Transformational Public Diplomacy
12:15 - 1:00 p.m. Lunch
1:00 - 2:00 p.m. Meeting
ISOBEL COLEMAN: Good afternoon. Good afternoon, everyone. Good afternoon and thank you for coming to the Council on Foreign Relations today. I’m Isobel Coleman. I’m a senior fellow here for U.S. foreign policy.
And let me just take this opportunity to remind you please to shut off your cell phones, BlackBerrys, any other electronic connection out there. This meeting is on the record, as you probably have guessed from all the press in the back. And it is also being teleconferenced, so we will I think have a question via teleconference during the Q&A session.
Ambassador Hughes’ bio is in your roster, but let me just note that this is a person with many remarkable achievements to her credit. She has been a television producer in the past, which no doubt stands her in good stead in her current role as undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. She’s also a noted author. And as many of you no doubt know, she has been a long-time, trusted confidant and counselor to President Bush. She served in the first 18 months of his presidency as counselor. And even after she returned to Texas, she remained a close adviser to the president, and played a key role during the 2004 reelection campaign, and was appointed to her current position last summer.
I had the pleasure of first meeting Ambassador Hughes when we traveled together a few years ago to Afghanistan as part of the U.S.- Afghan Women’s Council, and got to see her in action practicing public diplomacy, meeting with many different NGO leaders and government officials, and visiting hospitals, and getting right down eye-level with students and children, which is no easy thing for this very tall person—(laughter)—but she did it. And I can attest to the fact that she certainly does her best to listen and understand what people are thinking in other countries. She has a very difficult task explaining America and improving America’s image in the world.
But we’re thrilled that you’re here with us today and that you’ll share your thoughts on public diplomacy, so thank you.
KAREN HUGHES: Well, I want to thank Isobel for that nice introduction. It’s great to be here before this premier foreign policy group and to have an opportunity to talk with you and to learn from you. I hope in some of your questions you’ll give me a little advice, because as Isobel noted, we have a big challenge, and I can use all the advice I can get. So I would welcome any thoughts and comments and recommendations that you have for me.
I want to thank Isobel for the very generous introduction. It was a little more elaborate than most of my introductions these days. Most of the time, I’m running through a busy airport or pushing my shopping cart down the grocery aisle, and I’ll see somebody look at me, and all of sudden they’ll look again and then they’ll stare, and I can see them thinking, did I go to school with her; she looks kind of familiar. And all of a sudden, almost inevitably, they will take up a finger and they’ll point and they’ll say, “I know.” Aren’t you that woman who moved home to Texas? (Laughter.) Any time that I’m on television a lot, there’s a sharp increase in what my husband calls Karen sightings. It’s actually diminished a little bit since I’ve been at the State Department, but you don’t have to worry about it going to my head anyway.
I was thinking about what to talk about with this group, and I thought you would appreciate this story very much. I was getting on a small commuter airline out in California, kind of one of those planes that was so small that you probably wouldn’t have made the reservation if you’d seen the plane before you made the reservation. And the pilot of this airplane looked very young—younger than my son at that, and way too young to be even flying this very small airline. And he saw me, and he got all excited, and he came back and he said, “I am so glad to have you here; I never thought I’d have Madeleine Albright on my airplane.” (Laughter.) I didn’t know quite what to tell him.
But my favorite all-time recognition story happened—I was with my family, and I was getting on an elevator. And it was one of those real deep elevators, and we were crowding more and more to the back. And at the very end, these two elderly women kind of pushed their way onto the elevator, and one of them looked at me and then she looked away, and then she looked again and stared. And she elbowed her friend, and in a very loud stage whisper she said, “Condi Rice is on this elevator.” (Laughter.) Obviously, our secretary of State is not here today. She is in New York, and I’ve had several meetings with her yesterday, and she asked me to please give all of you her very best regards. And I think as I watch her, how fortunate we are as a country to have this gracious, strong lady as America’s secretary of State representing us across the world.
I want to tell you a little bit about how I got to be the undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and then share with you a little bit about some of the pretty significant changes that we’re put into effect during my first eight and a half to nine months—I think it’s coming up on nine months now—on the job. I frequently tell people at the State Department that had I known when I started my career what I know now, I probably would have gone into the Foreign Service, because I’ve met so many people who have had fascinating careers. I was always interested—I grew up as an Army brat. And so my dad—we hopscotched around the world. He changed assignments every couple of years. I was born in Paris. When I’m in Texas, I have to say Paris, France, but I don’t have to make that distinction here to distinguish it from the place down the road in east Texas. I also lived in Canada. I lived in the Panama Canal zone—I spent several years there. And while we were there, I had the privilege of going to a number of foreign embassies there, of meeting a number of visiting dignitaries and ambassadors. And so that really—I remember being very intrigued and fascinated with the different countries and languages and cultures. And so my interest in public diplomacy, I think, was first started as a child.
And then at the White House, in the aftermath of September 11th, I realized that, coming into the White House off of a presidential campaign, that until September 11th, I was focused really more on communicating with the American people. I had been through a campaign where we were thinking about New Hampshire and South Carolina and Iowa and voters in those places. And I really hadn’t focused much at the White House, I don’t think, on communicating with foreign audiences until September 11th. And in the days and weeks afterward, I remember as our military went into Afghanistan, we would wake up in Washington, and that Taliban ambassador who fled to Islamabad was having new conferences every morning in Islamabad in which he was accusing us of terrible things—bombing hospitals and killing babies and all kinds of things that usually turned out later not to be true. But they played across the world, across the Arab world, across Europe as we slept. And often when we woke up the impressions of wrong things were cemented in people’s minds already.
And so I became very concerned about that. I set up coalition information centers in Islamabad and London to begin to try to respond more quickly and more aggressively to these kind of accusations. Eventually, I recommended and the president created the White House Office of Global Communications. And that was my effort at the time to try to set up an office to do what I’m currently doing at the State Department as the undersecretary.
Many of you know that I left the White House in the summer of 2002, as Isobel mentioned, to return home to Texas, to spend more time with my family, to have my son have his high school years in the place where I thought he would best thrive. And we were in Washington in 2005 for the president’s second inaugural, and the president and secretary had begun to sort of gently remind me that with my son preparing to go off to college, perhaps I might consider a return to government. And they started talking to me specifically about this job, and I think it’s because they knew I had a passion and an interest in these issues.
I remember asking my son what he thought. We were sitting at breakfast one morning during inaugural week, and he immediately said, “Mom, you have to do it.” And I said well—I was sort of surprised. You know, I figured he wouldn’t—my husband didn’t particularly want to come to Washington, and I figured my son might be a little reluctant. And he said, “Well, mom,” he said—I said why? Why do you think I need to do this? And he said: “Well, first of all,” he said, “you really care about it. And second,” he said, “it’s really important for my generation.”
And I truly believe that we face no more important challenge for America’s national security and for the future, not only of our own children but for all the world’s children, than reaching out the rest of the world, to foster common interests and values, and to confront common threats together.
Now, the topic today here is transformational public diplomacy. And that’s very much how I’m approaching this job, because I believe that changing times really require us to change some of our systems and change some of the ways that we’ve traditionally done business. I noted recently that Secretary Rumsfeld made some headlines when he spoke here not too long ago about the Defense Department and our government as a whole struggling to adapt to a dramatically different communications environment. And we’re indeed facing many different challenges in today’s much different world.
During the Cold War, we were trying to get information into societies that were largely closed, where people were hungry for that information. Well today, in places like the Middle East, there’s an information explosion, and no one’s hungry for information. What we’re competing for there is for attention and for credibility in a time when rumors can spark riots, and information, whether it’s true or false, quickly spreads across the world, across the Internet, in literally instants.
Our government also retrenched in our outreach efforts, in our public diplomacy efforts, as you all know, once we thought the Cold War was won and the battle of ideas, we thought, was over, and we began to scale back. And so we are now faced with rebuilding, as well as facing new challenges like security, which in many places has caused our embassies and our personnel to have to retreat behind guards. I hear people say sometimes that we look like fortress America, and that’s a requirement as we protect our personnel. But it’s also a challenge for public diplomacy as we seek to reach out to publics across the world.
President Bush and Secretary Rice and I are all very committed to rebuilding and transforming our public diplomacy efforts. Last September at my swearing-in ceremony, the president gave me pretty clear marching orders. He said spreading the message of freedom requires an aggressive effort to share and communicate America’s fundamental values. He noted the war against terrorism will not be won by force of arms alone but in the battle of ideas.
And so our transformational public diplomacy is being implemented through a comprehensive strategy that’s based on three strategic objectives: first, that we must offer people throughout the world a positive vision of hope and opportunity that is rooted in our belief in freedom, equality, justice and opportunity for all.
I saw an interview—one of the things I’ve done since coming to the State Department is done some research into what foreign publics value and what they care about. And I saw an interview with a young man from Morocco who said, “For me, America represents the hope of a better life.” We have to continue to offer that hope. We represent that hope and must always do so. People around the world need to know that America proudly stands for not only our own rights but also for human rights, human freedom, human dignity, the value of every person, everywhere.
Our second strategic imperative is to isolate and marginalize the violent extremists and confront their ideology of tyranny and hate. We must undermine their efforts. They want to portray the West as in conflict with Islam. That’s the window into which they recruit. We have to undermine those by providing platforms for debate, by empowering mainstream voices and by demonstrating respect for Muslim cultures and contributions to our society and to world society. That’s why I’ve spent a great deal of time during my initial time at the State Department reaching out to Muslim Americans, to engage them in the discussion, because I believe they’re an invaluable bridge as we discuss how to best counter ideological support for terrorism.
One of the points they’ve made very powerfully—I reached out to them after Osama bin Laden’s most recent videotape, and I convened conference calls regularly to discuss with them their thoughts of how to best communicate. And one of their points—the lead points when Osama bin Laden came out with the tape was that leaders across the Muslim world have clearly stated and are stating more and more that bin Laden’s views do not represent the values of Islam. He offers death and destruction only in contrast with those who are working to address legitimate grievances through an ideology of life and constructive engagement. And that’s—theirs is a message of destruction and death, ours a message of life and opportunity. And more and more people, including more and more Muslims, across our world are speaking up and saying that. And I think it’s very important that we empower the voices of our fellow Americans to join us in saying that.
Our third strategic imperative is to foster a sense of common interests and common values between Americans and people of different countries and cultures across our world. Now that sounds pretty simple, but that actually came from a conversation I had with a beloved former ambassador, Frank Wisner, and I know many of you know Frank well and have worked with him. And I was talking with him when I first accepted this job, and he said, Karen, he said, you know, I worry that at a time of war that too often our foreign policy is being viewed as being based on common threats. We have to more proactively nurture a sense of common interests and common values. And they’re meant for people everywhere; our values are universal, and we seek to promote them in a spirit of partnership and respect.
Now, you’ll note that two of the three of the strategic objectives that I just outlined are not just focused on the war on terror or communicating with Islamic communities, because America’s public diplomacy, despite what you read in the press, which sometimes focuses only on the Arab or the wider Muslim world—that—America’s public diplomacy actually involves the entire world. Our relationships with our neighbors in Latin America, for example, are extremely important, and President Bush told me to make that one of my priorities.
Public diplomacy works to nurture and strengthen our transatlantic partnership with Europe, to build on our strengthening and strategic relationships with India and with Pakistan, to reach out to people across an emerging China. We also try to provide reliable information and establish relationships with people in different countries, even when we don’t have relationships with their governments, in places like Cuba and Iran. As you know, the president has recently requested 75 million (dollars) in supplemental funding to try to support reaching out to people in Iran as part of our commitment to the people at a time when we’re having some—when we don’t have dealings with their government.
Our transformational public diplomacy is fundamentally changing the way we do business, to try to become effective in six key areas, and I want to quickly go through them, and then we’ll be having a conversation where I hope I have a chance to address them a little further. First of all, we’re increasing funding for programs that we know work and making them more strategic and more effective. And I can think of no better example than exchanges. There’s no doubt in my mind that our exchange programs have been our single most important and most important public diplomacy tool over the last 50 years. And as you travel the world and meet leaders who participated in those exchange programs across the world, that’s only underscored. Exchanges work, and so we sought increases in funding—up 70 million (dollars) in the 2006 budget; up another 48 million (dollars) proposed for the 2007 budget.
We’re also seeking to make them more strategic, to reach out to young people particularly and those who influence them, like clerics and teachers and journalists. We’ve created several new programs. The Edward R. Murrow journalism exchange just brought 150 international journalists to America a couple of weeks ago. They spent three weeks studying at communications schools that were working in partnership with them and the Aspen Institute. They spent a week in Washington, and had a wonderful program at the State Department where they questioned their fellow American journalists, and we had some very interesting programs. We also started a new women’s exchange in conjunction with Fortune magazine to try to encourage women’s entrepreneurship across the world.
Second, we’re improving the way our government communicates. When I got to the State Department, I realized we had a lot of different agencies of government monitoring the media. And usually what that meant was a week later you’d get an editorial that ran in a newspaper, and that didn’t help us respond in a very timely fashion to what was making news across the world. And so, I think Pete, your group was one of those who recommended the creation of a rapid- response unit where we monitor real-time. We now have up and running in the State Department, in real time, a rapid-response unit where we watch what’s being said on the pan-Arab stations, on media across the world. We monitor the blogs. And then we every morning produce a one- to two-page report so that busy policymakers have time—can read it and absorb it quickly of what is driving news across the world and what is America’s message—three or four points on each one of those news stories. And that’s my way of—it now goes to every Cabinet secretary, to the White House, to ambassadors across the world, to our military leadership across the world—my way of trying to get our federal government to become on the same page, quite literally.
We’re also unleashing our ambassadors with new rules. When I arrived, the rule was the ambassador had to have pre-clearance from Washington before engaging in a media interview. Well, as you all know, that became a convenient excuse for ambassadors not to engage in media interviews, because gosh, it would take a couple of days to get approval from Washington, and the journalists here know a couple of days is a lifetime in today’s rapid media environment. So now, our ambassadors—we’ve totally changed the paradigm. Our ambassadors are now expected to speak out, and they don’t need pre-clearance from Washington. In fact, we’re making—rather than taking a risk in speaking out, the risk—we’re now rating them on public diplomacy. We’ve written that into the rating evaluations of every Foreign Service officer, and we expect them to be out there engaging in public diplomacy, and we’re giving them more tools and resources to do so.
Third, public diplomacy is helping the shape policy. That was, again, one of the recommendations of all the reports. I’m very involved at the State Department and all—as my staff is and all the secretary’s senior-level meetings. We’re participating in all the working groups on all the different issues. We’ve raised the presence of public diplomacy in the regional bureaus, which, as you know, developed much of the policy for the State Department at the early stages. So I’m trying very hard to institutionalize the integration of public diplomacy and policy at the State Department, which is one of the reasons the old USIA was merged into the State Department in the first place.
Fourth, we’re forging significant new partnerships with the private sector, again, another recommendation of the council’s group that Pete worked on. We’ve convened a university president summit to work with university presidents, the first time this has ever been done, to market America as a higher education destination. And we’ve got teams going across the world this summer to make that case that we want young people across the world to come to America to study. We’re working with the travel and tourism industry, a partnership, to try to make our airports more welcoming.
I’ve been reminding people that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and we’re making some pretty bad first impressions right now. And so we’ve got a couple of model airport projects going, where we’re trying to improve our ability to present a friendly and welcoming face to people who come to our country. I traveled with business leaders to Pakistan and Central America to raise significant—and I want to thank the business leaders, many of them based here in New York, Hank McKinnell and Sandy Weill, and Jeff Immelt, and a group of others who raised more than $110 million of American private sector money to contribute toward earthquake relief in Pakistan.
And so I think these types of partnerships can be very effective and I think went a long way in Pakistan toward contributing to a more positive view of America in the aftermath of that country’s earthquake.
Fifth, we’re enhancing our use of technology. And I’m the first to say that this is probably one of our biggest challenges, and we’ve got a long way to go. Government does not tend to be a trend leader—(chuckles)—they tend to be a trend lagger, and so we have to be better about technology, and we’re working to do so. And that’s one of the things I’ve charged our Bureau of International Information Programs with, looking at ways that we could use things like mp3 players to deliver messages or text messaging or to improve the quality—we’ve got a couple of new Web-based programs that we’re trying to become more active and engaged on the Internet.
And sixth, we’re—and finally, we’re working to de-legitimize terrorism. I like to say we need to do for terror what was done to slavery. Slavery went from being an internationally accepted norm to becoming an international pariah. And the anti-slavery movement actually sprang from religious convictions about the worth and value of every person, convictions very similar to America’s belief in the dignity of every human being. In 1833, one of every seven adults in Britain signed a petition against slavery, and that was twice the number of people who were eligible to vote at the time. And it was the largest public petitioning of Parliament ever to that date. Today we would call that a grassroots citizens campaign.
And I’ve been meeting with interfaith leaders and challenging them to try to launch a similar movement across all faiths and continents, to clearly state that no grievance, no complaint, no matter how justified, can ever justify the targeting and killing of innocent civilians.
I’m excited about the work we’re doing. I hope you can tell. I’m energized; I’m enjoying it. It’s a huge learning curve for me and a wonderful opportunity to—a privilege, really, to travel the world and represent our country. I try to listen. I try to—every place I go to meet with people that maybe have never seen an American or met an American in person before. I’ve appeared on many television programs where I’m the first American official to ever appear on that television program. And so we’re really making an effort to do a lot of outreach.
We have much more to do. This is a very long-term challenge. I view my job in the remaining years of the Bush administration to put in place a foundation, because this is the work of decades, not of days or weeks or months. We need to match the commitment that enabled us to prevail in a previous generation when communists denied freedom to millions of the world’s citizens.
Today, the struggle has shifted to new regions and different threats in many, many places across our world.
I was in Dallas last Friday to meet with Bono and talk about the work he’s doing to fight poverty and AIDS and how it intersects with what I’m trying to do, as we discussed, across the world, the compassion of America. I’ve never heard Bono’s band in person, but I heard him give a speech Friday night, and I realized he’s a fabulous communicator, even without music. He speaks very eloquently about America. And it’s interesting to watch this Irish rock star speak very eloquently about America being more than a country, he says; America is an idea, and that people around the world want to look to that idea.
He talks about the idea as inspiration of America in ways that occur to me that too often we as Americans don’t. He heralds the good that we’re doing around the world, even as he challenges us to do even more. He makes the point that—he asked me, isn’t compassion one of the best ways to demonstrate your values, to communicate your values, and isn’t it an investment in a safer world. And so, it caused me to imagine for a minute what the world without America would be like. And I want you to think about that. What would the world be like without America? Not just on the front of human rights or dignity or the values we stand, not just for—not just because of our military might, but just think about the strength and the breath and the reach of our compassion.
I submit the world would be a far bleaker and less compassionate place.
From the camps in Darfur, home to 2 million displaced people where more than 85 percent of the food aid—more than 85 percent that those people have received has come from the United States of America; to the Palestinian territories, where we are helping and committed to helping the Palestinian people despite our disagreements with their government; as we speak right now, trucks are arriving today, delivering health and medicine supplies to people who desperately need them in the Palestinian territories; to a half million people on the continent of Africa who are alive today because of antiretroviral drugs provided by America under the president’s emergency plan for AIDS relief.
Public diplomacy is my job. But it’s also our shared American challenge. I hope you’ll join me in sharing with the world America’s story of hope and help as we work to extend freedom, extend compassion and expand the circle of opportunity across our world.
I want to thank you very much for your attention, and I look forward to your questions. Thank you all so much. (Applause.)
COLEMAN: Thank you, Karen, for your comments. Let me just start out by asking you—picking up on one of the points you made, which is your role in policy formulation. I hear all over the Middle East when I travel there, and it’s reflected in numerous polls and studies on public diplomacy, people don’t hate Americans, they hate our policies. And picking up on your Irish rock star statement that America is an idea, I think that is at the root of it, that America, to many people, it is an idea, and they are seething with anger over perceived hypocrisy, that we don’t live by what we preach. Democratization—it’s fine, as long as we can pick the winners. You know, this is something I hear all the time.
How are you effectively shaping policy? Can you give us some examples about policy formulation and how you’re inserting public diplomacy or public diplomacy spin on policy formulation at the highest levels.
HUGHES: Well, a couple of things. First of all, as I said, I’m involved in the secretary’s meetings on a range of issues. I was involved, for example, in recommending that President Bush go out and speak on the situation in Darfur earlier this week, which he did. After I came back from the Middle East on my first trip, I talked with the secretary and the president that what I heard throughout the region was that the people were not aware of the extent of what we were—the humanitarian aid that we were delivering, for example, to the Palestinian people.
And I made the recommendation to them that to the extent that we could be seen as helping the Palestinian people that I thought that would be very effective for the views of our country across the region. And the president said—I was telling him about a conversation I’d had with a group of members of President Abbas’s staff, who happened to be in town at the time. And the president said, well, where are they, I want to meet with them. And I brought them to the White House, and they sat in the Oval Office and met with the president. So it’s those types of examples.
Now, obviously, the situation in the Palestinian territories, you alluded to it, has been made more difficult by the election of Hamas. And I want to make it clear here, as I did in speech in Doha, that America stands for and believes in democracy. We believe in elections. We believe in people’s rights to choose their leaders, even if we don’t agree with the policies of those governments that are elected, and that’s the case that has happened with the election of Hamas.
As you know, it’s not only America but also our Quartet partners that feel very strong now that Hamas has a choice to make, that you can’t have, as the secretary says, one foot in democracy and one foot in terror. You can’t be a partner for peace when you advocate the destruction of the other party. And so, with the international community, with the Quartet, we have called on Hamas to make a choice, and to make a choice that will provide the benefits of—will provide a peaceful path for the people they now represent, and that is, to renounce terror, to recognize Israel, and to live up to the commitments that the parties have made. But I’m very involved in those issues.
One other example, when I returned from Latin America—I visited five countries. I traveled there with Secretary Rice for the inaugural of President Bachelet in Chile—which, by the way, was a very inspiring moment for particularly all the women in the room. The first woman elected president there. And I looked up in the balcony at one point as she was taking the—as she was—taking the—participating in the inaugural ceremony; it’s not really an oath. She says, “si promesas”—it’s very simple; it’s yes, I promise. But I looked up and I realized that all these parents, there were all these little girls in the audience, and all these parents had brought their daughters to see this historic day in their country. And so it was a wonderful moment.
But I traveled to five different countries, and everywhere I heard the same concern. And it—- different words but the same concern. And it was that, why does—why is America ignoring Latin America, or why have you not—are you not paying attention to Latin America? And so I checked, and actually, during the Bush presidency, we have doubled, nearly doubled foreign assistance to Latin America. We’re very engaged throughout Latin America in a range of programs, from helping lift people out of poverty to bringing products to market to a whole range of activities.
We’re very engaged. And no one knows it.
And so I came back and told the secretary and the president about that and we are working now on a Latin American initiative to help communicate better and to help look at our policies and see if it’s not just communicating them—I want to, by the way, object a little bit to the use of the word “spin,” because I don’t see what I do as spin. To me spin implies concoct and I’m not concocting anything; I’m helping to communicate and inform and tell people the facts about what we are doing.
Now of course, I try to portray the facts in the best light for our country because I believe we’re a wonderful country and that we are doing good things across the world. But we’re working on a Latin American initiative not only to communicate better but also to look at how can our policy be more effective. Can we be more focused, for example, in our delivery of foreign assistance? I had a conversation with Ambassador Tobias about this. Can we be more effective by maybe agreeing on three or four key things that we’re trying to accomplish in a certain country and then communicating that more effectively?
And so those are the kind of things, Isobel, that I’m participating in.
COLEMAN: There is some optimistic signs coming from places where that message has been communicated well—Pakistan you mentioned, post-tsunami Indonesia, and some other countries where there’s been some polls indicating that there’s been an increase in positive opinions about the United States. So that’s a great—you know, getting the message out there that we are doing good things and you can see it translated.
Tell us about the Middle East. I know you—that was—you did you first big swing through the region to mixed reviews. And you’ve been back recently—well in February to Doha for the U.S.-Islamic world conference. How are we doing in the Middle East? It’s probably the toughest nut out there, and I just wonder what you think is going well and what we still need to work on.
HUGHES: Well we obviously have a challenge there that requires a full range of our public diplomacy programs. It’s interesting you say mixed reviews. I think it was maybe the case of mixed expectations as opposed to reviews. I mean, I remember talking with the reporters. The idea that I’m going to sit down with a group of people who are adamantly opposed to the war in Iraq and because I am there to listen to them that somehow I’m going to change their minds, I don’t think anyone in this room would expect that that’s a very realistic expectation. And so I do think that and did get feedback that people were grateful that an American had come to listen, that I had visited places that an American had never been before. I went to a low-income housing neighborhood, I remember, in Turkey, where actually a young man asked me a question that kind of broke my heart. He looked at me and said, does the Statute of Liberty still face out? (Laughter.) And in other words, is America still a welcoming country? And I think one of my jobs around the world is to say yes, we are a welcoming country, that as we’ve had to implement some of these security initiative to protect ourselves and our guests, we’ve also had to remain a welcoming country.
But we clearly face a challenge in the Middle East. Part of it is, as you say, the difficulty delivering the message that we are very concerned about the Palestinian people, that we are doing everything we can to continue to deliver humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people, while we cannot by law or principle provide funds to the government they elected because it refuses to renounce terror. So by law and principle, we are not able to do that. So that’s a little bit of a complicated message, but it’s important that we have to do our best to get that message out.
The situation in Iraq—clearly there are people in the region who did not agree with our decision, even though we made the decision in what we thought was the best interest not only of our security but also of the region and of peace in the wider world. But there were clearly people who don’t agree. I think that the answer to that—they probably won’t change their minds in the short run, but over the long run, as we begin to see Iraq building its democracy and we’re now in a new phase with the selection of a new prime minister and a permanent government who’s now working to select a cabinet. And so we’re in a new phase there, and I think over time that people perhaps—the secretary—quickly, I’ll say the secretary yesterday very eloquently talked about a comparable period in our nation’s history in the 1940s, when if you had taken a look around the world in say 1947 or 194(8), two or three years after the end of World War II, things might not have looked so great. Reconstruction wasn’t going real well in Germany and Japan. Communism seemed to be on the rise. And so sometimes history looks at things a little differently than short-term news or short-term history. And so I think that we need to look at events in that broader context.
COLEMAN: Let me ask you one more question before turning to the audience. Even with the increases that you mentioned in some of the areas in the fiscal year ’07 budget, some would say that you’re still trying to do a very critical, crucial job as you described—critical for the next generation—on a shoestring and the funding just isn’t sufficient. Do you agree?
HUGHES: Well, I—the way I answered this in my congressional testimony is I said that I’m a passionate advocate for that in which I believe. And so I passionately am advocating for public diplomacy. And we have—I will say that I am proud that in a time of very tight budgets and very big demands, from the rebuilding of our own country after Hurricane Katrina to the war in Iraq, that we have a substantial increase for public diplomacy, and our increase in—I believe the overall increase is about 6 to 8—somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 percent and our exchange increase is about 11 percent. And so at a time when we are facing significant competition for tight-budget dollars, I think that we are making a case for public diplomacy. And I will continue to do that because I believe it’s important and I believe it’s an investment in our future for our country and for the world; it’s important.
That said, this is not a job that government can do alone. And one of the things I mentioned that Pete’s group strongly recommended was reaching out to the private sector. And I am doing that very aggressively, and I think through partnerships that we can really extend our reach. We are working with the business community; we’re working with the NGO community; we’re working with the higher education community. And I think through partnerships—this is not a job just for government; this is really a job for every American. And every American who travels or who works overseas or who takes a trip has an opportunity to represent our country, and they can represent them as well or they can in some cases represent us poorly. I hear concerns about sometimes the actions and attitudes of Americans.
And one of the things I realized on my trip is that a lot of the way the world looks at us is affected by the way they think we look at them. I remember sitting across the table from a woman in Egypt, and she said to me, you think we’re all terrorists. And I said no we don’t think that. Why would you think that? But I had to tell you when you see something like the Dubai Ports and some of the rhetoric that came up in that, that’s sometimes the message that is communicated to the world. And I think we have to be very conscious of that as we speak, in our public debate, and as we travel in our public conduct.
COLEMAN: I’m going to take some questions from the audience.
Please remember to identify yourself, wait for the microphone, and ask a short, concise question, and we’ll keep the answers as short as possible to move around as much as possible.
We’ll start with David Phillips.
QUESTIONER: My name is David Phillips with the Elie Wiesel Foundation. On December 3, the Knight Ritter News Service and The Washington Post ran a story indicating that participants in international information programs were being run through an ideological litmus test as part of a screening. On April 3, Senator Biden wrote the inspector general of the Department of State calling for an investigation. He said in his letter, if these allegations are true, such a policy appears to be inconsistent with the charter of your bureau, to be representative of a broad range of responsible and informed opinion, and that those selected are not limited to the expressions of U.S. government policies. Moreover, it would undermine—
COLEMAN: Can you ask you—
HUGHES: Let me just—I can just answer—
QUESTIONER: Let me finish the question, please.
HUGHES: Sure. It’s absolutely false, but I’ll be glad to answer.
QUESTIONER: Senator Biden’s letter was provoked by senior U.S. officials who leaked internal memoranda and e-mail confirming what you claim to be absolutely false. How are we going to correct this problem?
HUGHES: Well, first of all, it, all I can tell you is that it’s absolutely false. The speaker’s program is administered by career staff, many of whom have been there for many, many years, and they feel very strongly about their mandate to represent a wide spectrum of American and foreign policy. And I’ll just give you one example to show you it’s absolutely not true.
I recently got a complaint from an embassy that someone was speaking out against our policy at that embassy, and so I got a complaint from another side of the spectrum that someone was criticizing our policy. One of the things I think is important that we model in our conversation with the world is our openness. We are a country that has a debate, and I recently sent out letters to Democrats as well as Republicans to try to invite them to—we’re interested; we would like to have very high-level speakers speak and represent our country on behalf of our country around the world. And so I sent out letters inviting people, higher-level speakers, to participate in these programs.
And so another one of my ideas is that we—I’m working to see if we can get different college campuses to host websites that young people around the world could send in questions to American young people and have them answer questions. Obviously, we won’t control the answers to those questions and there’ll be a lot of things that are said on college campuses that probably the administration won’t like. But that models our openness, and I trust the young people of America to be very effective advocates for America and for our wonderful democracy and openness.
So I can just simply say to you that it is simply not true, that whoever made that allegation, it’s wrong. I don’t know who made it or what kind of memorandum they’re talking about, but I haven’t seen any memorandum like that.
QUESTIONER: Yes, I’m Marlene Sanders, formerly CBS News. I wonder what you’re attitude is towards the efforts of Al-Jazeera to find a U.S. outlet.
HUGHES: Well, that’s a great question. Let me tell you that when I—how I approach this as a communicator. When I came to the State Department, there wasn’t an official policy, but the informal way that we were dealing with Al-Jazeera was basically to ignore them, especially at high levels of our government. And as a communicator, I believe that you can’t ignore a vehicle that reaches 40 million people across a region where we want our views represented. And so I did—you know, I’ve done interviews with Al-Jazeera; I’ve recommended that other senior-level officials do interviews with Al-Jazeera. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything that’s said on Al-Jazeera anymore than I agree with everything that’s said on our own networks. In fact, when I met with Al-Jazeera, they tried to make a case to me that some of their reporting was actually less anti-American than some of the reporting on the evening news in America. But I’m not sure I completely agree with that. But they tried to make that case.
But clearly there are things that have been done and said by Al- Jazeera that we think are irresponsible and we have pointed those out when that happens. But I do believe that we want to—as I said, we need to get on the Al-Jazeera, the Al-Arabiyah, the stations that have big audiences across the Arab world and deliver and communicate our message.
And so I take as a great sign of the progress that we’re making that when the terrorist al-Zarqawi released his videotape, I think it was a week before last, Al-Jazeera actually contacted us and asked for Alberto Fernandez, who is our senior public diplomacy person in the aid bureau, and he speaks Arabic and does a wonderful job of doing a lot of—and I’ve encouraged him to do a lot of Arabic television appearances. And Al-Jazeera actually asked him to be on to respond to the tape. And so what used to happen was these groups would release tapes and the allegations would play for several days before America even said anything about them. This time, what happened was the tape was played, and on air at the time was a spokesman for the American government responding in Arabic with our position. And so I think that’s a wonderful sign of how far we’ve been able to come and I think it’s important that we deal with Al-Jazeera.
QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)
HUGHES: The effort to get a network outlet here? Is that an FCC issue? I’m not—
QUESTIONER: I don’t know.
QUESTIONER: They’re not on.
HUGHES: Yeah, I’m not familiar with what the reason for that is, so that’s not something that I’ve dealt with.
COLEMAN: Right here.
QUESTIONER: Seeing as you know better than I do—sorry—
COLEMAN: Can you introduce yourself?
QUESTIONER: Farhad Kazemi, NYU. As you well know, some of our public diplomacy is run outside the State Department, in the Defense Department, Treasury, et cetera, et cetera. What is the extent of coordination between your office and these other units of our government?
HUGHES: Well, a couple of things. I just last week chaired the first interagency meeting of the new PCC on strategic communications. That’s the policy coordinating committee, I learned. I’m not very good at the alphabet soup of “governmentese,” and I said the day that I get good at it is the day I probably cease to be an effective communicator. But I was laughing about that because I was actually present at the very first meeting of an attempt to do this back when I was at the White House the first time, and that just goes to show you it’s hard; it is very difficult to communicate, to pull together all the various agencies of our U.S. government, but it’s essential. And I’m committed to working on it and to doing our best.
One of the ways that I had tried to approach it is through this morning rapid response report that distributes our message points throughout the government. It’s very important because as I travel the world, I have heard in place after place that often we don’t communicate as an American government. We communicate as a lot of different agencies. We communicate as the State Department, the Defense Department, the CIA, the MEPI, the PEPFAR—you know, whatever it is, and it’s very confusing to the world. And so I am working very hard.
One of the concrete ideas that came out of this first meeting last week was that we create at the State Department a Web page and put on it—this sounds very simple but this hasn’t necessarily been done on an interagency basis—and sort of put on there, you know, what are the key points of our policy in certain regions of the world. Because as you said—and we have Commerce Department officials and Treasury Department officials traveling to those regions. Everyone in the U.S. government who goes to Latin America is going to be asked the same question that I’m asked, which is that the perception that somehow we’re ignoring Latin America, even though we’re very engaged in Latin America.
And so it seems that it would be helpful to provide to the rest of the government what we say about that when we’re asked about that and what our policy actually is, and the fact that we have nearly doubled our foreign assistance and that we are working strategically with many countries there. And so that’s one of the things we’re doing.
I also lead a separate interagency group that is focused specifically on the ideological battle of ideas in the war against terror. And the Defense Department and intelligence communities are represented in that group, as is Homeland Security and the NSC. And we are working to try to coordinate. We’ve identified—part of that program is classified—but we’ve identified some key countries. And we are working to sort of—to coalesce all the instruments of the government in those countries to really try to make a difference and make sure that we’re working together in a coordinated way. And we actually—we’re in the process of conducting DVCs with the embassies in those countries and developing real specific country plans.
For example, if we think clerics are very influential in a certain country, how can we identify the 75, 100 most influential clerics and work over the next three years to make sure we invited them to come to America on exchange programs so that they can see themselves? And how might the Defense Department work on its military-to-military exchanges in that way? And how can we coordinate what—it’s interesting, in one of our first digital video conferences, on the screen as it happened we were able to get two agencies of our government to learn about what the other one were doing that they hadn’t known before.
And so it’s a way to coordinate through that project as well as through this broader interagency process that I’m now chairing. That’s a good question.
COLEMAN: Let me ask a good question from one of our teleconferencing participants, Edwin Deagle from Parker, Colorado, asks, would it be helpful to have, in addition to all of these efforts, a private sector institution set up really to help drive public diplomacy on these tricky issues, particularly in the Muslim world?
HUGHES: I think it would be very helpful. In fact, one of the things that I want to do and have not yet done is to invite various foundations and think tanks and private sector entities to come to the State Department and meet with us and brainstorm a little about their mission and how they might integrate with our mission.
As I work on this—particularly this ideological aspect of the war of ideas, the—sometimes the voice of an American government official is not necessarily the most credible or most powerful voice. Sometimes, as we debate issues, for example, of faith, or of what—if there are issues about what Islam, for example, stands for and truly believes—I don’t have any credibility in that debate.
Now Muslims—Muslim-Americans or Muslims around the world who have a different interpretation of what their obligations are, they have much more credible voices. And so how can we provide platforms to enhance those voices? And I think private organizations probably could do that very effectively.
Pete, you recommended the creation of a private foundation to raise funds and sort of focus on public diplomacy. I’m intrigued with that. But I will tell you that as I went to meet with representatives of different businesses, they said, we don’t need another foundation coming to us to raise money; we’d rather work with you on specific projects.
And so that’s how these different projects, like the journalism exchange, like the university exchange, like the Pakistan earthquake relief and the Central American flooding relief, have come about. And we just—in fact yesterday the secretary—
Mr. Peterson : It was going to be public-private—
HUGHES: Public-private, right.
Mr. Peterson :—along the lines of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
HUGHES: Right. And I think there—Pete, I think there’s definitely some benefits to something like that as we—and it’s something that we definitely ought to explore further. Because as I said in my remarks, this is something that’s going to take all of us. And I think it is definitely not something that government alone can do, particularly in a time, as you mentioned earlier in your question, of tight resources in government.
COLEMAN: Question right here.
QUESTIONER: Bruce Gelb, former director of the USIA under Bush 41. First of all, Secretary Hughes, I would like to congratulate you and thank you for the most impassioned, total, thorough description of what public diplomacy is all about. It’s the first time that I’ve heard it presented the way you have done.
HUGHES: Thank you very much.
QUESTIONER: The second thing—
HUGHES: Now the bad news. (Laughter, cross talk.)
QUESTIONER: The second point is, what you have described is something that—perhaps the single most important thing long term for the interests of the United States that the United States could do. And it seems to me that if you have something that important not to have a single-minded focus with an organization firmly funded and focused on that, you’re doing the opposite of what Peter Drucker said, which is, you want to do half a job with half a man on the job. You’re a little part of the State Department. Why shouldn’t you look at what happened over 30 years with a separate organization, and have a full-bore, full-court press on public diplomacy?
HUGHES: Well, thank you, Bruce. You’re referring to the merger of USIA into the State Department, and I have to—I’ll tell you a story. When I took this job, one of the things I did was go meet with a lot of different people, including a number of former USIA leaders. And one of the members of the staff of the State Department, who was a former USIA employee—this was in 2005, now, mind you; the merger happened in 1999—referred to the merger as the “murder of USIA.” And I thought, you know, I don’t think this has gone too well. (Laughs.) It was a little hint that it perhaps had not been as smooth as you might like. And I think there were mistakes made in the process of the merger, and it disrupted some of the management functions.
I will say, though, going forward, Bruce, that I really feel that increasingly, as the world changes and as so much of diplomacy really becomes public diplomacy—you know, as—diplomacy is really changing, and that’s one of the things that Secretary Rice’s transformational diplomacy concept addresses, that diplomacy used to be quietly delivering messages or quietly conducting negotiations sort of behind the doors, away from public view. Yet when you think about it, as we succeed in developing democracy and extending democracy around the world, what do democratic leaders do? They respond to their publics. Therefore, you have to build support within their publics for the policies, for the values, for the issues on which you’re working.
And so I’m going to argue that public diplomacy is increasingly going to be a vital part of diplomacy, and that it needs to be.
Edward R. Murrow has a famous quote about public diplomacy needing to be in on the takeoff, not just the crash landing. And I think the crash landings are a lot less likely to happen if public diplomacy is in on the takeoff.
I remember having a conversation with a congressman once—I know there are several former congressmen here today—about—on Capitol Hill that a lot of times the policy staff tends to develop policy, and then they bring it to the communicators and they say, okay, here’s a lemon, you go sell it. That doesn’t work. The strategic communicators, the public diplomacy advocates, have to be in at the beginning, and have to be talking about the impact that policy will have and how it will be viewed and why it might not succeed because of the way it will be viewed.
And so I think we have an opportunity to make public diplomacy—and one of my missions, I think, is to make public diplomacy a much more vital and vibrant part of our overall diplomacy. And that’s going to require a change in some of our training—we’re looking at our—the way we train ambassadors and Foreign Service officers. They’ve got to become more accustomed to dealing with the media, to appearing on television.
You know most people in the world, if you—I’ll share one story, then I’ll be quiet. But I remember meeting with an ambassador very early in the job. And I said, well, tell me about your public diplomacy. And he said, well, we place an op-ed in the newspaper pretty regularly. And I said, oh, so a lot of people in your country read the newspaper. He said, on no, we have really high illiteracy rates. (Laughter.) And I said, well, okay, so how do most of the people in this country get their news? And he said, well, they watch Al-Jazeera. And I said, well, what do you do about Al-Jazeera? And he said, well, that’s in another country. (Laughter.)
And so I think that explains one of the problems with the change in the communication environment with which we’re dealing. And so one of the ways I’m addressing that is—as you know, our State Department setup is very country specific, but much of the media, particularly in the Middle East, is now regional.
And so we are working on setting up a regional hub in Dubai. This summer, we will be placing a couple of Arabic speakers in Dubai whose sole responsibility it is to get on—not to worry about the bilateral relationship within the country, but to get on the regional media and talk about American policies and values in Arabic on a regional basis. And I think that’s very important.
So I think we have an opportunity to make public diplomacy a—and I’m doing my best to value the professionals who are in public diplomacy and to make it the sought-after place to be in the State Department.
COLEMAN: We have time, I’m afraid, for only one very quick question and answer—Sheryl WuDunn in the back. And we have to end in a few minutes.
QUESTIONER: Hi, Sheryl WuDunn with The New York Times.
How do you measure your success? And can you give us the top four metrics and what you report card is? How are you doing?
HUGHES: Great. That’s a great question, and it’s a hard question, because it’s difficult. I’ll quote Murrow again. He said, no cash register ever rings when a mind is changed. And that’s really what we’re about: We’re trying to change thoughts about our values, about our policies. And I’ll tell you, I am very conscious of the need to evaluate and to measure.
I’ll give you a few of my informal measurements, and then talk to you some about the formal ones.
One of my informal measurements is that increasingly people across the world, and especially in the Muslim world, are speaking out against acts of terror against innocents. And that is extremely important. When I was in the White House after September 11th, it was very, very difficult to get people to speak out against the acts.
After the London bombing, I remember, we worked very hard and compiled a one-page list of quotes from around the world of—Muslim voices who were willing to speak out against acts of terror directed against innocents.
We are now seeing more and more leaders, individuals, clerics, speaking out. And that’s very, very important. Because again, they have a lot more credibility on issues, on faith issues, in their faith than any of us as government officials do.
So I think that’s one way to look at are we making progress: Are others joining our efforts to speak out and condemn acts of terror against innocents. And I think we saw after the most recent case in Egypt, that yes, it was roundly condemned around the world.
We do have some more metric-based measurements. Our education and cultural exchange programs, for example, recently received an outstanding score from the OMB, the Office of Management and Budget. They do what’s called a PART score where they rate you on your ability to measure performance. And we got a 97 and a 98 for our exchange programs.
Of course with our exchange programs, we have people here. We can measure. We can interview them. We can say, okay, you come to America, what are you impressions? As you leave America, what are your impressions? Have they changed? And we can measure that. So that’s a way to measure it.
But we’re working hard to extend that culture across our other programs. We, as you probably know, suspended publication of Hi magazine, the magazine that was designed to reach out to Arab young people, when we discovered that people weren’t reading it earlier this year. And people are looking at the website. And so we have improved the website but suspended publication of the magazine, because we did a survey to determine, was it actually being distributed, were people getting it and reading it. And the answer was, by and large, no.
So we are right now measuring the effectiveness of our American Corners program, which is an Internet-based program—it’s actually—it’s not just Internet; you have access to Internet, but you also have access to American books and materials and magazines in, say, a corner of your local library.
And so we are in the midst of an evaluation of the effectiveness of American Corners, and we have had very good reviews of American Corners, but we’re doing an actual methodical, metric-based evaluation of them.
I will say, however, that one of the things you can also look at is, you know, have we increased the number of interviews we’re doing in Arabic? Yes. In fact, we quadrupled them from 2006—if you compare back to 2005, the number of Arabic interviews we’re doing.
Now, does that mean we’re changing minds? You can’t make that leap. But you can say that our policies are clearly being represented more often in the language in the region. And I think that’s something we can clearly look at and measure.
COLEMAN: We are unfortunately out of time. I’m sure we could go on all afternoon. This has been fascinating.
HUGHES: Thank you so much, Isobel. (Applause.)
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