Kaufman’s opening statement at the hearing on the Future of US Public Diplomacy

Last week, Senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE), chaired a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee titled “Future of US Public Diplomacy”. The purpose was to explore how “the United States’ global message can be communicate most effectively, and how achievements of the past can be used as models for future public diplomacy activities.” Attending where the current Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Judith McHale, and three of her predecessors: Evelyn Lieberman, Karen Hughes, and James K. Glassman. (See also this chart for when the Under Secretaries served.)

Before becoming Senator, Kaufman served on the Broadcasting Board of Governors from 1995 to 2008. He opening statement to the hearing is below.

Today we meet to examine the future of U.S. public diplomacy, one of the most important facets of foreign policy.  As Secretary Clinton has said, we must use all tools in our toolbox – diplomacy, development, and defense – to promote U.S. interest globally, and “soft power” is an absolutely critical element of this strategy.  

Public diplomacy often takes the form of broadcasting, exchanges, and outreach with foreign populations, all of which help to promote greater understanding between the U.S. and the international community.  By creating direct channels of communication between America and the world, U.S. public diplomacy contributes to global security and stability.

Tools of public diplomacy can be grouped under three larger umbrellas: educational and cultural exchanges that promote cross-cultural dialogue and understanding; informational programming that explains U.S. policy; and international broadcasting that provides accurate and informative news, often to societies that do not have unfettered access to a free press.  In these instances, our broadcasting efforts serve two purposes: one, providing news to both open and closed societies; and two, serving as a model for increasing the free flow of news and information globally.

Just like government-to-government diplomacy, public diplomacy efforts are only as effective as the quality of the leadership and personnel that shapes and implements them.  This is why we will hear from three extraordinarily qualified individuals who have led these efforts at the State Department about “lessons learned” from their wide experience, and to hear from the current Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy about today’s strategy, policy and priorities.

The goal of this hearing is to assess public diplomacy strategy of the past and present with an eye toward the future.  There is no question that many achievements have been made since the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy position was first established in 1999, and it is important that the State Department incorporate past successes into its future planning.  This is why we must consider which tools have proven most effective and which have proven most challenging.  

I hope our first panel of witnesses can shed some light on valuable “lessons learned” based on their firsthand experience shaping public diplomacy strategy.  The broader question to be explored today is – how do we communicate our global message most effectively, and how can achievements of the past be used as models for future public diplomacy activities?

Some of the specific issues I hope we can focus on today are staffing, interagency coordination, and the division of labor and responsibilities between the Departments of Defense and State.  In times of war, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, how can we ensure that civilian staffing and resource vacuums are not simply filled by DOD?  Also, what expertise and resources will be needed for the Public Affairs officers of tomorrow, and how can we increase our overall capacity?

In addition, we must closely consider each tool of public diplomacy, including educational exchanges, American Centers, and international broadcasting efforts under the Broadcasting Board of Governors, or BBG.  The witnesses and many who have known me throughout my career know that I am an unequivocal supporter of complete separation between programming in international broadcasting and the rest of government.  The firewall that exists  is essential, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about their experiences – positive and negative – with this difficult issue, especially in wartime. 

Finally, we should consider how new technology changes our strategy and future vision for public diplomacy.  I am interested in hearing about the opportunities new technology creates, and the way it forces us to reevaluate our old ways of doing business.  For example, how does mobile phone technology change our approach in regions such as Afghanistan and Pakistan?  And what is the future of the Smith-Mundt Act, part of which prohibits domestic dissemination of information produced for foreign audiences, when a quick search on the Internet will turn up the information anyway?

To answer these and other questions, we have two very distinguished panels.  First, we will hear from three former Under Secretaries for Public Diplomacy, for whom I have great respect and admiration for their honorable service to their country.  
The first is Evelyn Lieberman, appointed by President Clinton as the first Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy.  As the trailblazer who set the path for her successors, Evelyn oversaw the difficult transition of shifting our public diplomacy structure to the State Department from the U.S. Information Agency, or USIA.  Evelyn was well-equipped for this enormous challenge, having come from the Clinton White House, where she served as assistant to First Lady Hillary Clinton, Deputy White Press Secretary, and Deputy Chief of staff, and later, as Director of Voice of America, where she acquired valuable experience in international broadcasting.  Since 2002, Evelyn has continued her career in federal government, serving as the Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the Smithsonian.    

Next, we have former Under Secretary Karen Hughes, appointed by President Bush to this position after serving as Counselor in the White House from 2000 to 2002.  When she was appointed in 2005, Karen was given the rank of ambassador to underscore the importance of public diplomacy. While at State, Karen implemented important changes, including expanding English language training and exchange programs, developing a strategic plan for public diplomacy, and creating a rapid response unit to respond to inaccurate press reports.  Upon leaving State in 2007, Karen told the BBC that her greatest achievement was “transforming public diplomacy and making it a national security priority central to everything we do in government,” which is a goal that I believe continues to this day.  Since returning to Texas, Karen has been serving as the Global Vice Chair at the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller.

Finally, we have former Under Secretary James Glassman, also appointed in the Bush Administration. Jim brought with him to this position his previous experience as chairman of the BBG.  I worked with Jim frequently in this capacity, and saw firsthand his commitment to promoting and developing a robust international broadcasting and public diplomacy strategy.  While serving as Under Secretary, Jim focused on developing a strong interagency structure that allowed visibility into the strategy communications work being done in other parts of the government, including DOD. He also created the Global Strategic Engagement Center with staff from State and the intelligence community to promote great coordination day-to-day.  Since leaving office, Jim has been working in the non-profit sector, and he has recently selected to lead the public policy institute at the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

We are also joined today by current Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy Judith McHale, a veteran of private sector media, who will testify on our second panel.  Most recently, Under Secretary McHale served as the President and CEO of Discovery Communications, parent company of the Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, and a host of other networks.  In her eleven years at Discovery, she oversaw its worldwide expansion to 1.4 billion subscribers in 170 territories and countries.  Since leaving Discovery for the State Department last year, she has applied her wide experience in business to revamping our public diplomacy strategy.  I look forward to her testimony and hearing about future plans and current policy.

Finally, I thank Senator Wic
ker for his interest and commitment, and Senator Boxer for generously allowing us to hold this hearing in her subcommittee.  I would also like to thank the HELP Committee for hosting us in their committee room today.

See also:

One thought on “Kaufman’s opening statement at the hearing on the Future of US Public Diplomacy

  1. The “new strategy” seems more like a laundry list of standard PD operations with the word “more” attached. I hope that means mre resources. What is missing is a clear indication of whether PD is still mainly about whatever GWOT is now called and remains a subset of strategic communications operations across government or whether it is to focus more on the diverse policy interests referred to and that are not of primary interest to the military, etc. Second, the organizational diagram, with a growing staff in the “R” office seems to indicate that the unfortunate trend toward centralized Washington program development is continuing. One would have hoped to see this reversed and returned to the experts in the field with a better sense of what would work with each particular audience. The statement about “empowering” the field is not reassuring. Finally, the discussion of “shaping the narrative” seems to indicate a lack of recognition of the fact that we don’t get to shape anyone else’s narrative [nor do our enemies] and that they make their choices based on their own perceived INTERESTS and emotions and the overall existing narrative. As Adm Mullen stated, it is what we DO, not what we SAY that counts and a change in rhetoric will only marginally and temporarily affect attitudes. Bottom line: audiences have to see that what you are selling via PD is something they want, as it is in their own interests. That is why strategic communications operations are successful at ground level…where you can inform as well as demonstrate to, let’s say, a certain group of Afghan villagers, that you have improved their lives or where an embassy PD section can help set up a website for a local civil society youth…they gain what they are interested in and we get appreciation group [social capital.] That is where resources are best used, not Washington.

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