Rumsfeld on USIA

Who is in charge of our public diplomacy? It was supposed to be the State Department when the USIA was rolled into in 1999. However, Remarks by Secretary Rumsfeld at the Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pa. indicate something else. He is talking about USIA and our foreign image. State and Condi is not for they 'do not talk directly to the people', leaving it the military to do our person to person communication.

Read the transcript below and ask yourself if it sounds like the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of State talking. I would have highlighted a few items, but the entire speech and the Q&A requires your attention if you want the full impact of the cross-over from Defense to State. Rumsfeld clearly sees himself, with the acquiesence of the President and Cheney, as the guy to best communicate our strategy and direction directly to the people of the world. Between the Rendon Group and CENTCOM reaching out directly to bloggers (no, not me), among other examples, perhaps USIA should be reconstituted within DoD? (Just joking... kind of.)

After the September 11th attacks the United States fashioned a very large global coalition who worked together to protect our people and protect their people. This coalition is probably the largest in the history of the world, with some 80 or 90 countries working together to make it more difficult for terrorists to do everything they need to do to be successful. More difficult to train, to recruit, to raise money, to establish sanctuaries, to acquire weapons, to cross borders, communicate.

But the strategy must do a great deal more to reduce the lure of the extremist ideology, like standing with those moderate Muslims advocating peaceful change, freedom and tolerance.

Progress is being made. Afghanistan has gone from a country where the government protected terrorists and imprisoned women, to one that imprisons terrorists and protects women.  Iraq has gone from Saddam's mass graves to mass participation in democratic elections. A recent survey showed that a large and growing number of Muslims believe that free systems can work in their country.

The extremists see these changes and they're desperate to prevent that progress. One suspects that the terrorists preferred the battles before September 11th when they were often the only ones on the offensive.

Today there are some who want America to go back on the defensive, to the strategy that failed before September 11th. They say that a retreat from Iraq would provide an American escape from the violence. However we know that any reprieve would short lived. To the terrorists the West would remain the great Satan. The war that the terrorists began would continue. And free people would continue to be their target.

From time to time one hears the claim that terrorists’ acts are reactions to particular American policy. That's not so. Their violence preceded by many years operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and their violence will not stop until their ideology is confronted by the values millions on every continent take for granted. The ideas that liberated moderate Muslims are risking their lives every day to defend including free systems, individual rights. We must recognize this and steel ourselves for the long struggle ahead.

QUESTION: [Inaudible]. My question has to do with the war on terror as a war of ideology. The National Defense Strategy, QDR (Quadrennial Defense Review), talks about the war on terror having a significant component as a war of ideology. What do you think we're doing well with respect to the war of ideology, and what do you think we could do better?

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: If I were rating, I would say we probably deserve a D or D+ as a country as how well we're doing in the battle of ideas that's taking place. I'm not going to suggest that it's easy, but we have not found the formula as a country.

It's basically a struggle not between the West and Muslims. It's a struggle within the Muslim faith. There are a relatively small number of violent extremists and a very large number of moderates who do not believe in violent extremism in that faith. We're going to have to find ways that we can encourage and support those moderate voices because they're the ones who are in the struggle.

In the 20th century when I went to Washington fresh out of the Navy in 1957 and we had something called the United States Information Agency. It wasn't perfect, but it had libraries around the world, made movies, had various seminars and opportunities for people to learn more about the United States. I don't know what the 21st century version of that is, but we need it badly and we haven't got it.

When I was in Congress I remember President Kennedy was president.  The USIA made a film about the Kennedy family going to India. It was very promotional and favorable to them. It was played back in the United States and Congress got all excited because taxpayers' dollars were being used to propagandize the American people. So the USIA was highly criticized and eventually it was abolished for all practical purposes.

We had various other things at Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other activities that we engaged in. But this is a wonderful country, the United States of America. The American people are enormously generous. And we are tolerant as a country. We accept diversity and differences. We're far from perfect. But the image that the United States has in the world as a result of the characterizations by others is unfortunate. And when people are leaning toward you, as you all know, things are easy. When people are leaning away from you, things are much more difficult.

We're conducting a war today that for the first time in the history of the world, in the 21st century, where with all of these new realities -- video cameras and digital cameras and 24 hour talk shows and bloggers and the internet and e-mails and all of these things that have changed how people communicate. And as a result, everything anyone says goes to multiple audiences.  Every time the United States tries to do anything that would communicate something positive about what we're doing in the world we're criticized in the press and in the Congress, and we have a reappraisal and say oh, my goodness, is that something we should be doing? How do we do it in a way that is considered acceptable in our society?

Right now we have this issue about some folks out in Iraq working for General Casey hired a contractor and they wanted to get some truth out -- true stories, not inaccurate stories, not disinformation, but true stories and the contractor wanted to get those placed in some papers and they wouldn't take them, and he paid, apparently paid, the report hasn't come to me yet but as I understand it, the contractor apparently paid some newspapers to run, without putting the word advertisement on it. It was the truth. They were not lies that were being put in the paper. They were accurate. But the fuss and the concern in the country has just been a frenzy over it, so we're having an investigation. General Casey ran an investigation of it. He's now going to send it back and I'll look at it and we'll have to figure out whether that's something we ought to do.

If you put yourself in the shoes of the people in the theater, and they're out doing decent, good things frequently day after day, and the press is just reporting bad things about you in the Iraqi press, the neighborhood press for example, and they want to get something good about the fact that they did build a hospital, or they did put a generator in the school, or they did something else because their patrols are going out and they want the population to have a balanced view of what the troops are doing. So they worked with a local newspaper to try to get those stories in because they felt it would save lives if the community understood what it is we were doing completely and not just negative things that were being said through al-Jazeera or one of the networks that tend to be negative on the coalition forces.

You can understand their desire to do that. Then you look at the reaction.

So we're going to have to find better ways to do it and thus far we haven't as a government. The government's not well organized to do it. I worry, frankly, about people because of the fact that we do need the ability to communicate more effectively as a country, and people in the military have to be willing to do that. If every time anyone in the military sticks their head up they get penalized for having touched the third rail, namely done something with the media, that's not a great incentive for you folks. Right? But it's critically important that each of you have the ability to communicate, to deal with the press, and to understand where the red lines are and where the lanes are that we have to stay in because in our society we have to find them. The problem is that we've not yet adapted to all of these new realities that exist and we're going to have to do a much better job of it.