Center for Strategic Communication

by Steven R. Corman

As Matt over at MountainRunner noted, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Jim Glassman’s recent PR offensive included a roundtable conference call with bloggers earlier this week.

What a difference and appointee makes. I haven’t actually counted appearances, but I’ll bet has has allready outdone his predecessors (maybe even both of them, combined) in terms of Op-Ed pieces, speeches, appearances, and so on.  And he wins hands-down on the blogger roundtable count.

In his statements so far, Glassman has been pushing a heavy dose of realdiplomatik, saying that public diplomacy (PD) is not the solution to American’s terrorism problem, and that our best hope is to help poison the well of the Bad Guys’ PD efforts. Though that message is not well received by some commentators, I agree–especially from the point of view of what Glassman can accomplish in six months.

This led me to ask in the teleconference: What is the plan for pushing back against extremist ideology? Glassman replied:

Well I think that the United States is not – that Americans are not particularly credible messengers. And we realize that. And the pushing back against the ideology is – that is done by Muslims themselves. And we want to do what we can to encourage that.

He went on to discuss the importance of recantations by prominent ideologies like Dr. Fadl (but see here and here for controversy about that) and doing what we can to help publicize those. This is an opportunistic strategy of passively waiting for developments that will hurt the Bad Guys, then helping spread those around.

Though that is a good enough plan, it doesn’t seem like much work for the combined strategic communication apparatus of the U.S. Of course there may be plans in place that he (understandably) doesn’t want broadcast on the Internet. But we could do with a more specifics on what the U.S. will do under his leadership on both the “War of Ideas” and PD fronts.

To that end, here are three questions I would have asked in the teleconference had there been more time. I encourage the Under Secretary to address them in a future statement:

  1. What is the plan in the next six months for encouraging Muslims to push back against extremist ideologies, beyond being opportunistic? For example what will he do to make peaceful Muslims in the U.S. feel safe to be more vocal in the debate with extremists?
  2. What is the plan in the next six months to improve the U.S. image through public diplomacy, other than doing what we are doing now? In particular, is the U.S. National Strategy for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication still in force? I presume not, as Glassman has seemed to discount a number of its assumptions. If that’s the case, what is the new strategy?
  3. What is the plan in the next six months for looping PD considerations into the policy making process? This is a tension revealed in one of Glassman’s earlier statements, and lack of such a loop is in my view one of the root causes of U.S. image problems.