Diplomats defend U.S. abroad

Two U.S. ambassadors to South American countries discussed the fight against anti-Americanism Friday during an event sponsored by the School of Media and Public Affairs.

Earl Anthony Wayne and Frank E. Baxter, the ambassadors to Argentina and Uruguay respectively, detailed the ways they have used public diplomacy to improve relations between the United States and other countries. Wayne said that public diplomacy is the “top priority” for any ambassador.

“Argentina saw itself as a rival of the United States because it was one of the wealthiest countries in 1910, and it never was able to keep up with that rivalry so there’s this historic resentment and desire to define themselves as independent from the United States,” Wayne said.

To counter this negativity, Wayne has tried to use the more popular aspects of America to improve its image.

“Turns out there are a lot of things they love about the United States,” Wayne said. “They love our music and our creative arts, so we’ve started thinking through how we could start giving a different view of the United States – what it does, what it is and how it goes about doing things.”

Although Uruguayans have a more favorable feeling toward the United States, Baxter agreed about the importance of public diplomacy.

“There’s still a large percentage of people that have many of the same resentments that people have in Argentina,” Baxter said. “Taking advantage of people from the U.S., people from within our government or friends we know or have invited, and then showing the people of Uruguay that you can’t generalize about 300 million people, has been a tremendous asset.”

One tactic the ambassadors use is to involve famous Americans passing through the country in South American issues. Wayne has worked with the Black Eyed Peas and a Nobel Prize winner to reach out to the community.

“We’re not necessarily aiming the process at changing their views on U.S.-Iraq policy, but trying to get them past the stereotypes of what the United States is like,” he said.

Baxter agreed that bringing out representative individuals is a successful approach.

“When you do sell the people, it’s been my experience that the government then is a lot more favorable to our government and to me as a representative of our president and of our government,” he said.

Some American students have also had a role in public diplomacy both in Argentina and Uruguay by helping shatter some preconceived notions about the United States during their time spent studying abroad. Just as Argentineans and Uruguayans learn about Americans, it is important for Americans also to learn about them, Wayne stressed.

“Whenever I talk to American students that have gone to Argentina to study, I try to encourage them to think about sharing what they’ve learned when they get back,” Wayne said. “One of the greatest weaknesses we have as a nation is that our people are not well-informed about the rest of the world.”

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