Today, the American public knows little about what is said and done in its name overseas. Today, the American public is subject to the “inform but not influence” mentality of press releases and sound bites designed not to educate, engage, and truly inform but to pierce the media’s filter.
Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Jim Glassman is on a mission to let people know that American public diplomacy, as well as his office, is changing. This is the message he’s been refining since his Wall Street Journal opinion piece after being sworn in as Under Secretary. He updated it in the CFR briefing a week later, and again at the Washington Institute.
However, only the initial WSJ article received much attention by the media, if only because it was in the WSJ. Even what Karen Hughes wore on her head received more attention by “traditional” media and by the blogosphere.
Under Secretary Jim Glassman is pushing an aggressive public diplomacy that’s reminiscent of the information, cultural, and educational activities of the 40′s, 50′s, and 60′s (a vision I’ve pushed for on this blog) and creating distance from the “neutered beauty contest” (my phrase not his) style of the last decade and more. My read is he’s pushing for a return to the struggle for minds and wills and away from the phrase “winning the hearts and minds” (see related post on the need for this shift here).
At State’s Foreign Press Center in DC (transcript here), he updated his message and explained to foreign media the points of his program and mission in a way not just foreign media and audiences need to hear, but in clear and direct language that also must be transmitted to the American public and Congress.
As part of the effort to create a dialogue on the subject within the United States, a teleconference with bloggers was quickly arranged for today. On the call were Steve Corman of COMOPS, Melinda Brower of Foreign Policy Association’s public diplomacy blog, and myself. In reality, it was just Steve and myself as Melinda opted to listen in and not ask questions, which was odd considering her critique of his strategy last week (see Steve’s reply here and a related reply here).
The teleconference was to be a follow up to the Foreign Press Center briefing the day before, so he began with reiterating only a few points. These included the intention to engage foreign publics to “help achieve the national interest” and to use the “tools of ideological engagement to create an environment hostile to violent extremism”, among other points. Note the absence of “Islam” as he emphasizes this is a broader struggle that beyond Al-Qaeda while not minimizing AQ. His intent is to use “words, deeds, and images to break” the links to “support for violent extremism.”
The Under Secretary also emphasized that the United States is “not at the center of the War of Ideas” (an appropriate description, but one I believe helps with Congress) but at the same time “we cannot be a bystander.”
A purpose of public diplomacy, according to the Under Secretary, is to “construct viable alternatives” to violent extremism. Public diplomacy must be used to exploit the fact that Al-Qaeda’s “ideology contains seeds of the [its] own destruction,” as has been shown in Iraq. Public diplomacy is a tool of “diversion”, a “facilitator of choice”, and the War of Ideas is “really a battle of alternatives.”
There were several key take-aways from the teleconference. First, the Under Secretary said the teleconference would take place “every now & then”. He is looking for a recurring engagement with the blogosphere to discuss what is going on in public diplomacy.
On resurrecting USIA or heavy restructuring of the elements under him, he said does not want to spend his short time in office advocating restructuring. He has done some reorganization to reinforce his position as the government’s lead in strategic communication and to have better oversight over the processes (see below for details).
Asked what his advice for the next administration would be, he had two requests. First, that the next administration adopt the platform and structure that’s being constructed now. Second, to maintain the commitment to public diplomacy (that presumably this administration will have at the end of the year, which is growing but still now broad enough).
However, as Secretary of Defense Gates pointed out again this week, “America’s civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long.” While Under Secretary Glassman is pushing to put State back into the communications void since filled by Defense, he needs support from his boss for money and resources while he works toward the goals he’s laid out. As he put it:
I have two jobs. One of them is running public diplomacy in the State Department. But the second one is being the inter-agency lead in the War of Ideas.
And State has a role in War of Ideas program. DOD has a [role]. Other agencies have a [role]. And, but, it is my responsibility to be the lead and this is going to be a major focus of my efforts.
Much of the call focused on information, the “fast” communication, but as the Under Secretary made sure to include the “slow” engagement, he continued to show his focus is on the things he can change quickly:
You know, the restructuring sort of allows us to – allowed us to shift focus. And let me add – let me just add one thing. This is not in any way a diminution or de-emphasis on the importance of education and cultural affairs.
We have the biggest budget that we have had in years. We have a very, very good Assistant Secretary and it is the same thing at IIP. It is just that my time, probably because the President designated me as the inter-agency lead and partly because I think this is where my background is, it is going to be focused on the War of Ideas efforts.
(A side note: depending on who you talk to about public diplomacy, the educational and cultural parts of a kind of ‘third rail’ or the only real public diplomacy there is. A tangent to this post, it is undoubtedly shaping the Under Secretary’s plan of action.)
Even though he wants to avoid the restructuring debate, from the bills on the Hill I’ve seen and heard of, he needs to spend more time getting his vision to the public if he doesn’t want to speak directly to Congress.
This teleconference was a good start at outreach and engagement, but Steve and I were both caught a bit off guard that it was only us asking th
e questions. Hopefully next time more bloggers will attend. The DOD Blogger Roundtable has proven effective and it’s about time State stands-up its own version.
The transcript of the call is available. Below are the comments of the Under Secretary on the internal restructuring:
Well we – I am the Chair of the Policy Coordinating Committee on Strategic Communications which we take to be a synonym for War of Ideas. And there are representatives from a number of other agencies – DOD, the intelligence community, NCTC, Treasury and so forth.
This is a PCC that has been operating for several years now, I think two years. And in fact I went to one of the meetings when I was Chairman of the BBG. And this is the main body that sets strategy and decides on programs.
It meets – it was meeting roughly once a quarter. It will be roughly once a month.
One of the sub-PCCs that is part of this PCC is called The Global Strategic Engagement Center or GSEC. And that is an inter-agency office, believe it is about a dozen people, that is headquarter – is situated here at State but it does have people from other agencies who are part of it.
And those of you who know a lot of these details that went before, there was an organization called the CTCC, Counter Terrorism Communication Center.
And really the CTCC has been turned into the GSEC. And the G, but GSEC has a different function. The GSEC is really the coordinating and day to day operating authority for the PCC.
Then, we have – we are setting up a strategic advisory council which is a public private organization, will be quite small, probably ten members, five – two from each of five different broad sectors.
And they will be able to reach out into the private sector to draw a private sector participant in War of Ideas Strategic Communications Activities.
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