NEW YORK, NEW YORK
MR. PETERSON [PGP]: Good morning.
Fellow members, you have Ambassador Ed Djerejian’s very impressive background. He has served eight presidents, Democrats and Republicans alike; been an ambassador to both Syria and Israel, and assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs for both President Bush and President Clinton; and—very important—he’s the founding director of the James Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
His specific focus today, as you probably all know, will be his important work as the head of the report on the Advisory Group at the State Department on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World.
I have the usual prescriptions and even recriminations that I will try to shorten. This is on-the-record meeting. I’m very grateful for that, because I don’t have to try to explain what “not for attribution” means. (Laughter.)
Please turn off your cellular phones, keep your questions short, stand and tell us who you are. So you know the drill.
I’ve been asked to have a 20- or 25-minute dialogue with Ed, and then that’ll leave the last half hour for your questions. So, Ed, let’s start.
I’ve read your very good report. I would guess we would quickly agree that the state of foreign attitudes toward the United States has seriously deteriorated. The public-opinion data that we all looked at in the Council task force were uniformly melancholy, I would say. And last week, Ed, the International Advisory Board of the Council, which is made up of perhaps 30 foreign—former foreign leaders—the former head of state of Mexico, Pakistan, Canada and so forth—were universally depressing on the anti-American attitudes. For example, the Pakistani president indicated that 80 percent of the Pakistani citizens were unambiguously negative to the United States.
Now, you probably have a few cases in point from your studies, and even beyond giving us some of those, I think the audience would be very much interested in understanding who hates us and why do they hate us. (Laughter.)
MR. DJEREJIAN [ED]: (Laughs.)
PGP: Try to respect the answer, please. (Laughs; laughter.)
ED: That’s not a personal question, is it?
PGP: No, no. (Laughter.)
ED: (Laughing.) Okay.
Well, I think this question has been often posed: “Why do they hate us?” and “Who hates us?” And I think we have to pose the question, “Who hates us?” And I think in the Arab and Muslim world, Pete, I think what we found in our extensive discussions with hundreds of people from all walks of life is that there is this seeming dichotomy between a tremendous favorable attitude toward what this country, America, stands for in terms of its values, which are considered to be universal values. One Iranian woman told us, “My God, who can have”—a dissident said, “Who can have a problem with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?”; that we admire American education; that we admire what you have achieved in your society, the equality of opportunity, the justice before the law, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And at the same time, while you have favorable attitudes in Iran—93 percent—as to our value system, you have equally high unfavorable ratings when it gets down to specific American policies. And it’s that sort of dichotomy or that seeming gap that I think provides both opportunities and challenges to American public diplomacy.
But when you say, “Who hates us?” I think we have to be careful. Is there great frustration in this part of the world as to our policies? Absolutely. But when you get to who hates us, there are extremists—for example, certain political Islamic groups, who consider us to be profane and consider themselves to be sacred. There, I think, there is not a great deal of room for improvement of our image—the Osama bin Ladens, the—going back to the Sayyid Qutbs, the founders of the Islamic Brotherhood Movement. But let’s define who hates us.
And here, I think the role of public diplomacy—and let me try to define—“public diplomacy” is a horrible term. It’s really public information, communication, but it is defined as the promotion of America’s values and policies in support of its national security interests through—and we’ve added the first two: listening, which Americans do very poorly overseas—listening, understanding, informing, engaging, and then trying to influence. I mean, that’s the purpose.
So, what I get down to is one of the principles—Casey Stengel principles of management. If you have six guys here who really hate you, and you have six guys there who haven’t made up their mind yet, we’d better get to those other six guys first before the six guys who hate us get to them. And this was very pointedly expressed to us in Morocco—a person who told us, “If you Americans do not define yourself, the extremists and the Islamists will.” So, I think that’s the nub of the problem.
PGP: Ed, in your report, you had one or two countries that were kind of puzzling. On the one hand, we give them enormous amounts of aid and support, and on the other hand—give us an example or two of that.
ED: Well, Egypt and Jordan come to mind. And the figures there are pretty—a very senior Department of State official who is involved in the economic programs said—(chuckles)—“What’s wrong with our paradigm?” Closer economic developmental relations, assistance, are supposed to produce certain results—first economic results, social results, but also in attitudes.
But we find in the 2002 survey in Egypt, only 6 percent hold a favorable view of the United States. And this is our second-largest aid recipient in the whole world. And obviously, we have a very close relationship with Egypt since the Camp David Accords.
Jordan, another major recipient and a country very close to us, in 2002, in the summer, 25 percent of Jordanians had a favorable view of the U.S. This spring, that dropped to 1 percent in Jordan.
Turkey, another key ally, in 2000, 52 percent of the Turks had a favorable view of the United States. This spring, 2003, that dropped from 52 percent to 15 percent. Now, in Turkey it is basically Iraq- oriented, or our policies in Iraq, so there’s been a precipitous drop.
PGP: Okay, now let’s stipulate that this is a rather melancholy state of affairs, it still leaves an important question: What difference does it make? What are the costs of anti-Americanism? If their attitudes had been different, what actions might they—have been taken that were more favorable to U.S. interests? And you spoke of Turkey, for example. Do you think that there’s anything that we did, other than going to war with Iraq, that might have led them to support us instead of turning us down?
ED: Well, Pete, I think the main response I’d have for your generic question is that if we are able to express ourselves, in terms of our values and our policies, more effectively in this part of the world especially, that will facilitate our goals, our foreign policy goals. In other words, if you don’t have that static of unfavorable attitudes, you can enter into a discourse, you can enter into a government-to-government, you can enter into public dialogues, and you can facilitate the accomplishment of our national interests. So I think that’s why it is important, why attitudes make a difference.
In Turkey what we found is that they told us very bluntly at every level: You don’t listen. You come and you dictate. You tell us what you want to do, but you do not take under consideration what our interests are, what our concerns are.
For example, as I said, these polls show that since Iraq, it’s really gone down, the public attitudes towards the United States. And they say: We have real concerns. We’re worried about what’s happening in Iraq. We’re worried about the Shiites. You know, we’re a Sunni—basically a Sunni country, Muslim country. We’re worried that the Shiites, if they come to power, that’s going to exacerbate our interests in the region. We’re worried about Kurdish groups in the north of Iraq and the remnants of some terrorist groups like the PKK [Kurdistan Worker’s Party] and others. We’re concerned about the Turkmen, who are our kin. You’ve never really discussed this with us. You’ve come, you’ve told us what you want from us, but you have not really gone—and I think that’s one of problems. And this is policy and it’s also public diplomacy.
PGP: Ed, every presider here is given instructions that we should ask one question you’re going to want to duck.
ED: (Laughs.) All right.
PGP: And I’d be interested in how you’re going to duck this. (Laughter.) Would you say that the—
ED: Can I leave now? (Laughter.)
PGP: Would you say that the unfavorable attitudes are more anti-American or more anti-Bush administration?
ED: (Laughs.) Good question. The—
PGP: Shall we move on to the next one? (Laughter.)
ED: Yeah, let’s just—(laughs)—let’s just move rapidly on.
No, I think honestly what our group found—and one of the members of my group is here, Professor Farhad Kazemi from NYU, a very valuable member of our group, and I think he will support this—what we found, it goes beyond even the persona of the president. These are structural attitudes that play off perceptions of people in the region as to what they see the gap between our values and our policies, and I think this goes beyond administrations.
Now, a president of the United States can make a statement that will exacerbate attitudes overnight by using certain words. and that’s one thing, if we’re going to discuss some of our recommendations, why we really feel that the senior leadership of the United States—Democratic or Republican, it doesn’t matter—when a president or a senior official speaks locally, say to a labor union in Detroit, he’s speaking locally but he is also speaking globally. Everything is picked up now. There is no longer just a local audience. So the phraseology of the top people is very important.
PGP: I want to congratulate you, Ed. You did a good job.
ED: Did I duck that?
PGP: I thought you did a fine job of ducking, yes.
PGP: Now, in the case of the Council’s task force, we made the rounds, as you did, of senior administration officials. And my fellow task force members who were there probably remember one meeting, and I won’t mention the person’s name, but we showed them the Pew research on the heavy deterioration in attitudes between the year 2000 and 2002. And this official—we were waiting for the comment—said, “Well, you know, in studies of this kind, there are so-called “exogenous variables,” “exogenous” meaning caused by the outside. This left some of us wondering what the endogenous variables might be. (Laughter.)
But do you think that the senior officials in this administration, are they aware of their possible contribution to this problem? Do you think they care? Because it seems to me, Ed, that if the senior administration people don’t really believe that they are at least, and the way they have handled foreign policy, is one of the sources of the problem, they’re far less likely to be enthusiastic about your recommendations.
So maybe you can duck that one, too.
ED: No, I won’t duck that one. I think, basically, there are always blind spots. People in senior positions, they make their decisions and they want them to succeed. And they don’t listen to the static, or the negative static that may come back, and that is an element, as you mentioned.
But basically, what we found, that I found positive and heartening, is that at the very top of the administration, that they realize we have a problem; that these polls, these surveys indicate a serious problem that the United States must address. And I must say, our group, which is totally independent, everyone worked pro bono, it was a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats, that basically, they gave us all the support.
And the other thing is that these attitudes—the same attitude is on the Hill equally important. In fact, the House Appropriations Subcommittee that mandated our advisory group has introduced supplementary language saying that it will not act on any future funding of public diplomacy until our report is published, and the administration response to it, within a timeline. So, I think that seizes people’s attention because there’s money involved in here. So, I think our report has a chance of being taken seriously.
PGP: Now, as you know, there are several theories as to the causes of this deterioration. One is the—what you might call the generic or structural theory; namely, the U.S. is the economic, military superpower, the hegemony, and anti-Americanism is caused largely by envy and resentment.
A second school of thought that you’ve commented on is it’s overwhelmingly our policy positions; basically, in the Mideast in particular.
The third is that our style, our tone, our attitude, how we do it, rather than what our policies are, often expressed as arrogance, unilateralism, indifference, and so forth; how we violate our basic values and appear hypocritical. We set up international institutions, some theorists say, and then we marginalize them. We espouse our democratic values, and then have a good deal of enthusiasm for rather maligned dictatorships.
Where do you come out on how you would weight the causes of this deterioration as between those three areas?
ED: Well, I do think it’s all of the above. There’s no question that each one of these major factors impact on the attitudes toward the United States. But surely, when you’re number one, there is an element of envy, there is an element of always picking on the big boy on the block.
But again, as we state in our report, we were at an equal position after World War II, when we started the whole Marshall Plan and the reconstruction of Germany, for example, in which the United States was riding high in terms of favorable attitudes. So you can be number one and you can still have favorable ratings, in our history. This is not the case today.
In terms of—many times, people came and said, “Look, what you’re doing is—it’s not going to make any difference, because ’it’s the policy, stupid.’” That is basically the knee-jerk reaction that we’ve had to this report.
But what we—where we come out on that is no, it’s not just the policy. Policy is perhaps 80 percent of what forms attitudes in this part of the world, but there’s that very important 20 percent that is the manner in which we express ourselves, the manner in which we communicate, the manner in which we do not or do listen, the manner in which we are presenting the context and content of American values and policies into the discourse. What we basically found, as I said earlier, is that we’re not present in any significant way.
For example, we watched a program in Cairo on Al-Arabia Television—that’s one of the major Arab satellites—a long program, with ordinary folk, a talk show, an Arab talk show program.
And basically the title was quite provocative. It was “The Americanization of Islam.” Now think of that title—that there’s an American plot to take over Islam, which is totally false, I mean. But it just shows you that there are conspiracy theories endemic in this part of the world, in the Arab and Muslim world.
And not one person on that long program—it was about a two- hour program—not one person could convey an American point of view, the context and content of our values; that we are a religious country, but we—we’re a secular state, but we believe in the freedom of religion; that we have millions of Muslims in our country. None of that came out. And that’s just an anecdote, but I think it’s an important anecdote where we are not present. And that’s what has to change.
Now I think the last point—well, I forgot what your last point was. The—
PGP: Well, the last point had to do with—
ED: Oh, the governance, the governance in the region. I think that that’s important, and we need to address that.
In terms of our—there are three issues out there right now in the Arab and Muslim world that everyone is playing off. It’s the Arab-Israeli. It’s Iraq. But what is little understood, I think, in our own country is the third major issue, which is the state of political and economic governance in this part of the world. Most of these countries are living under oppressive, non-democratic regimes. Their people are frustrated economically, socially. We have very good relations with many of these regimes for our national security interest. And again, they look at us and say, “There’s a gap between what you preach, in terms of democracy, political values, and what you do on the ground.” So that is another important aspect.
But let me just say one further thing on this, Pete, and then I’ll be quiet on this one, because it’s very important. Our mandate was to address public diplomacy, not to advise the administration on policies. But it’s inexorably linked. And we grappled with this. And I would address everyone’s attention to—I believe it’s chapter two—where we address the policy issue.
But in the general thrust of U.S. policies in this part of the world, we should be stressing what we’re trying to achieve. And what we’re trying to achieve is very well stated, and Richard Haass [president, Council on Foreign Relations] certainly knows this—he headed SP and a lot of this I got from his former shop—is that basically, the goals of U.S. policy in this part of the world, what are they? The broadened—first of all, conflict resolution: Arab-Israeli, Kashmir, Western Sahara; we want to resolve these conflicts. The United States plays a leading role. Two: Broadening political participation with the goal of democratization. Three: Private sector economic reforms, anti- corruption, human rights, full participation of women in society, et cetera, et cetera. These are goals the United States can very credibly defend and put into the discourse, and we’re not doing that.
PGP: Okay. Let’s move quickly to what your group recommended we should do about this.
ED: I have a long list! (Laughs.)
PGP: Why don’t you give us the most important ones?
ED: All right. The list is long, but—and you all have the report, but I think the first and most important recommendation is that we need strategic direction in our public diplomacy. We don’t have strategic coordination from the top down; we need to fix that. And the way we thought organizationally—and of course, in Washington, every time you make a recommendation on reorganization, that’s what gets the headlines. But the main recommendation we have is that we need strategic coordination and a strategic sense of direction in our public diplomacy along the lines I’ve outlined.
But we highly recommend that a special counselor, senior counselor to the president, be appointed, along the model of Edward R. Murrow and JFK [Murrow was appointed director of the United States Information Agency by president John F. Kennedy], which was basically to have someone senior that the president trusts who can whisper in his ear, and saying: This is the decision your administration is taking; I want to tell you this is how the message is going to play; this is the way we should craft the message; and here’s the feedback we’re getting.
PGP: I believe he said present at the creation, rather than at the crash landing.
ED: Crash landings, exactly. And we feel that this is what is missing. We need someone who can strategize for the president and for the administration. We think that there has to be a reorganization of the interagency coordination of public diplomacy. They have a moribund National Security Council Policy Coordination Committee on Public Diplomacy. It’s been moribund for months. That should be reenergized with top-level appointments into it, and we should bring the Defense Department into that. Defense is out there doing its thing; State is doing its thing; to a lesser extent, AID [Agency for International Development] is doing its thing; Justice is doing its thing in public affairs, et cetera; Homeland Defense—they’re all linked. And we feel that there has to be an umbrella. So, we are asking for that to be reenergized.
We made major recommendations to—we found this Office of the Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy to be virtually a hollow shell. And so, we basically asked—made some specific recommendations on how to make that office meaningful. And they’re all listed in the report. And there’s one aspect of that that I think is important. I was very impressed—we went to London, and in a visit to the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office]—they have a little unit, about five people, each one an expert: one on Asian Muslims, the other on Middle East, the other on African Muslim countries, et cetera. They have these plasma screens. They’re looking at Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabia; they’re looking at all the satellite news and commentary coming from the region; they’re looking at the major newspapers. They immediately craft talking points for the foreign secretary, for the prime minister; they craft op-eds. They’re on—right there in real messaging. We want to replicate that in this office.
One of the other things, first of all, we found that the resources given to public diplomacy in this part of the world, we parsed it down very surgically. I had some private entrepreneurs on our group who certainly know a business plan and a budget. I don’t know if one of them, Milik Hasan, is here. But we found out that out of the $600 million budget for public diplomacy, when you parsed it down to the Arab and Muslim world, it was $150 million. When you parsed that down for exchanges, you had $50 million left for public diplomacy outreach. When you took out salaries, et cetera, you had $25 million. We are actually on the ground spending $25 million for public diplomacy outreach to 1.5 billion people.
Now, we did not want to be characterized as a group who’s saying throw more money at it, but, you know, things could be—
PGP: Where did you come out at on the role of the private sector?
ED: Big time. We feel that there has to be much more of a collaboration between public, private. We adopted the Council on Foreign Relations’ recommendation on a corporate—public diplomacy—Corporation for Public Diplomacy. We took a hard look at the broadcasting, and we found that—see, one of the main reactions we got in the field was that because these people in this part of the world, for the large part, live under regimes that are not democratic, that they do not trust state-run media outlets, be they television, radio or newspapers. And therefore, there’s a natural skepticism and blanking out of anything they’re told.
And therefore, we—on balance, we question whether the Middle East television network that is being planned, whether or not it will be able to be a credible voice, because it will be seen as state- sponsored, to a large part. And we’re saying, if you’re going to do that, at least do it right. It’s going to take at least $100 million. They only have—less than that allocated. But that we opt, at the end of the day, to basically what the council’s report said, is a Corporation for Public Diplomacy—public, private sector.
PGP: We used as the model, you know, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—
PGP:—for many reasons, but one of them being that private sector people wouldn’t be much more willing to work in that kind of a structure than be seen as working for the government.
One final question. When our International Advisory Board met and we said, “All right, you say that we’re in a mess right now, what should the U.S. do?”, I’d be interested in your reaction to their basic recommendation. Richard Haass, of course, was at the meeting, as was David Rockefeller. They said you come across as a one-trick pony at the present time. You’re so preoccupied with your preemption theories and your militaristic approaches, that it would be very helpful if you returned to your roots postwar and started displaying some global leadership in other areas.
And Richard, and I, and others—you’ll remember this—said, “Like what?” Well, they said, for example, your enthusiasm for the United Nations is pretty restrained—let’s put it that way. (Laughter.) Perhaps you should come up with a program, as difficult as it might be, for how you might reform it so that you at least express the view that you’re interested in international cooperation.
Your positions on trade, in spite of the espousal of free trade, and so forth, particularly after what happened in Cancun, suggest that you might launch an initiative there. Our Latin American friends said you’ve made certain assertions about how you’re interested in global leadership—or U.S. leadership in Latin America.
To what extent do you think, Ed—they used to say in football, the best defense is a good offense—that we should consider some awkward-looking international initiatives as a way of ameliorating some of these problems?
ED: Pete, I think it will help if we adopt more of a multilateralist approach, be it via the United Nations with these partnerships. I think this administration, for example, immediately after 9/11 rode very high in that huge coalition that they built against the Taliban. That has dissipated now. That reservoir of international support has dissipated. But I think that the more that we can opt for taking the lead in bringing countries and institutions together, that will help. But I must say we were struck, my group, by the three issues I mentioned. I think the reaction in the region will be, “Great, you’re doing that in the generic sense, but what’s really important to us is the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iraq, and political governance, our daily lives.” And so I think it will help, but I don’t think it will help that much in this part of the world.
PGP: In that part of the world.
PGP: Okay. It’s now 9:00. Let’s go to the questions. Yes, here.
Audience [Unknown]: I was chairman of the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy during the ’90s, for seven years. Nobody paid any attention to public diplomacy or our reports.
My question to you, Ambassador, is—
PGP: Can you speak up a little bit?
Audience: My question to you is, why not focus on the 80 percent rather than 20 percent? Why not say to the president that that’s part of his job, public diplomacy? The world is turning against us. He, in his other—in his American activities, they know how to mix politics and policy. Why can’t they mix politics and policy and take the responsibility, the 80 percent responsibility that you talk about, saying, “I have to do something about that that only I can do.”
With the democratization of information around the world, all the things the USIA [United States Information Agency] can do are relatively feeble, as you say by your 80/20 percent, compared to what he can do, his people can do once they take it really seriously and take it as part of their job, not the USIA’s job or what they call now—they don’t even call it public diplomacy, they call it the Committee on Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy. During the merger, it was primarily—
PGP: I think we have the thrust of your question. Go ahead, please.
ED: Well, the whole thrust of our report is to sensitize the administration that this has to come from the top. We ask for a—first of all, the special counselor to the president on public diplomacy. We ask for a presidential directive to go out to the whole administration basically putting public diplomacy up front as a major requirement of the administration in pursuit of our national security interests. It’s become a crucial part of it, especially given this surge in negative attitudes. We’re asking assistant secretaries of State and ambassadors to be rated on how effective they are in getting the word out as effectively as we did a turnaround in the Foreign Service. Years ago, businessmen would avoid American embassies to make deals in countries. That has changed. Embassies have become extremely instrumental in helping American exports and trade and investments. That cultural change took place in the Foreign Service because it came from the top and people were rated on their ability to promote trade. That same culture should be inculcated now in terms of public diplomacy. The thrust of our report addresses the issue that you just raised.
PGP: Ed, let me press you a little bit on that same area. You had a section of your report that compares in an interesting way the vast difference between the way we approach domestic economic and social programs and the way we approach foreign policy, which is related to his question. In the case of the domestic, we do a lot of research and we listen. It’s obvious that we change our programs at times, that they’re not too inconsistent with our values. In short, we change the product before we talk about how to market it.
Are there any analogies there in the formation of foreign policy? Which I think is the thrust of his question here—that here we form the policies, the public attitudes aspect is not part of the creation of the policy, and then, as Edward Murrow pronounced, you end up in a crash landing and then you say, “Now we need public diplomacy.”
PGP: So to what extent do you think perhaps our policies have to be reviewed at an earlier date to make them more consonant with what the various publics feel?
ED: Well, I think one of the—if public diplomacy is carried out effectively along the lines we recommend, in a strategic sense, what any administration’s getting is daily feedback on how the policy can play, how it can inform the formulation of policy in terms of how we should do things. And so it’s not a one-way street.
I think what we have to get away from is this concept that, you know, we decide and things are going to happen out there. We may—we should consider and plan and then try to measure how it’s going to play and then inform our policies. At the end of the day, any president is going to make a decision on what he considers to be the national security interests of the United States.
But there’s a big chapter in our report on measurement, in which we strongly urge the administration to start doing exactly what you said the private sector does in measuring, gauging, and if it’s not working, do something else.
PGP: Okay. Back here, please. Yeah. Oh, excuse—well, I was pointing to the gentleman on your right, but that’s all right. (Laughter.)
Audience: Bill Luers. Thank you, Pete. Ed, this is such an important report. We both experienced the Cold War, and the issues there, where the people we were dealing with were behind an Iron Curtain, they were literate, they were materialistic, they yearned for modernism. The message came out fairly simply: “We want to send you the message that you want to be free, culturally and politically, and you want free markets, to get better goods.”
If you were sitting next to the president of the United States and Pete were George Bush and you’re the newly appointed czar, how would you contrast the message that we want to send today to a very different audience than we were dealing with in the Cold War? How would you describe what the message is?
ED: It’s in the report that basically the content and context of the message to the Arab and the Muslim world, which was our mandate, is that we have a body of values and we have basic goals and objectives in our specific policies that will promote not only U.S. interests but will promote the interests of the peoples in the region as a whole. And we have to get more to the peoples of the region, and you’ll see in the report that there’s a great deal of reaching out at the high-school student levels and expanding our outreach considerably beyond the usual suspects—the elites of the country, government officials, et cetera.
But that this is a struggle, Mr. President, for ideas. There are extremist groups that are advocating ideas and policies that are very detrimental to U.S. national security interests. I would use the Casey Stengel principle of management; we’ve got to get to the mainstream that has not yet bought off on this, but that if we do not put into effect a much more strategic and coherent and effective outreach, we’re going to be losing this generational battle. And the administration realizes it’s generational. I mean, Condi Rice has mentioned this; others have mentioned this.
So that’s what I would be telling the president, and I would try to get his attention that this is an important part of his ability to successfully achieve his policy goals. We do not—we simply are not working out of a coherent strategic frame of reference in the way we’re dealing with this issue. It’s not there.
PGP: On this side. Yes, sir? Mr. Bleier, I believe it is. On the left.
Audience: I’m Edward Bleier. On that subject, how realistic do you think it is the administration will incorporate any of this in a political year?
ED: Well, the only hook we have is the congressional financial hook, which is what I mentioned, that the House Appropriations Committee said that they’re not going to appropriate any funds until the administration specifically reacted to our recommendations within, I think, 30 days of our report. So, in very blunt terms, I think that gives us some chance.
Now, many of these recommendations, I think the administration might deem worthwhile of adopting. Whether or not they adopt the major structural thing of a special counselor or that, I simply don’t know. I have no illusions about these things. You know, I’m with a think tank now, and I’m member of the Council on Foreign Relations. And many times we make recommendations that have not been adopted. And one of our joint efforts with the council and the Baker Institute, on Iraq, post-conflict Iraq, made the news recently again because we said certain things that, in retrospect, look pretty good; like not dismantling the Iraqi military after the war, et cetera.
So, I have no illusions about that. What I am basically saying, that there are certain things that can be done now, that I think they will pick and do some of it.
PGP: Yes, sir? This gentleman.
Audience: Mr. Ambassador, it was a good talk. My name is Roland Paul. I’m with the law firm of Abbey, Barnum and O’Mara. Some time ago, I was on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
You’ve indicated that about 80 percent of the problem is policy. And I’ve heard an Arab ambassador say if you—meaning the United States—solve the Israel-Palestinian issue, a lot of our problem with the Arab world would go away. So that’s all consistent and seems very credible.
It would be illuminating if you could tell us what the largest Muslim country thinks about us, which is very far removed from the Middle East. I’m thinking of Indonesia. Are they as much against us? With the little I know, they seem to be. And if so, why?
ED: Yeah, we had some very interesting talks with Indonesians, including some leading Islamists in Indonesia. And they are very—the attitudes are very negative also toward U.S. policies. And while the Arab-Israeli and the Iraq issues are not that pressing for them, they’re not that close to them, they look at the United States as being too arrogant and dictatorial in the manner in which it is addressing the issues. And their plea to us was to engage in a real dialogue. What we were struck with is you make this minimal effort—I mean, we come in and we go out in terms of our advisory group, but the manner in which they welcome the opportunity just to talk with Americans about these key issues, including Islam—including Islam and the compatibility of Islam in democracy, was the major issue that they wanted to discuss with us in Indonesia. So, I think we just have to reach out.
And it’s an interesting thing—I would like to mention, Pete, is that one thing we found is after 9/11, we necessarily are living in a world in which we have to secure ourselves, our personal safety, and especially of our government officials overseas. But what this has created is this contradiction between the need to get out and engage with people at all levels and to protect our people. So, we have a photo in the report of our beautiful new consulate general in Istanbul—(chuckles)—which we call—we dubbed it the Crusader Castle, because it’s on a hill, it’s 10 miles out from the center of town. I mean, how are you going to engage in public diplomacy in such edifices?
So, there is something new, and here’s where technology and a lot of creative thinking—this “American corners” concept, we support fully, which is basically you create, in urban centers and in the countryside, in local institutions, high-tech, Internet access, DVDs—you program, you put American libraries, translated texts, into those; you reach out to the people and you lower your security profile, because it’s not a permanently-staffed entity. So, there are innovative ways in which we can reach out to the people.
PGP: Let’s turn to this side of the room. Yes, sir?
Audience: Thank you. Fred Tipson, the Markle Foundation. I’m finding this discussion to be seemingly a little bit quaint. Help me with this contradiction. You say we’re not getting our message across to people, but it seems to me that people are getting the message about our values. What’s lacking here is credibility. We’re not convincing people that we’re implementing our values in their part of the world in ways that are acceptable to them. And we can listen all we want, but I think that’s the message I keep hearing from people in that part of the world. They don’t believe that what we’re doing in Israel, or Iraq or with their own governments is consistent with what we say our values are, and therefore, our credibility is shot.
Now, we can say that that’s a matter of public diplomacy and better communication, but I question whether that’s the right thrust for this report to take. And I haven’t done it justice; I haven’t read it thoroughly, but it seems to me it can be just one more palliative message to the president: If we spend a little more money and are a little more effective in our communications, we’ll address the problem. And I think that’s just not the right message to send the president of the United States.
ED: Well, that’s not the message we’re sending the president. The message we’re sending to the president, to the administration, is that there is exactly what you described. That’s what we heard constantly throughout the region. That’s exactly what we heard, and that’s the message we’re bringing back; that there is this strong perception of a gap between what we—what we stand for, in terms of our political, moral values and what we do. And therefore, that is a policy challenge. It’s not a PR challenge—that’s a policy challenge. And that is—if you read our report, you will see that that comes through.
There’s a very important chapter, I think it’s Chapter 2, on this whole issue, in which we—I thought maybe you read our report, because you were basically—(chuckles)—that’s what we say in the report. But what we’re saying very realistically is that policy is the major issue; that public diplomacy is that other part of the issue, the 20 percent that has to be done more effectively. That was our—we were not mandated to advise the administration on policy, and we had to be careful how we straddled that. But there’s no question that what I think anyone on high reading this would say is that the perception out there is that there’s a very serious gap about what we stand for and what we do. Now, that should be a bit of a wake-up call.
PGP: Okay. I want to be objective here. Yes, sir?
ED: Oh, don’t call on Utley. I’m in trouble. (Laughter.) Oh, my Lord.
Audience: I’m not objective, I’m a journalist. (Laughter.) Garrick Utley.
ED: Be careful, this is on the record. I know you’re not used to that, but—(laughs).
Garrick Utley: I want to follow up on the line of questioning about the 80/20 in the Middle East and ask you, not as the director or the head of this commission and this report, which is certainly timely and important, but as a former ambassador to Syria, as a former ambassador to Israel, as a senior State Department official responsible for the Middle East situation. Viewed from that perspective, do you think any of this can really be effective as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues as it is—and it’s getting worse day by day—and as long as the perceptions of our policy, or realistic assessment of that policy, in the Arab-Islamic community is what it is? So if you can put your old hat on.
ED: I’ll put my old hat on in trying to answer your question. Again, the Arab-Israeli issue is the major prism through which most people in the Arab world, especially, view the United States, its policies and what it stands for. There’s no question about that. That message was very clear. But I would answer that that Iraq is becoming a very important issue, up there. And the third issue, let’s not forget the third issue, political governance. I think it’s not just the Arab-Israeli conflict, it’s the three.
So I think the only credible and honest answer I can give you is that these are the three major issues; these are the three issues we must address in our policies; these are the three issues we have to address concomitantly in our public diplomacy.
And yes, if there was an Arab-Israeli settlement, if Iraq starts going toward stability and some form of representative government, and that if the Untied States is seen as, in a very intelligent way, helping and aiding and promoting broadened political participating and economic performance, we will be sitting pretty. But that’s policy, and it would help a great deal, there’s no question. But I would just say that it’s not just Arab-Israeli, it’s the other two, also.
PGP: All right, let’s move to this part of the room. Yes, the young lady here, please.
Audience: Thank you. Nina Rosenwald, American Security. Mr. Ambassador, how much is this plea, “You don’t listen,” really a diplomatic euphemism for “You don’t do what we want”? I mean, at a certain point we’ll dialogue and listen and then say, “Very well, but we’d still like your flight manifests,” and then we’ll be back to square one. Also, who is this “we”? Because, for example, if you say, gee, we’ll be doing fine in Iraq, that will antagonize all the tyrannies, what Mr. Peterson called the malignant tyrannies, who want us to fail because it’s a mortal threat to them if we succeed in Iraq. Thank you. Whew. (Laughter.)
ED: I’m glad you got that question off your chest. (Laughs, laughter.)
Well, we went—our group went into this with no illusions—that basically we are advising the administration and Congress on what we should be doing in our public diplomacy. We did not advocate in my group that we should be changing policies per se that are in a pursuit of our national security interests just to get higher poll ratings and favorable ratings. So we didn’t fall into that trap, which I think is a trap people fall into. You want to be loved? Well, change your policies. It’s not that simple. Any administration is going to pursue its national security interests with policies. What we’re saying is that when you listen in the beginning, when you try to understand where the other side is coming, it’s the Martin Buber “I/Thou” relationship—you then can inform your policies. You may make exactly the same decisions that you would beforehand, but at least you have a body of evidence, you have a body of knowledge that can help craft more coherent and intelligent policies. And if you ignore what you’re hearing, at least you go into the situation with your eyes open, knowing that that’s going to have an adverse impact on attitudes, whatever.
So, again, listening intelligently, what I call fluent listening; we don’t do that enough. Trying to understand. Informing your audience, engaging your audience, and then trying to influence your audience in the pursuit of America’s national security interests is the name of the game. I think that’s a very intelligent approach. That is really the sum and substance of what we’re sensitizing the president on down to. And I think that we, as Americans, would be better off if we establish a policy like that.
PGP: Okay, from over here. Thank you.
Audience: Dick Garwin, Council on Foreign Relations. It seems to me there’s not so much a difference between our foreign policy and our domestic activities. This particular administration has ideals and programs, and they advance them in different guises, whatever will help to get votes or support.
Now, the point is, I think, in the foreign policy and the public diplomacy, to make the point that we will fail unless we improve the understanding and the support. There’s very little somebody abroad can say in support of United States’ actions, in support of United States’ arguments that we make in a fairly inconsistent fashion.
So, have you made the point that it’s not a matter of listening to polls. Our president has said, properly, he doesn’t listen to polls; he does what’s right. But it’s a matter of advancing our goals, and can you make the connection between the results of these polls and the lack of support for our policies in the Muslim world, and our inability to advance our policies?
ED: Yes, I think it’s inextricably linked. I mean, the formulation of policy, the execution of policy, the manner in which you express that policy, the manner in which you try to influence people as to your policies, it’s all part of the whole fabric. And that’s why we’re saying this has to be brought up to a level of decision-making; it has to become part of the policy formulation process and the decision-making process where it’s a two-way street. That is where an effective public information and communications program comes in. I hate this word public diplomacy; it’s an oxymoron. But basically, it’s public information and communications. And if we can reach that level of intelligence where we’re able to do this more effectively, as we recommend in this report, we’ll be better off.
And you can’t be totally poll-driven. We had a wonderful anecdote. An Iraqi dies and he goes to Paradise. And the angel asks him—he said, “What is the latest, most important text you’ve read—book you’ve read?” He said, “I read all the teachings of Saddam Hussein.” And the angel is very disturbed by this and he says, “Do you know where you’re at?” He said, “Yes.” So the angel goes and talks to Allah and he says, “What am I going to do with this fellow?” He says, “Go back and ask—tell him who I am and tell him why he hasn’t read the Koran.”
So the angel goes back and says—(chuckles)—you know, “You’re going to enter Paradise, maybe. Why haven’t you read the Koran?”
And the Iraqi looks at him and said, “Oh, my God, I didn’t know who was asking the question.” (Laughter.)
I mean, that’s the whole point. You know, who’s asking the question? I mean, in a lot of these polls, you know, you have to take—you can’t take all these polls totally—but they are very good indicators of attitudes. And with some skepticism, I think, we can approach them.
But my answer to your question is that it’s inexorably linked.
PGP: Yes, sir? That gentleman.
Audience: I am Kenneth Bialkin. Our chairman asked you a very intelligent question at the very beginning, which was rhetorical, but I’d like to return to it. And the question was, why should we really care about what they think of us? When we look at who they are, they approve of our policies, they like our principles, but not a single one of them agrees with it or acts under it. And the public opinion which forms their society hardly is conducive to the kind of objectivity that we’re trying to bring to the world.
So my question is, to you, if the price of making them like us better—where I think we might be doing something right—if the price of making them like us better is to alter our policies, the 80 percent, the substantive issues upon which the fabric of our government and the policies we follow are established, I don’t think you’re advocating that we should change our policies to make some of these people like us better. Are you?
ED: Absolutely not, and that’s what I—I just recently commented, in one of the questions, that is not the approach of this group. Far from it. We do not advocate that we have to change our policies in order to be better liked or loved. That—if you read this report, you will see that that is not the context in which we operated on. The context with which we operated on is that a president, any administration will determine what the best policies are in the pursuit of U.S. national interests. Public diplomacy has to be a very effective arm in reaching out.
So we did not take that approach, and I would never take that approach.
PGP: I wonder, Ed, if at least a feeling we had in our task force you agree with or disagree with. We took our handling of the Kyoto agreement as an example. Now on Kenny’s point, let us assume that we think the Kyoto agreement is fatally flawed and therefore it’s not in the interest of the United States to support it.
PGP: I suppose there’s an alternate approach to the way we handled it. We came out and said we disagree with the Kyoto agreement. But if we have listened more, which was your first point, we might have said there are a lot of people out there who believe global warming is indeed a silent, slow-motion but a very important crisis. If we disagree with Kyoto, why don’t we at least show empathy for the problem and then indicate what the flaws might be and then talk about what we think should be done about global warming?
So, Kenny, that isn’t exactly changing your policy, but it is responding to an understandable concern on the part of those publics. You may not agree with that either.
ED: No, I agree with it.
ED: This is what you’ll read in the report, but we agree exactly with that approach, because one way public diplomacy can be very effective is it can inform the formulation of public policy, not in a ex cathedra “you’ve got to change your policies to be liked,” but you go into it more intelligently. And—and that’s—that’s a two-way street.
And by the way, many of the—some of the recommendations here that we couldn’t get into, this two-way street is very important. We here, we advocate here American studies programs and universities, we support AUB-AUC, [American University Beirut, American University Cairo] all these great institutions that have been out there. But we think that we have to do more here in the United States in terms of having Arabic, Muslim study centers so we can understand, the American people can understand this very important part of the world—1.5 billion people—better. And we also advocate the establishment of a U.S. Muslim center of understanding, which we think would be a very important institution that could help in this respect.
PGP: Okay, I think we have time for one more. Why don’t we pick somebody in the middle here. Yes, sir.
Audience: Herbert Levin. When this subject has come up here before, individuals pointed out a number of more modest components of the problem. We had a fellow here who—from the State Department who said that when she was at Istanbul, for example, if she wanted to go downtown for dinner with intellectuals—she was a Turkish language officer—she couldn’t use an official car because her private car had been shipped out. She said if you leave your private car downtown it isn’t going to be there when you come out—a lot of regulations of that sort: the absence of language training, no one should to that part of the world unless they’ve had a year to two years of Arabic—and that there’s been a whittling away of the tools for which to carry out the better-coordinated policies that you’re dealing with. How much emphasis do you put on the absence of the tools for what you don’t like to call public diplomacy?
ED: (Laughs.) There are specific recommendations on several of the issues you’ve just described, especially how to take care of the security issue, which—I’ve mentioned the American corners. We have many recommendations along those lines, which I think the administration is going to take seriously. I think those are parts of the report that I anticipate will probably be carried out. In terms of language training, to put it in the groove a little bit more, we were told—we sort of dug into this. And there’s a paucity of qualified American Foreign Service officers who speak the languages of the region: Arabic, Farsi, Pashtu, Bahasa, Indonesian, Urdu, et cetera. And we looked into it and came out equally, I think, on our financial analysis of the resources that go to this part of the world.
We have about 279 Arabic speakers in the Foreign Service. We parse that down to about 56 who have a level of fluency. We then looked at that. And we asked a question: how many Foreign Service officers could a Secretary of State, an Assistant Secretary, an Ambassador say, “I want you to appear on Al-Jazeera tonight. They’re saying some horrible things about us, and I want you to get into the debate”? (Pause.) Five. Five! I mean, that’s appalling. So what we’re recommending is a major—we should stop deceiving ourselves—a major restructuring of language and cultural and regional expertise and training, that people have to come to a fluency level, you have to build a core, and we have the specific numbers to be trained in Arabic within two years and by 2008.
PGP: And I don’t know if that’s a high note, but—(laughter)—I think it’s a note that we can end on. Thank you very much.
ED: Thank you. (Applause.)
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