Judith A. McHale, undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs at the U.S. Department of State, discusses the importance of harnessing new technologies to increase the dialogue with more people in more places in order to improve U.S. public diplomacy efforts.
MODERATOR: Good morning. If I could get your attention, please, and welcome to our discussion today. We're very lucky to have with us Judith McHale, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, a terrific job, and she's done a terrific job at it, in my opinion. And I think after her presentation, I hope you'll agree with me.
She's been in the position for two years now. Before joining the State Department, she was chief executive officer and president of Discovery Communication(s), where she worked for 20 years. During her tenure at the State Department, I think she's worked very, very hard to make sure that public diplomacy is not just a thing that's done afterwards, but is part and parcel of the decision-making process so people can take into account the opinions and thoughts of individuals and elites and thought leaders around the world, rather than just operating government-to-government. There's nothing that has brought that and need for that more -- home more importantly than the Arab Spring. Judith did have an opportunity to go to Tunisia. She's going to discuss that with us.
Just a couple of housekeeping matters. I think you all know this, but we'll repeat them. Please turn off all your electronic devices. Make them completely silent and off so it doesn't interfere with the sound system. And this meeting is on the record. And after Judith's opening remarks, she and I will talk for a few minutes and then open it up to questions.
JUDITH MCHALE: Thank you, Jamie (sp). I'm delighted to be here with you all this morning to talk about something that I care quite passionately about. Jamie and I and my colleagues at the table were just talking about how much is going on and really the importance of public diplomacy and how the world has changed. So I'm going to open this with a few remarks, but we really want this to be a conversation and discussion with all of you and an opportunity to answer any questions or frankly take any suggestions you might have for us moving forward in this very complicated world.
So I think I'd start off by saying that to say we live in a changing world is either the greatest understatement of our time or the most frequently made statement by public officials today. Both may be true. But in the context of public diplomacy, it cannot be stated enough. We live in a changed and changing world. We inhabit a moment of uncertainty and possibility that allows for and requires entirely new ways of thinking.
In January 2010, seven months after I assumed my position, Bono shared 10 ideas to kick off the new decade on the op-ed page of The New York Times. One of the accompanying graphics really stood out for me.
For most of human history, power has been held by the privileged few sitting atop of an ever-widening base of people in a pyramid of systematic social control. In Bono's conception, and that of The New York Times art department, that pyramid has been upended. Wide tiers of people, their arms raised in active participation, narrowed to a point and together bear into the back of a strongman straining to hold up under the weight of the empowered masses.
Eighteen months later, in the midst of the Arab Spring and with all the events happening in Egypt, the idea of a pyramid turned on its head is an even more fitting metaphor. In a world where power and influence truly belongs to the many, we must engage with more people in more places. That is the essential truth of public diplomacy in the Internet age.
But it is not just a diffusion of power that necessitates greater engagement. The landscape of actors looking to influence that power has broadened as well. In years past, we were content to wait for the world to come to us. We expected that they would. And when we were the most attractive option, perhaps they did.
Not anymore. Today, we must contend with an increasingly savvy and motivated set of influencers on a global stage, each armed with a vast array of affordable, adaptable tools to spread their message. Powers such as China, Brazil and Iran are flexing their economic and political muscle and establishing their own networks of cultural centers and language instruction around the world.
We also have to counter lone extremists who pump their ideas into circulation as easily as legitimate actors. These new challenges force us to ask, how do we stand out and respond in such a crowded and complex environment? Our ample -- our answer is simple: by taking our public diplomacy into the marketplace of ideas.
The pyramid of power flipped because people all around the world are clamoring to be heard and demanding to shape their own futures. They are having important conversations right now in chatrooms, in classrooms and boardrooms, and they aren't waiting for us. If we want to be part of the deliberations, we must go to them. We must be out there in as many ways as possible and at every hour of every day. So that's what we have worked to do, starting with President Obama and Secretary Clinton and extending out through every officer at our embassies.
Being in the marketplace of ideas means using the same venues and platforms that communities and activists use. So we have worked to find the important conversations and respectfully add our voice to proactively engage with global media and push back against inaccurate information, to tell our own story where others are telling stories about us. In all things, we have instructed and empowered our officers to pursue their work through the lens of a consumer.
For many years, we looked at foreign publics through a political or an economic lens. We aimed for the top of the pyramid: for political, military and labor leaders and the economic elite, which means we missed the young, the unaffiliated, the unemployed and anyone else who didn't fit neatly into one of those boxes. We missed some of the very people who are driving the change we see all around us.
The inverted pyramid makes integrating a consideration of the attitudes and opinions of foreign publics an essential component of the foreign policy decision-making process in the 21st century. Policymaking and public diplomacy were at one time seen as separate and far from equal disciplines of our foreign policy apparatus, and the organization was structured accordingly. For years, that undercut our outcomes from the start.
The great newsman and first head of the U.S. Information Agency, Edward R. Murrow, in a moment of frustration, best illustrated this point. After being asked to put a positive spin on the Bay of Pigs crisis, Murrow fumed, "If they want me in on the crash landings, I better damn well be in on the takeoffs." For the past two years, ensuring public diplomacy is there at the takeoffs has been one of our guiding principles.
We have brought public diplomacy perspectives in at the highest levels and emphasized innovation in the field to support our foreign policy objectives. We have worked aggressively to reform the structures and processes of the State Department to enable better outcomes.
Recent events in Tunisia illustrate why this approach is so critical today. Only months ago, the set of actors who mattered in Tunisia was extremely limited. Whether in business or politics, a small group held the keys to power. Broader outreach was virtually impossible and our embassy and programs were largely designed to operate effectively in that world.
Then, in a matter of weeks, this system turned on its head. Where a small set of voices once determined the direction of the country, 11 million proud Tunisians now eagerly participate in shaping their future, from elections to education to economic development. More importantly, for the first time, they are able to access the information and tools they need to do so.
Tunisians are forming political parties and strengthening their civil society. They are expanding freedom of expression and bolstering education and job skills training. They are sparking business growth and job creation. And we stand ready to aid these efforts, if the Tunisian people ask for our support.
To help Tunisians seize this tremendous opportunity and ensure its successful transition to democracy, we need to radically alter our model for engagement. We need to go far beyond government ministries to engage deeply and broadly across Tunisian society.
The upended pyramid requires a fundamental reorientation of our diplomacy. Just as Tunisia ignited a wider trend in the Middle East, it is a bellwether of what is happening globally. Citizens around the world are increasingly driving political, social and economic trends, and we must adapt.
In this rapidly evolving landscape, as we seek to advance our foreign policy and enhance the security and prosperity of our world, our approach must have public diplomacy and the citizens it seeks to engage at its core.
Thank you very much. Jamie (sp)? (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Thank you, Judith, and thanks for laying that out for us. Perhaps you could start by giving us a little more detail on Tunisia, since it really was the start of so much that happened and really is kind of a laboratory, really, for the idea of citizens' involvement in politics.
MCHALE: Well, I think you're right. I think it sort of -- we've been talking about this and talking about the changes, but certainly what happened in Tunisia and Egypt and throughout the Middle East clearly demonstrates the need for us to do things differently.
And so what we've decided to do in Tunisia is to take a different approach and, if you will, model a new approach to diplomacy, to public diplomacy.
So about six or seven weeks ago I was out -- I led a group out to Tunisia and we met with -- we started off -- our purpose there was not to go out and say, here's what we think you need. It was more a question of meeting with people, listening to them and letting them sort of really drive the agenda.
So we met with -- I met with about 65 activists for six hours. It was a very, very vocal meeting. I describe what's going on in Tunisia as an atmosphere of cautious euphoria. People are incredibly excited about what they've done and proud of their revolution -- which they should be -- but at the same time, quite cautious about the future and concerned about the direction.
So we listened to them. We told them things that we were doing, but we really wanted to listen to them to find out what they needed. And so what -- and also to put ourselves in a position to respond rapidly to what they needed. And they sort of self-divided into groups, and they came up with four critical areas: democracy and elections, education, economic development and media.
And so we have been working with activists from each of those groups. We sent out a search team from the State Department because our embassy was not configured to operate in this new world. I mean, they simply were not. They were set up to manage a very close relationship with one individual with whom they would engage when he wanted to engage.
And so we found we were under-resourced and not really prepared. So we sent out a search team to spread out across the country to meet with people all across Tunisia to find out what they need. And then for us to act, if you will, as a catalyst or convener to connect activists there, business people there with their counterparts in the United States to provide them with things they want.
So one example: For example, in the area of media, we met -- I met with some of the social-media leaders who had led the revolution as well as traditional media. And the tension between those two groups, as you can well imagine, is enormous, because the traditional media were, of course, propagandists for the Ben Ali regime.
And so there's huge tension between the two groups, but each of them acknowledging that they didn't have the skills for really operating in this new environment. How do you question a politician who's running? I mean, they've never had free and open elections.
And so we've connected them with political journalists around the world using -- bringing some people there but also bringing -- using technology to connect them so that they can speak to their counterparts, their professional counterparts, whether they come from throughout other places in the Middle East or Europe or Eastern Europe.
They had a great desire to speak to journalists in Poland and elsewhere, Pakistan. How do you deal with that situation, connecting with young journalists in Pakistan? And I -- and we're making progress on that.
So the whole approach is, listen. What is it they need? How can we support their efforts, acknowledge that this is their revolution and help them sort of move forward?
MODERATOR: The Middle East tradition of diplomacy in the Middle East, the U.S. State Department -- there have been various criticisms of, you know, the State Department's, first, bias toward the Arabs, then maybe the other way. But one of the patterns has been dealing directly with governments.
MODERATOR: And the individuals who work there make their careers out of getting to know individuals in those elites. If you, having seen now when, you know, change comes to the State Department, was this a particularly serious culture clash?
MCHALE: I think it's not just the State Department; I think it's governments all over the world. They're trying to figure out how to deal in this new reality. So I don't know whether "culture clash" is the right word. I would think that people were -- they're trying to figure it out: How do we operate in this new world?
You have hundreds of years of tradition, of sort of diplomacy being quiet discussion in closed rooms, you know, amongst a limited group of individuals. And now, really -- before I took this job, I talked to -- was talking with both President Obama and with Secretary Clinton. And the challenge -- you know, my mission is, told to me by both of them, was, you need to go out, engage with 6.9 billion people. So how do you do that when you really understand if you can't do it?
So you know, the department, I think, has come a long way. I think that I'm incredibly proud of what we've been able to achieve. But there is still concern because at the same time, the stakes are very high. You're saying to people, go out and engage with a broad group of people, but you're representing the government of the United States, and you're fighting a long, historic tendency of "keep it close, keep it quiet."
I think if you have my job, you couldn't have better top-of-team than the president -- Obama -- and Secretary Clinton because both of them understand it, and both of them are willing to go out and engage. And certainly, as Secretary Clinton has traveled around throughout the Middle East and elsewhere, she's gone out and met with students in Pakistan -- she was -- in meetings. And what we -- the feedback we get is incredibly positive about that approach.
We will always have disagreements on policy. I think that -- you -- that will always be the case; that's fundamentally part of human nature. But going out and having those kinds of difficult discussions and being willing to sort of entertain those discussions and take the tough questions, we actually get some credit for that. And we've heard students at the end of some of her sessions come up and say, wow, nobody in my government's ever done that.
MCHALE: And I think that we're beginning by our actions and by our deeds, beginning to sort of show a different way.
MODERATOR: Unfortunately, one of the ways the world has to measure attitudes towards the United States is this great tool called polls. And we all who've been involved in polling know that, you know, they're not always perfect, depends on how you ask the question.
But certainly, there is some new polling data from Pew about attitudes towards the United States in some of these crucial countries, really, over the past couple of years. And it hasn't been increased, and some cases, rather dramatically dropping.
Could you give us a flavor of how important do you think that data is, how realistic are these polls, how hard it is to be battling just to keep things the same? Is that a realistic way of looking at U.S. foreign policy, by asking people in Pakistan their attitude towards the United States?
MCHALE: I think it's one tool --
MCHALE: -- that we have for looking. And I think you have to be very careful to just focus on one aspect of it. And I don't just say that; I obviously am well aware of the situation that we're dealing with in Pakistan, if you want to use that as an example. And you know, in the understatement of the morning, that's a very complicated environment in which we are operating.
But you have to -- you can't be myopically focused on that one number; you have to look across a broad (spectrum of ?) factors. And if you look at Pakistan, for example, what we do is, yes, we look at the polling data for the United States, and of course we have to interpret that and figure out what we can do about it. But you also have to look at it in the broader context. And if you look at polling data on Pakistan, for example, in the entire world it has the lowest national self-esteem in terms of --
MODERATOR: About themselves.
MCHALE: About themselves, of their ability to impact their future -- lowest in the world. And I think that says a lot about that country, and I think it's -- and the struggle that they are truly going through. And so you have to look at it in this -- we tend to look just at ourselves. But if you start to look at it in a broader spectrum, I think that's a better way of looking at it.
Having said that, countries like Pakistan and elsewhere where we continue to have low favorability ratings, a couple of things -- first off, these are -- Pakistan and these countries are critical partners for us in a number of ways. And so you can't just disengage because you don't like the numbers. You have to continue to find ways of going forward.
And, indeed, in Pakistan, we have seen, over the past two years, times where those numbers went up. The strategic dialogue that Ambassador Holbrooke had launched had a very positive impact of it and you could see the approval rating in Pakistan was hovering around 24 to 30 percent at moments in time. And then there were intervening incidents which we all know about, which, unfortunately, would have it -- drive it the other way.
So I actually believe what we are doing is the right thing to do and we must continue to do it. The wrong thing would be to sort of become so discouraged that you pull back from trying to engage with the people of Pakistan or elsewhere, because only by continuing to engage, by continuing to find those areas where we can agree on and things that we can move forward, I believe that's the path for going forward. Hopefully, we can reverse some of those trends and hopefully have a basis for discussions and dialogue on the things that we can agree upon.
Throughout the Middle East, for example, notwithstanding some of those numbers, you still see a great desire and willingness on the part of broad cross-sections of society, deep into those societies, to engage with us on science, on technology, on entrepreneurship. So the administration's path forward has been to identify those areas, focus on those and keep moving forward.
MODERATOR: During -- allow me a small personal anecdote because I worked in this sphere during the Clinton administration. And I remember we used to occasionally do these satellite interviews with foreign journalists from one embassy. And before you got -- did the interview, the U.S. -- then-USIA officer would tell you, OK, here are the nine guys who are in this group: Six of them are controlled by the government; the seventh is an anti-imperialist guy, there's nothing you can do about it; and the eighth guy is owned by the Saudis; and maybe, just maybe, the ninth and 10th guy you could persuade if you do a really good job.
How much has that changed?
MCHALE: Well, I --
MODERATOR: That was 20 -- 12 years ago.
MCHALE: Well, I think probably what you're going to see now is -- to some degree, you're going to have the same kind of analysis because you have to understand where people are coming from. The biggest change, probably, is you have a much broader -- much bigger field of actors in it because you have to engage with social media. In every country in the world, to greater or lesser degrees, the social media activists, just as we're seeing in this country, are increasingly playing a role.
And so it's -- again, it's more complicated now. You have to go in; you have to do influence mapping within a particular country -- frankly, within a particular city -- to understand. You might see, be reading about one particular blogger, for example, in Egypt and think that was the most influential person. But you can't stop there. It's like peeling an onion: You've got to go, well, who is it that he or she is influencing? And are those people I want to reach?
I mean, it's the classic sort of pebble in the pond. Now, you have to be very careful where you throw those pebbles and be sure that they are -- the circles that you're trying to reach go out. So it's very complicated.
I should think that would be the biggest change: It's the size and complexity of that cast of characters that you have to interact with.
MODERATOR: When you have a President Obama and a Hillary Clinton, who have brought, let's say, personal popularity to their jobs and the field -- and you've measured that -- some critics would say that that's all fine and good, but the key is what influence they end up having on the governments that we're trying to, let's say, get a Security Council resolution passed by.
And have you seen -- can you give examples of where this sort of triangle plays out: the popularity of the United States or an individual secretary of state vis-a-vis a public, and how it might influence back through the government's decisions and, let's say, a Security Council resolution, which would be one example of where you would try to bring this home?
MCHALE: Sure. I think you're absolutely right. And in some cases it works; in some cases, obviously, it doesn't. And it depends on how it is. But we're very lucky in both President Obama and Secretary Clinton are well-respected in most countries. I mean, it goes up and down, as it does everywhere. And so -- and I think that's well understood by the governments. And so you can find -- you know, just, again, it varies from country to country.
And so we are able -- I believe we've been able to successfully leverage that in discussions with others, where government leaders want to be associated with them in the eyes of their publics.
MCHALE: That's very important to do it. So you will find, not surprisingly -- from your former position, you won't be surprised to hear this -- that the competition to get a meeting and a picture with President Obama --
MODERATOR: Quite high.
MCHALE: Is quite high. Absolutely. And I think that that's a good thing for us. That helps us drive it forward, particularly -- both President Obama and Secretary Clinton resonate with young people. And in a world where 65 percent of the population is under the age of 30, that's a good thing. And how you can continue to do that, I think, you know, works to our advantage.
MODERATOR: When they went out in Tunisia and did this discussion, did you learn anything about -- I mean, it seems you might have learned something about attitudes towards the United States from those individual Tunisians who didn't come from a country that was naturally anti-American or anything like that.
Did you sort of gather up that stuff? What did you conclude from it?
MCHALE: Well, I think that -- and I met with a pretty broad cross-section. You found -- I found -- and the circumstances there are somewhat unique at the moment because of the transition they're going through. Things -- the sort of themes that I would take away from it were, one, they're incredibly proud of their revolution. And it is their revolution and they want that well understood, as they should be, right?
And so they don't want anyone to come in and take it over. And so I think, not just with regard to the United States, but with other countries, they're concerned about that being understood and respected.
You find, as you do throughout the Middle East, that particularly -- again, I found with a lot of young people deep skepticism and concern about some of our policies in the Middle East. And that's going to continue.
Notwithstanding that, they are -- I think that this isn't -- these transitions, in both Tunisia and Egypt, are allowing us to participate in those conversations and discussions with them in new ways. It's just a more open society. And we believe that by continuing to do that, by respectfully participating in those conversations, listening, debating, taking the tough conversations, we can move forward.
So I had one example at the meeting that I was talking about at lunch. A young woman came up to me -- a student came up to me and she said, you know, I just have to tell you that -- I'm embarrassed to say this but my friend -- some of my friends told me if I came to meet with you, I would be a traitor; I would have betrayed my country by doing it. And she goes, I have to tell you: I hate America. I hate everything that you're doing. But I wanted to come and listen.
And so she -- she said, I'm embarrassed to say this. So I said, you don't have to be embarrassed to say it! Let's talk about it. And so we spent lunch talking about what her concerns were. And it was a broad range of concerns and I think we've all -- (chuckles) -- heard many of the concerns. But we talked about it. And at the end of the day, she came up to me and she said, well, I still don't like some of the things you're saying, but I like you. And I like the fact that the U.S. government is here talking to me.
And I thought that was a good thing.
MCHALE: Yeah, it's progress. One person at --
MODERATOR: One last question before we open it to the floor. When you came in after, let's call it eight years of the previous administration, there was a lot of focus on strategic communications in the Pentagon. And we heard a lot, we saw a lot of all these stories about the various things that they were doing that people either liked or disliked.
How has that relationship worked? And have you been able to sort of bring that role, that mission, let's call it, in the foreign policy sphere away from the Pentagon?
MCHALE: You know, it's very -- first off, the relationship, I think, has been extremely good. It always starts from the top and the relationship between Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates --
MODERATOR: Famously good.
MCHALE: Is really good.
MCHALE: And Secretary Gates, from the beginning, has said, look at the -- State Department is under-resourced. He hasn't transferred the money yet, but he has said that.
MODERATOR: It'll come.
MCHALE: But in the area that you are talking about specifically -- to give everyone the orders of magnitude -- at the beginning of the Bush administration, the strategic communications budget for the Defense Department was roughly 50, $60 million. By the end of it, it was close to a billion (dollars). So over eight years, you had $900 million increase -- something like 6,600 percent increase in funding in that area.
And there are many things that fall into that bucket. And part of that shift and increase goes to a change in philosophy -- defense philosophy or military philosophy of the 21st century, which is -- their view is that today, if you are -- the way they perceive is that you must influence civilian populations in a field of battle.
We saw that -- that was obviously General Petraeus' -- one of his driving principles. And that's what we pursued in Iraq, and we're doing it in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
If you subscribe to the theory that we are engaged, or potentially engaged, in a global war on terror -- call it that; whatever -- or in today's world any country or part of the world is or could become a field of battle, that means all over the world. To get ready for that, you need to be engaging the civilian population. So that's sort of what's driving it.
Having said that, we are in -- I think that, you know, we are in conversations to say in areas of the world where we are not currently engaged in combat -- Afghanistan and Iraq being somewhat different -- it is better for that -- those discussions to be led by the civilian side. And so we are trying to -- we call it rebalance, rebalancing or whatever word you want to use. And in this fiscal situation that we're in, I'm not optimistic about our ability to do that, so we have to find ways of working together. And that's what we've been really trying to concentrate on: How do we actually --
MODERATOR: "In this fiscal" meaning you'll never get the money to match that?
MCHALE: Yeah. Yeah. You're right. And from his perspective, he's basically said, you know, we're here; they're there; they should be here.
MCHALE: Not we should be -- you know, they should be there. He doesn't want to reverse it.
MCHALE: And so we won't be able to do that. And I think that -- so I think that the best path forward is to find ways that we can work together; identify in countries or regions of the world, be it Africa or, frankly, Latin America, or the areas where we're currently engaged; and how the discussion about should the civilian side take the lead on it or the Defense Department, and then figure out ways of working together. And that's what we're trying to do.
MODERATOR: Terrific. Well, let's go to questions. Please identify yourself, and wait for the microphone. Over there, please -- Warren. I've half-identified you. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: Warren Hoge, International Peace Institute. Judith McHale, public diplomacy is somewhat by its nature a national undertaking. You're talking about American views, American attitudes, American values, American solutions. But in other areas of foreign policy, we're going much more multilateral. And so my question is, is there a multilateral approach to public diplomacy? Do we adopt it? Are there other nations that we operate with? We put together coalitions for military campaigns; do we put together coalitions for public diplomacy?
MCHALE: Thank you. That's a great question. And the answer is, yes, we do, because I agree with you that we can and should, where appropriate, adopt a multilateral approach in public diplomacy. And so the kinds of things that we're doing -- for example, to go back to Tunisia, it's not us just bringing American journalists to Tunisia. We're reaching out to our counterparts in Western Europe and Latin America and elsewhere to help find French journalists, for example, where we will help bring them, we'll work together to do it.
I was recently in a conversation with my counterpart from Brazil. And what we're doing is putting together a program, music, both of us bringing music, working together, young Brazilians, young Americans, and bringing them to Mozambique. So you have, in fact, in that case, a sort of true multi -- working with the government of Mozambique, the government of Brazil, the government of the United States, to bring them together. And I think that the -- you know, and throughout Asia and elsewhere, we're looking for those opportunities, because I think that the messages that you convey and the partnerships you build along that way are stronger and better. And so, yes, we're very much trying to look for as many ways to do that as we can.
MODERATOR: Yes, one more on this table. Yes, please. Please identify yourself.
QUESTIONER: Hi, there. Jay Lemery, from the Weill Cornell Medical College. Working in medical academia, there's a lot of buzz about white-coat diplomacy and the potential of medicine. And I'm just wondering how -- to what degree is medicine on your radar as a tool for public diplomacy?
MCHALE: Again, very important part of what we -- what we are trying to do, because I agree -- you know, earlier I said even in countries where we're having a very, very difficult environment to operate -- whether it's Pakistan or throughout the Middle East, medicine, again, is one where we find can help us very much move forward and present a different view of the United States, a broader view of the United States to those people that we're interacting with. And too frequently, unfortunately, in today's world, you know, our face to the world has become our military face, and so we're looking for ways to expand that, and certainly, medicine is one of those ways. And we can go into areas that we might not be able to get in elsewhere.
And so it's a key part of it. Sometimes we find -- I know one of our public affairs officers from Saudi Arabia -- actually, Walter Douglas -- was telling me that he was trying to figure out how to engage with Saudi women in a way -- in a very difficult environment.
And it was focused on breast cancer. And he was able to create a breast-cancer awareness campaign in Saudi Arabia, again, allowing us to expand our base of engagement in Pakistan looking at telemedicine up into using technology to help us get to rural -- to tribal areas, which are very difficult. You have Pakistani doctors who are working with American doctors, using technology to both diagnose and treat individuals in remote areas. So it's a very important part of what we're trying to do.
MODERATOR: Yes, over there, please.
QUESTIONER: (Clears her throat.) Excuse me. Good morning. Thanks for coming today. My name is Mande Holford. I'm at City University of New York and the American Museum of Natural History.
I just had a general question about public diplomacy. How would you define it in terms of your strategic aims and the tools that you use? And do you think they're similar to the other unconventional diplomacies being discussed now, such as the medical diplomacy and science diplomacy and public innovation, or do you think they all fall under the same category?
MCHALE: Well, the way we define public diplomacy is basically our efforts to strengthen and expand the relationships between the government and people of the United States and people around the world.
So it's the people-to-people component of diplomacy, which is why engaging a broad cross-section of the American public is critically important in that. It is by building those very strong relationships, people -- person to person, that we feel provides the sort of foundation for moving forward.
So let me give you some examples. We are now using -- the most effective tool of public diplomacy is probably personal exchanges. Bringing a person to the United States transforms them, and by the way, it also informs the United States about that individual's country. So it works both ways.
Bringing an American overseas allows people -- you know, a professor, a medical professor meeting with his colleagues or meeting with medical students in Uganda -- that helps cement those relationships, because you have it. So we're using technology to do that.
One of the things I'm really excited about is we are increasingly using technology to connect schools, high schools. So you have high schools here connecting with high schools in different countries.
And I was in Boston last year and I went to a session where we connected a group of American high-school students with a group of high-school students in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. And I thought, this is going to be really a great experience where they get to know each other. And these kids had met by Skype once before.
And so I'm sitting there thinking, this is great, everybody gets to know and like each other. And the kids from Jalalabad go, OK, I get to ask the first question this week. And the kid goes, OK, so how would you feel if American troops came in in the middle of the night, knocked down the door with guns, came in, dragged you out of your bed?
And I'm going, like, this is a really bad idea. (Laughter.) This is not going to work. But I will tell you that the American kids were fantastic, and they were able to engage in that conversation and went, wow, I never thought about that.
A couple of weeks ago, we were out in California and we connected a group in Redwood City with some kids in Karachi and kids in Rawalpindi. And sadly, and it probably won't come as a huge surprise to everyone in this room, I don't actually think the kids in California knew where Pakistan was. I mean, they had sort of heard about it but didn't know enough about it.
But by the end of that session, they were coming closer and closer to the screen and they really felt that they had connected with those kids. So we think that's -- it's all about making those connections and having those relationships and that people -- our future will be better if we can do that.
QUESTIONER: Good morning. Wendy Leurs from the Foundation for a Civil Society and also on the board of the Annenberg School of Communications. All of those exchanges that you were discussing, Judith, and all of the connections that you're making cost money. And the budgets for bringing people both directions have been cut enormously over the last 20 years, if not 10 years. That's the beginning of the question.
The other part is, administrations come and go; the foreign service does not. What kind of training is going on in order to bring not only the foreign service officers, the political appointees and all the representatives of the other agencies that are represented in every embassy so that they actually can take use -- make use of the social-media tools?
MCHALE: Yeah. Well, I agree with you. And obviously, we're going to live in a -- in a world -- and that's not going to change -- of severe financial constraint. I mean, there's -- at a moment in time when we should be going out and doing more of this, we find ourselves in a very difficult position.
You know, at the end of the 1990s, a decision was made to start to close our libraries, move everything within the embassies, which made it very difficult. So we were supposed to be going out and engaging; at that moment in time, we started shutting down. And now we're trying to reverse that trend at a time of financial constraint. So it's difficult.
And so we've done a couple of things to ensure that some of the changes we've done are embedded in the system. So we created -- we made some structural changes. So we created seven new deputy assistant secretary of state positions, all within the region of -- within the sort of field of public diplomacy, which I think will help institutionalize it.
We are doing significant amounts of training because the mandate from the secretary and from the president is, go out and engage, and that's not necessarily intuitive to everybody. So we're providing as much training as we possibly can, both in Washington and remotely. And so we're trying to do that.
And we are using technology as best we can and finding partners and others to do it and to help us do that. You know, some of my colleagues were sort of teasing me because I go around the world, I go, like, well, we can't bring you to the United States, but we can use Skype to connect you. And I did it so often and then when Microsoft bought Skype, one of my friends -- one of the foreign service officers sent me an email and he goes, I think Microsoft must have been listening to all your Skype connecting going on here.
But we do -- I think that there are going to be ways. And I actually think that's going to get better. We've been in conversations with Cisco and others, and we're looking for ways -- frankly, a lot of what we have to do is going to require private sector partners who are going to help us do it. And that's the other thing that we're trying to -- trying to battle our way through.
But you know what's not an option? What's not an option is retreating. We can't do that so we've got to find ways forward.
QUESTIONER: George Rupp, International Rescue Committee. I'd like you to say a little more about the trip to Tunisia. You said you had a surge team go in. Just who was on the team? Where did they come from? What were their language abilities and so on?
MODERATOR: Yeah. And earlier, I guess what I meant by my question -- thank you, George -- was, you said they had gone out to meet with people. So I was --
MCHALE: How are they doing that?
MODERATOR: -- what their findings were; what they found when they went out.
MCHALE: Well, what we did was, this is a cross-department team. So it comes from all sections of the State Department. It is led by a senior foreign service officer, a woman called Greta Holtz, who had served in Iraq and elsewhere. And their mission and their mandate and their directive from the secretary and from Undersecretary Burns was to go out; follow up on what we had done; help the embassy engage more broadly and very rapidly; respond to the needs of the people of Tunisia at this critical moment in time as they're transitioning, getting ready for their election, which has now been postponed until October; to break down bureaucratic barriers when they saw them -- and they had permission to go literally right up to the secretary to do that -- to be sure that we could respond very rapidly to a changing environment.
So there's a team that goes out from the economic -- from EEB, our economic bureau, that's focused on entrepreneurship and trying to make business connections as very -- as quickly as we can. The education team -- there's a huge opportunity. Increased Fulbright scholars going to Tunisia, that would normally take 18 to 24 months; we think we'll have someone there by September.
The media training that I was talking about -- and it's not just media training. I'm also in conversations with some journalism schools here about getting them to connect with schools of journalism in Tunisia in time for September, bringing media law lawyers to help them work on their constitution. And so we're really trying to find those resources and get them there as quickly as we can.
In terms of how people are responding to that, they're responding really well because they're telling us what we need and we are trying to bring the resources, whether they're U.S. government resources or not-for -- there are a lot of NGOs, obviously, doing a lot of incredible work there. But spreading their -- try to sort of just spread that engagement as rapidly as possible.
And you know, if you're responding to what people want, you're going to get a pretty good reaction. And one of our hopes is that if this becomes a model -- this kind of surge capacity -- we were talking about, earlier last year, last spring, if we had had this in place, we could have done more in Kyrgyzstan when that happened. That transition happened very rapidly.
So we think this is an interesting model. It coordinates across the department and it facilitates the interagency cooperation. What has happened is, so many of the programs that we want to put in place just take time to get up and running; you lose a window of opportunity.
If you can have a group like the surge group that can go in and try to break down some of those bureaucratic silos, hopefully, you make more rapid progress, and can keep that. It's sort of like a bridge to when those other, longer-term programs would kick in.
It's not easy, let me say, but I think they're doing a good job.
MODERATOR: Just before we go back to the audience, Syria -- it occurs to me that what little information we are getting is coming through these people-to-people techniques. What can you tell us about the involvement of your people, and the State Department, in trying to gather up that information?
MCHALE: Well, you know, we're looking at every country separately. Every country -- there are different dynamics going on, and it's a more -- it's a very complicated process. Obviously, I think -- and you've heard the president, and you've heard the secretary of state have been very clear on their statements on this in terms of President Assad and what he is doing, and how he is responding to what's going on in his country. And I think we've been fairly consistent in saying, you either proceed with the reforms, or as the president said, he gets out of his way.
And so we are continuing to do that, continuing to speak out when -- as the -- as the events unfold, we're continuing to do that, provide what support we can, and also very importantly, continuing to work with other governments to build, if you will, a sort of united approach towards that very difficult situation -- so continuing to monitor it, trying to sort of find a path forward, and continuing to pressure the government in Syria to respond appropriately to legitimate demands of their citizens.
MODERATOR: Yes. Mic is coming.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. To what extent is South Sudan, being that it's going to be a new country hopefully July 9th, on your radar?
MCHALE: Absolutely. This is something obviously over a number of years we have been engaged in and are continuing our efforts to move it forward. And just like Tunisia and other countries which are evolving and transitioning, this is a country which requires a lot of support and help in its efforts.
Again, there's no magic solution to that one, except by continuing to support the people of South Sudan as they transition into an independent country. It is, you know, a very rough neighborhood, and I think they need all the support that they can get, not only from us but from countries around the world. And we'll continue to do that.
MODERATOR: Yes, in the back, please.
QUESTIONER: I'm Matthew Lee, Inner City Press -- covering the U.N., so I'm covering, like, the two Libya resolutions and this kind of moribund Syria draft. So what I wanted -- that's what I wanted to ask you about, is what effect do you think your, you know, operation is having on -- obviously, you have countries like Brazil, India, South Africa; they're not engaging on its -- Russia and China said they were against it. Recently, the French ambassador wrote, like, an op-ed -- the French ambassador to the U.N. wrote an op-ed in Brazil sort of trying to go above the government and talk to people, and say, what about human rights?
Do you think that's a -- you know, do you think that's a good approach? And do you think those three countries -- at least their governments -- are saying, that it's the way that the Libya resolution has been carried out, the attempts at regime change, they say, that leads them to not support Syria. Do you think that's a widespread opinion? Is it just governments that think it? And what does your approach bring to try and turn that around?
MCHALE: Well, I think that one of the things that we're trying to do is to provide the context -- in my specific area, the State Department, is to really provide the context for the decisions that the United States takes on a particular issue. I mean, I think our position on both Libya and Syria is well-known -- the administration's position.
In Libya, we are obviously participating in a multilateral force to try to bring about change there. And I -- so our position in my area, again, is to help provide the context for what we are doing. And when we are in discussions or else we're engaged with governments around the world, I think in today's world, it's important for the government of the United States to make its views, opinions and strategies well-known to the populations of those countries.
So yes, I think that's an appropriate thing for us to be doing.
MODERATOR: Yes, in the back, please.
QUESTIONER: (Off mic) -- I'm Bill Abrams; I'm with Trickle Up. And our work involves women helping women out of poverty. So my question is, is there a role, or what role, if any, is there for public diplomacy in addressing issues of poverty, women's rights, rising food prices, inequality and so forth?
MCHALE: Well, I think you probably know that obviously Secretary Clinton has spent her entire career focused on women, women's issues and children's issues, and she continues to do that as secretary of state. Whether she did it or not, whether she was in that role, I think this was a very important focus and will continue to be for our government and for public diplomacy. Again, what we are doing is trying to engage with people all over the world. And women, representing the majority or, you know, roughly 50 percent of the population around the world, clearly have to be part of what we are doing.
And so we do -- we have a number of programs to begin to help address some of those issues. Whether it's training(s) where we bring -- focused on entrepreneurship, health issues, food security is an incredibly important part of this president's agenda, global food -- fighting poverty and addressing food security around the world, because we think, ultimately, if those issues are not resolved, they threaten our security, and so it's a key part of what we're trying to do as we go forward.
QUESTIONER: (Off mic.) Reaching people individually is certainly a noble endeavor and very inspiring in the way you describe it, but obviously a tall order in a world of 7-plus billion. Tell us a little bit about what's going on in terms of structural changes at the USIA, at Voice of America and other places which -- or I gather has been bogged down a bit, to retool those agencies so that we can use media to reach people more broadly in groups.
MCHALE: Sure. Well, USIA actually was merged into the State Department 10 years ago, and that's the part of the State Department that I oversee. And hopefully, we've made a lot of structural changes there. And we've now integrated it into the State Department, and all the programs that I've been talking about are now -- those are the kinds of things that we're doing.
With regard to our broadcast assets, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, I sit on the board of -- I represent the secretary on the board of the Broadcast Board of Governors. And under the leadership of Walter Isaacson, for the past year that board has been doing a strategic review of all of the assets, our broadcasting assets. And I don't -- I can't get ahead of them, because this week they will begin to announce the outcomes of those.
But I've been really -- you know, my background is in media, so I've been really very impressed with the way they have looked at it. They have to make some pretty difficult decisions to bring it into the 21st century, but I think a lot of the things that they are going to be announcing will -- are taking it absolutely in the right direction. They have some new leadership at VOA. They brought in David Ensor, who was working for us in Kabul, and he just joined a couple of days ago. Steve Korn is going out as the new head of Radio Free Europe. And you're going to begin to see it -- and I think the changes that they're going to be making there and talking about -- and again, I don't want to talk about them until they do it -- is reflective of the world in which we now live. And so (you'll begin to see it ?) -- hard to do it, but they're doing it. And I think they're going to do it -- they're going to do a good job.
MODERATOR: Stay tuned for the next week, I guess.
MODERATOR: Right? Yes.
Sir, in the back, and then we'll come --
QUESTIONER: Steve Isenberg, the PEN American Center. I wonder if you would address China, just what you're doing, just what you can't do, and the challenges in light of the sort of force field that exists there.
MCHALE: China, hmm. Obviously it --
MODERATOR: Big question. Big --
MCHALE: I know. (Chuckles.) I wasn't sure how to answer that question.
We are doing a lot in China. And again, it is a -- obviously we would have to focus on it. I keep using the word "complicated," but it is a challenging environment for us to operate on.
So what we're trying to do when we're there in the public diplomacy context: How do you actually go out and engage in a country like China to make those kinds of differences that you can? So there are a number of initiatives that we've launched.
We've -- we have -- one of the things we want to do is, again, in strengthening those connections, we have -- the president announced an initiative called "100000 Strong," where we're trying to increase the number of American students studying in China. We feel that by having more American students there, we will also have more people in China learning about the United States firsthand from America's students, and that's the way to do it.
Our embassy there. Because of the media environment in China, which is somewhat controlled -- no, which is very controlled -- we rely very heavily on social media. And so we -- our embassy has a very active Facebook page. Our ambassadors used that tool to engage Ambassador Huntsman when he was there, traveled around China with bloggers. And so we use every way that we can. We use cultural programming. There are many American businesses now that have operations in China. And so we are always looking for ways to strengthen that engagement.
When we -- we have a number of strategic dialogues with countries all over the world. And what was kind of -- what was interesting to me was that the Chinese in our strategic dialogue -- the Chinese actually wanted to have an educational and cultural component to the strategic dialogue to find out ways of strengthening the ties between the peoples of our two countries.
So it's complicated. It's enormous. But what makes it -- I mean, not only the operating environment is complicated, but we keep talking about the financial constraints that we're operating under. So you look at the size of that country and what we have to do, and the budget makes it very, very difficult to do it.
So we're trying to be as creative as we can. If you have any ideas, we're happy to take them.
MODERATOR: Yes, please.
QUESTIONER: I'm Carole Artigiani from Global Kids. I also am very impressed by what you're doing, so I commend you. But I'm really also moved by the story of the young woman who came up to you and said, I hate your policy. You said in the beginning of your --
MODERATOR: Hate your country.
QUESTIONER: I hate your country, sorry.
QUESTIONER: I figure she meant policy in this case. But you also said at the very beginning that we want people who are doing the kind of work that you and your colleagues are doing at the very top of the decision-making process. So I mean, we're building relationships on the ground. I've seen it because I work with young people too.
But to what extent can we actually change our policies by doing the kinds of things that you're doing? In other words, how much influence do you have on the Defense Department, the State Department and the executive branch?
MCHALE: Probably none on the Defense Department, but the -- seriously, what -- I talked about the structural changes we've made. One of the key changes was this creation of six -- we had seven new deputy assistant secretaries of state, so let me just tell you very briefly about them.
Six of them -- we have one in each of the regional bureaus -- and the reason we did that was that we wanted to have public diplomacy at the highest level within the State Department participating in and informing our decision-making, our policy decision-making. That always happened to some degree at the State Department, but it was somewhat episodic and whether people were really focused on it.
And so now we've systematized that. And so those folks participate in each of the regional bureaus. So as you're familiar with the State Department, that's actually a very important and significant position to be in.
So that at the time that policy decisions are being made and deliberations, you have that information flowing into it on the theory that if you actually have a good understanding of how your policies are going to impact the people who are going to be impacted by it, you might be able to tweak it in some way or explain it some way up front or couple it -- if something is not going to be well-received but you know something else would be, you can couple it, perhaps, and have a better chance of success.
They also then are responsible for the flow of information out of those deliberations so that it's appropriately -- the context is appropriately provided. It's early days for that, but we've seen -- you know, I've seen examples of where that actually happens.
Pakistan is probably one of them where, you know, Ambassador Holbrooke's team, he was very focused on understanding how people in Pakistan reacted to things. And when I talked about our numbers going up in some cases, you could see a definite benefit by it.
You know, and so there are many, many areas where they now intervene. And I think that that will hopefully -- we will get better at that as we go forward. And I think there's a good understanding that we need to do that. And they are being pretty well received within the regional bureaus.
But the seventh deputy assistant secretary of state is in the media, in public affairs. We did not have at the State Department a deputy assistant secretary of state for international media. And maybe Jamie (sp) can explain why we didn't, but we did not have it. And frankly, the world has just changed so rapidly.
And so there's historic reasons for it make a lot of sense, which was, international media engagement was pretty much the purview of the ambassador. If you were the ambassador to the U.K., you had primary responsibility for interacting with the Times, the Independent and others. So that made a lot of sense. In today's world, it doesn't happen.
So -- example, there's an earthquake in Haiti, Al Jazeera shows up and our embassy in Haiti probably has no relationship with them. How do you deal with them? You provide the international folks with a way in; you provide bloggers whose information flow doesn't really -- isn't constrained by geopolitical boundaries, you -- provides them with a way in.
So those seven together have actually pretty much strengthened the impact of public diplomacy within the department.
MODERATOR: Well, this seems like a pretty good way to draw this morning to a close. We're going to meet the council's on-time performance record better than the morning shuttle for those of you who travel between Washington and New York.
It does appear, Judith, that you really have worked very hard to build the public diplomacy system in such a way that there's input before decisions are made, and when it comes to the new media world, the output tools are there.
Whether all that can, you know, work down the road, I guess will be up to some of your successors. But you seem to have laid a great foundation for that. And I congratulate you. Thank you very much.
MCHALE: Thank you. (Applause.)
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