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Public Diplomacy: Waging Peace Around The World


Karen Hughes, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Remarks to the International Public Relations Association
London, England
November 6, 2007

Public Diplomacy: Waging Peace Around The World

I'm delighted to be here today in a room full of such senior public relations professionals from across the world. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to discuss something that affects all of us--how we can build more positive, constructive relationships between people of many different countries, cultures and faiths.

I like to say that public diplomacy, which is the work of one country to engage the publics of other countries, is people-driven. It involves reaching out, in a spirit of respect and friendship, to listen, to inform, to seek to understand--and that is work that you specialize in as public relations professionals.

As your President-elect, Bob Grupp, said very eloquently in a recent editorial

The real work of public relations professionals today is dialogue and collaboration in a world where we all often are seated at the same global table. Public relations people come to this table with the most useful of professional skills--in communications and relationship building...using these, they can identify, highlight and nurture common interests and common values among audiences worldwide.

To do this, I feel strongly that public relations professionals have to be in on business decisions and policy discussions from the very beginning. As a former Congressman once told me, the communicators have to be in on making the car, not just selling the "lemon." Former journalist and USIA director Edward R. Murrow applied the same thought to public diplomacy, saying it has to be in on the take-off, not just the crash landing. I'm sure many of you have had the experience that the client calls when it's a crisis, when had you been involved from the beginning, the crash landing might have been avoided entirely.

When President Bush and Secretary Rice asked me to come back to Washington in 2005 and take on America's public diplomacy, several of my friends recommended against it--in fact, some people described the job as "Mission Impossible." The polls looked terrible, we were in the midst of a war that many people across the world had disagreed with and I knew there wasn't much that could be done in the short run to change that picture especially at a time of war, when stories of violence fill TV screens.

But I remember a conversation with my son, who said, "You have to do it, Mom." I was surprised--and asked him why? He said, "You really care about it...and it's really important for my generation." I believe it is vitally important for the next generation--not just American children but children across our world -- that our nation reaches out in a spirit of friendship and respect, to try to build relationships and better understanding.

I'm here today to ask for your involvement and help in this work that I call "waging peace"--because at the heart of public diplomacy is a mission that belongs not just to America, but to people of good heart and good conscience across our world. Public diplomacy should likewise not be the job of government alone, just as people's views of a country are not formed by government policies and actions alone in language familiar to many in this room, it's a "complicated brand" --I like to say the world's picture of America is a complex tapestry, woven by many different artists--from the pop culture of Hollywood to the policies of Washington, from the products of our corporate world to the personalities of our many different people. At the complete other end of the spectrum, I remember meeting with the foreign minister of a small, relatively new country--who was worried that her country wasn't really known for or defined by anything. So we all face different challenges: My first approach was to look at all recommendations made about public diplomacy {there were more than 30 reports}, assemble a team and define clear goals.

All our public diplomacy work is guided by three strategic imperatives:

The first is that we must offer people across the world a positive vision of hope that is rooted in our deepest values, our belief in liberty, in justice, in opportunity, in the dignity and equality of every person.

I saw an interview of a young man in Morocco who was asked what he thought of when he thought of America--he said "For me, America represents the hope of a better life." It's vitally important that our country and our many friends and partners in the transatlantic community of Europe continue to offer that beacon of hope for others who do not enjoy the basic freedoms we do.

That's why we speak out for democracy and against human rights offenders and for a free press and against those who would stifle religious freedom, for equal treatment for women and minorities and against sex trafficking--because we believe that every person has value and we proudly stand for human rights and human freedom everywhere. I remember watching in a classroom where one of our Fulbright scholars was teaching English by using the writings of the great civil rights leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and I realized the students were learning more than English--they were learning our values as they read his letter from the Birmingham Jail, so eloquently stating that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Our second strategic imperative is to isolate and marginalize the violent extremists and undermine their efforts to try to appropriate religion to their cause. Those who murder and terrorize innocent people do not represent any faith but pervert all faith with their violent acts. I've spent a great deal of time reaching out to Muslim Americans and Muslim audiences across the world, because their voices are critical in this effort as we confront fundamentalist and extremist groups.

The third imperative, and this one sounds kind of simple--it came from a beloved former ambassador, who said, "Karen, especially at a time of war and common threats, it is vitally important that we actively nurture and foster common interests and common values with people of different countries and cultures and faiths." This is the heart of public diplomacy and the heart of what you do in public relations--identify common interests and values and build understanding.

During the last 2 years, I have traveled to more than 40 countries, I have found that no matter the color of their skin, or the language they speak, or the country where they live, most people want fundamentally the same things--a safe place to live, a job so they can provide for their family, health care, education for their children, the right to worship as they choose, and the hope of a better tomorrow.

Over time, I found myself increasingly focusing on three major areas: communications, education and exchange programs and what I call the "diplomacy of our deeds"--the humanitarian actions that often speak louder than words.

I'd like to talk a little about each of these. I don't need to tell a roomful of communicators that we are living in a time of dramatic change in the communications environment. When I took this job, I tried to look at the lessons of history. During the Cold War, we were trying to get information in to people in largely closed societies who were hungry to hear from the outside world. These days, with a few exceptions, there aren't too many people around the world waiting, eager to hear from America. Instead, we are competing for attention and credibility in a very crowded and noisy communications environment. Most of the world now gets its news from television--again, there are exceptions in some countries in Africa, where radio is still dominant--but by and large mass audiences across the world now get their information on television. When I go to the Middle East, even in very poor neighborhoods, every roof has a satellite dish, which brings a choice of 200-plus television stations. This has huge implications for relations and public diplomacy. Because think about it--when you see something on television, you tend to give it more credibility because you have seen it with your own eyes.

I remember meeting a young man in China, who had just returned from his first trip to America. He told me how surprised he was, so I asked him what had surprised him. He said he learned that Americans are friendly, care about their families; a lot of them go to worship. Since polls show that many Americans care most about family and faith, I asked him where is the disconnect is and he responded, "America is not the way it looks on television." With mass audiences forming their impressions from what they see on TV, that is a concern. I remember in the weeks after Sept. 11 learning that the No. 1 show among men in the Arab world was "Baywatch." Today television time is often dominated by the ups and downs of Hollywood figures, and while that is part of America, it does not reflect most of my country. And in a free society there's not a lot I can do about that. But what I can do is try to get American voices out a lot more on news and information programs.

When I arrived at the State Department, the television station Al Jazeera, was the leading news station across the Middle East. And not many government officials were appearing on Al Jazeera because we were mad at them, they were airing terrorist videos. But as a communicator, I thought that was a mistake: You can be unhappy with a media outlet and complain about the coverage, but you still want to engage their audience. If I am appearing on the station, at the very least, I am denying our opponents air time. And so we launched an aggressive effort to empower our ambassadors and public affairs officers to get out more on the media and speak up, explain our policies.

Previously, ambassadors felt they had to get clearance from Washington before saying anything. Given the time differences, they missed the news cycle. So I have told our ambassadors, they don't need permission; they are expected to be the face and the voice of America, to get on television and engage with the media. Today our ambassadors are appearing regularly on Al Jazeera and Al Aribiya and Al Hurra and BBC and CNN. Which makes sense in a world with hundreds of media outlets; we have more than 200 ambassadors and only one Secretary of State.

Recognizing the increasingly regional nature of media, we also established three regional media hubs in the international media centers of London, Brussels and Dubai--to strategically book language-qualified American spokespeople on television. Our presence on media in Europe and the Middle East is up dramatically--and 82% of our interviews in the Arab world were in Arabic.

As you well know, we no longer live in a 24-hour news cycle, but in an instantaneous one--yet when I arrived at the State Department, there was no way of knowing what was being said about us on TV or the Internet around the world. So we created a state-of-the-art broadcast center that constantly monitors international media. It produces a morning report that gives Americas military leaders and ambassadors an honest summary of what is driving news and how the world is reacting to American actions, and provides a concise summary of our positions on these issues.

And we have been working to improve our use of technology--we now have web sites in English and six foreign languages--as well as many embassy websites in local languages. We have a new "digital outreach team," staffed with State and DOD experts, which engages in Arabic on blogs and in the chat rooms. We are adding Farsi and Urdu.

I've challenged my team to use new technology to reach younger people--the IPod Generation--with pod-casting and postings to You Tube. This is a challenge for government, which does not always move swiftly--senior people like me over 50 started our careers before the Internet existed.

We've sponsored photo contests, given video cameras to exchange students, hired TV crews--we are trying to think visually. There is an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words and it is true, so I have been battling to get more images to go with our words.

And we are mounting a more aggressive effort to counter extremist propaganda. This summer we launched a new Counter Terrorism Communications Center--CTCC--to bring together culturally sensitive, knowledgeable experts to develop messages to challenge terrorist ideology.

Our second area of focus is on education and international exchange programs. These people-to-people programs foster life-long connections. I am convinced they have proven to be our single-most effective public diplomacy tool over the last 50 years. We are making these programs more strategic--inviting clerics, journalists, teachers, business leaders, those with a wide circle of influence, to come to see America.

Experience has shown that the single most effective thing we can do to improve understanding of our country is to bring people to the U.S. and let them decide for themselves. We have worked to expand these programs dramatically, up from 27,000 participants in 2004 to more than 40,000 today, and with additional budget allocations I hope it will reach 50,000. I meet regularly with the participants. They are almost always positive about our country and most say the same thing: "It changed my life." It also has the potential to change the world. More than 130 world leaders have participated in our academic or exchange programs, including your Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, the President of France, and the new President of Turkey. This is enormous intellectual capital for our country and we need to ensure the same is true 20 to 30 years from now.

We are also encouraging more Americans to go overseas. One of the complaints I hear is that Americans don't learn about other countries, cultures or languages. Part of my job has been to encourage my fellow Americans to travel, study abroad, learn other languages and learn more about the rich culture and history of other countries across the world.

At the same time, we are dramatically expanding English language teaching programs, which gives young people a marketable skill that they seek, and opens a window to a wider world of knowledge. I remember meeting with a young man from a neighborhood that had produced suicide bombers. I asked him what difference learning English had made. And he said, "I have a job and none of my friends do." That young man also has a hope and a reason to live rather than kill himself and others in a suicide bombing.

This summer we launched a new program to reach younger audiences than we have ever engaged before -more than 6,000 young people ages 8 to 14 in 13 countries and the West Bank and Gaza. We made it fun with sports and arts and computer activities and citizenship and leadership training. Our evaluations showed overwhelmingly positive feedback.

We are also trying to communicate more through arts and culture. We launched a new Global Cultural Initiative in partnership with groups like the Kennedy Center and American Film Institute. This summer, we sent out a Latino-American--fusion-funk-hip-hop group called Ozomatli to Cairo, Tunis and Amman. They drew huge crowds and communicated a message that diversity is a strength that enriches rather than divides.

Sport also speaks a universal language. So through partnerships with the basketball leagues and major league soccer, we've sent out coaches and conducted skills clinics across the world. We named American Public diplomacy envoys -- Baseball super star Cal Ripken Jr. is currently in China. He joins Olympic Skater Michelle Kwan as a great goodwill ambassador for our country.

We've found the best representatives of America are our fellow Americans. Through a new program called "Citizen Dialogue," we've sent Muslim Americans as citizen envoys to Muslim countries. It grew out of a conversation I had with a Turkish woman in Germany. She told me how isolated the Muslim community there often feels. I asked if I could visit and she said, "No." I was taken aback and asked her why. "We're not interested in meeting with our own government," she said, "Why would we want to meet with yours?" I asked, "Could I send some Muslim American citizens?" She replied, "That would be wonderful." So we have subsequently sent delegations to places as diverse as Jordan, Pakistan, India, Denmark --a group that recently went to Malaysia, including an Imam, appeared on Malaysia's top-rated morning television program. The station was so interested that it sent a camera crew to America to film American Muslims in their homes for an 8-part prime time series on Islam in America.

Our third major area of focus is what I call the "diplomacy of deeds," the concrete ways in which governments, individuals and community and faith-based groups are improving lives around the world, particularly in the areas that people care the most about--education, health, and economic opportunity. We are working in partnership with other countries to save lives by fighting AIDS in Africa, and combating Malaria, a preventable disease that kills 3,000 children a day. We worked with Nancy Brinker and the Susan G. Komen Foundation to launch the first comprehensive women's health initiative in the Middle East--a breast cancer awareness initiative. First Lady Laura Bush recently visited the Middle East to expand that program and we are in the process of expanding it to Latin America. Sharing knowledge and information not only helps save lives, but also teaches women how to network, to participate in society and to take charge of their own future.

History tells us the ideological challenge between forces of freedom and forces of tyranny is the challenge of decades, not months or years. And we need the active engagement of the private sector.

One of the most significant institutional changes we've initiated is enlisting the active involvement of the private sector–where we've leveraged $800 million and partnered with the higher education and the travel and tourism industry, who have a shared interest in attracting people to our country. We realized we have a lot of work to do to make America more welcoming in light of new security requirements post 9/11, and we've worked to speed up the visa process. Disney Parks and Resorts produced and donated to the government a new video, featuring the faces and voices of Americans to welcome people to our country. We plan to play it at embassies, in consular waiting areas and in customs lines as people arrive at our airports. At the beginning of this year, we hosted a private sector summit on public diplomacy at the State Department with the Public Relations Coalition. It brought together more than 160 communications executives to help identify specific actions to expand private sector involvement and support for U.S. public diplomacy. Some of their suggestions included creating internships and mentoring opportunities for international employees, sponsoring citizenship and leadership classes, naming a corporate officer for public diplomacy outreach. And you, as public relations professionals, are natural partners in this work -our deputy assistant secretary for public diplomacy in Europe, Colleen Graffy, will be participating in the next panel and will be eager to hear your ideas. The need to connect with diverse global audiences is not just P.R. but good business in today's international world.

As communicators, you know that in order to be successful, our messages must be coordinated and credible. But most importantly, they must speak to the conscience of people around the world.

I'll close with the story of a young man that I met in Turkey. When I first took this job, I went on a listening tour across the Middle East, and a young man asked me a very poignant question. I've never forgotten it. He looked at me and through the translator he said, "Does the Statue of Liberty still face out?" And he meant, is the United States still a welcoming country? And I told him yes, the Statue of Liberty does face out, and it is our challenge to make sure that the answer is always yes, that America remains open, welcoming and engaged with the world.

Thank you.

Released on November 14, 2007

ENDS

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