The Smith-Mundt Symposium of 2009: a discourse about America’s discourse

This post first appeared at on 20 December 2022. It appears here with minor edits. Be sure to check there for comments on the article and subscribe to my substack for timely follow-ups and new posts through the substack app, through email, and to participate in chats. It’s free!

This post is a step back in time to 2007-2009. The materials I link to below, including the report of the event this post is about, probably include some ideas and analyses that are now outdated. I can review that later. Here’s a chance to resurrect a unique and popular event. 

In 2007, a colleague and I developed a proposal for an academic conference to promote and discuss new scholarly research on public diplomacy, specifically linked to the Smith-Mundt Act and aimed to coincide with the sixtieth anniversary of the legislation in 2008. There were no takers, so we shifted gears and reconfigured the proposal for a symposium. This meant a shorter lead time required for speakers to prepare, papers were no longer required to be submitted and reviewed, etc. 

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Media Roundtable Transcript is Online

The transcript for the January 6, 2009, AOC Journalist Series meeting (aka media roundtable) is available: AOC_Journalist_Series_Transcript_010609 (83k PDF)

Thank you to the Association of the Old Crows (AOC) for organizing and hosting this event.

Panelists for this discussion were:

Matt Armstrong
  Armstrong Strategic Insights Group (ASIG)

David Firestein
  US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy

George Clack
  Director, Office of Publications
  Bureau of International Information Programs (DOS-IIP)
  U.S. Department of State

RADM Greg Smith
  Director of Communications
  US Central Command (CENTCOM)

Smith-Mundt Symposium in Pictures

Briefly, over 260 people signed up for the Symposium. About 180 attended. Some people left because they had other appointments and few of those returned. A year ago, it was hard to imagine 50 people would be interested in a discussion about the Smith-Mundt Act.

Tuesday’s event was well attended through to the end, 8.5 hours after it started (if include the sign-in and continental breakfast, 9.5 hours).

After the fold, I’ve posted just a few pictures of the Smith-Mundt Symposium taken by my good friend (and fellow Masters of Public Diplomacy graduate) Yael Swerdlow. Yael was one of two photographers at the event. The other was from the Associated Press.

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Symposium Audio: Glassman and Doran Keynotes

Complete audio for the 2009 Smith-Mundt Symposium will be available soon. The transcript will be available in about two weeks. Below, however, are mp3’s for the two keynotes.

I think many will find both interesting and very worthwhile to listen to sooner than later. Without comment (yet):

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Jim Glassman’s keynote and questions & answers begins 13:45 into the mp3 at the link below. The beginning nearly fourteen minutes is my introduction to the Symposium. (54 minutes total, 13mb)

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Support to Public Diplomacy, now Special Advisor at the State Department, Mike Doran’s keynote and questions & answers may be downloaded at the below link. (1 hour and 3 minutes, 15mb)

The Smith-Mundt Symposium

The 2009 Smith-Mundt Symposium was last night. The goal was to foster an interagency, inter-tribal, and cross-governmental discussion on the fundamentals of America’s global engagement. While the organizing principle was the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, it was really an act of subversion to have a discourse on shaping America’s discourse.

My desired outcome of the Symposium was not to generate new legislation, but to shake up the perceptions of what we are doing, how we are doing it, and why are doing it, “it” being global engagement, known in some tribes as “public diplomacy” and others as “strategic communication”. I believe that mission was accomplished.

Keynotes by Under Secretary Jim Glassman and now-Special Advisor (former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense) Mike Doran both included new ideas, which of course generated a lot of good questions (as all the questions were through the day), as well as some humor. 

The interest in the event was high. Over 260 people registered for the event. The final attendance was, I believe, more than 190. Due to the capacity of the venue, over twenty remained on the waiting list.

Two indicators that the event was useful to the audience was the surprisingly few empty seats at 5:30p and that many who had to leave actually came back to finish the day.

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Smith-Mundt Symposium: Updates

Below are a couple of brief updates on the Smith-Mundt Symposium that will take place this coming Tuesday, January 13 at the Reserve Officers Association.

  • Congressmen Paul Hodes (D-NH) and Adam Smith (D-Wash) are confirmed for the fourth panel
  • Several documents have been added to the Symposium’s Library
  • William P. Kiehl has been added to the third panel
  • This week’s media roundtable generated some blog posts

No new registrations for the event will be accepted except for Congress members and staff and the media

Media Event: Journalist Roundtable on the Smith-Mundt Symposium

(I am not the organizer of this event, just a participant. If you are interested in attending this roundtable, appropriate contact information is below.)

AOC Journalist Series roundtable tomorrow, Tuesday, January 6, 2009, from 3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. (EST), in Alexandria, VA. Media interested in attending in person or via conference call, contact Ken Miller at or (703) 549-1600.

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Smith-Mundt Symposium Update

There are over 150 people registered to attend the Smith-Mundt Symposium on January 13, 2009, in Washington, D.C. Due to space limitations and my desire to keep people comfortable for the long day, the 165th person and after will be placed on a waiting list.

This is about four times one estimate we had several months ago. This event is much more popular than I think anyone had anticipated.

If you registered and are not able or do not plan to attend, please contact me so I can adjust the count accordingly.

Members of Congress, including aides and staff, do not need to register and may attend by showing ID at the door. However, I do ask that you register so I can anticipate attendance. The same is true of media.

By the way, for the live blogger in you, there will be free wi-fi at the Symposium.

Last update: there will be a hosted reception immediately following the Symposium in the entry atrium of the event location, the Reserve Officers Association. Since the day’s agenda is too tight to allow networking or socializing the ideas, why not do it over free drinks to avoid the rush hour traffic?

Go the Symposium’s website and pose questions, examples, etc in advance of the event.

Questions or comments? Email me.