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Karen Hughes: International Youth Democracy Summit

International Youth Democracy Summit

Karen Hughes, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Remarks at the University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA
August 8, 2006

Thank you all. Please sit down, please sit down.

Well, thank you all so much. Good evening. Your enthusiasm is certainly contagious even for someone who is a little jetlagged as I am.

Thank you, Tim, for that kind introduction. I'm honored to be here this evening, on the "grounds" of Mr. Jefferson's University. Did I get that right? I've been told that "campus" is a six letter word around here. So I shouldn't use it. And I want you to know I'm keeping good company tonight. I'm here with Katye Balls from my communications office and she is a UVA graduate and alum.

This is a University with a rich history and tradition and I'm so glad to be with you all as you host the International Youth Democracy Summit. What better place to host the first conference of this series than this University founded by one of our Nation's founding fathers and greatest leaders -- our first Secretary of State and third President, Thomas Jefferson.

You heard a little bit from [Thomas Jefferson] tonight, but I am going to give you a little more. He well understood the indispensable role of the people -- and of educated people -- in the development and safe keeping of a just society. "I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves," he said, "and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion by education." Early on he was making the argument for the case for democracy and for those who would seek to undermine him by saying "well, the masses may not know enough."

President Jefferson's dedication to education underlies why UVA students call themselves "First-Year, Second-Year, Third-Year, and Fourth-Year" rather than the traditional "Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior." Because he understood that learning lasts not just during our high school or college years, but throughout our lifetime. And of course, one of the joys and privileges of my job is I travel the world with the opportunity to learn and I find that I learn something new in every country, every city, every place that I visit as I travel the world.

I am especially delighted, as Tim mentioned, to meet with young people here tonight because you are our future. There are young people here, I understand, not only from across America but from more than 40 states and 22 countries, including Argentina, Bulgaria, China, India, Korea, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey. It was fun to hear your points of view. It was very refreshing and it makes me very optimistic about the future.

And of course, you all represent that future -- the future of America, and the future of our increasingly global world. As the theme of this conference says, I think very aptly, "Democracy. It's up to you." I'm reading a great book right now. I highly recommend it. It's called1776 by David McCullough. I don't know if any of you have heard of it. It's about the birth of America's independence. It has a wonderful line about the collection of diverse, and often quite colorful citizens who made up our initial army which, if any of you are familiar with the initial American army, was kind of a rag tag bunch -- no uniforms, not much discipline -- all kinds of diverse citizens. But there is a great line in the book about them and it says "as worthy people as ever marched out of step." Now I love that thinking about democracy being a worthy group of citizens marching out of step. I love that because somehow we are marching together even as we are frequently out of step with each other. In a democracy, we are such different individuals and we disagree and you hear our political debates. We disagree fondly; we debate often very loudly, and very passionately. Yet our democracy as a collective whole, we understand, is better for those differences -- for our individual distinctions and our differences.

One of the reasons I came here tonight is that I hope I can persuade many of you to consider -- and I was pleased to hear someone wanting to be a judge and others hoping to be leaders of their society -- a career in what I view is a very noble profession of public service. You won't become rich necessarily by serving your country, but you will have an enormous opportunity to make a difference -- and that's one of the things that drew me back.

I don't know how much any of you know about my career. I started as a television reporter of all things and covered politics and really fell in love with the process because I realized that the people in the political process had such an opportunity to make a difference, to impact people around them. Everything from the garage pickup, when garbage was collected, to the hours of my local swimming pool was determined by someone, a leader in government and I decided I wanted to get involved in all that. Eventually I left reporting to go into politics and I started at the very grass roots. No presidential campaigns- local like handing out the leaflets at the park and ride for a friend who was running for county judge and things like that. Eventually, of course, I went on to work for President Bush when he was running for Governor of Texas back when the motorcade was one car and he was sometimes the one driving the car. And then eventually he decided to run for President and I went along for the ride and served him for 18 months in the White House. In 2002, I left government to go back to Texas with my family. I wanted my son to be able to graduate from high school in the place where I thought he would best thrive - in Texas. So I left government for a while but in 2005, when the President was re-elected, we were up here attending the second inaugural. He and Secretary Rice asked me if I would consider returning as my son was getting ready to go off to college. They specifically talked with me about leading public diplomacy because they knew I had a passion and an interest for America's engagement with the world.

And I remember having a conversation with my son and asking him, "What do you think? They are trying to get me back into government." Government service is very demanding and you get criticized and you get written about in the newspaper and people say mean things about you. You have to travel a lot and be away from your family. It's not necessarily all the time a very fun thing to do, although it's always a very challenging and interesting and important thing to do. So I asked my son "What do you think?" Thinking he might discourage me, I was actually surprised because immediately he said, "You have to do it." I was kind of surprised and said, "Well why?" He said, "Because you really care about it, Mom." Then he said, and this is what really got me, "because it's really important for my generation" and I think he was absolutely right.

America's dialogue with the rest of the world is absolutely vital and I believe there is no more urgent challenge for our national security and for the future for all of the young people throughout the world than our task of reaching out across the world to foster a sense of common interest and values and confront common threats together.

I want to applaud each of you for your work in getting here and for participating and getting the initiative to be involved in this Summit. This is a tremendous opportunity and, I have no doubt, a life-changing experience.

I appreciate the Jamestown 400th Federal Commission's commitment to education, as well as that of their partners -- the Democracy Planning Council, the University of Virginia, and the UVA Center for Politics. Frank, Tim, Leonard, Larry, I'm honored to be here with you all tonight as you launch this series on the Foundations and Future of Democracy.

These eight conferences, the series of conferences that you heard about, recognize that while there are many different aspects to democracy, it is fundamentally rooted in our belief in the worth and dignity and value of every single human being. In the words of our Declaration, in the words written by Thomas Jefferson, each of us is created equal and endowed by our Creator with certain rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now when you think about that, if you truly believe that each of us is created equal and endowed by our Creator with those rights, then you know that those rights are not just reserved for America, but that those rights belong to all human beings everywhere.

The Jamestown Commission and its activities, and the Democracy conference series commemorate the 400th anniversary of a journey that when you think about it, really changed the world. You heard Tim mentioned the growth of democracy in our lifetime. The President described it in his second inaugural address as a "seed upon the wind", that it is spreading as we go. Many of our nation's democratic ideals and institutions -- from the rule of law to our cultural diversity -- can trace their roots to Jamestown. Of course, the journey that began there is ongoing and part of my mission in public diplomacy and our country's mission is to share what we have learned with the rest of the world. Not because we're perfect -- as you heard from Thomas Jefferson himself here today, American history is in large part of a story of our own challenge to live up to our ideals. We should never forget that at the time Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, the words "all men are created equal" did not apply to all men, and certainly not to all women. But the fact that we have struggled to live up to the high calling of our ideals only underscores their value and our belief that they are right and true and applicable not only to Americans but to all people everywhere.

Today, America and our friends and partners throughout the world face a new struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of tyranny.

Last September, as he swore me in, President Bush gave me some pretty clear orders. He talked about spreading the message of freedom and democracy requiring a more aggressive effort to share and communicate our countries basic values. He pointed out the war of terrorism will not be won by force of arms alone, but also in the battle of ideas. President Bush instructed Secretary Rice and me to "marshal all the resources of the federal government to this critical mission" and added that public diplomacy was to be the job of every member of his administration.

To do this, at the State Department we are moving aggressively to put in place a foundation for what I like to call "waging peace". That's my part of the war on terror -- waging peace. And I use the word "waging" very intentionally because I believe we must be very focused and clear about the commitment that it's going to require. I have outlined 3 strategic objectives that help guide me as I do my job.

First of all, that America must continue to offer people across the world a positive vision of hope and opportunity that is rooted again in the strength of our fundamental values, our belief in freedom and justice, in opportunity and respect for every person. I saw an interview of a young man in Morocco and he was asked, "What America meant to him?" And he gave what I thought was a very eloquent reply. He said, "For me, America represents the hope of a better life." And it's very important that we continue to hold out that hope to people everywhere. I remember a man in Egypt asking me, "Does statue of liberty still face out?" It is important that we face out to the world that we offer that image of hope that we must continue to be that shinning city on a hill that President Reagan spoke of. And that's why we speak out for democracy and against human rights abuses, for free press and against those who stifle religious freedom. Again, not because we're perfect, but because we uphold those ideals and we want constantly to keep ourselves and for countries and nations around the world to seek and uphold them in a better way.

Our second strategic imperative is to isolate and marginalize violent extremists in terror networks and confront their ideology of tyranny and hate. They seek to portray the West as in conflict with Islam, because that's the window into which they recruit people. Yet, their world view is wrong. I was interested in hearing that the young woman who spoke on the tape earlier feeling like she had to be an ambassador for her faith because Muslims and Islam are a part of America. Islam is not in conflict with America. Islam is part of America. As a government official, I represent an estimated 6-7 million Muslims Americans who live and work and practice their faith very freely in our country. One of the things that people who visit here from other countries always tell me is that they are amazed by how free Americans are to practice their different religious faiths. We must undermine the extremists by empowering mainstream voices and demonstrating our respect for Muslim cultures and contributions. That's why I've spent a great deal of my time reaching out to Muslim Americans because I believe they can be a very important bridge and link to Muslim communities across our world.

The third strategic objective is that I work to foster a sense of common interests and common values between Americans and people of different countries and cultures and faiths. Now that sounds pretty simple right -- nurture common interest and common values -- but actually it was driven home to me during a meeting I had with the beloved former Ambassador Frank Wisner who told me: "Karen, particularly in a time of war, particularly in a time of threats around the world, it is very important that we don't just talk about our common but that we also nurture and seek to foster a sense of those common interests: the importance of family, of faith, the need for opportunity and justice and respect for each other." I found no matter where I travel in the Arab world, in the wider Islamic communities around the world, in America, in Europe, most human beings want the fundamentally the same things. We want to live a life of good purpose, to be respected for who we are, to have the opportunity to say what we think, to have the opportunity to go to work and support our families and have good jobs that we feel we make a difference, to educate our children, boys and girls. Most people want the freedom to worship as our conscience dictates. We want a better future for those who come after us.

We must build on these common values, I saw them called islands of health and strength, so that those of you young people participating in this conference will inherit a safer and stronger and better world, not a more divided and dangerous one.

Now, it's important I think to notice that a couple of those strategic objectives that I just talked about are not focused only on the war on terror. Even though the press sometimes portrays my job as being outreach only to the Muslim world, that's really only a part of it.

We also seek in public diplomacy to nurture and strengthen our transatlantic relationships; our relationships with our neighbors in this hemisphere and Central and South America are incredibly important. President Bush asked me to make Latin America a priority. We also try to establish relationships with people even when we don't have relationships with their government to try to provide reliable information and establish relationship as best we can in countries such as Cuba and Iran.

To promote this worldwide conversation, we rely on a set of tactics that I call the Four E's. Now my office is kind of sick of them. Because as a communicator, I believe that it's important to boil things down to basics and I also think about the time you get sick of saying something is about the time it starts to sink in.

So I call them the four E's: Engage, Exchange, Educate and Empower. I think it is very important that our country engage more aggressively and communicate across the world -- Show up at conferences, travel, visit, be out there, be on television. We have quadrupled since I have arrived at the State Department the number of interviews we do with Arab television because we really need to be out there in the debate, advocating our policies. We have got wonderful values and ideals and we need to be out there making the case for them. We are positioning spokesmen in regional media centers in places like Dubai. As I mentioned, we dramatically increased our outreach to Arab media. We've launched a new web program called, "Democracy Dialogues," which I thought you might find particularly interesting. We've got academics, writing different pieces about different components of democracy, rule of law, religious freedom, press freedom, and we debate it on the web. We have a dialogue about it and that's proven quite popular so we need to be creative. And I would love ideas from you young people about how we could be more creative. Somebody suggested a video game and we are looking at the idea of a video game where you can run for office on the web and learn about democracy as you play this game. I think that is interesting for young people in societies where they don't have much freedom. It might be an interesting way for them to do this. So, I would welcome any ideas that you all have because you are a lot more familiar with all that technology than I am.

The second E is Exchange. And we are working to expand our exchange programs and making them more strategic. Everyone that I have ever met who has participated in an exchange program, and I know you are all high school students so I want to encourage you strongly as I have encouraged my own son and he probably won't do it because his mother suggests it, but I have encouraged him, participate in an exchange program. Go overseas for at least a semester, preferably a year. You will find it is a life changing experience. I grew up as a little girl and my dad was in the army, so I sort off hop scotched around the world. I learned something new every place I lived and you will find that the experience of going overseas will expand your horizons in ways that you just can't even imagine. And so I hope you will consider doing that.

Our research shows that people who have come to America or even know someone who has come to America tend to have a far more realistic and positive view of our country. I hope that those of you here are here from other countries on this program have that same experience. But likewise we want more Americans to travel and study abroad. A relatively small percentage of Americans have passports compared to other countries and we want to encourage our own citizens to become better citizens of the world, to travel and to learn more about other countries their cultures and their contributions.

Exchanges help young people gain confidence and learn how to handle the challenges that inevitably come up when you meet people who have diverse traditions and languages and cultures and ideas. Building understanding and respect takes patience. It takes hard work and it takes contact. You have to have a chance to talk with each other. It doesn't just happen by magic. You have to really work at it and so exchanges allow us to do that.

The success and importance of exchange programs has really highlighted the need for us to do more and, of course, government can't do it all. We can't pay to bring everybody to America that we would like to bring to America. So, we are working with the private sector, particularly the higher education community, to try and bring more people here to study.

This brings me to the third E, Education. My experiences as Under Secretary have only confirmed my conviction that education is among the most important things that parents the world over value and want for their children.

Education allows young people to see beyond a world of hate and hopelessness to one of possibility. It unleashes the creative contributions of all citizens, to both improve their own lives and work for the common good.

Education also inspires people to stand up for their rights -- to live in freedom, to participate in choosing their governments, to live in just societies governed by the rule of law where officials are not corrupt. And ultimately, I believe, education is the key to helping us prevail in the war of ideas.

I'm a particularly big advocate of literacy programs and also English language teaching because we are finding that learning to speak English around the world is a ticket to opportunity for many young people. It's something that young people want. It's something their parents for them and it also opens a window into our values. We've added resources for English language instruction for 9,000 high school students in 39 countries with have significant Muslim populations.

And I recently met with some of those young people in Morocco. You hear about the programs and you actually meet people participating in them. I asked a young man, "Tell me what learning to speak English has meant for you." He looked back at me and he said, "I have a job and my friends don't." That's the kind of difference that education can make.

Here in America, we also need to do a better job of educating ourselves, as I mentioned, about the world. Learning more about the world's history, learning more about other cultures, learning to speak different languages so we can communicate better in the global world in which we live.

The final E is Empower. We're working to empower our fellow Americans in the private sector, education leaders, Muslim Americans, because in this struggle against violent extremism that we face in the world today, the voices of government officials are not always the most credible or the most powerful voices. For example, Muslim Americans have far more credibility in debating issues of their faith than I do as a Christian woman. We have to recognize that so we seek to empower voices of others around the world.

During one of my trips I was in Germany and our ambassador hosted a gathering of some Turkish Muslims who live in Germany. And I asked this woman, who was telling me how isolated her community was, and I said well could I come visit and could I come to a neighborhood meeting.And she looked at me, very honest, and she said, "Not really. You wouldn't be welcome." And I was kind of taken aback and I said, "Why?" And she said, "Well, we don't even deal with our own government. Why would we want to me with somebody from yours?" And I said well, um, that was a pretty good question. And I said "Well, what if I sent a group of American Muslim citizens to come talk to you?" "That would be great," she said.

Well, we sent a group. We had a business leader, a cleric, a young student, and one of our government officials. They went in a team to Europe and visited several different countries. They had huge turnouts everywhere and it was so successful that we are going to do it around the world. In the Middle East, in Asia, and other locations around the world this fall. People are really responding well to that. So, I am a big believer in what I call citizen ambassadors. Empowering our own citizens to go out and speak on behalf of democracy and values because, in many ways, when you watch young people around the world ask a young American questions, that's the best way to talk about our American democracy and what America truly stand for.

If you turn on the news every night, it has been made very clear - these are challenging times for our country. Secretary Rice calls the challenge before us, in what we are trying to achieve, transformational diplomacy -- and what that means is that we are working toward a world in which democratic, well-governed states are able to respond to the needs of their people and act responsibly in the international system. That kind of diplomacy, as we work toward that, is rooted in partnership, not in paternalism, in trying to do things with other people, not for them.

I see the challenge before us in that new flat world that Thomas Friedman wrote about -- a global economy as one of openness, the need for open economies, open minds, open opportunities and open dialogue. I believe openness to one another is key to making long-term peace and prosperity possible.

As it was during the Cold War, our country's public diplomacy is the work of years and decades, but it's also urgent work for all of us. I was very pleased to hear several of you mention the need for greater understanding and for greater communication between Americans and people across the world. It's a very important, and I'm glad to see so many of you come together in a forum like this because I can think of no more important more hopeful thing for the future of the world than for young people from so many different countries and cultures to get together and get to know one another.

I'll never forget the very first time I visited New York City after the terror attacks on September 11th. It was three days later. It was Friday, September the 14th and I went with President Bush after the prayer service at the National Cathedral. We flew up to New York and of course by then I had seen the pictures over and over on television, so I had thought I knew what it looked like. But nothing can really describe the sensations of horror that I felt as our motorcade turned the corner and I saw that pile of still smoldering twisted steel and ruble.

And I emailed a friend later that night when we finally got home. After, as you could imagine, a draining emotionally exhausting day, I came away with three major reactions. First of all, horror. As I looked at those building I couldn't imagine the hate or the fanaticism. Why people wouldn't have turned away before flying those airplanes into buildings full of innocent people? Second of all, I felt a terrible sorrow that rescuers will still trying, hoping they would find, someone amidst the ruins. So many of the fireman and policeman there had lost family members and loved ones and it felt like there was literally a whole in the heart of Manhattan.

But amidst of all the horror and sadness, I also came away with a strong feeling of inspiration. Because as we left New York City that night, our motorcade drove down the streets and I looked out and thousands of New Yorkers were standing out holding candles, shouting thank you to volunteers and "God Bless America." And I still get goose bumps when I think about it. It was just a wonderful experience.

Next month will mark the fifth anniversary of September 11th. Five years since that terrible day in the history of our country. And yet I think those three are still our basic reactions. We feel horror because as we look at our enemies in the terror network and we see so clearly the contrast with the character and decency of the vast majority of compassionate people of the world. We feel sorrow because we know the worth and value, the precious nature of every single human life. It's really the fundamental difference between us and those in the terror network. We value every life. They value none. Not even the innocent not even sometimes their own.

Yet in the end, we are inspired because all of us, and this whole new generation of young people who are represented here tonight, have been called to service and to our better selves, reminded that we are part of a story that is so much bigger than any of our individual lives. We've seen evil and been reminded that it is very real. Yet the way to overcome it is with good, through what President Bush has called the gathering momentum of millions of acts of kindness and sacrifice and service that can change the world one life at a time.

By your presence here and your participation in this Summit, each of you represents one more reason to be much more hopeful about the future of our world. I applaud you for participating in this summit and I want to thank you so much for having me here this evening.

Thank you very much.

Released on September 14, 2006


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