09 November 2001
State Department Introduces New Public Diplomacy Efforts
(Boucher, Beers brief at Foreign Press Center Nov. 9)
By Jane A. Morse Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the State Department has intensified its efforts to "tell America's story to the world."
Charlotte Beers, under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, and Richard Boucher, the Secretary of State's spokesman, introduced the Department's newest efforts in the Bush administration's campaign to fight terrorism at a November 9 press briefing at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, D.C.
Chief among these is a comprehensive fact book called "The Network of Terrorism," which summarizes what is known about the terrorist attacks of September 11 and their connection to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network. Currently available on the Internet (http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/terrornet/), it also describes the oppressive conditions of life under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, provides a sampling of opinion from the Islamic world on bin Laden's fatwas, lists countries joining in the coalitions to fight terrorism, and describes American humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
"The Network of Terrorism" will also be made available in print form in up to 30 different languages through U.S. embassies worldwide.
"I'm very concerned that we get our information out in full context," Beers said. "We know that in many of the countries where our messages are sent, that often they're distorted, they're one dimensional, or they're simply not heard."
To demonstrate that American Muslims are part of mainstream American life, State's Office of International Information Programs has produced a web-based "electronic pamphlet" (http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/muslimlife/) called "Muslim Life in America." Soon to be available in print form in many different languages, this pamphlet is a collection of 45 photos, statistics, feature articles and statements by American Muslims.
A broader look at how Islam has become an integral part of U.S. society is offered on the web site entitled "Islam in the United States" (http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/islam/). Estimates are that by the year 2010, Islam will become the second-largest faith practiced in the United States after Christianity.
Internet access continues to expand, but it is still unavailable to many individuals around the world, Beers and Boucher acknowledged. Nonetheless, they maintained that U.S. government web products still reach their intended audiences through news organizations, universities and other groups, which almost always have web access.
International Information Programs Coordinator John Dwyer noted that Middle Eastern and Arabic-speaking countries are among the fastest-growing audiences for the Internet. "There's approximately 12 million people in the Arab world on the web now," he said.
U.S. embassies, Boucher pointed out, have very active programs to help individuals access the Internet. "There something like 125 Internet access locations and programs that we run in the former Soviet Union," he noted.
In an effort to foster greater dialogue with the Muslim world, the State Department has established an advisory group comprising Muslim scholars and academics. The purpose of this group, which meets regularly, is to provide counsel for U.S. public diplomacy efforts and to find speakers to carry that message personally to foreign audiences, Beers said.
"The burden is on us to open a dialogue," Beers said. "By no means can we afford, in these more cynical, completely disenfranchised audiences, talking 'at' them."
Dwyer noted that State's Office of International Information Programs sponsors more than 900 American academics and policymakers a year to travel overseas to speak at a variety of events and meet their foreign counterparts. In addition, weekly digital video conference events promote dialogue.
U.S. policy statements "tend to be communications that are extremely reasoned and rational, and yet we know that much of the other side of this argument is intensely emotional," Beers observed. Of special concern, she said, is defining and explaining to foreign audiences "U.S. values," which tend to be taken for granted by Americans.
U.S. values, she said, are "just as important as our policies. Our policies are born of these values. And words like 'freedom' and 'tolerance' and 'diversity of human beings' are precious to us, and I don't think they're very well understood.
"We must renew our communication on what we mean by such things," Beers said.
Beers, who was a top executive in the advertising industry before she accepted her appointment at the State Department, said her marketing strategy for getting the U.S. government message out to the world "includes all the great disciplines of communication.
"It's not really about advertising; it's about communication, marketing strategy, understanding the audiences," she said.
Although Beers plans to enlist the aid of commercial advertising agencies in getting U.S. government messages out to the world, she cautioned: "You don't want to misconstrue the idea that we're going to run a glitzy advertising campaign."
She noted that budgetary constraints over the past decade have taken their toll on State's public affairs operations. "And so we are now determined to take what has been a very efficient, but necessarily narrow channel of distribution, forcing us to deal primarily with governments in the first order of communications, and now we know we are in a battle to broaden that communication."