Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dan Silverberg -- "...Is That Really a Department of Defense Mission?"

House Foreign Affairs Committee counsel Daniel Silverberg shares his perspective on the Pentagon's expanded role in overseas U.S. information programs here, one of the more compelling presentations at the October 5 George Washington University conference "New Approaches to U.S. Global Outreach."

Rosa Brooks -- "We Need to Get Dramatically Better at...Integrating"

Senior Pentagon advisor Rosa Brooks took part in the "New Approaches to U.S. Global Outreach" conference at George Washington University on October 5, 2009. You can see her comments here.

Bruce Gregory -- Mapping Smart Power

Here's a link to the video of Bruce Gregory's opening remarks at the October 5 "New Approaches to U.S. Global Outreach" conference at George Washington University.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bob and Hillary Want You -- As Public Servants

Bruce Gregory -- Can We Achieve Meaningful Transformation Soon?

Our GW colleague Prof. Bruce Gregory, who has done as much as anyone to promote the study of public diplomacy in the United States, kicked off the October 5 "New Perspectives on U.S. Global Outreach" conference in his usual exemplary fashion. Under the heading "Mapping Smart Power in Multi-Stakeholder Public Diplomacy / Strategic Communication," Bruce has neatly framed the key issues in the uneasy dichotomy of how the U.S. carries out its engagement and information efforts with foreign audiences. Some of the questions he raises are familiar, but others are relatively unheralded. All of Bruce's observations are phrased with unusual elegance and clarity.

Here's how Bruce sums up the PD-SC transformational challenge, as yet unmet by a new Administration still getting its bearings and testing the levers of smart power and national image-making:

"...Can we achieve meaningful transformation soon? Real change seldom occurs late in Administrations – if it comes at all. Presidents and senior leaders value effective PD and SC. At the personal level, some of them demonstrate world-class skills; others do not. But with limited time, finite political capital, and no electoral votes to be gained, they seldom take on the hard work of institutional transformation. We don’t need more studies. I suspect most of us have “report fatigue.” We don’t lack advice. We lack the roadmaps and leadership required for implementation. If the Obama Administration does not move quickly on these issues, we face another round of reports in the run-up to 2012, and perhaps again in 2016."

GW Students Twitter Gates, Clinton

Students from GW's School of Media and Public Affairs twittered throughout the Gates-Clinton event, and picked up on many of the best moments on stage, along with the off-camera atmospherics at Lisner auditorium.

The "great question" asked by "an SMPA senior" about the State Department's use of new media -- per one tweet -- was put to Secretary Clinton by Caitlin Downs, a standout student from last spring's undergraduate PD course.

I'm borrowing a couple of photo tweets as well...views both from inside and outside Lisner.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Clinton, Gates on U.S. Power, Persuasion: "The American Toolbox Should Contain Something Other Than Hammers"

Before an appreciative SRO audience tonight at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, Secretaries Clinton and Gates fielded questions from CNN's Christiane Amanpour and GW's Frank Sesno on some of the top foreign policy and national security challenges of the day: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran. Yet they did not forget to address the question that had originally motivated their joint appearance at GW -- namely, the use of "smart power" by the Obama administration, including in public diplomacy and strategic communication.

At the outset of the event, Clinton and Gates echoed one of the principal themes from our morning "New Directions in U.S. Global Outreach" panels -- namely, that in the Obama administration, there is broad agreement at the top about how the U.S. should go about its business in the world. After recalling that past secretaries of State and Defense at times had barely spoken to each other, Gates emphasized that he and Secretary Clinton "get along" well and that they made sure that their staffs understood it was not "career-enhancing" to stir up disagreements between the two organizations. "It helps," Gates explained wryly, to recognize that the Secretary of State is "the principal spokesperson for foreign policy...Once you get over that hurdle, it all falls into place."

Later, in response to a question from Frank Sesno about who should be in charge of U.S. global information efforts, Gates, with a smile, simply pointed towards Clinton. She spoke enthusiastically about State's public diplomacy role, citing the Department's nudging of Twitter executives to postpone maintenance that would have interrupted service at the height of the Iranian post-election street protests, and efforts in Afghanistan to keep cellphone networks up and running despite insurgent threats. However, both secretaries made the point that on the battlefield, soldiers by necessity had to assume the role of communicators too. Gates pointed out that young military officers and NCOs had stepped up to the role admirably, even without professional training, establishing personal relationships which helped build bridges to the local population.

Sesno recalled that Secretary Gates had done a lot to promote institutional change at the Pentagon, and then asked Gates what advice he would offer Clinton for transforming State. First, Gates replied to loud applause, "the American toolbox should contain something other than hammers." Then, he suggested the challenge might not be so much within the Department, but rather "the willingness of Congress to give [Secretary Clinton] the resources she needs" to rebuild the country's foreign policy and assistance assets.

New Approaches to Global Outreach, and New Voices...

The October 5 public diplomacy doubleheader at George Washington University got off to a fine start this morning thanks to the contributions of scholars, policymakers, and hands-on practitioners alike who took part in our "New Approaches to U.S. Global Outreach" conference. To kick things off, GWU's own Bruce Gregory sketched out many of the key issues confronting the Obama administration in redirecting and retooling America's global outreach efforts: how to encourage more and better "listening" to foreign audiences and stakeholders, how to redress the interagency disparities in funding, and how to make the necessary transformations in the U.S. approach -- changes everyone inside and outside government say they support -- happen sooner rather than later.

The day's first panel, moderated by Kristin Lord, demonstrated more comity than conflict on the question of whether U.S. government agencies could respond to the challenge. State's Dan Sreebny stressed that the most important ingredient was in place -- a shared determination at the top to get it right. Yet now the hard work of putting into practice the vision of a new Administration committed to dialogue and a "whole of government" approach, lay ahead. OSD's Rosa Brooks agreed, and made the point that this type of transformation in organizational culture and decisionmaking would inevitably take time, like any serious cultural shift. The U.S. needed to get "dramatically better," she stressed, in factoring in stakeholder attitudes abroad, at all levels of government, or otherwise it would pay a steep price. SOCOM's John Carman made the case that today's practice of strategic communication and information operations has learned important lessons about cultural awareness and measuring effectiveness, including in Iraq, that are now part of the Pentagon's established doctrine. But House Foreign Affairs Committee counsel Dan Silverberg expressed concern about the degree to which DoD's strategic communication programs have advanced far beyond the Pentagon's traditional terms of reference in information operations -- and done so at the expense of other actors and without sufficient Congressional consultation.

Our second, "Ground Truth" panel was devoted to the view from the field, where civilian and military communicators are engaged in the nitty-gritty work of engaging foreign audiences, building partnerships, and influencing attitudes -- hopefully -- in a positive direction. We heard from State's Ciara Knudsen, who emphasized the importance of prior training and preparation in stitching together a shared approach to communication on the ground, as well as Foreign Service officer Aaron Snipe's passionate argument for plenty of good, old-fashioned retail PD and personal engagement on the ground. SOCOM's Maj. Ed Fisher highlighted the dilemmas of seeking short-term results when sometimes progress could only be measured in the long-term; a "poker-hand" mentality was not the right approach, he said. AFRICOM's Mark Swayne spoke of AFRICOM's pioneering efforts at combining civilian and military leadership at the top of the command structure, and General Ward's emphasis on making AFRICOM a "listening and learning" command.

More to follow on their specific contributions, including some conference highlights in video form.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Admiral's Critique: "Getting Back to Basics" in Strategic Communication

An authoritative voice that has joined the "stratcom" debate, rather unexpectedly, is that of Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen. His recent commentary in the current issue of Joint Force Quarterly about "getting back to basics" in strategic communication includes the revelation that he does not much care for the term itself. Strategic communication, he continues, has become "something of cottage industry."

Mullen sees a degree of arrogance in current Pentagon stratcom efforts, noting that "We've come to believe that messages are something we can launch downrange like a rocket, something we can fire for effect." Adm. Mullen makes what is just about the most important observation that a senior military officer or Administration official possibly could on this subject -- namely that "we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate." Amen.

It was something of a surprise, then, to see the Admiral's observations bludgeoned shortly thereafter in a "guest post" on Matt Armstrong's influential blog, A Marine Corps information officer, who insisted his comments were his own, dismissed Mullen's Joint Force Quarterly piece as a reflection of bureaucratic tribalism -- an attack by the Chairman's ostensibly misguided aides, adherents of a traditional "public affairs" emphasis at the Pentagon rather than a more forward-leaning "strategic communication" approach. "DoD needs to be in the SC business -- etymology of the term be damned," he writes. "The generation of leaders that has come of age in this war -- those who have real experience on the ground -- they know what SC is, they know how to do it, and they are getting better at it."

Talk about a strategic disconnect!

Aaron Snipe -- Reflecting on His Time in Iraq

One young State Department Foreign Service officer who will be joining us on Monday, October 5 for the "Ground Truth" panel of civilian and military practitioners is Aaron Snipe, who just completed a year on assignment to the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Muthanna, Iraq. Aaron kept up a steady stream of blog entries during his time in Iraq, and collectively they provide a fascinating look at this type of new public diplomacy work, at the retail level, in an unstable and chaotic environment.

Whatever theological-bureaucratic differences may exist inside the Beltway about how the U.S. should go about improving its standing in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in the rest of the world, Aaron was out there in the field, listening, engaging, and making things happen.

Whether he was publicizing a rural veterinary partnership, dipping a few sheep along the way, or organizing a woman's art exhibition in cooperation with a local NGO, or just enjoying the simple luxury (in the Iraqi context) of walking the streets of a provincial town, Aaron was proving that Edward R. Murrow's proverbial "last three feet" are still the most compelling ones of all.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Approaches to U.S. Global Outreach -- Monday, October 5

Time to shift focus somewhat from what was a "golden moment" in U.S. public diplomacy, half-a-century ago at Sokolniki Park, to questions of the present and future. How can U.S. efforts to reach out to the world regain some of that luster?

George Washington University's Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication, in association with the GW Public Affairs Project and our friends and colleagues at the Public Diplomacy Council (PDC), are hosting a two-panel conference on Monday, October 5 at GW's Marvin Center under the heading "New Approaches to U.S. Global Outreach: Smart Power on the Front Lines of Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication." The first panel, entitled "Engaging Global Publics in the Obama Era -- Can the Interagency Respond?" will bring together some notable figures in the field who are laying the groundwork for the Obama Adminstration's efforts, including Rosa Brooks, a Pentagon senior advisor charged with reviewing the Department of Defense's communication and information efforts overseas and Daniel Silverberg, from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who has been examining the issue of overlapping and conflicting USG authorities in America's public interface with the rest of the world. A second panel, entitled "Ground Truth -- How Civilian and Military Communicators Shape the Opinion Landscape," will feature diplomats and military officers fresh from countries where the U.S. faces some of its biggest PD and communication challenges, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. They will share their insights -- including successes and lessons learned.

More details on the conference are available here. Attendance is free, but space is limited. If you are interested in attending the "New Approaches" conference, please RSVP by email to

Meanwhile, the "New Approaches" conference is intended to set the stage for an even bigger event that evening at Lisner Auditorium: a joint appearance by Secretaries Clinton and Gates, for a dialogue on "smart power" and America's global role, moderated by CNN's Christiane Amanpour and Prof. Frank Sesno, Director of GW's School of Media and Public Affairs.

Much more to follow in the days ahead on what we believe will be a particularly stimulating day on campus at GW...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Exploring the Kitchens Behind The "Kitchen Debate"

Often enough, the Kitchen has seemed almost incidental to the retelling of the "Kitchen Debate," which is dominated by the geopolitical drama headlined by Nixon and Khrushchev. (There were actually at least three kitchens at Sokolniki Park: the General Electric Model House Kitchen, the General Mills Kitchen and the RCA Whirlpool "Miracle Kitchen.") In Bill Safire's photo of the two leaders squaring off over the railing of the Model Kitchen, a box of SOS cleaning pads sits incongruously just to the left of future Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. Was the Kitchen a mere backdrop to the political theater? Just as the "Kitchen Debate" actually began in a TV studio, could it have continued anywhere else on the Sokolniki Park exhibition grounds?A number of scholars have taken a deeper look at the meaning of the Kitchen(s) at the 1959 American exhibition. Two U.S. university professors and their students have launched an online "research project on Cold War material culture," appropriately enough at the website In Cold War Kitchen: Americanization, Technology and European Users (published earlier this year by the MIT Press), co-editors Ruth Oldenziel and Karin Zachmann argue that "the Nixon-Khrushchev kitchen debate demonstrates that artifacts are fused with politics in both small and big ways...As Nixon and Khrushchev realized, their kitchen debate cut to the heart of the kinds of technical artifacts and systems that their respective societies would produce. The shape and directions of innovations, politicians well understood, resulted from political choices. Both politicians discussed the kitchen as a technopolitical node that linked the state, the market and the family."

Whatever a "technopolitical node" might actually be, hyping America's lead in consumer goods over the Communist bloc did not begin at Sokolniki. For instance, model homes and kitchens were displayed in Western Europe during the early fifties under the Marshall Plan's informational program. At the 1952 "America at Home" exhibit in West Berlin, visitors from the East were offered admission at a reduced price, a conscious effort to boost attendance among the Berliners most subject to Communist influence.

Still, it was not a forgone conclusion that an American kitchen would go to Moscow. In Cold War Kitchen, the University of Louisville's Cristina Carbone relates how a Kentucky housewife, in a letter to her senator, pushed for an American kitchen to be included in the upcoming Moscow show. Chad McClellan, the exhibition's general manager, embraced the idea, enlisting the active support of a Long Island developer, Herbert Sadkin. Even before the exhibition opened, the Soviet media had insisted there was nothing typical about the Model Kitchen. Soviet commentators asserted that it was as if someone had asserted that the Taj Mahal was the home of a typical "Bombay textile worker." U.S. press reports about the concerted effort to undermine the credibility of the American exhibition's portrayal of a "typical" American lifestyle may have provided Nixon an extra incentive to emphasize America's lead in consumer goods.

Another contributor to Cold War Kitchen, Susan Reid of the University of Sheffield, describes the curious and conflicted Soviet reaction to the American kitchens. Just one day after the Sokolniki exhibit's opening, Izvestiya ran a picture of a beaming Soviet housewife proclaiming that her kitchen was "just as good as the American one shown at the exhibition in Sokolniki." Contradictory or not, a different "spin" angle adopted by the Soviet media -- and Khrushchev himself -- was to acknowledge that while the USSR might be lagging behind temporarily in the production of consumer goods and gadgets, it would soon catch up to and then overtake the U.S. Finally, other Russian media decried the very emphasis on household items and the like at the U.S. exhibition. As one Soviet paper asked rhetorically: "What is this, a national exhibit of a great country, or a branch department store?" Many Soviet visitors had, in fact, expected to see American industrial and technological accomplishments displayed -- what Soviet organizers of that summer's New York exhibition had emphasized for their American audience. But the U.S. emphasis on the individual American's lifestyle and well-being was "not accidental," in the words of a common Soviet-era phrase; it was in fact a carefully considered strategic choice made by high-ranking officials in Washington.

However many Soviet housewives were swayed or dismayed by all those "labor-saving devices," attendance figures showed that the Sokolniki kitchens were among the most heavily visited sites within the exhibition -- and the aroma of Betty Crocker cupcakes in the oven was almost certainly only part of the appeal.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Jack Masey's "Six Weeks in Sokolniki Park"

One figure whose role in 1959 was absolutely vital is Jack Masey, one of the lead designers of the Sokolniki exhibition. Jack's career spanned virtually the entire history of official U.S. government exhibitions during the Cold War, from earliest traveling exhibit "caravans" in Europe and in Asia to the huge World's Fair undertakings in Montreal and Osaka. Jack is the author of several books including the comprehensive and magnificently illustrated Cold War Confrontations: U.S. Exhibitions and their Role in the Cold War (2008, Lars Muller Publishers, Baden, Switzerland).
Earlier this year, Jack oversaw the publication of an attractive booklet entitled "Six Weeks in Sokolniki Park," prepared under the sponsorship of Pepsico on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the American exhibition. The limited edition booklet, in both English and Russian, was distributed at the July 9 Spaso House conference but deserves a wider audience. It is the best overview of the Sokolniki exhibition ever, and features photographs from Jack's own extensive collection, some never before published. The booklet also touches on the first official Soviet exhibition in New York, as well as the long series of U.S. exhibitions in the U.S.S.R. that were spawned by the Sokolniki experience. Jack's presentation at our July 23 conference was one of the key moments, and brought home in a powerful way just how innovative the U.S. exhibit design in Moscow was.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Safire on Nixon, Khrushchev -- "They Were Deadly Serious..."

In the second part of his comments about the Nixon-Khrushchev "Kitchen Debate," noted columnist and author William Safire talks about the broader context in which the showdown took place, pointing out that it is often forgotten today "how close a race it was" between the two superpowers, since what now appears as the inevitable victory of capitalism and democracy was by no means so certain 50 years ago. Safire tells his audience at the GWU "Face-off to Facebook" conference that the most important breakthrough of that Moscow Cold War summer was in fact in the realm of public diplomacy -- namely, that for the first time an American leader was able to speak directly, on television and radio, to the Soviet public.

Bill Safire -- "It Was My Kitchen..."

Noted columnist and author William Safire joined us for the July 23 "Face-off to Facebook" conference, and presented a fascinating eyewitness account of the Nixon-Khrushchev "Kitchen Debate." Safire's long and celebrated association with former President Nixon began rather implausibly that summer in Moscow, where Safire was working as a publicist for the model kitchen where the two leaders stopped and argued.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Jim Matisoff -- "...The Richest, Most Intense, Most Passionate Weeks of My Life"

Jim Matisoff's tenure as a guide at the American exhibition ended sooner than that of others, but in a way his story is illustrative of one of the more bizarre aspects of the Cold War -- namely, the strict barriers erected on both sides against close friendships and romantic liaisons across the ideological trenches. The American guides had been warned repeatedly to avoid developing personal relationships with Soviet citizens, who might simply be probing for individual weaknesses, and looking for an opportunity to create "provocations" to embarrass the American visitors. It is clear that Jim was only one of a significant number of guides who tested the limits to fraternization, and who forged friendships -- occasionally more -- with young people they met that summer. Jim, who was all of twenty years old, was probably less judicious than most of his fellow guides, and before long got himself in trouble.

Only three weeks after the exhibition's opening, Jim was caught, as he himself describes it, "in flagrante delicto" by Soviet militia in an escapade with an Armenian girl in the Sokolniki woods. His penalty for this indiscretion was a one-way plane ticket out of the USSR, since exhibition managers and the U.S. Embassy feared that the Soviet media might try to make a cause celebre out of Jim's ill-starred assignation in the woods.

Jim next found himself in Paris on a fellowship, where he wrote a multi-part series for a French newspaper about the Sokolniki exhibition. At the same time, he wrote a 300-page memoir in French which contains a great deal of interesting information about the recruitment, training and preparation of the guides, and which conveys very well the heady excitement of the opening days of the exhibition. He even recounts his awkward encounters with the Soviet opposite sex -- a facet of his youthful memoir which may or may not hold the same interest to today's reader.

Jim went on to forge a successful scholarly career in linguistics at UC Berkeley, where he became a leading expert on Southeast Asian languages. We were delighted to have him join us last month for the "Face-off to Facebook" conference, even if he wryly described himself as "the Black Sheep" of the exhibition.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sergei Khrushchev on Sokolniki Exhibition -- "They Remembered What They Could Touch..."

Brown University's Prof. Sergei Khrushchev took part in the first panel at GWU's "Face-off to Facebook" conference on July 23. What had an impact on Soviet visitors to the Sokolniki exhibition, he explains, were the tangible artifacts of American life, like the books on display, the Pepsi samples (which he said did not win over his friends), chewing gum and the like. The expectations of Soviet visitors were so high, Khrushchev observes, that many felt a sense of disappointment when they discovered that America was not necessarily a utopia, and Americans were not demigods. They saw "it was not a dream...they were real people," he recalled. Yet the exhibition and President Eisenhower's emphasis on public diplomacy were "very important" all the same.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Face-off to Facebook: Walter Roberts Remembers

Dr. Walter Roberts, a former senior USIA and VOA official whose work in public diplomacy stretches back to the early days of World War II, kicked off the "Face-off to Facebook" conference on July 23. Following an introduction by Prof. Sean Aday, Director of GWU's Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication, Roberts recalls how Nikita Khrushchev's new, more open approach to world affairs set the stage for more contacts and exchanges with the West, and how the 1958 U.S.-Soviet cultural agreement led to the first reciprocal U.S.-Soviet public diplomacy initiatives, including the American national exhibition at Sokolniki Park.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Kitchen Debate Anniversary Media Round-up

Here is a round-up of commentary from recent days about the Kitchen Debate, the U.S. national exhibition in Moscow and the "Face-off to Facebook" conference at George Washington University:

New York Times columnist and author William Safire joined us for the day's first panel. His recounting of the Kitchen Debate, which he shared in person with our conference audience on July 23, was printed the following day in the Times here.

Georgetown University's John Brown, who puts together one of the most widely read and respected blogs in the field of public diplomacy, also attended the conference. His commentary is available here.

A Toronto Globe and Mail piece recounts the significance of the Sokolniki exhibition, quoting at length former exhibit designer Jack Masey, who gave a well-received photo presentation on July 23.

There was also coverage on the State Department overseas website,, of the conference and luncheon remarks by Amb. William Burns.

Coverage of the conference in the Russian media was quite extensive, but mostly centered on the Burns remarks and subsequent question and answer session. The Washington correspondent of the English language Kyiv Post commented on the conference more generally on her blog.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Face-Off to Facebook -- All In A Day

Khrushchev, Ruble on Kitchen Debate (courtesy Gregory Asmolov)

The "Face-off to Facebook" conference at George Washington University has come and gone. We would like to thank everyone who attended for their interest and enthusiasm. We were particularly happy to see so many veterans of the 1959 exhibition there in person. For those of you who were not able to join us in Washington this week, we hope you tuned in to at least some of the proceedings via the streaming video on the conference web page.

In the near-term, we will continue to post conference-related material on the School of Media and Public Affairs homepage and on this blog, including video and text from the conference as well as material from the online archive project.

Khrushchev on Modern Art -- "It Appears a Little Boy Made a Puddle"

Former U.S. Embassy Moscow cultural attache Tom Tuch recalls an encounter with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the 1959 Sokolniki Park American exhibition, in which Khrushchev made his negative views on modern art abundantly -- and pungently -- clear.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Diary of A Guide -- Dan Slobin

As cited in an earlier post on the White House visit by the 1959 Sokolniki guides, one of the finest accounts we have of that summer is a journal written -- and recently reconstructed in digital form -- by Dan Slobin.

Dan had an uncanny knack for capturing the voices of Russian exhibit visitors, and Russian acquaintances, in ways that still resonate today. His observations about Russia were the kind that can only come from direct conversation and interaction -- which, after all, was the human currency that made the American exhibition so compelling. He wrote with a light, wry touch. His photographs complement the text beautifully. I would encourage everyone interested in what happened at Sokolniki to read it.

One word of warning -- this is a huge file, and you will want to make sure that your computer is ready to embrace with a great bear hug a file of 80MB. You'll find it here.

Gil Robinson on Kitchen Debate -- "I Tried to Break it Up..."

Gilbert Robinson was one of McClellan's close aides in the organization of the American exhibition at Sokolniki Park, and as a right-hand man to the big boss, he saw a lot of the behind-the-scenes action, often stepping in to fix one or another problem as it came up, first in Washington and then at the exhibition site in Moscow. Gil went on to have a successful career in both business and in government, serving as USIA deputy director under President Reagan.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tom Tuch on Kitchen Debate -- "What Gives With This Guy?!"

Hans "Tom" Tuch was the U.S. Embassy's cultural attache and acting press chief in July 1959 when the American exhibition opened in Sokolniki Park. He was one of the most respected U.S. public diplomats of the Cold War period, and has written extensively in later years about the evolution of public diplomacy. Here he recalls the atmospherics between Nixon and Khrushchev as they argued the merits of their respective "systems" and a candid comment made by the former Vice-President on his way to the model kitchen where their debate was about to resume. We are delighted that Tom will join us as a panelist on July 23.

Jerry and Lois Verner -- "People Had Conversations They Never Had Before"

Jerry Verner was one of the American guides in 1959, assigned to the IBM RAMAC computer stand; the computer provided answers, in Russian, to some 4,000 pre-programmed questions about the U.S. Soviet visitors might ask. Lois, his wife, served as one of the original "Pepsi girls." Jerry went on to a long and distinguished career as a USIA foreign service officer, serving in Moscow later as the Embassy's press chief. Here he comments on how strong the interest of the Soviet public was, and how the Sokolniki exhibition helped fill an information gap in Soviet society.

George Malko -- "We Really, Really Wanted the Vice-President and the Premier..."

George Malko, a screenwriter, novelist and translator who teaches Dramatic Writing at the NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, was assigned to the RCA color studio in July 1959. He describes what he and colleagues did to prepare for the impending visit of Khrushchev and Nixon to the Sokolniki exhibition, and how Malko unexpectedly came to have a speaking role as the two leaders squared off in front of the Ampex videotape camera.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Kendall -- "Not Only Great Publicity, But It Got Me Out of Trouble At Home Too."

John Jacobs -- "My God, This is History!"

John Jacobs was the Sokolniki exhibition’s press officer, and went on to a long and distinguished career as a U.S. Information Agency official. He wrote commentaries for VOA, served as editor of the Russian language magazine “America Illustrated,” directed USIA’s entire exhibit service. We are delighted that he has agreed to join us at our July 23 conference, at age 91. The remarks below were adapted from an email account he provided us earlier this month.
“...As press officer of the show, I was intimately involved in [the Kitchen] debate, and I have some recollections of my own. I have read what Khrushchev and Nixon had to say about it. I know, like the blind men perceiving the elephant, we all saw it differently.

Khrushchev was fascinated by the exhibition and the American technology it showed. If memory serves, he came five times. These visits provided by far the best - and sometimes the only - publicity payback for the exhibitors’ investments. They kept calling me from the states to get him to their booths. The Detroit auto companies were really tough, rude and demanding.

We would usually have but short notice of Khrushchev’s intended arrival. I would run up to the director’s office with my list of publicity-starved exhibitors and work out with him where the Premier should be taken. (My wife Katia, who speaks Russian like a native, ran the Westinghouse exhibit in the model apartment. “Khrushchev is coming in half an hour. Bake some cookies!”)

The night before Nixon toured the show with Khrushchev, the Ampex man, who had a little booth adjacent to the RCA color TV exhibit, pleaded “The RCA guys always get him. We’re a little company. I’m getting no publicity.” I said: “Be ready. We’ll get him to your exhibit.”

And that’s how, just fifty years ago, Nikita Khrushchev found himself in front of the new and then spectacular Ampex video camera seeing how it made instant movies. When it was aimed at him, he dropped his genial guest demeanor and began his “We will bury you” tirade which you can easily see now on the Internet. I was struggling to keep the reporters in order when I suddenly understood what was happening. I turned to Max Frankel, later executive editor of The New York Times, and whispered “My god, this is history!” He said, “You’re goddam right it’s history.”

Khrushchev was a shrewd man. He knew that cameras take pictures and pictures, particularly television pictures, get around. He knew that dominating the American vice president and boasting that Soviet communism would bury American capitalism in one shot would play well with Russian TV viewers. He was very aggressive. (Years later to my great surprise, Nixon told a small group of the show’s alumni I was in , “Khrushchev was the smartest of the world leaders I dealt with.” He really said that!)

From the little Ampex studio Khrushchev and the thundering herd of reporters and officials went to the actual kitchen in the model house. As they entered, Khrushchev pointed at an appliance “What is that?” “It’s a dishwasher.” “Oh yes. We have those.” The debate continued and became in reporters’ notes “the Kitchen Debate.”

On the general subject of public diplomacy, that night, Nixon told our little group of about six that what we were doing wouldn't change world events: national policies and actions are what change world events. But he said, very earnestly and emphatically, what you are doing is extremely important to our country. For that moment I liked him."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sarah Carey -- "The Exhibit Was Just a Vehicle..."

Sarah Carey flunked her Russian language test when she applied to be an exhibit guide in 1959, but still went to Sokolniki on behalf of Pepsi that summer, working in the American Home exposition. The experience, as she related in this recent State Department interview, led her to a lifelong connection with Russia, as an international attorney and most recently as the Board Chair of the Eurasia Foundation. She observes: "The exhibit was just a vehicle. I mean, the exhibit was a platform and you’ve got these bright young kids who had broad liberal arts educations who were allowed to talk freely, and the questions ranged from atheism to space to material wealth..."

Right on Time -- Nixon's Sokolniki Cover

Another contemporary account of the Kitchen Debate worth revisiting is the Time magazine cover story of August 3, 1959. Nixon had appeared on Time's cover previously -- and was to reappear there many times thereafter in the sixties and seventies -- his final appearance did not come until 1994. Except on the occasion of his presidential electoral victories in 1968 and 1972, the hard-charging Vice President was probably never treated better by the Time editors as in this paean to his foreign policy savvy and debating prowess. This type of publicity could not have been better timed for a presidential contender in the year preceding a national election. By September, Nixon had surged into the lead in the presidential polls over his Democratic rivals, including John F. Kennedy.

But this positive PR in what was then the world's most influential news magazine came with its share of ironies. As Bill Safire wrote in his memoir, Before the Fall, "When the story of the kitchen conference was reported in the States, accompanied by the still pictures showing Nixon dominant, the impression was created that Nixon 'won.' Later, when the television tape of the color-studio debate was played -- the first debate, which Nixon really 'lost'-- the impression did not change. People viewed the TV debate with the mental set that the American Vice President 'stood up to the Russians' and the sight of him kowtowing did not cause them to waiver. That meant that the writing press would remain important in the coming Age of Television, influencing viewers' opinions of what they saw. Something to remember. Something that Nixon never agreed with either. 'What's on the tube is what counts,' he would say. 'I've never been able to get anybody in my press operation who understood the power of television.'"

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Illuminating the Dark Side of the Moon: Frankel on Kitchen Debate, Exhibit

No American journalist of his generation had a more illustrious career than Max Frankel, who during half a century at the New York Times covered the big stories including the Cuban Missile Crisis and Watergate, and who as the paper's executive editor in the eighties and nineties led the Times back to a position of unrivaled journalistic achievement and financial stability.

He was all of 27 years old when he arrived in Moscow, in 1957, determined to make his mark, to "illuminate this mysterious and menacing dark side of the moon and touch sensibilities that might tame the hatreds" of the Cold War, as he writes in his memoir "The Times of My Life." The several chapters he devotes to his years in the Soviet Union are frank and insightful -- well worth reading in their entirety. Frankel has kindly agreed to let us reprint a portion of his memoirs devoted to the Kitchen Debate and the Sokolniki exhibition:
"Indeed, the American way of life was on elaborate display that summer out at Sokolniki Park. More than 50,000 Russians a day trooped through Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome; past large collections of books, paintings, and sculpture; through a model home modestly furnished by Macy's and an RCA color television studio; and, of course, past cars and fashions galore. The main attractions were dozens of Russian-speaking guides, young Americans who spent hours fielding the questions of visitors and the taunts of party agitators. They provided colorful and credible accounts of American life, warts and all, and with their cheerful bearing demonstrated better than any exhibit the charm of speech not burdened by fear.

"The exhibit was intended by Khrushchev to whet the appetite of Soviet consumers. But the party resented the public's enthusiasm. Soon the papers attacked the exhibit as 'untypical' and wept for the unemployed Americans who could never afford these baubles. Instead of showing off robot vacuum cleaners and electric juicers, commentators asked, why not display the harvesters and combines and assembly-line technologies that made America famous? On the other hand, I complained in my coverage that the assembled consumer goods were inadequate props for the guides' responses to questions about family budgets, taxes, schools, and other aspects of daily American life. Why not use TV sets and mousetraps to demonstrate the virtues of competition and markets? Or a copying machine's usefulness in political protest?
"Vice President Nixon came to open the exhibit and let Khrushchev goad him into a sophomoric debate about the quality of Soviet and American missiles and the achievements of our rival social systems. What became known as their "kitchen debate" actually began in the television studio, when Khrushchev pooh-poohed color transmissions while Nixon, still kindly disposed toward a medium that would cost him the presidency one year later, counter punched with a paean to televised democracy. They continued sparring at the kitchen of the Macy's house, mixing boasts and accusations like adolescents comparing sexual exploits. I thought Nixon barely held his own against Khrushchev's crude belligerence; Nixon himself counted this visit as one of his 'Six Crises' in a 1962 memoir: "I felt like a fighter wearing sixteen-ounce gloves and bound by Marquis of Queensberry rules, up against a bare-knuckled slugger who had gouged, kneed and kicked." But Nixon's fellow travelers in the press were predisposed to celebrate every American thrust and parry, and they inscribed his 'victory' in the Great Kitchen Debate in the mythology of American politics. More than that, they made pugilistic prowess at summit meetings one of the necessary attributes of presidential candidates throughout the rest of the Cold War.
"Nixon's need to define himself in combat was already chronic. But his fear of Khrushchev's belligerence was plainly excessive. When Khrushchev taunted that 'your grandchildren will live under communism,' he was just explaining what he had meant by 'We will bury you!' -- the cry that set all America trembling but was nothing more than a morale-raising vow to attend capitalism's funeral after it died of natural causes.
"We were all inflamed by Cold War tensions and by our mutual vulnerability to nuclear attack. And those of us who lived under the constant surveillance of the KGB felt a special antagonism toward the Soviet authorities. But I had also experienced the daily deprivations of Soviet life and recognized the frailty of the Soviet system. I felt sure that Khrushchev's bombast was born mostly of envy and of insecurities greater even than Nixon's. Of course I had no license to psychoanalyze the Soviet leader, and neither the Soviet censors nor the Time's editors would have let me publish my speculations...
"...Like Nixon, most Americans lacked the wisdom to discount more of the Soviet leader's defensive hostility, which beclouded his reformist impulses. Truly sophisticated coverage of the American exhibit would have done more than emphasize the obvious curiosity and consumer delights of Russian visitors; it would have asked why Khrushchev dared to expose his people to the subversive ideas, freewheeling discussions, and shiny baubles of capitalist society. No wonder he felt compelled to brag about his missiles in ways that Nixon and other American leaders took to be threats. More alert analysis would have made an even better story than the kitchen confrontation. It would have confirmed Muggeridge's sly jest about how the Soviet Union's emergence from isolation would in time make the Russians devotees of the "American way of life.
"Permitting the American exhibit in Sokolniki Park was just one more daring effort to shift Soviet priorities toward the production of consumer goods. Khrushchev bragged simultaneously about his few new intercontinental missiles because, it turned out, he hoped that they would let him drastically reduce his standing army and navy and invest the savings in the production of food, clothing and housing. He proclaimed assorted target dates by which the Soviets were going to "catch up and overtake" America in the production of milk and meat and cement and, eventually, comrades, all other good things. "Catch Up with and Overtake America" became the slogan of his regime, and it hung from factory walls, village gates, and urban facades on holidays. As Khrushchev well understood, it was intoxicating news to the ordinary Russian that he was running on the same track with Americans. And never mind the jokes that people whispered in the market.
Teacher to Ivan: Tell about life in America
Ivan: Millions of unemployed. Only millionaires in university. Negroes hang from trees. People very unhappy.
Teacher: Very good. Tell about life in our country.
Ivan: Everyone has job. Schools are free. Discrimination is forbidden. People very happy.
Teacher: Excellent. And what is Comrade Khrushchev's new slogan?
Ivan: We must catch up with and surpass America!

(c) 1999 Max Frankel

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Eisenhower to Guides: "He Warned Us Not to Brag..."

This blog will be devoting a great deal of attention in the days ahead to the role of the 75 American guides who were the heart and soul of the American exhibition in Moscow fifty years ago -- and we at the George Washington University are thrilled that so many former guides and exhibit staff will be able to join on at the "Face-off to Facebook"conference on July 23

Before leaving for Moscow, the newly minted U.S. guides for the 1959 American exhibition at Sokolniki Park were brought down from New York to meet President Eisenhower in the Oval Office. Former guide and retired Berkeley professor Dan Slobin has provided us a witty account of the White House photo-op in his journal of that summer, which is deftly written, wonderfully illustrated with his photos -- in short, thoroughly compelling even half a century after he wrote it. In addition to President Eisenhower, Dan also cites Clarence "Clare" Francis, the then former head of General Foods, who was a leading member of the White House private sector advisory committee for the U.S. exhibition in Moscow and chaired the guides selection panel. We will be drawing from Dan's 1959 journal again, and hope to share it with you in its entirety on this site.

"...Mr. Francis explained the origins of this meeting to us. He had been recently riding with the President up to the Lincoln Center dedication in New York when the conversation turned to Nixon’s forthcoming trip to the Soviet Union for the opening of the American Exhibition. The President expressed his desire to visit the USSR and regretted that he would never have the chance to do so. When Mr. Francis told him that 75 young American guides would have this opportunity, Ike said, “I’d like to meet them!” And so, at a word from the Chief Executive, the arrangements began to bring us to the capital. The simplicity and sincerity of this gesture fitted the impression of the man which I gained from our interview.

He spoke to us kindly, like an old father or grandfather. [2009: This from a third-generation Democrat.] Having entered the Oval Office, I had the impression that the man was kept like some old lion in a cage. He was padded in to meet us, padded out to the Rose Garden with us, and padded back into his cage. The atmosphere of silence and the dignity of the office, the clean rooms and thick rugs, lent a feeling of awe and importance to the event.

We filed in and shook the President’s hand, and then stood in a semicircle around his desk and waited for him to speak to us. He told us he had called for us to see what we were like and to wish us Godspeed. He looked amazingly like the Herblock cartoons—old, tired, the wrinkled face with a broad smile. He warned us not to brag—that we should realize that we do not represent a perfect society. And then he said that he had also called us all together because he had never seen so many people in one room who all spoke Russian. Then he singled out the four Negroes in our group, whom he had greeted especially warmly when we had entered, and asked each one how he had come to study the Russian language. Then, referring to the range of sizes of the guides, he remarked on a man of over six feet who weighed, “let us say 200,” and “a little girl of maybe 90 pounds.” He called her forward and asked her how much she weighed!

The President seemed rather embarrassed about the “mementos” which he gave to us: wallet-size pictures of himself that were wrapped in plastic “so they won’t wear out in your wallets—but you can throw them away if you like.” Then he invited us to come out into the Rose Garden to be photographed with him—giving “rabid Democrats” the opportunity to stay behind.

(c) 2009 by Dan I. Slobin

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Yale Richmond on the Kitchen Debate -- In Russian Life

The current July/August 2009 issue of "Russian Life" magazine carries an excellent article by Yale Richmond on the Kitchen Debate, the Sokolniki exhibition, and the significant role cultural, educational and informational exchanges played in the U.S.-Soviet relationship. Yale is the author of a number of highly regarded books, including Cultural Exchange and the Cold War: Raising the Iron Curtain; From Nyet to Da; Understanding the Russians, and, most recently, his memoir Practicing Public Diplomacy: A Cold War Odyssey. Special thanks to Yale, and to "Russian Life" magazine Editor and Publisher Paul Richardson, for allowing us to reproduce this article here, all rights reserved Russian Life magazine.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Former Guide -- and Current U.S. Ambassador -- John Beyrle on Exhibits

My colleagues at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and in the State Department's Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs have put together a fascinating collection of interviews of former U.S. exhibit guides from the seventies and eighties, along with still photos of past exhibits which give a good idea of what "typical" U.S. exhibits of that era looked like. Among the former guides who are interviewed is the current U.S. Ambassador to Russia, John Beyrle.

While GWU's 50th anniversary conference will focus primarily on the first of the U.S. exhibits in the U.S.S.R., this month in fact marks the beginning of what was a long-term program of traveling U.S. and Soviet exhibitions over three Cold War decades. The U.S. exhibitions reached many millions of Soviet citizens, not just in the Russian Federation, but in the capitals of the then Soviet republics. Cumulatively, the grassroots impact of the U.S. exhibit program was considerable; more on this topic in the days ahead. Winona State's Tomas Tolvaisas, who will join us a panelist on July 23, has interviewed dozens of former U.S. exhibit guides and written extensively about the impact of the U.S. exhibitions in the former Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mr. McClellan Goes to the Fair

Photo: Courtesy Dan Slobin

Harold C. “Chad” McClellan was, by all accounts, the right man, at the right time, in the right place. President Eisenhower chose McClellan to serve as the general manager of the American exhibition in Moscow, reportedly commenting at a meeting “If anyone can do it, Chad McClellan is that man.”

McClellan was already a widely respected business leader and government executive when he was called upon by the White House to lead the U.S. effort. A past president of the National Manufacturers Association, and head of the Old Colony Paint and Chemical Company, McClellan was Assistant Secretary of Commerce in 1958, with wide-ranging responsibilities including for international trade fairs.

As Amb. Gilbert A. Robinson, a former Commerce aide to McClellan, commented recently, “He was an incredible negotiator...Time and again, I saw him stand up to the Soviet pressure, to go ahead and be correct when he needed to and he got them to cooperate. Without the cooperation of the people who wanted the exhibition to succeed, it never would have been done.” McClellan, he emphasized, “was the kind of public servant that you really wanted, whether Democrat or Republican...”

Later, as a top figure in the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, McClellan played an important part in bringing the Dodgers to the West Coast and in spearheading the “Management Council for Merit Employment and Training,” an innovative private sector economic recovery effort in the wake of the 1965 Watts riots.

In his unpublished 1969 memoir of the Moscow exhibition, entitled “Russia Goes to the Fair,” McClellan wrote:

“...The role I carried in managing the Exhibition proved to be the most exciting, difficult and frustrating experience of my life; yet it was in the end the most rewarding. During the fifteen months in which I was engaged with the project, every single day offered some element of surprise and trouble. Time and again there were crises to be met which made the ‘Perils of Pauline’ seem to me mere bedtime stories.”

McClellan’s role was vital. His memoir is a key component of the historical record about the preparations for the Sokolniki exhibition (including the behind-the-scenes politics of building governmental and private sector support in the U.S.) as well as the challenges of finishing in time for the high-profile, high-stakes official opening on July 24.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Khrushchev Remembers -- "A Lot of Propaganda"

Photo: Tony Pell (c)2009 AP
In contrast to Richard Nixon's account, Nikita Khrushchev recalled the Sokolniki exhibition and his debate with the U.S. Vice-President differently. In the English language edition of his memoirs, Khrushchev stressed that the American exhibition had come up short, asserting that the U.S. organizers "were obviously not serious about displaying American life and culture; they were more interested in drumming up a lot of propaganda."

"Everything was laid out attractively to impress the public," Khrushchev acknowledged. "But it was all too showy and promotional. The objects being exhibited didn't really have anything to offer to our people, particularly our technological personnel, our Party members, and our leadership," he went on. "One should realize that we were quite demanding in our attitude here: for us, the major consideration was the usefulness of a product or an item. In this regard, the American exhibition was a failure."

Khrushchev recalled the debate in the model kitchen beginning prosaically enough, with the Soviet leader commenting on how he thought an automatic lemon squeezer on display was pointless since any person could squeeze a lemon faster by hand. "To this," Khrushchev wrote, "Nixon disagreed, and he tried to bring me around to his way of thinking, arguing in that very exuberant way of his."

But the Soviet premier made it clear that he was more than ready to counter Nixon's verbal thrusts. "I responded in kind," he related, adding "I have my own way of being exuberant in a political dispute." "The debate began to flare up and went on and on," Khrushchev continued. "The newsman pressed around us with their tape recorders going and their microphones shoved into our faces. After a while I put a direct question to him: 'Mr. Nixon, you've brought all this wonderful equipment here to show us, but have you really put it into widespread, practical use? Do American housewives have it in their kitchens?' To be fair to him, Nixon answered honestly that what they were showing us hadn't yet come onto the market. At that point people burst out laughing..."

Like Nixon, however, Khrushchev recognized that the showdown between the two men was about far more than a lemon squeezer. "...What we were really debating was not a question of kitchen appliances but a question of two opposing systems: capitalism and socialism."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Round One -- The Debate in the RCA Color Studio

In his memoir Six Crises, Richard Nixon wrote about his famous confrontation with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the American Exhibition at Sokolniki Park.

Here is how Nixon described the scene as he and Khrushchev entered the color TV studio on the exhibition grounds. It was only the first "round" -- Nixon used a boxing metaphor to describe what ensued -- in what would be several rhetorical sparring matches on July 24, 1959 during the tour of the exhibit grounds by the two leaders.

"...Through a combination of circumstances neither of us could anticipate, we found ourselves by accident, rather than design, standing on a stage with literally millions of potential viewers and listeners watching every action and listening to every word we were saying. We had come upon a model television studio featuring a new type of color-television tape. A young Ampex Company executive steered us to a stage in front of a camera and asked each of us to say something which later could be played as a form of greeting to visitors to the fair.

"Khrushchev at first seemed reluctant to say anything. He apparently thought he was being tricked. But then he saw a large crowd of Soviet workmen in a gallery overhead, and the corps of newspapermen around us, and the temptation was too much for him. He seized the opportunity as eagerly as an American politician accepts free television time. Instead of greeting the visitors to the exhibition, he took out after me.

"First, he said the Soviet Union wanted to live in peace and friendship--but was fully prepared to protect itself in war. Then, boasting that the Soviet Union would be on the same economic level with the United States in another seven years, he twitted me by saying, "When we catch up with you, in passing you by, we will wave to you. Then if you wish, we can stop and say: 'Please follow up...'"

A CBS report of the TV studio portion of the debate conveys the degree to which the verbal back and forth between the two leaders, captured in image and in sound, made headlines around the globe.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fifty Years Later -- From Face-Off to Facebook

George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs is organizing a conference on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Nixon-Khrushchev "Kitchen Debate" and the U.S. exhibition at Moscow's Sokolniki Park -- still the single most famous initiative in the history of U.S. public diplomacy. The conference will examine the significance of those events as well as explore new opportunities for U.S. public diplomacy in a Web 2.0 world.

Entitled "Face-off to Facebook: From the Nixon-Khrushchev Kitchen Debate to Public Diplomacy in the 21st Century," the all-day conference will be held on Thursday, July 23, 2009 at GWU's Jack Morton Auditorium, 805 21st Street NW in Washington, D.C. Hosted by CNN special correspondent and GW professor Frank Sesno, the conference is open to scholars, journalists, diplomats, and innovators in the use of new media, along with interested members of the public. The conference website is located here.