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to below, including the report of the event this post is about, probably include some ideas and analyses that are now outdated.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. 

Despite substantial interest from a broad community that expressed interest in attending such an event, and that most of the panels were tentatively filled, we could not find an organization to fund our modest — the February 2008 symposium proposal asked for $7,100 — effort. Academic institutions said their calendars were already full, including those with faculty interested in participating in the event, or this was outside of their interest. Some think tanks expressed interest and offered conference space, but not money. We considered and dismissed approaching the Defense Department but figured that would taint the discussion before the welcome message was even composed. 

In April 2008, we gave up, and I posted the dead proposal on my blog,, to see what discussion followed. Almost immediately, I was approached by a foundation (my erstwhile partner in the effort had bowed out). The contact (who has since moved on and whose name will be recognized by many readers here) saw the relevance and potential. Though she was interested, she couldn’t get approval from the foundation. The decision-makers did not see how the Smith-Mundt Act was relevant to the “war on information” or public diplomacy, as its “core function” (my words, their sentiment) was simply preventing such information from being seen in the US, and that wasn’t an issue. One of the foundation’s decision-makers asked, “Has Matt even read the Smith-Mundt Act?” 

At about the same time, another funder approached me. The identity of this organization was initially public, but then internal politics happened. The office I was in discussions with for the money, to be provided with the absolute requirement they would have no role in developing the agenda, selecting panelists, topics, or any relationship other than giving me the money to host the conversation, was part of a much larger government organization and the internal politics meant they needed their role kept quiet to save their own hide, so to speak. 

I wanted the symposium to happen before the end of the Bush administration in January 2009. Many urged me to hold it later, after the start of the Obama administration. Still, we’d only get aspirational statements, if any, considering the time to get people in office and know where their desks are, develop a plan, get a glimpse of the priorities (let alone set priorities), etc. 

The symposium was held at the Reserve Officers Association. I picked this venue (a great space, by the way) because of its location between the House and Senate office buildings on the Hill to make it easy for Congressional staff and Members to attend, a key group of stakeholders often left out of these conversations. 

There were two keynotes. The then-currently serving Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs gave the morning keynote. The second keynote, given during the provided lunch, was by the then-recently serving Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Support to Public Diplomacy. 

There were four ninety-minute panels, each with four participants plus a moderator. The ninety-minute window is a sweet spot for me, with one hour often too short to dig in and two hours tedious for the audience and panelists alike. The first three were largely structured as: “what we did,” “what we are doing,” and “what should do.” However, this was only the starting point for the panel chairs, with the moderators and panelists free to go wherever they wanted. Then it was essentially a full stop and shift to Congress to get their perspective on this. Originally, three Representatives signed up with one Senator who gave a tentative acceptance. The Senator bowed out, and one Congressman did as well, stating he had just changed committees, so he said this no longer seemed to be in his wheelhouse. (I disagreed, and his relationship with the Smith-Mundt Act a few years later proved my point.) 

The event generated significant interest. I had to create a waitlist because of the demand. Subsequently, I monitored registrations to ensure no office or agency had so many attendees to prevent another group from attending. In one case, someone from the National Counterterrorism Center signed up, but I told them there were already four people from NCTC registered, and I could not let in a fifth. This led to the quick de-registration of one of the earlier NCTC sign-ups to allow this leader’s attendance. In the end, it was well-attended. Over 260 registered for 180 seats. Some left during the 8.5-hour event (from the opening comment to the closing message) because they had other appointments but many of those returned (i.e., there were remarkably few empty seats at the end of the day). A year before, it was hard to imagine 50 people would be interested in a discussion centered around the Smith-Mundt Act. Whether more than 50 people want to have a similar conversation is debatable, but I think (hope?) more people have realized its relevance. 

The event was recorded (audio-only), professionally produced transcripts, and a report written. You can check out the report here (or at Scribd) and see the transcripts, agenda, and speakers’ biographies (at the time of the event) at

For your convenience, here is the agenda, with contemporaneous titles for the speakers: 

Welcome Message by Matt Armstrong

Morning Keynote by Amb. James Glassman, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. 

Panel 1: History of Smith-Mundt
Len Baldyga
, moderator, former Director of the Office of European Affairs at the U.S. Information Agency
Richard Arndt, USIA alumni, author of  The First Resort of Kings: American Cultural Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century 
Barry Zorthian, retired Senior Foreign Service Officer, retired Colonel in the U.S.Marine Corps Reserve, former VOA program manager
Mike Schneider, Director of the Syracuse-Maxwell International Program
Matt Armstrong

Panel 2: America’s Bifurcated Engagement
Marc Lynch, moderator, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs George Washington University
David Jackson, former VOA Director, Senior Advisor for the Communications Bureau of European & Eurasian Affairs at the Department of State
Karen DeYoung, Associate Editor, Senior Diplomatic Correspondent at The Washington Post
Jeff Grieco, Assistant Administrator, Legislative and Public Affairs U.S. Agency for International Development
Rear Admiral Greg Smith, Director of Communication at United States Central Command

Lunchtime Keynote by Mike Doran, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Support to Public Diplomacy

Panel 3: Rebuilding the Arsenal of Persuasion 
Kristin Lord, moderator, Fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program and Saban Center for Middle East Policy at The Brookings Institution
Ted Tzavellas, former Senior Information Policy and Strategy Advisor to the Department of Defense, Joint Staff Deputy Director of Global Operations, Information Operations
Nancy Snow, Associate Professor of Public Diplomacy Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University
Colleen Graffy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs 
Bill Kiehl, former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Resources of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Department of State, and former USIA Acting Deputy Associate Director for Educational and Cultural Affairs

Panel 4: The View from the Hill
Doug Wilson, moderator, former Senior Advisor to the Director of USIA, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.)
Rep. Paul Hodes (D-NH)
Lynne Weil, Communications Director for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Closing Comments by Matt Armstrong

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.

Continue reading “Smith-Mundt Symposium in Pictures

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.

Continue reading “The Smith-Mundt Symposium

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.

Continue reading “Media Event: Journalist Roundtable on the Smith-Mundt Symposium

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.