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Public Diplomacy in the Twenty-First Century [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service]

Interviewee: James K. Glassman, Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Interviewer: Michael Moran, Executive Editor, Cfr.Org
June 30, 2008
Council on Foreign Relations

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MICHAEL MORAN: Well, good afternoon, everybody. I'd like to welcome you all to this Council on Foreign Relations meeting. This is an on-the-record meeting.

We'll take this moment to do the logistical work, reminding you about your cell phones and pagers, et cetera, et cetera. If you could turn them off if you've got them, that'd be excellent.

I'm Michael Moran. I'm the executive editor of CFR.org, the Council's Web site and, for the sake of full disclosure, once a junior newsperson at Radio Free Europe. So I have some knowledge of what we're talking about here today.

Our guest today is James K. Glassman, who leads America's public diplomacy outreach. Mr. Glassman, of course, used to serve as the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees all federal and surrogate broadcasting from the U.S. government. It's a complicated web, and I hope we can unravel some of it for you this afternoon as we talk.

Mr. Glassman has a very deep background in journalism, a former president of the Atlantic Monthly Company, a publisher of The New Republic, executive V.P. of U.S. News and World Report, and editor in chief and co-owner of Roll Call, which most of you know is the congressional newspaper.

He's also a former columnist for The Washington Post, a business columnist and has been published all over the place -- Wall Street Journal, New York Times, L.A. Times, et cetera.

We're going to begin the day with some remarks from James Glassman and then we'll have a period where he and I discuss issues that his office is grappling with, and we'll open it to questions after that.

With no further ado, Under Secretary James Glassman. (Applause.)

JAMES K. GLASSMAN: Thanks, Mike.

Thank you, Mike. It's a great pleasure to be here today.

Two and a half weeks ago, on my first day of work at the State Department, I told my staff that at this moment in history there is no more important work in government than the work that they are doing -- public diplomacy.

Now, if this sounds like bureaucratic chauvinism, it is not. The threats that America faces today and the goals that we want to achieve are profoundly dependent on influencing foreign publics -- not with arms, not even with arm-twisting, but with the softer power of ideas.

I was sworn in on June 10th, six months almost to the day from the date I was nominated. And that's pretty quick in Senate time, I understand, although quite frustrating for the person involved.

Six months gave me a chance eventually to hit the ground running, and on June 24th I was able to launch a new approach to public diplomacy at an interagency meeting. That new approach, a public diplomacy for the 21st century, is what I want to talk to you about today. It is not grandiose. It is indeed a shift in emphasis, but a shift with real strategic consequences.

This is my first speech as undersecretary. I wanted to give it here at the Council on Foreign Relations, not just because of your reputation and your history, but also because of your deep interest in public diplomacy.

I served on the congressionally mandated Djerejian Group in 2003, which examined U.S. public diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim world. And at the same time CFR was completing an excellent study, "Finding America's Voice," by a group headed by Pete Peterson. We drew freely, plagiarists that we were, on the Peterson Report.

The undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, as the mouthful of a name puts it, has a big portfolio. One part of the portfolio is to be, in the words of Senator Joseph Lieberman, who introduced me at my confirmation hearing, the supreme allied commander in the war of ideas. (Chuckles.)

I will be concentrating on just that -- the war of ideas -- because I believe the war of ideas needs urgent attention, not because other parts of the undersecretary's portfolio are unimportant.

So let me start with some context. Public diplomacy is diplomacy that's aimed at publics, as opposed to officials. Public diplomacy, like official diplomacy and like war, when war becomes necessary, has as its mission the achievement of the national interest. Public diplomacy performs this mission by understanding, informing, engaging, and influencing foreign publics. Ultimately it is that last word, influencing, that counts the most.

We want to influence foreign publics in the achievement of our foreign policy goals, the most important of which today being to diminish the threat to Americans' safety from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and to help people around the world achieve freedom. And those goals are linked.

According to our national security strategy, championing freedom advances our interests because the survival of liberty at home increasingly depends on the success of liberty abroad.

Governments that honor their citizens' dignity and desire for freedom tend to uphold responsible conduct toward other nations, while governments that brutalize their people also threaten the peace and stability of other nations. That's from the national security strategy of 2006.

During the Cold War, after a slow start, we became very good at public diplomacy, with such institutions as the Congress of Cultural Freedom, Radio Free Europe, and Voice of America, and a robust U.S. Information Agency. But starting in the early '90s the U.S., in bipartisan fashion, began to dismantle this arsenal of persuasion in an act of what the Djerejian Group called a process of unilateral disarmament in the weapons of advocacy.

Beginning shortly after 9/11, the tide began to turn again, but slowly. In 2003, at the time of the Peterson Report, it is safe to say that public diplomacy did not enjoy broad support as a priority. The Djerejian Group, almost in exasperation, called for a new strategic direction informed by a seriousness and commitment that matches the gravity of our approach to national defense and traditional state-to-state diplomacy.

Today the environment has changed. Budgets have risen, backing is bipartisan. One of the biggest enthusiasts for public diplomacy is our secretary of Defense. There's a lot of talk, as usual in Washington, about restructuring public diplomacy.

Structure is important, but will is more important. And I can report to you today that the will is there. Does the seriousness and commitment, as the Djerejian Group said, match that of our approach to national defense and state-to-state diplomacy? Not yet, but we are moving in the right direction.

While pursuing immediate goals over the next six months, our intention is to help build a strong foundation for a program of vigorous public diplomacy for the next administration, a public diplomacy endowed with both adequate resource and intellectual seriousness.

Before getting to the war of ideas, let me talk briefly about the more traditional tools of public diplomacy. Until a few weeks ago, I chaired, as Mike said, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which supervises taxpayer-funded U.S. international broadcasting.

The weekly TV and radio audiences (sic) in 60 languages reach now 175 million people, at least -- who tune in at least one a week. That's up from 100 million in 2002, and about half of that increase occurred in the 22 Arab nations.

The BBG is also having impact in places like Tibet, Burma, Somalia, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, and Iran. In Iran, VOA broadcasts seven hours a day by satellite television, and with two radio networks reaches about one-third of adult Iranians every week.

In my view, this BBG effort, which began 66 years ago with the founding of Voice of America, is exceptionally effective, in part because its mandate is clear and limited.

Within the State Department itself, the crown jewels of public diplomacy are our educational and cultural exchange programs, where we spend a majority of State's public diplomacy funds. To the rest of the world, higher education is America's greatest brand.

While we do not have the final figures yet, it is clear that 2007-2008, that school year, will see a record high number of international students coming to the United States to study, about 600,000 of them, a dramatic recovery since 9/11.

Our research shows that the best public diplomacy is one that puts foreigners face-to-face with Americans. Exchange programs grew impressively under my predecessor -- or my predecessors, Karen Hughes and Dina Powell, from about 30,000 people a year to about 50,000.

Goli Ameri, the Teheran-born American who runs this part of the State Department now, is focusing on English language programs, teaching programs, especially reaching disadvantaged young people in Muslim nations.

Other exchanges bring 4,000 international visitors to America, including talented people on the way up. Graduates have included 150 heads of government and heads of state, recently including Tony Blair and Hamid Karzai.

The other traditional public diplomacy effort at State is the information department. We sent 800 American experts in science, public policy, and other key fields aboard last year and hold dozens of videoconferences to talk about America and its policies. We maintain multilingual Web sites like America.gov to spread the word, and more and more of these efforts are becoming interactive and technologically sophisticated.

We believe, as Daniel Kimmage of Radio Free Europe recently wrote in The New York Times that Web 2.0, with emphasis on social networking, holds the key to public diplomacy communications, at least for the start of the 21st century.

Now let me turn to the war of ideas. In April 2006 the president designated the undersecretary of State for public diplomacy as the interagency lead in this effort. I had what's called a policy coordinating committee with members from a wide variety of government agencies, the main ones being State, Defense, the intelligence community, Homeland Security, Treasury, USAID, and the BBG.

The undersecretary really has two hats. I run the part of public diplomacy, as I outlined to you earlier, that resides at State and I run the government-wide effort on the war of ideas, which includes coordination with the private sector as well.

The focus of today's war of ideas is counterterrorism. As the national strategy for combating terrorism of 2006 puts it, in the long run, winning the war on terror means winning the battle of ideas.

Our mission today in the war of ideas is highly focused. It is to use the tools of ideological engagement -- words, deeds, and images -- to create an environment hostile to violent extremism. We want to break the linkages between groups like al Qaeda and their target audiences.

The strategy paper that my predecessor, Karen Hughes, issued last year had three objectives. Number two was this: with our partners, we seek to isolate or marginalize violent extremists who threaten freedom and peace.

The war of ideas as we are leading it today gives this strategy focus and emphasis, but it is nothing new. Unlike traditional functions of public diplomacy, like cultural exchanges, the aim of the war of ideas is not to persuade foreign populations to adopt more favorable views of the United States and its policies.

Instead, the war of ideas tries to ensure that negative sentiments and day-to-day grievances toward the U.S. and its allies do not manifest themselves in the form of violent extremism.

We need to recognize that there is a complex, multi-sided battle going on in the Muslim world for power. It is, unfortunately, a battle that affects the United States directly and was responsible for the deaths of 3,000 people, most of them in this city, nearly seven years ago.

In this battle, we do not pick winners. Instead, we support constructive alternatives to violent extremism. In the war of ideas, our core task is not to promote our brand, but to destroy theirs.

Let me say something about brand. Since the late 1990s and especially since 2002, animosity toward the United States has been on the rise. That's not a shock to anyone here. This is a complex subject that has often been dealt with in the press and among politicians in caricature.

I'd be glad to address this issue of American image further in the Q and A, but for now, let me just make a few points.

One, our image is in fact very important. When foreigners respect and trust -- and I'm not sure about like or love, but certainly when they respect and trust us, it is easier to achieve our foreign policy goals.

Second, animosity is far from universal. Ten of the 23 countries recently surveyed by Pew have more favorable than unfavorable views of the United States. We're well liked in much of Latin America and much of sub-Saharan Africa, and nearly -- and in key nations such as India, Brazil and Japan, as well as in much of Asia. Problem spots, of course, are Europe and the Middle East.

Third, the animosity does not seem, in most cases, to run deep. The United States is still the place where people want to come to live, to visit, and to learn.

And four, things are looking up a bit. In the last Pew study and in others we see U.S. favorability rising -- in the Pew survey, in 80 percent of the countries that they surveyed.

But back to the war of ideas and to the importance of not being too U.S.-centric. Think of it this way: we're Coke; they're Pepsi. Our job is not to get people to drink Coke in this instance, but to get people not to drink Pepsi. They can drink anything else they want. They can drink milk, ginger ale, tomato juice. We think that ultimately they will come around to Coke; that is to say, come around to principles of freedom and democracy. But in the meantime, we want them to stay away from Pepsi -- that is to say, violent extremism. And my apologies to Pepsi for this metaphor. (Laughter.)

The effort is to help show populations that the ideology and actions of violent extremists are not in the best interests of those populations -- not that they're in our best interest.

It is a fact that the battle is going on within Muslim society that makes our role so complicated, and that requires that we ourselves not do much of the fighting. The most credible voices in the war of ideas are Muslim,

Here is our desired end state: a world in which the use of violence to achieve political, religious, or social objectives is no longer considered acceptable. Efforts to radicalize and recruit new members are no longer successful, and the perpetrators of violent extremism are condemned and isolated.

How do we achieve such a world? In three ways. First, by confronting the ideology that justifies and enables the violence. We try to remove the fake veneer on the reputation of extremists and allow publics to see the shame and hostility of life in terrorism.

That is what worked in al-Anbar province in Iraq. It has worked in Jordan and Algeria. This is an effort that requires credible Muslim voices to work effectively, especially the voices of those like Dr. Fadl, whose story was recently told in The New Yorker by Lawrence Wright, who helped to build the al Qaeda ideology and now repudiates it for its wanton violence. But we ourselves should not shrink from confidently opposing poisonous ideas, even if they are rooted in a distorted interpretation of religious doctrine.

Second, and probably most important, we achieve such a world by offering, often in cooperation with the private sector and using the best technology, a full range of productive alternatives to violent extremism.

The shorthand for this policy is diversion -- powerful and lasting diversion, channeling potential recruits from violence with the attractions of entertainment, technology, sports, education and culture, business, in addition to politics and economics.

While winning hearts and minds would be an admirable feat, the war of ideas adopts the more immediate and realistic goal of diverting impressionable segments of the population from the recruitment process. The war of ideas is really a battle of alternative visions, and our goal is divert recruits from the violent extremist division.

Going beyond diversion, we seek to build counter movements by empowering groups and individuals opposed to violent extremism -- movements using both electronic and physical means that bring people together with similar constructive interests, such as mothers opposed to violence, built on the Mothers Against Drunk Driving model; believers in democratic Islam; even electronic gaming.

Our role is as a facilitator of choice. Mainly behind the scenes, we help build networks and movements, put tools in the hands of young people to make their own choices, rather than dictating those choices.

The third means to achieve this safer, freer world is to create a broad awareness of the war of ideas throughout the U.S. government, business, academia, and elsewhere, so that those institutions can put in effect their own projects or help us with ours spontaneously, rather than through top-down direction.

We've already done some reorganization to help in this overall effort. You may be hearing these phrases at some point. We've created something we call the Global Strategic Engagement Center, which is an interagency group located at State whose job it is to be a clearinghouse for war of ideas programs, the first clearinghouse of its type, to provide day-to-day direction and make sure that the job is done.

We're in the process of building an advisory group on strategic engagement as the primary locus of private-sector engagement, and we're working closely with the National Counterterrorism Center.

I want to stress that we are on the lookout for measures that marry the traditional means of public diplomacy with the war of ideas effort. One such idea a far more robust alumni network, encouraging social networking by Internet among the 1 million -- 1 million -- alumni participants in our educational and cultural exchange programs.

The emphasis on alumni programs is something that my predecessor, Karen Hughes, started and we want to expand it. These alumni, if networked, can be credible voices in their own societies.

Three more quick points. The war of ideas must extend beyond the Muslim world. The Russian and Chinese ideological models, which suppress individual freedom while allowing market economics a good deal of breathing space, are growing disturbingly popular in some circles.

Second, Latin America and Africa and much of East Asia must be an important focus of our attention, along with Europe, Central Asia, and other areas with high concentrations of Muslims who might be susceptible to the extremist message.

Third, as Senator Lieberman, in calling the undersecretary the supreme allied commander implied, we work with allies. Europeans especially are trying to use the tools of the war of ideas to combat an insidious ideology that is an internal as well as an external threat.

We work as well with partners in the Middle East. While they may disagree with some of our policies in the region, they agree that strategies like diversion can make their own nations safer.

In the current issue of Commentary, Max Boot, a military historian and senior fellow here at the Council on Foreign Relations, looks at this question: Are we winning the war on terror? He cites the comments of CIA Director Michael Hayden, quote, "Near strategic defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al Qaeda globally -- and here I'm going to use the word 'ideologically' -- as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam," end quote.

Peter Bergen and Marc Sageman are among the analysts who have changed their views and now also believe that al Qaeda has suffered severe setbacks. All true. It is no accident that there has not been an attack on America in nearly seven years. Still, there is no one that I know who's been intimately involved in this battle who believes that the war is won, or close to it.

There is a wide spread belief in Muslim nations that the United States and other Western powers want to destroy Islam and replace it with Christianity. This is the root belief of those who provide the ideology and the impetus behind the violent extremism of al Qaeda and similar groups. The flow of new recruits has not stopped. Our goal in the war of ideas is to create, as I said, an environment hostile to violent extremism, and that is an urgent task.

In the end, here is the mission of 21st Century public diplomacy: to tell the world of a good and compassionate nation and at the same time to engage in the most important ideological contest of our time -- a contest that we will win.

Thank you. (Applause.)

MORAN: Thank you, Jim.

Well, we'll take this time to have a quick discussion. I've been relishing this opportunity -- (inaudible). And then we will open it to questions.

And I thought I'd start on a more historical note. We were at lunch trading stories of the complex relationships that exist within the various language services in these many radio stations and television networks that the U.S. taxpayer funds. My own experience was at Radio Free Europe during the Cold War, but this is a dynamic that doesn't really anchor itself in any particular time.

The dissidents themselves, of course, are drawn from people who feel absolutely excluded from their home societies, but they not necessarily homogenous. And in my case at Radio Free Europe, we had Russians who were either Soviet Jews or evangelicals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Russians who were czarists, right-wingers, practically fascists, all under the same tent trying to come to terms with the idea of broadcasting back to the Soviet Union at the time.

Today that same -- very similar dynamic exists in places, for instance, like Al Hurra or Radio Sawa or in some of the Arabic or Pashtu language services and various -- how do you manage this, and how do you know that you are -- what is being broadcast into the ether is actually a reliable and useful tool in this war of ideas?

GLASSMAN: It's really a tough problem. In 1942 when Voice of America was founded, a decision was made -- which I think was the right decision -- to broadcast in the vernacular, unlike BBC, which broadcasts in English, although BBC has now added many languages. We decided right from the start to broadcast in German and then added many other languages. And we now broadcast in 60 languages, many of which I'd never heard of.

So how do you manage something like that? It's not easy, but we have several means by which we do it, or the Broadcasting Board of Governors. One is that there are annual, very thorough reviews by outside agencies that have native speakers, and we look at those very carefully and changes are often made as a result of those.

More and more, as a result of technology, we are able to stream what we do. And the best way to monitor, or kind of keep tabs on any kind of media, is by having thousands and millions of people watching it or listening to it every day. And that becomes a problem for us, because we're not allowed, in fact, to broadcast anything that we do back into the United States. That's against the law. But we are allowed to stream our video and audio and people can look at that online.

So native speakers, people who speak Chinese or speak Farsi -- there are many thousands of people who speak Farsi in this country -- can watch and can listen, and we can get feedback that way. This is a monitoring device.

The third thing is we do do spot translations. They're extremely expensive. We've been looking at new technology for spontaneous translation, using some pretty amazing software. The military is using this now. It's not anywhere close to being perfected, but it's pretty good.

And then finally and most important, we hire people that we trust. I think ultimately that's where the management's going to come from. The person who runs Radio Free Europe presides over an operation that has -- I think it's 22 languages. So even though he speaks one or two of them, he's never going to be able to speak all of them, and that's generally true of most of our services. DOA, 45 languages.

So it's a tough problem. We think we do a pretty good job of it, but I think research and good management's the best way to do it.

MORAN: I'm going to focus the second -- before we turn to the larger war of ideas -- on this what you might call the legacy part of your realm, the VOA, RFE. And in '42 -- you referenced the '42 founding -- that when VOA started broadcasting in German, they promised, shockingly in those days, to broadcast nothing but the truth. But 1942 was a pretty miserable year for the United States and for its alliance with Britain -- Manila, Corregidor -- you know, it was only at the end of the year that there was much good news at El Alamein.

So the VOA felt in those days, and I've read retrospectives, that to build credibility, broadcasting that bad news for seven, eight months was a very good thing, because then when suddenly they were able to broadcast good news of an Allied victory, it looked like good news and the Germans believed it.

Are we willing, in the current rubric, to broadcast bad news? Because obviously, recent media reports have focused on the controversy at Al Hurra over Nasrallah's speech being broadcast and over the coverage of the Holocaust denial conference in Iran.

These things did -- these things exist, so therefore, the question should be asked: Do we cover it? But are the answers being weighed and made properly -- decisions being made?

GLASSMAN: Well, good question.

In U.S. international broadcasting, our most important asset is our credibility. And when Edward R. Morrow famously said, "The news may be good, the news may be bad, we will tell you the truth" and John Houseman, who was the first director of VOA said exactly what you said, Mike. That he -- we're going to report -- I'm paraphrasing -- we're going to report the defeats, because when the victories come, we want people to believe them. That has been the philosophy of U.S. international broadcasting for 66 years.

Now, there are people -- some of them in Congress, some of them elsewhere -- who want us to do something, which is essentially be a propaganda arm of the government. And by law, we're not allowed to do that even if we wanted to. And I think in today's sophisticated media environment, we wouldn't get very far being a propaganda arm.

Now, we at the State Department do advocacy. At U.S. International Broadcasting we don't do advocacy or they don't do advocacy. They explain American policies, frequently to people in countries that either don't know what those policies are or get a very distorted view from their broadcasters -- government controlled or not.

And we also explain to people -- this is Radio Free Europe's role and it's Radio Free Asia's role and to some extent VOA's role in some countries -- we explain what's happening in your own country. You know, recently, for example, in Burma. When the terrible cyclone hit Burma, people who lived in Burma were being denied by their own government not only help, but information, which is a terrible thing at a time like that! We provided -- we at Radio Free Asia and VOA provided that information -- and BBC. We really were the three lifelines, as far as information was concerned, to the people who lived there.

But we constantly face this tension. You know, the sentence usually begins or the question usually begins: Why are American taxpayers paying for a radio and TV broadcaster who is saying negative things about America? Why are we reporting about Abu Ghraib? Everybody else is doing that. Why are we doing it? This is a taxpayer-paid broadcast.

And the answer to that question is, first of all, Congress requires us to do that. We're required to do objective, balanced journalism. And the second reason is that that's the way we get people to believe us when we tell them about American policy in general. So it is, indeed, the good with the bad and if you believe in the end that we are a good and compassionate nation, that the good will win out.

But it doesn't mean that if you're on the board of BBG you don't have to struggle with these kinds of criticism -- many of them very much uninformed. The recent "60 Minutes" piece was really -- it was bad journalism. I think that there are interesting debates involved here. You can have a good conversation. And you can certainly -- I think it's a respectable position to say, you know, gee, we shouldn't be doing journalism in an age in which there's so much journalism going on anyway. But that's not really what that report was.

And a lot of people say this: Why do you do international broadcasting? CNN does that. And CNN does do that, but CNN doesn't do it in three different dialects in Tibet as we do. They don't do it in the Burmese language. And so we're -- they don't do it in Tajikistan or they don't do it in Turkmen. So we're performing a role that I think is still necessary, even in an era in which there's a lot of media and people have a lot of choices.

MORAN: Let's talk about the war of ideas for a second.

Throughout your description of that -- this initiative -- it struck me that counterterrorism was the central axis around which everything seemed to revolve. And is it a fair question to ask whether that's too narrow a goal for a public diplomacy that has to be equally directed at Latin American and Africa and Asia? It seems very Middle East centric.

GLASSMAN: Right. It is Middle East centric -- at least that part of public diplomacy.

The more -- what I call the more traditional tools of public diplomacy -- education and cultural affairs -- which is where, as I said, we spend most of our money. We have a budget of about $900 million and we're spending -- we spent $300 million on that, on one program alone -- the exchange program alone. So we're spending a lot of money on education and cultural affairs and those are very broad.

Now, we have -- the Djerejian Group and others have encouraged this government to put more of its effort into reaching Muslim audiences. So even with education and cultural affairs, that's being done.

But as far as the war of ideas side, the counterterrorism part, undeniably, is the biggest threat that we face and I think that's where we should be concentrating our efforts. But we don't, as I said toward the end, we don't want to neglect what's coming up over the horizon. And I can tell you that I personally, you know, am disturbed by what's happening in Russia. And I think we need to pay attention to that kind of thing.

So there is a lot more to it, I agree.

MORAN: I'm going to ask one more question and then open it up to the audience.

Put aside, if you can for a moment, who appointed you, who you work for. Wouldn't Barack Obama be like an aircraft carrier for Europe? I mean, it just -- this has been bandied about quite a bit. The image of an African American with some Muslim ties in his family becoming president of the United States. Wouldn't that be, in and of itself, a boon to your --

GLASSMAN: I think there's no doubt about that. I would say yes. But I would also quickly say that, again, we're dealing with audiences that might be very excited by the features that you were talking about, but then might get quickly disillusioned when they find that his policies might not be exactly what they'd like to see.

So I mean, you might have a honeymoon, but I wouldn't think it would necessarily last that long. The animosity toward the United States in parts of the world has been significant. And I don't think it's just going to dissipate with the election of a particular candidate.

I can say this, though: This election is a phenomenal opportunity for public diplomacy in general. And we are doing everything that we can to encourage people from around the world to see what we're doing. And we are -- literally, the State Department's bringing hundreds of journalists and other people that are interested, academics, to the United States to witness the election as it's in progress.

Also, at the BBG, we have been -- this has been a policy of ours for the past year -- have been really intensely covering the election. Al Hurra has been praised in the Arab -- in places like Egypt for its coverage of the American elections. And this, by the way, is a comparative advantage that we have over competitors like Al Jazeera. I mean, people do tune into Al Hurra, because it's an American broadcaster that ought to know about the American elections and, in fact, does.

So this is a great opportunity for us. There will be -- I'm not sure of the number. I heard 300 or 400 observers, journalists; not the ones who normally cover America -- who will be coming to the conventions and so on. So this is a great opportunity and we would be stupid to pass it up. And I think both candidates really have attractions to people around the world. It's not just Barack Obama. I think John McCain has a great story as well. John McCain is kind of an independent persona and we've got two good candidates.

MORAN: Well, this is a good opportunity to remind you all of the Campaign 2008 website that we run here at CFR at CFR.org.

Meanwhile, I think I'll open it up to the questions from the floor. Please wait for the microphone. And we'll start with this woman right here.

QUESTIONER: Hi. I'm Wendy Luers, the president of the Foundation for a Civil Society. But for the basis of this question and comment, I'm on the board of the Annenberg School for Communications, the dean of which was the head of VOA, Geoff Cowan. I'm the wife of an ambassador -- a career Foreign Service ambassador. So I've lived through the whole public diplomacy situation, and I have offices in Central Europe.

So my question is: You have an enormously credible CD. You have many predecessors. We have an election in November. The whole history of folding USIA into the State Department -- it is only by accident, I believe, that the Pew is finding that our credibility in Latin America is going up, because we ignored them for the last seven out of eight years and certainly didn't do any public diplomacy there.

I didn't hear a whole lot about soft power, outside of what you're talking about in the Muslim world about, about real exchanges -- the kinds of things that we did that allow ambassadors around the world whom we talk to not to complain that they can't find funding for bringing credible exchanges around the world. No matter what the emphasis of the war of ideas is, there's got to be some consistency.

Do you see yourself replaced immediately upon a new administration -- Democrat or Republican? How do you, somebody with your credibility and background, look forward to actually having some consistency in something that has suffered so deeply over these last seven years?

GLASSMAN: Well, thank you for that question.

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

GLASSMAN: No, no, no. It's a very important question.

In the nine years since the reorganization occurred and this position was created, I am the fifth undersecretary -- the only man, by the way. But not only has there been a lot of turnover, but more important, this job has been vacant for -- we did a little calculation before I was confirmed, partly as an encouragement to confirm me -- for 40 percent of the time. That's kind of amazing.

So in answer to your question: You know, I figure that I'll be in this job at least through January and I wouldn't mind being in the job longer than that, but that's something that whoever gets elected will have to decide. But I agree with you that a certain consistency is absolutely necessary.

Now, I do think that my predecessors -- each in her own way -- did a good job. And I think Karen, especially, elevated this position. The budget has gone up substantially -- or went up substantially during her time. But when you go back and compare it to USAID times, it's really not particularly attractive.

But I really think, from what I said earlier, that there was this period --

and it was bipartisan -- there was this period when public diplomacy was neglected and worse. And then the change occurred in the early 2000's and I think we're in that process and government moves kind of slowly. But I'm completely convinced that right now we're on the right track. I really am.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Deroy Murdock with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Congratulations on your position.

GLASSMAN: Thanks, Deroy.

QUESTIONER: I'm wondering if we can go back to the Pepsi and Coca-Cola analogy that you raised earlier -- touching on soft drinks.

The Coca-Cola ads I've seen talk a lot about how great Coke is and they may drag down Pepsi to a degree, but it's mainly a positive story about Coca-Cola. I'm wondering if your approach is a bit defensive. And of course, we want to point out the shortcomings of our enemies, but for example, in Iraq would we strictly talk about all the evil things al Qaeda in Iraq is doing or would we spend time on these various channels talking about the hospitals the U.S. has been opening, clinics, schools, this sort of thing? And do we do that at all and do we run the risk, of course, of doing it so much that it laps into propaganda and where do you make that distinction?

GLASSMAN: I think, Deroy, that we do both. But what we've found in Iraq is that the most effective approach has been to kind of reveal what the enemy has really been doing.

I mean, what really begin to turn things around, at least from ideological point of view in Iraq, was when Iraqis understood -- they didn't need that much encouragement from us -- but when they understood that this was a murderous ideology that was killing Muslims -- indiscriminately killing women and children and killing Muslims and justifying it through a distorted view of a religion that essentially said, if I think you're not a true Muslim, it's okay for me to kill you. And I think that really is what began to turn it around.

Now, I'm not saying that we should not publicize what we do that's good. As I said before, we're a good and compassionate nation. And we have problems with doing this. And I'm not sure exactly where they come from. I don't know whether we're too modest or whether we just -- we certainly don't see government, necessarily, as playing a kind of PR role. In our history, they've gone off and on. And certainly, during wars, that has been a role for government, but we're just not very good at it.

For example, we don't have a single unique brand for things that we give to people. I mean, we're a tremendously generous nation. And yet, many times people will get gifts from the United States -- food and other supplies -- people don't even know about it. The things that USAID has done, for example -- I mean, I was even surprised, you know! I'm supposed to know about these things. But these are remarkable achievements.

In 2007 alone, USAID responded to 76 disasters in 56 countries. I think people around the -- you know, Americans don't know that and I think people around the world don't know that. So we need to do a much better job of getting that word out. I agree.

But I think specifically for counterterrorism, blowing our own horn is not particularly effective.

MORAN: Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER: Herb London, Hudson Institute.

Jim, congratulations.

GLASSMAN: Thank you.

QUESTIONER: I think you've done a terrific job and certainly, I applaud the things that you stand for.

But I want to -- I traveled through the Middle East last year and listened to Al Hurra. And one of the things that astonished me was in listening to Al Hurra, I heard the most debase form of American culture repeatedly on the station and that was rap music.

Now, I understand why this might happen. It might happen because during the Cold War the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Yard Birds played a very significant role in Eastern Europe and they served as underground music and had a profound effect on liberalizing attitudes in Eastern Europe.

But this form of music is now used as a tool by the mullahs in order to convince many people, who you've described as potential terrorists, that what America's selling is a form of debased culture. And that what we're attempting to do with promoting this rap music on Al Hurra is to suggest that this is perfectly acceptable music that should be adopted by the Arab world.

GLASSMAN: I think, Herb, you're referring, actually, to Radio Sawa, which is kind of the radio version of Al Hurra, but your point is the same.

Radio Sawa was the idea of a radio executive who was on the BBG named Norm Pattiz -- a very dynamic person and very good at what he did. And his idea was that you could attract an audience with music and they would stick around for news and public affairs -- at least for part of the time.

And the music, specifically, was one American song -- and I agree, rap seems to be what they used. Although, my understanding is it's not the really horrible rap music -- the misogynist stuff; I don't particularly like rap at all, but it's not the really bad stuff that you hear about -- and followed by an Arabic song. And as it turned out, this idea has been highly successful -- at least as far as drawing and audience is concerned.

Al Hurra in some countries -- first of all, Al Hurra is the largest Arabic language radio network in existence, period. But in some countries like Jordan, it's the number one station. In other countries it's been copied with commercials instead of public affairs and news.

You know, I guess I would say that I share some of your cultural concerns. But I also think that we need to understand not just in this sort of public diplomacy, but also in the war of ideas, that some of the things that we want to encourage may not be completely palatable to Americans in a cultural sense.

I mean, this is not -- you're right. This is not Willis Conover at VOA doing jazz.

MORAN: Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Allan Goodman at the Institute of International Education.

Your predecessor made a huge point about engaging the private sector in public diplomacy, and I'm sure this is something you'll want to continue. Could you share a bit of your vision for how that will work?

GLASSMAN: Well, we do, and we have. And it was a high priority of Karen's, and she did a very good job of it. I think one of the problems with engaging the private sector is there are -- there are lots of pockets of public diplomacy around, and there's not really -- there doesn't seem to be one -- kind of a one-stop shop to go to. And it's not quite clear exactly what we want. And there's no single place for people who have good ideas to come to.

So, that's one of the reasons we wanted to set up this strategic advisory board that we are setting up, that will be linked very closely to our main war-of-ideas shop, which is what we call G-SEC, Global Strategic Engagement Council -- "Council," right? (Off mike consultation.) Center -- oh, Center, right. Global Strategic Engagement Center.

You know, let me just bring up one point that I'm very interested in, and other people at the State Department are too, and it creates some problems. I really think there are lots of things that the private sector does that are profit-making -- and, as somebody who's written about economics and business for many years, I believe in that sort of thing -- that can be helpful to us.

You know, I'd like to see a, you know, a Facebook -- my understanding is Facebook is not in Arabic right now. I think it would be very helpful if Facebook were in Arabic. And I don't care how much money they make off that, frankly.

So, there are many examples of that nature, where if we are able to give a little bit of a push -- either through maybe some seed money, which we don't have very much of, or just other kinds of encouragement. You know, when the private sector has the profit incentive out in front of it, it tends to work harder at what it wants to do. So I think there are -- there's common cause there.

The other part that's tremendously important to us is that the private sector, especially in technology, knows a lot more than we do -- as smart and diligent as people at the State Department and DOD, let's say, are, and we really need to do a much better job of, you know, picking their brains and getting really good ideas.

I've talked -- have talked several times about Web 2.0, and it's not that we don't have people who are interested in that, but we're, we're not on the cutting edge. We don't -- we're not going to pretend to be. And so we are trying to enlist help from the private sector, especially in technology, right on the -- as much as we can on the cutting edge.

MORAN: Jim, could you talk for a second about the explosion of American university involvement overseas? I mean, it's -- some of it is funded by State, but most of it seems to be private universities deciding to establish either entire universities or at least campus --

GLASSMAN: It is. And this is another area where we can be encouraging, and where Karen Hughes and Dina Powell did a great job of bringing university presidents -- I think they took either one or two tours with university presidents to other countries. Not only is it a great export, in terms -- in financial terms, but it's something -- it is our greatest brand. So I think the more -- the more we do of that, the better.

Allan Goodman, who just asked that question, knows a lot more about that than I do, but we are -- we're big believers in it. And I think it's -- you know, despite the decline in America's popularity around the world, we are far and away the most popular destination for foreign students. We still are. And, you know, I think -- I think it's understandable. So, that's, that's something we need to emphasize more.

MORAN: Okay, I think we're going to have time for two more questions, so I'm going to choose both of them right now. This young lady here; and you, sir, in the far back. But why don't we start here.

QUESTIONER: Ying Ma, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.

I want to follow up on one of the questions that the presider posed about challenges posed to American public diplomacy by countries outside of the terror orbit. So, in particular, Jim, in your comments you spoke about Russia and China, that are now offering a certain ideology focused on economic reform, without political development -- I'm sorry, without political reform.

Given your experience writing about business and economics, could you elaborate more on what your office might do to counter that type of ideology, that these countries are actually quite successfully proposing at the moment, that they are, in fact, advocating a vision that's very different from Islamist terrorists? They're promising money on earth, rather than virgins in heaven.

So, could you talk a little bit more specifically about what your office can do to deal with that public diplomacy challenge?

GLASSMAN: You know, I'm not exactly sure what we can do at this point. And I can tell you that -- what broadcasting is doing. Let me tell you about that briefly, and then -- and then try to, try to address the non-broadcasting part of the question.

A lot of people are surprised to learn that China blocks our signal very, very aggressively. I mean, we try to broadcast into China. They don't want us to do it. Not only that, but they exert a great deal of influence on other countries to prevent us from broadcasting into nations where they want to have some influence. And I would cite North Korea as one of those. And I won't go any further than that.

So, it's pretty -- it's pretty discouraging, frankly. In Russia, a couple years ago, we -- VOA and Radio Free Europe, were broadcasting on 97 -- we had 97 separate radio outlets. And we're now down to 17, and dropping -- heading for zero. And the reason is that the Russian government has put tremendous pressure on private radio station owners to drop us.

So, here are countries where you would think knowledge would be an important thing to have -- where we're not doing propaganda, where we're doing real information, and yet they want to keep their people sealed off from this kind of outside information. Pretty discouraging.

What bothers me about China is that the China model -- which is, can be summed up as political and rights repression, with a fairly high degree of economic openness, is very attractive in places like Africa, in other parts of Asia, countries like Vietnam, because it allows people in power to stay in power by making people happy on the economic side, and yet keeping a lid on the freedom side.

How long can some -- can such a system survive? I don't know. It's like -- it's worked for a lot longer than a lot of people thought it was going to work. What is our role? I think our role is doing what we can to explain this to other parts of the world.

I mean, you know, there's a lot of talk about how well China has done, in soft power, in places like Africa. And I think that's true, although there was a recent study that showed that -- as far as Asia is concerned, the United States comes out on top in soft power, with Japan and China after us.

So, you know, we -- I can say that we don't have -- beyond our traditional public diplomacy program, we certainly don't have a war of ideas effort aimed at China and Russia. But I think these are areas of concern that we need to address.

MORAN: Okay, that was the -- one final question in the back there.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Tom Miller. I'm a founding board member of Business for Diplomatic Action, and representing an organization that has both Coke and Pepsi on our board. (Laughter.) Are all of your comments today public (chuckles) or off the record.

No, but my question is, really we applaud Dina Powell's, Karen Hughes', your own initiatives in trying to engage the private sector more in public diplomacy, but I'd like to ask a question about how to engage the traditional foreign policy establishment and the Congress, in understanding the importance of public diplomacy.

We think -- we applaud your interpretation of it, and we completely agree that increasing respect and trust for the United States will support our fundamental policy objectives, but it seems to us that in this year of high gas prices, declining home values, and what not, that a lot of members of Congress, in particular, just aren't going to paying attention to this message.

So the question is, how do we persuade them otherwise?

REP. : If the gentleman will yield, as a member of Congress for 22 years, I'd like to (quarrel with you ?). (Laughter.)

GLASSMAN: I really do feel that there is a broad, but maybe not a deep, consensus that ideological combat -- that the war of ideas, that ideological engagement, I hate to use these bellicose terms, let's call it ideological engagement -- is absolutely necessary to making America safer and making the world freer.

I think that's, you know, that's a big change, in my view, from what it was like in 2003 even. What I hear from Congress tends to be pretty encouraging. You're right, they have other things to worry about but, in general, we don't get much of an argument about the importance of what we're doing.

The problem, I would say, is -- and we don't get much of an argument, I mean, look at the secretary of Defense. Look what Robert Gates is doing. I mean, he's basically saying, you know, there aren't enough resources being put into public diplomacy in the State Department.

So I think part of the problem is we started at such a low level in, you know, the beginning of the century. We were way, way down. Our budgets have gone up. I think it's now something like 75 percent, which is pretty amazing compared to, compared to what it was like before 9/11.

So, part of the problem is there hasn't -- that maybe somebody needs to be in this job longer than six months. (Laughter.) And I'm not -- I'm not bucking for that. I don't necessarily want to do that. So, there is that question of consistency which was asked. But I do think that we're on the right track. That's what I would say. And I'd be pretty encouraged by that.

Let me also just add that in the dynamics of Congress -- and I used to be the editor of a Congressional newspaper, so I know something about this, you know, one of the problems for public diplomacy has been that we don't have a clear constituency. So, unlike the Education Department, or the Commerce Department, or certainly DOD -- with all those Defense contractors, we don't have people out there beating the bushes all the time, talking about how wonderful we are. We kind of have micro-constituencies.

I found this at the BBG. There are a lot of people who really care about Tibet. So, if you're broadcasting in three languages, and you think well, maybe -- can we cut out one of them? The answer is no, you can't. So you don't have that kind of constituency. And I'd like to see that.

And there may be people in this room who can help encourage that, because I do believe that our future is very much dependent on public diplomacy thriving. And, as I say, we're on the right track, but we need some help. So thank you all.

MORAN: Mr. Undersecretary, thank you very much. (Applause.)

GLASSMAN: My pleasure.

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