Symposium Transcripts: Under Secretary Glassman's keynote and my welcome

Transcripts for the January 13, 2009, Smith-Mundt Symposium will begin appearing online as I review them. Federal News Service did a superb job transcribing the 8.5 hours of audio so quickly.

The first transcript to be posted is that of my opening comments and the morning keynote by now-former Under Secretary of State Jim Glassman. A PDF of the transcript can be downloaded here (65kb PDF). Audio of the same can be downloaded here (54 minutes mp3, 13mb). The Under Secretary's comments begin at the bottom of page 5 of the transcript and at the 13:45 mark of the audio.

Excerpt below the fold.

[A]merica.gov, the prime Web site of our International Information Bureau, tells America's story in seven languages, including English. Its intent is to reach foreign audiences. But any person in the United States with a computer and a modem or other means of reaching our servers can type in www.america.gov and read the Web site's offerings. This example seems to be a very simple one. And I am frankly irritated with anyone at State or Defense who believes that he or she has to jump through hoops simply to prevent Americans from seeing something intended for foreign audiences.

But let me present some more difficult cases. First, information versus influence. Listen again to Kennan in the Long Telegram. He said, "We must see that our public is educated to realities of the Russian situation." And he is talking about our public. That is to say, the American public. "I cannot overemphasize the importance of this. Press cannot do it alone. It must be done mainly by government, which is necessarily more experienced and better informed on practical problems involved." Does the State Department have a legitimate role in educating Americans about say, the threat of violent extremism abroad? We are in the process of supporting through funding and otherwise a publication that will be called "Problems of Extremism," which will tackle violent extremism in just plain old extremism at a sophisticated, intellectual level.

The primary audience is foreign. But I, for one, would like Americans not merely to have access to the online version of the publication, but be able to receive the print version in the mail. Is this a violation of Smith-Mundt? Also, in the information category is simply material that tells Americans what their State Department is doing abroad. Shouldn't taxpayers know in detail, not just the extent of our international information programs, but shouldn't they be able to view the content of such programs to be able to judge for themselves how effective those programs might be.

My view is that if more Americans knew, again, in detail what we were doing at State, we would have more political support, which translates into more resources. For another example, should the State Department be able to disseminate domestically the results of polling that shows the attitudes of Afghans and Pakistanis toward terrorism? Should State be able to distribute a publication in the United States that helps Americans, along with non-Americans, better understand the nature of Salafism or the Takfiri ideology - strictly information, not to influence, but to enlighten.

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I would like to see Congress consider small tweaks in Smith-Mundt that would allow dissemination of foreign-language programming by taxpayer-funded international broadcasting e entities. And that is my personal view, not the view of the Broadcasting Board of Governors itself. Such dissemination already occurs, by the way, through streaming video from BBG-entity Web sites. So if you are going to do that on little, tiny screens, why not be able to do it on larger screens?

You can call this formulation, if you'd like, Smith-Mundt Light. I won't be offended. So that puts a lot of interesting questions on your plate for this conference. I trust that with such a talented and energetic group, you will find the answers. But I can't end without another reference to George Kennan's Long Telegram. This talk and your conference is about dissemination, but nothing we disseminate can be effective without understanding, which is why we use that word first in our definition of public diplomacy.

You can argue about whether we in public diplomacy should spend our time and money trying to get Americans to understand, for example, the violent extremist threat. I think that is clearly beyond our mandate. But you can't argue with Kennan's basic sentiment, which he expressed this way. "Our first step must be to apprehend and recognize for what it is the nature of the movement with which we are dealing.

As someone reminded me once, public diplomacy is in part about self-promotion. So below is another excerpt from the transcript:

Thank you, Matt. I was an ardent reader of Matt's blog, when I was at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, Mountain Runner. I would consider myself a mountain walker at best. But when I became undersecretary, he was one of the first people that I wanted to meet face to face. And it must have been six or seven months ago, Matt, that you told me about your plans for this conference. And he asked me then if I would participate. And I immediately said yes. I think for one reason was that it gave me an opportunity to actually think this issue through.

...Matt, you are a great thinker and a great activist in the cause of public diplomacy and I thank you. The goal of public diplomacy, the goal of strategic communication is a safer and freer and more prosperous world. And this conference on the 60th anniversary of the enactment of Smith - (inaudible) - hope that policy-makers will pay close attention to what is said and done here today. And other conference planners in the audience, take note. Matt knows how to run a conference. ...