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Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has not established an effective strategy for winning hearts and minds or promoting democratic and liberal values abroad. During this period, the United States reduced its capacity for effectively conducting public diplomacy. While the United States has struggled, adversaries are effectively using their tools of national power to advance their values around the world and exploit the openness of American society.
Reversing the ongoing global decline in democracy, human rights, and individual freedom will require the United States to renew its focus on public diplomacy and pursue new strategies to promote American ideas and values. A new approach should harness the United States’ strongest soft power advantages, including its ability to attract students to its educational institutions and foreigners’ continued desire to travel or immigrate to the United States.
In a new Lincoln Policy paper, Dan Lips explains that the United States should establish new international virtual learning programs to teach foreign students about U.S. history, government, and values and provide incentives for students to study these subjects. This initiative would be consistent with a 2017 bipartisan law requiring a national strategy to promote basic education around the world, including to “promote United States values, especially respect for all persons and freedoms of religion, speech, and the press.”
President Joe Biden has declared that his administration will make promoting American and democratic values a priority. In the past, President Biden called for “an imaginative new program, either in-place, in-country, or here,” exposing foreign students to American ideas, “not to brainwash them but to give them an opportunity to understand where we are.” The Biden administration and Congress should advance a new public diplomacy strategy consistent with this vision by using virtual learning and incentives to promote American values.