Public Diplomacy at Its Best

Letter from the Editor


This month, we shine a light on one of the best public diplomacy programs ever, the “American Exhibitions to the USSR.” For a focus on public diplomacy and countering disinformation, there is no better place to look for inspiration than the stars of those exhibits, the young Russian-speaking American guides who traveled across the Soviet Union to introduce its people to the United States.

In “Up Close with American Exhibit Guides to the Soviet Union, 1959-1991,” we meet nine of the 300 guides who served on the front lines of the Cold War, offering Soviets (who were also Ukrainians, Georgians, Uzbeks, Russians, etc.) a glimpse of American life, work, innovation, and values. Collectively, the guides interacted with more than 20 million exhibit visitors over the course of more than 30 years and 19 exhibitions (on medicine, industrial design, agriculture, photography, hand tools, architecture, education, and more). It was a big and bold example of people-to-people engagement behind the Iron Curtain.

Thank you to the nine former guides who shared their experiences and perspectives (and awesome vintage photos!) on these pages—John Beyrle, Rose Gottemoeller, John Herbst, Mike Hurley, Laura Kennedy, Allan Mustard, Jane Picker, Tom Robertson, and Kathleen Rose. And thank you, as well, to all the other former guides who served their country in a meaningful, lasting way.

That so many of the exhibit guides went on to stellar diplomatic careers is remarkable but not surprising. To this day, the best way to gain a global perspective and develop cultural competency is to be there, up close and personal, with friend and foe alike.

Referring to this special program in his President’s Views column, “Cold War Lessons,” Ambassador Eric Rubin emphasizes the significance of keeping ties between peoples and countries open even during the most challenging times.

The focus spotlight then turns to Cold War Radio author Mark Pomar, who offers insight on “Broadcasting Behind the (Opening) Iron Curtain.” The late 1980s Gorbachev era ushered in new opportunities for U.S. broadcasting, along with unfortunate “peace dividend” budget cuts to programming.

Next, we have a close look at today’s version of the world’s fair: the expo. In “The Journey to Expo 2020 Dubai and Its Legacy,” FSO Matthew Asada, who was deeply involved in the process of bringing Expo 2020 to life, tells us how it happened—and how it almost didn’t happen.

Amb. Rubin fills out this month’s public diplomacy theme with a review of the Cold War sports diplomacy book, Ice War Diplomat by Canadian Ambassador (ret.) Gary J. Smith, about the historic “Summit Series” ice hockey games between Canada and the Soviet Union in 1972.

In Speaking Out, veteran diplomats Todd Kushner and Paul Watzlavick pitch the need to identify and articulate your leadership philosophy in “How Will You Lead?

Ambassador Dave Dunford reflects on FS life with beloved pets in “Dogging It in the Foreign Service.” The Local Lens by PD FSO Sarah Talalay captures women at Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque taking in the grand view, selfie-style.

Of special interest to the Foreign Service is a new book on the 2021 American evacuation from Afghanistan, The Secret Gate by Mitch Zuckoff. The review by Michael McKinley, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, describes how the author brings out the human dimension of the story through two main characters, an American FSO and the Afghan women’s rights activist and author he helped escape.

Spoiler alert for the FS community: The diplomats on the ground at the Kabul airport come off well in the book, doing all they can to help as many as they can in an impossible situation. (See also the March 2022 FSJ collection of first-person accounts from important characters not named in this book but who stayed behind in Kabul, flew in from other posts to help, and worked at the lily-pad landing countries and safe-haven U.S. military bases to receive evacuees.)

As always, we hope you enjoy this month’s edition. Write to us at

Shawn Dorman is the editor of The Foreign Service Journal.


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