Monday, February 04, 2008

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hears From Public Diplomacy Nominees

This piece is from U.S. Diplomacy.

SFRC Hears From Public Diplomacy Nominees

On Wednesday of last week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard the testimony of three of President Bush’s nominees seeking confirmation to hold State Department positions in the bureau of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. The first to testify was James K. Glassman, whose nomination for Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy was previously discussed in this blog here. A transcript of his prepared testimony can be found here.

It appears that Glassman has been doing his homework. Toward the end of his testimony he summarizes what he took away from some discussions he had with experts in on global public opinion of the U.S.:

“1. Animosity toward the United States is real, and it must concern us.

2. Different countries have different views of the United States. In Africa, Japan, and India, for example, most people favorably disposed toward the United States. In much of Western Europe and nearly all the Arab and Muslim world, they are not.

3. Much of the animosity is not deep. Even people who say they dislike us want to have strong bilateral relations with us, and attitudes are not set in stone. As Secretary Rice said last year, The United States is “still the place where people like to send their kids to school, where people want to start a new life. Sometimes we overstate the degree to which America is not popular, even if sometimes our policies are not.”

4. The animosity of foreigners has three sources:
a. They understand that we are a powerful nation and will ultimately set policies with our own interests in mind, but they believe we do not listen to them, do not act as a reliable partner, and do not respectfully take their views into account.
b. In the Arab and Muslim world, especially, they have major misconceptions about America, our aims, and our policies. Remember the examples I cited before, such as a belief that we want to supplant Islam with Christianity in the Middle East. c. They disagree with our policies, especially our presence in Iraq and what they see as our bias in the matter of Israel and the Palestinians.
The first two sources of animosity, I believe, we can address effectively through public diplomacy. We can listen better and more respectfully and through exchanges, information programs, and ideological engagement, we can address and rectify the lies and misconceptions.
As for policy: Edward R. Murrow, when he was USIA director, famously said that public diplomacy should be in on the takeoffs, not just the crash landings. In other words, public diplomacy should have a place at the table, to advise policymakers of the potential reaction of foreign publics to policies. But never, in my view, should global public opinion polls determine the foreign policy of the United States. Can we do a better job explaining our policies? Yes. Will those policies be universally embraced? No. In the early 1980s, the U.S. and our allies agreed on the placement of cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe. It was a decision that was aggressively opposed by much of Europe’s public opinion, but it was a policy that helped bring down communism…”

News reports on his testimony focused on Glassman’s purported plan to counter Islamic extremism’s detrimental effects on the US image abroad with digital media. From the Voice of America: “Glassman, who has a background in print and electronic media, says he will use the year or so before the end of the Bush administration to focus on leading a war of ideas using new technologies…”

Glassman says the perception that the US is trying to undermine Islam, which he cites as widespread in the Muslim world, “come[s] directly from what he calls doctrine at the foundation of al-Qaida, and must be fought using the Internet, U.S. government-funded international broadcasting, and educational and cultural exchange programs.” CNN and others picked up on Glassman’s comment that “our enemies are eating our lunch in terms of getting their messages communicated using ‘digital technology.’” He continued: “It is just plain embarrassing that al Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America.”

Diane Farsetta, Senior Researcher at the Center for Media and Democracy also discussed Glassman’s focus on digital technologies as a public diplomacy tool in a piece for Alternet.
VOA reports that Glassman fielded some pointed questions from the Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) asked Glassman to comment on criticism the bureau of Public Diplomacy has received for “having a weak communications strategy which obviously raises questions about its ability to meet its important mission.” Glassman responded that “U.S. efforts have suffered from a lack of coordination among government agencies. He pledged to help rebuild a public diplomacy structure [the US Information Agency, or USIA] he says was largely dismantled amid what he calls a bipartisan period of neglect in the 1990s.”

Also testifying was Goli Ameri, President Bush’s nominee to hold the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). Ameri would replace Dina Habib Powell, who held the position from 2005 until December 2007, when she left the Department to become the Director of Global Corporate Engagement for the Goldman Sachs Group.
Ameri, formerly the Department’s Public Delegate to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, spoke of her upbringing in Iran and the impact of her move to the U.S. study at Stanford University. In her testimony she called herself “an American by choice.”

“[While studying in the US] I learned…the value of freedom and democracy, the fundamentals of critical thinking, the questioning of ideas and a profound sense of empowerment. I learned that in America, there are no constraints to one’s desire to achieve. That it’s ok to be a woman, it’s ok to be an immigrant and most importantly its ok to be a dreamer Where else in the world, would an immigrant, a woman of Iranian heritage be nominated as an Assistant Secretary and have the privilege to sit in front of this distinguished panel?

In 2004, Ameri ran for Congress in Oregon on the Republican ticket, but lost to Congressman David Wu by a narrow margin. If confirmed, Ameri pledged to “expand our ‘people to people exchanges’ [diplomatic speak for directly engaging citizens of two different countries in an attempt to build positive relations between the two nations and introduce: (1) More opportunities for engagement with key countries like Iran and North Korea where we seek to better relations between our citizens and (2) Reach out to the more disadvantaged segments of the population around the world. I will encourage more women and girls, to participate in our exchange programs and I would like to make sure that we institutionalize successful and powerful programs like the Middle East Breast Cancer Initiative and the Fortune Women’s Mentorship program.” Ameri’s nomination caused a negative reaction from some Iran-watchers (see here and here ), but then again so did the nomination of the past Assistant Secretary for ECA, Dina Habib Powell, an Egyptian-American, prompting, among other reactions, this letter to the Washington Post by Arab-American institute President James Zogby.

The hearing’s final testimony came from David J. Kramer, nominated to be Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DLR), the bureau that leads U.S. efforts to “promote democracy, protect human rights and international religious freedom, and advance labor rights globally.” Kramer, currently Deputy Assistant Secretary for Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, will be replacing Jonathan D. Farrar who held the position since 2005. If confirmed, Kramer pledged to “continue to concentrate DRL’s diplomacy and programs on the core components of democracy that must be present in countries around the globe if human rights are to be effectively exercised and protected: (1) free and fair electoral processes, with a level playing field to ensure genuine competition; (2) good governance, with representative, transparent and accountable institutions operating under the rule of law, including independent legislatures and judiciaries; and (3) robust civil societies, including independent media and labor unions.”

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