the Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union. "American traditions and the American ethic require us to be truthful, but the most important reason is that truth is the best propaganda and lies are the worst," Murrow explained. "To be persuasive we must believable; to be believable we must credible; to be credible we must be truthful. It is as simple as that."
This strategy was tremendously successful during the decades of the Cold War. At the height of their popularity, it is estimated that the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty jointly reached as much as 80 percent of the population of Eastern Europe, and half of the citizens of the Soviet Union, on a weekly basis. The arguments, ideas and discussions aired on those outlets helped to empower an emerging generation of leaders within the Soviet bloc—activists who, armed with Western values, would emerge to challenge the authority of the Soviet state. Today, however, the global media environment confronting the United States is very different in several respects.
A MORE SATURATED MEDIA SPHERE. For decades, the news cycle was both limited and predictable, consisting of a comparatively small number of reliable, and authoritative, outlets. By contrast, today's media sphere is characterized by a growing deluge of global information, in which traditional sources of media are increasingly challenged by new (and often unreliable) information outlets. At the same time, the proliferation of social media platforms has left users vulnerable to opaque algorithms and the political biases of unaccountable editors. These trends have undermined the traditional hierarchy and authority of established media.
THE RISE OF "AUTHORITARIAN MEDIA." The dynamics above have created conditions that are deeply favorable to the growth and expansion of authoritarian modes of expression — a reality that the world's most repressive states understand all too well. In recent years, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey and Qatar have all invested heavily in promoting their own, weaponized sources of information, erecting vast national media infrastructures designed to supplant and eclipse Western news sources and carrying out disinformation operations designed to demolish trust in democratic institutions and ideas. More and more, hostile actors are embracing the strategic use of information and propaganda to solidify their domestic position and advance their foreign policy objectives at the expense of Western values. The most prominent examples include Russia's persistent attempts to spread "fake news" and political disinformation on social media platforms and, more recently, the massive propaganda campaign surrounding the coronavirus pandemic that has been marshaled by the PRC over the past year-and-a-half.
LOWER BARRIERS TO ENTRY. One defining feature of the contemporary media environment is that it is now far easier to become a player in it. The proliferation of new technology and the ubiquitous nature of social media has effectively "flattened" the playing field, allowing non-state actors to expand their messaging and global reach and do so at much lower costs than ever before. In turn, radical groups like the Islamic State have taken advantage of this opening to expand their ideological messaging and global reach, to great effect.
In light of these changes, a compelling case can be made that the United States needs a new and more assertive informational strategy to better promote its ideas, values and principles to global publics. In order to be effective, however, such an approach will need to simultaneously accomplish a number of critical strategic objectives.
FOLLOWING THE DEMOGRAPHICS
There's an old anecdote about Willie Sutton, the famed bank robber who was responsible for a string of heists throughout the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. When finally apprehended by Federal agents, the story goes, Sutton was asked why he robbed banks. His answer was both simple and profound: because that's where the money was.
That axiom has come to be known as "Sutton's law," and it holds enormous relevance for the future of U.S. influence. For, in order for its message to resonate with global publics, the United States needs to target its outreach to those places where American ideas about freedom, opportunity, and liberal democracy will have the greatest resonance. American influence, in other words, needs to be directed at where the audiences are.
During the decades of the Cold War, that was the Soviet bloc, where captive populations chafed under the repressive rule and bankrupt political ideology of the Kremlin. American outreach, in turn, contributed to their intellectual awakening and eventual political liberation. Today, however, the focus has shifted to different global regions.
The first of these is Asia, which is now home to roughly 60 percent of the world's population. It is also a critical battleground in at least two strategic contests. One is the "war of ideas" taking place within the Muslim World, between extreme interpretations of the faith propounded by groups like the Islamic State and more moderate, inclusive ones such as Indonesia's "Islam Nusantara," which posits Islam's compatibility with both modernity and democracy. Another is the unfolding "great power competition" between China and the United States, which has evolved into not simply an economic contest but an ideological one as well, between the PRC's model of adaptive authoritarianism and Western liberal democracy (more on this below).
The second is Africa, which is now in the throes of a massive demographic expansion. The continent's population currently stands at 1.34 billion, but — buoyed by high birth rates and fertility — is projected to nearly double, to 2.48 billion, by 2050. Additionally, the continent is currently the world's youngest, with a median age of just 19.5. This cohort is growing rapidly, and will increase by nearly 50 percent by the end of this decade — and is projected to more than double in size by 2055. All of which makes Africa a critically important theater where U.S. ideas and values need to resonate in the decades ahead.
As of yet, however, U.S. broadcasting does not reflect these demographic priorities. For instance, in 2020, messaging to South and East Asia accounted for just 30 percent of the Voice of America's overall budget. Messaging to Africa was even more paltry, garnering less than 12 percent of VOA's budgetary allocations. This represents a critical error. For, in order to be most impactful, the United States needs to anticipate where future audiences will be in the years ahead, and adapt accordingly.
COMPETING INFORMATIONALLY WITH CHINA
The past several years has seen a profound redefinition of American relationship with, and approach to, the People's Republic of China (PRC). Beginning under the Trump administration and continuing into the Biden era, the U.S. has abandoned the longstanding view that it was possible to transform the PRC into a "responsible stakeholder" on the world stage through deeper economic and political engagement. Instead, it has increasingly embraced the understanding that China's government is exploiting the liberal world order to subvert democratic principles globally, and that "long-term strategic competition" with Beijing is necessary. But while the resulting strategic contest is now unfolding in a variety of arenas, from supply chains to trade, it has yet to touch upon that of information.
This represents a dangerous oversight, because China is actively engaged in shaping the international media environment to its advantage. At home, the Chinese government has erected a massive, comprehensive architecture of internet control, media manipulation and nationalist messaging designed to solidify the authority of the ruling Communist Party and denigrate its opponents. Abroad, the PRC is engaged in an aggressive (and ongoing) information operations campaign intended to reshape the contours of global discourse — and do so in ways that disadvantage the United States. This has included strident "wolf warrior diplomacy" by Chinese diplomats in the media and on social media platforms, as well as the spread of conspiracy theories and disinformation relating to the coronavirus pandemic. Promptly and comprehensively refuting these falsehoods is essential to maintaining American competitiveness in the "battle of narratives" now taking place with Beijing.
It is also vital if the United States hopes to tap into changing global perceptions of China, in order to rally allies to its side. Here, an important opportunity exists; since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, international attitudes about China have undergone a profound shift. An October 2020 poll by the prestigious Pew Research Center, for instance, documented what amounts to a dramatic decline in global support for China's government and its policies.
These shifting global attitudes provide a critical opening for the United States. With deft and persistent messaging about the PRC's deformities, ranging from its predatory economic practices to ongoing (and egregious) domestic human rights abuses, America can help provide an alternative perspective to global publics who are now being bombarded with messages about the benevolence and inevitability of the Chinese "model." At the same time, the U.S. needs to invest more deeply in those technologies capable of breaching China's "Great Firewall" and loosening the PRC's stranglehold on information within its own borders.
GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT CIRCUMVENTION
In the Fall of 2019, Iran was convulsed by what was the latest in a string of increasingly widespread social protests. The Iranian regime responded in predictable fashion, putting security forces into the streets to cow protesters into silence. But it also leaned heavily on a new tool: internet suppression. Beginning in mid-November, the Iranian regime blocked virtually all Web traffic within its national borders, and kept it off for nearly a week, until it had regained the upper hand.
That same tactic was apparent this past summer in the Western Hemisphere. When thousands of Cubans took to the streets to protest the island nation's deepening economic crisis, the government of Miguel Diaz-Canel engineered a blackout of social media sites and the internet in an attempt to prevent their plight from reaching the rest of the world.
Cuba's internet cutoff, and the earlier Iranian one, underscore an alarming new trend. More and more, authoritarian regimes — which already limit access to the World Wide Web and foreign media for their citizens — are resorting to all-out media and internet blackouts as part of their repressive tactics. Indeed, in its most recent Freedom on the Net report, democracy watchdog Freedom House noted that "Global Internet Freedom has declined for the 10th consecutive year," and that it had observed "intentional disruptions" in a record 22 of the 65 countries it tracked.
How can the United States best respond to this trend? Cuba's temporary internet blackout prompted calls from U.S. officials for "intervention" in order to restore connectivity. And while no action was ultimately taken by the White House, the United States does indeed have a number of concrete tools at its disposal to restore or maintain its connections with repressed publics. These include anti-censorship software such as Psyphon and Ultrasurf, which are already funded by the U.S. government via agencies like the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) and the State Department. They also encompass private sector initiatives that could play a similar role in the future, among them the Starlink satellite constellation now being fielded by Elon Musk's SpaceX, and Raven, the stratospheric balloon company that helped restore communications in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017. What is missing, however, is a comprehensive approach on the part of the United States for when, how and under what conditions it will step in to provide critical circumvention assistance to struggling opposition movements and unfree peoples.
That is an error. America needs to clearly and unequivocally communicate that it is committed to maintaining free and open internet and media, both in word and by deed (through ramped up funding for proven circumvention tools and promising potential ones). Doing so would send a powerful signal to dissidents and political activists the world over that the United States remains committed to anti-censorship and the free flow of ideas. It would also put today's autocrats on notice regarding the same, and make it clear to them that the U.S. will actively work to thwart their attempts to choke off connectivity with their citizens.
OPTIMIZING FOR SUCCESS
A final priority for the United States, and arguably the most important one, needs to be an overhauling of the organization of U.S. public diplomacy. That structure has been fundamentally transformed over the past thirty years — and not for the better.
During the decades of the Cold War, public diplomacy was a defining feature of America's "soft power" strategy against the Soviets, and consequently enjoyed top level attention within the corridors of the U.S. government. Underpinned by a succession of Executive Orders, strategic communications grew into an elaborate web of broadcast services and intrepid reporters unified under a single structure (the United States Information Agency, or USIA) and possessing a common objective: "to further the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives," as Murrow himself put it.
In the post-Cold War era, however, both the structure and vision behind American outreach have atrophied. The 1999 dissolution of the USIA by Congress paved the way for the creation of a hybrid structure, part bureaucratic and part programmatic, to oversee American outreach. The result was a pronounced attrition of strategic vision, with the organs of public diplomacy coming to see themselves as separate from — and not beholden to — U.S. foreign policy priorities. The consequent drift has diminished the ability of American outreach to align with and amplify American diplomacy, and profoundly muted the desire of its employees to do so.
Over the years, numerous efforts have been made to rectify this state of affairs. Back in 2004, the Pentagon's elite Defense Science Board warned that America's strategic communications apparatus was "in crisis," and "must be transformed with a strength of purpose that matches our commitment to diplomacy, defense, intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security." And legislative champions such as former Congressmen Edward Royce (R-CA-39) and Eliot Engel (D-NY-16) attempted repeatedly to lay the groundwork for such a change during their time in office.
But it was not until the confirmation of Michael Pack as CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (the new name for America's official broadcasting agency) in June 2020 that an overhaul of the agency began in earnest. During his brief, tumultuous tenure, Pack attempted to tackle a number of significant and pervasive problems afflicting U.S. public diplomacy, including bureaucratic mismanagement, instances of pervasive waste and fraud, and security clearance irregularities. But the way he set about doing so was depicted as enormously controversial and divisive by a hostile media, and generated tremendous resistance from the USAGM's entrenched bureaucracy. These tensions culminated in the removal of Pack as USAGM CEO within the first hours of the Biden administration, and a subsequent restoration of the political status quo ante to the agency.
Lost in this discourse has been the fact that the problems plaguing USAGM long predated Pack's tenure, and have persisted beyond his time at the agency's helm. Fixing those will go a long way toward determining whether the current administration — or the next one — can rely on USAGM and its constituent parts to faithfully communicate American ideas, principles and values to foreign publics.
What will it take to enact such changes? Two factors are critical if the United States is to optimize its outreach.
The first is resources. Various observers, dissatisfied with the current state of U.S. broadcasting, have from time to time counseled the defunding of this or that function or service. Such a remedy, however, is liable to make matters much worse, because America is currently being vastly outspent by its adversaries in the media domain.
The numbers indicate just how much. More than half-a-decade ago, Russia's government was already estimated by Congress to be spending more than $600 million a year on external messaging. A RAND Corporation study the following year estimated that the Kremlin's premier propaganda outlet, Russia Today (now RT), alone received $300 million annually. The Congressional inquiry into Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, meanwhile, concluded that the Russian government's funding of the notorious Internet Research Agency troll farm by itself amounted to $1.25 million monthly.
China, meanwhile, is spending far more. In 2009, China allocated some $6.6 billion to international messaging, spread across several state media institutions dedicated to influencing foreign publics. By 2017, scholars were estimating that Beijing was spending some $10 billion annually on "soft power" initiatives, including broadcasting. And last year, Beijing bankrolled just one of these channels, China Global Television (CGNTV), to the tune of $50 million.
Against this backdrop, America's own public diplomacy budget is decidedly meager. In point of fact, funding for U.S. public diplomacy has not risen by any appreciable amount in the past two decades. Thus, the Bush administration's 2003 federal budget allocated some $557 million for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (as the USAGM was then known). Fast forward to the present, and the figures remain roughly the same; in its most recent funding request to Congress for Fiscal Year 2022, the USAGM asked for $637.3 million to fund the totality of its operations. A compelling argument can thus be made that the current level of funding is insufficient for the United States to maintain a competitive posture in a complex and adversarial media environment.
But additional funding for public diplomacy won't be forthcoming — or warranted — until serious changes are made to the structure and functioning of America's organs of influence. Given the internal inertia now afflicting America's instruments of "soft power," such changes require consistent guidance and attention from the upper echelons of the U.S. government. From the President on down, our elected officials need to prioritize communicating American values, principles and policies to foreign publics in a clear and consistent way.
Their efforts should be guided by a singular understanding: that rebuilding the vibrancy, impact and persuasive potential of the United States remains the key to securing America's global standing. That mission has never been more critical.
 Changing Minds, Winning Peace: A New Strategic Direction for U.S. Public Diplomacy in the Arab & Muslim World (Washington: Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World, October 1, 2003), 13.
 As cited in Thomas L. McPhail, Global Communication: Theories, Stakeholders, and Trends (John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 90.
 Antony J. Blinken, "Winning the War of Ideas," The Washington Quarterly 25, iss. 2, Spring 2002, 105.
 For a comprehensive discussion of the authoritarian media phenomenon, see Ilan Berman, ed., Digital Dictators: Media, Authoritarianism, and America's New Challenge (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017).
 Haroon K. Ullah, Digital World War: Islamists, Extremists, and the Fight for Cyber Supremacy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017), xvi.
 "Islamic State," World Almanac of Islamism 2021 (American Foreign Policy Council/Rowman & Littlefield, 2021), https://almanac.afpc.org/almanac/movements/islamic-state.
 "Distribution of the global population 2021, by continent," Statista, n.d., https://www.statista.com/statistics/237584/distribution-of-the-world-population-by-continent/.
 For more on Indonesia's religious model, see Azyumardi Azra, "Understanding Indonesia's 'Third Way' Islam," in Ilan Berman, ed., Wars of Ideas: Theology, Interpretation and Power in the Muslim World (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021), 73-87.
 "Forecast of the total population of Africa from 2020 to 2050," Statista, n.d., https://www.statista.com/statistics/1224205/forecast-of-the-total-population-of-africa/.
 Mohamed Yahya, "Africa's Defining Challenge," United Nations Development Programme, August 7, 2017, https://www.africa.undp.org/content/rba/en/home/blog/2017/8/7/africa_defining_challenge.html.
 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, "Youth population trends and sustainable development," May 2015, https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/documents/youth/fact-sheets/YouthPOP.pdf.
 Last year, the Voice of America's broadcasting to South and East Asia, as well funding for regional offices there, accounted for $77,052,000 out of a total of $252,000,000. Radio Free Asia, a grantee of the agency, received a further $44.2 million in 2020. U.S. Agency for Global Media, FY 2021 Congressional Budget Justification, February 2020, https://www.usagm.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/FINAL-USAGM-FY-2021-Congressional-Budget-Justification292020.pdf.
 Ibid. VOA's broadcasting to Africa amounted to $29,551,000 out of a total of $252,000,000 in 2020. The U.S. government does not have a dedicated grantee tasked with broadcasting to Africa.
 The idea was most famously articulated by then-Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick back in 2005, in a speech before the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. The full text of Zoellick's speech is available at https://www.ncuscr.org/sites/default/files/migration/Zoellick_remarks_notes06_winter_spring.pdf.
 Jacob Fromer and Mark Magnier, "US, EU must prepare for 'long-term strategic competition with China,' says Joe Biden," South China Morning Post, February 20, 2021, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/3122460/us-eu-must-prepare-long-term-strategic-competition-china-says-president.
 For a comprehensive overview of the Chinese model of media control, see Kai Strittmatter, We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China's Surveillance State (Custom House, 2020).
 See, for example, Jim Geraghty, "A Comprehensive Timeline of China's COVID-19 Lies," National Review, March 23, 2020, https://www.nationalreview.com/the-morning-jolt/chinas-devastating-lies/; See also Eduardo Baptista, "China is pushing its own coronavirus lab leak theory in latest battle of narratives," South China Morning Post, July 20, 2021, https://sg.news.yahoo.com/china-pushing-own-coronavirus-lab-092423226.html.
 Laura Silver, Kat Devlin and Christine Huang, "Unfavorable Views of China Reach Historic Highs in Many Countries," Pew Research Center, October 6, 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2020/10/06/unfavorable-views-of-china-reach-historic-highs-in-many-countries/. The study notes: "Negative views of China increased most in Australia, where 81% now say they see the country unfavorably, up 24 percentage points since last year. In the UK, around three-quarters now see the country in a negative light – up 19 points. And, in the U.S., negative views of China have increased nearly 20 percentage points since President Donald Trump took office, rising 13 points since just last year."
 "Internet being restored in Iran after week-long shutdown," Netblocks.org, November 23, 2019, https://netblocks.org/reports/internet-restored-in-iran-after-protest-shutdown-dAmqddA9; Ilan Berman, "Uprising Averted," The National Interest, November 27, 2019, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/middle-east-watch/uprising-averted-iran-completely-shut-down-internet-within-its-own-borders.
 Barbara Ortutay, Frank Bajak and Tali Arbel, "Cuba's internet cutoff: A go-to tactic to suppress dissent," Associated Press, July 12, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/business-technology-cuba-ca1ae7975e04481e8cbd-56d62a7fb30e.
 Freedom House, Freedom on the Net 2020, 2021, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2020/pandemics-digital-shadow.
 See, for instance, Emily Goodin, "Biden considering US intervention in Cuba to restore internet access," MSNBC, July 16, 2021, https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/biden-considering-us-intervention-in-cuba-to-restore-internet-access/ar-AAMexM-r?li=BB141NW3.
 The Honorable Edward R. Murrow, Statement before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on International Organizations and Movements, March 28, 1963, as cited in J. Michael Waller, ed. The Public Diplomacy Reader (Washington, DC: Institute of World Politics Press, 2007), 25.
 Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Report of the Defense Science Board on Strategic Communications, September 2004, 2, https://fas.org/irp/agency/dod/dsb/commun.pdf.
 See, for instance, Alireza Nader, "Major US influence on Iranians sidelined by anti-Trump bias," Washington Examiner, May 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/major-us-influence-on-iranians-sidelined-by-anti-trump-bias; See also James S. Robbins, "More rot at America's public diplomacy mouthpiece," The Hill, November 7, 2020, https://thehill.com/opinion/national-security/524924-more-rot-at-americas-public-diplomacy-mouthpiece.
 See, for instance, Amanda Bennett, "I was Voice of America's Director. Trump's latest pick to run the Organization is dangerous," Washington Post, December 11, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/amanda-bennett-trump-voa-pick-/2020/12/11/41beade6-3be8-11eb-98c4-25dc9f4987e8_story.html.
 Bill Gertz, "VOA Executive Setareh Derakhshesh Seig Fired Under Trump Rehired by Biden," The Washington Times, February 18, 2021, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2021/feb/18/voa-executive-setareh-derakhshesh-sieg-fired-under/.
 Cong. Edward Royce, opening remarks at hearing on "Confronting Russia's Weaponization of Information," U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, April 15, 2015, https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CHRG114hhrg94186/html/CHRG-114hhrg94186.htm.
 Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews, The Russian "Firehose of Falsehood" Propaganda Model: Why It Might Work and Options to Counter It (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016) https://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE198.html.
 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Report on Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election, Vol II: Russia's Use of Social Media with Additional Views, 2020, https://www.intelligence.senate.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Report_Volume2.pdf.
 "Beijing in 45b Yuan Global Media Drive," South China Morning Post, January 13, 2009, http://www.scmp.com/article/666847/beijing-45b-yuan-global-media-drive.
 "China is spending billions to make the world love it," The Economist, March 25, 2017, https://www.economist.com/china/2017/03/23/china-is-spending-billions-to-make-the-world-love-it.
 Masood Farivar, "China TV Network Accounts for Bulk of Beijing's Influence Spending in US," Voice of America, May 13, 2021, https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/voa-news-china/china-tv-network-accounts-bulk-beijings-influence-spending-us.
 Jess T. Ford, Testimony Before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations, February 10, 2004, http://ics.leeds.ac.uk/papers/pmt/exhibits/1422/Ford.pdf.
 U.S. Agency for Global Media, FY 2021 Congressional Budget Justification.