About the speakers (L to R): Jamie F. Metzl recently completed a term as a Visiting Scholar in the Project on the Information Revolution and World Politics at the Carnegie Endowment. Previously he served as Director for Multilateral and Humanitarian Affairs at the National Security Council and as Senior Coordinator for International Public Information at the Department of State. While in the NSC, he was the primary author of Presidential Decision Directive 68 on International Public Information, and led international information campaigns for the Kosovo and Iraq crises, among others. Among his publications are "Can Public Diplomacy Rise from the Ashes?" and "Information Intervention." Steven Livingston is Associate Professor of Media and Public Affairs and International Affairs and Director of the Political Communication Program at George Washington University. Previously he was a Senior Research Fellow at the Social Science Research Council and a Research Fellow at the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics, and Public Diplomacy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Among his publications are, The Terrorism Spectacle: The Politics of Terrorism. He is currently completing a book with Jarol Manheim entitled POLITECHNIQUE: How Technologies are Changing Politics. The LSU Press will publish it in 2002. Barry Fulton is a Research Professor and Director of the Public Diplomacy Institute at George Washington University and an instructor in Public Diplomacy at the Foreign Service Institute. Previously he was Associate Director of the U.S. Information Agency from 1994 to 1997, at the conclusion of a 30-year career in the Foreign Service. He directed the 1998 CSIS study, Reinventing Diplomacy in the Information Age, and in July 2001 was the guest editor of the on-line journal iMP, which focused on diplomacy in the year 2015 (www.cisp.org/imp). Jon Alterman is Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Previously he was a Program Officer at the U.S. Institute for Peace, where he wrote and spoke widely on Middle Eastern conflicts, new media, and public diplomacy. Among his publications is, New Media, New Politics: From Satellite Television to the Internet in the Arab World.
On November 27, 2001, the Project on the Information Revolution and World Politics, convened a panel discussion called "Winning Hearts and Minds: Propaganda and Public Diplomacy in the Information Age." The panel moderator, project director William Drake, introduced the topic by noting an apparent paradox.
Over the past decade, many in the foreign policy community have come to believe that America's global preeminence rests not only on "hard" or materially-based power, but also on "soft" or persuasive power. In this view, the United States is able to lead the world because other countries are attracted to its values, ideas, and popular culture and therefore accept its core objectives as their own. Further, some analysts argue that the explosive growth of new information channels and the empowerment of actors with opposing points of view will make America's ability to project soft power and "tell its story" even more important in the years ahead.
Nevertheless, at the same that the attractiveness of American ideals has been
celebrated within the beltway, a different picture has come into view elsewhere.
Anti-American sentiment appears to be on the rise around the world. Drake noted
that a wide range of reasons have been cited for this state of affairs, such
as the United States' overwhelming power, its penchant for unilateral action,
its mismanagement of some local presences abroad, and so on. He speculated that
the information revolution also might be contributing to the backlash, insofar
as America's domestic socio-cultural problems are constantly on display via
global media. But regardless of the causes, clearly it is possible to drink
Coke and listen to Michael Jackson's music while resenting or even hating the
United States and its actions. Drake suggested that this is a real concern because
while we need friends and international cooperation to tackle many of today's
challenges, foreign governments may be inhibited by unsupportive domestic public
The crisis begun on September 11 has driven these concerns up the foreign policy
agenda. While the "Arab street" has not risen up to fight alongside
the Al-Queda, hostility to the United States is widespread in the Islamic world.
Accordingly, whether and how the United States can "win hearts and minds"
in the Middle East and beyond is a growing concern. The Bush administration
has belatedly taken up the challenge, among other things by installing as Under
Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Charlotte Beers, who was previously
an advertising executive and managed a campaign for Uncle Ben's Rice. Drake
suggested that selling Uncle Sam's policies may prove to be more difficult.
The administration has taken steps to utilize the Internet and other media,
dropped leaflets in Afghanistan, and increased its representation on the Al-Jazeera
television network, but clearly there is much more to be done. Hence, Drake
asked the panelists to address the problems facing U.S. public diplomacy today
and to outline measures that would enhance its effectiveness.
Barry Fulton, the panel's first speaker, made the argument that the United
States must devote more people, resources and time to developing a long term
information strategy. Fulton argued that this strategy should rely on interpersonal
communication rather than slogans to foster genuine understanding between American
people and those in the Islamic world. He argued for both reactive public diplomacy,
driven by events, and proactive public diplomacy, driven by values and executed
largely through exchanges.
Fulton began by noting how public diplomacy campaigns accompany every American
war, from those of Benjamin Franklin in the Revolutionary War and Abraham Lincoln
in the Civil War to those of leaders in World War II and in the Cold War. In
1953, President Eisenhower created the United States Information Agency (USIA)
by consolidating information programs at the State Department into an independent
agency that President Clinton reintegrated with the State Department in 1999.
In the last 40 years, Fulton explained, the United States has doubled the number
of countries in which it has public diplomacy operations in its embassies while
halving the number of people performing these roles.
Fulton then evaluated public diplomacy in the aftermath of September 11. The
American government has acknowledged the inadequacy of its own public diplomacy
campaign as compared to its military one, leading commentators and critics to
conclude that the United States is losing the propaganda war. Fulton encouraged
the nation to focus on an information strategy that embraces proactive as well
as reactive public diplomacy and to cease "scorekeeping on propaganda."
Fulton likened the approach of printing more leaflets and adding more hours
to our international broadcast schedule to a hypothetical information campaign
waged by the Taliban to persuade American women to wear burkas. These ineffectual
short-term efforts do not address the deeper challenge of engaging in productive
dialogue with real people.
Fulton believes that the information revolution has not changed the underlying
conditions for the world's disenfranchised; instead it has amplified their discontent.
From Franz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth (1961), Fulton quoted, "The colonized
man finds his freedom in and through violence. At the level of individuals,
violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex
and from his despair and inaction. It makes him fearless and restores his self
respect." Fulton argued that the information revolution, rather than extending
benefits, has enabled people "to express their despair through faxes, e-mails,
videos, and, of course, the technology of the industrial world which has been
turned against it."
Fulton concluded his remarks by presenting his conception of a wise information
strategy as one that, resulting from a national debate within the United States,
complements long term economic and national security policies, devotes more
resources to information sharing relative to information gathering, and creates
a sense of community between the Western and Islamic world.
The second speaker, Jamie Metzl, encouraged the audience to take lessons from
previous international conflicts to develop a concrete information strategy.
Using the examples of the Balkans, Rwanda, and the Gulf War, Metzl highlighted
the United States' uneven international information record. He concluded his
remarks with general lessons for United States government information engagement
in the current crisis and beyond.
In the past decades, several international conflicts have involved incendiary
propaganda. In the Balkans, Milosevic seized Bosnia's transmitters in 1992 as
he escalated his aggressive Serb nationalism. In 1997, the North Atlantic Council
authorized NATO peacekeepers to take all actions necessary to "suspend
or curtail programming that is hostile to the spirit of the Dayton accords."
Later that year, NATO troops went so far as to take over Serb radio and television
transmitters that continued to broadcast inciting messages. In 1998, peacekeepers
established an independent media commission (IMC) to regulate the media environment.
Following suit in Kosovo, the international community established a regulatory
commission to limit hate speech and support the growth of wide-ranging independent
media. In 1999, the United States built a "ring around Serbia" of
radio transmission towers that broadcast Serbian language international news
programming into Serbia when Milosevic made such broadcasting illegal there.
However, in other conflicts, the United States and the international community
have not taken positive steps to manage the information space. In Rwanda in
1994, Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines was used to incite and organize
genocide by providing detailed instructions to militias. In 1993, a United Nations
report identified radio as a fomenter of ethnic division; yet, the international
community had taken few concrete actions to prevent the imminent genocide.
Similarly, after winning the Gulf War, the United States and its allies "disastrously
lost the propaganda war in the Middle East," as Saddam Hussein effectively
convinced Arab populations that American sanctions were responsible for their
suffering. Metzl argued that when the terrorism crisis broke out this past September,
"for 10 years, we hadn't even been playing in the game," despite having
answers to allegations made against the United States. After a decade of overlooking
the information revolution in the Islamic world, now the United States recognizes
the need to address the populations on the Arab street and in effect, win hearts
and minds. "A lot of attitudes and opinions have already formed,"
Echoing the previous speaker, Metzl called for a "broad based information
engagement" strategy, emphasizing the importance of outward orientation.
First, the United States must form alliances with non-governmental organizations
all over the world to monitor the media environment effectively. The United
States Agency for International Development (USAID) should promote indigenous
media development, recognizing that people trust their local media more than
they do international media. The government, as a whole, should support indigenous
media even when they criticize the United States, engaging with these organizations
and civil society groups.
Second, U.S. information agencies must focus on international broadcasting,
assessing our strengths and weaknesses and coordinating among bureaucratic branches
within the government to ensure our credibility. We should develop a clear agenda
for organizations like Voice of America to serve either as independent news
providers or as aggressive radio advocates like Radio Free Europe or Radio Free
Afghanistan. A clear objective would prevent complicated situations such as
the one that arose in late September when U.S. government officials in the National
Security Council objected to a Voice of America broadcast of an interview with
Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
Finally, as part of its overall strategy, the United States must develop creative
responses to counter and suppress the most incendiary hate propaganda. Metzl
touted the importance of engaging in dialogue with foreign populations while
maintaining credibility and faith in American convictions. "As I see it,
we must do a much better job along a spectrum of activities and in pulling together
all of the various governmental and non-governmental actors who can help us
in our information engagement," Metzl said.
Steven Livingston, the next speaker, focused his remarks on the impact of technological
innovation on the media environment. Livingston concluded that today's media
organizations, capable of airing live communication with pictures from anywhere
in the world using small, lightweight and highly mobile equipment, have revolutionized
broadcasting since 1999. The proliferation of camcorders, remote sensing technology,
and satellite and cell phones has made the information space "uncontrollable"
Livingston asked the audience to remember on September 11 the number of times
they saw the footage of planes flying into the towers of the World Trade Center
and the towers themselves collapsing. He pointed out that many of these images
came from camcorders of private citizens. Due to the proliferation of camcorder
and related technology, "if [an event] happens, it's likely to be captured
and make its way into the media environment," Livingston said. The challenge
for information producers and consumers lies in gaining adequate information
to present and interpret events.
Remote sensing satellite technology, sophisticated enough to provide images
of half-meter resolution and becoming increasingly prevalent throughout the
world, enables direct observation of land surface. On November 26, an NBC news
account offered a satellite image of a suspected terrorist training facility
south of Baghdad. This type of footage compels the world community to acknowledge
and act upon information "hitherto unavailable to news organizations, private
and voluntary organizations, NGOs and advocacy groups around the world."
Further, audiences privy to this type of coverage are no longer regional, but
rather, global. Livingston pointed out that the accounts of events in Afghanistan
appearing in the New York Times or on CNN come from a compilation of a number
of regional news organizations operating together.
The innovation in media technology, particularly the communication capability
that satellite and cell phones afford, has driven news reporting out of institutions
and into the field. Livingston reminded the audience of the incident in April,
2001 in which CNN used a videophone to transmit live images of the U.S. crew
of a Navy spy plane in Hainan, China. In years past, this type of live broadcast
would have required an enormous satellite uplink unit, weighing tons and costing
tens of thousands of dollars to transport; today, this laptop-sized technology
is used extensively in reporting from Afghanistan. Journalists, no longer tethered
to unwieldy technology, can "ride circuit" to depict distant, remote,
violent, dramatic events that previously would have been described only by spokespersons
Livingston encouraged the United States to adopt a "coherent information
response policy" rather than succumb to the impulse, as Colin Powell did
with Al-Jazeera, to squelch this powerful technology without adequately considering
our first amendment traditions.
The fourth and final speaker, Jon Alterman, approached the information space
from the point of view of consumers, making recommendations for competing effectively
in the marketplace of ideas. All over the world, including the Arab world, consumers
play a more critical role in determining what they see, learn and hear than
in years past. Traditional government censorship is crumbling as a result of
pervasive technology that enables people to receive information from a cassette
tape, fax or an international broadcaster via radio or satellite television.
In several countries in the Middle East, with a satellite dish, a café
can broadcast television that hundreds of people can watch at a very minimal
cost. The breakdown of censorship-the information tool of many Arab governments-has
serious implications for American foreign policy.
Alterman explained that while these changes present more outlets for the American
message they starkly expose a Darwinian competition among ideas in the Arab
world. He believes that we must compete actively in this arena in the short
and long term. He then listed several initiatives taken by the U.S. government
including the establishment of coalition information centers to coordinate messages
from Islamabad to London to Washington around the clock. Officials like Chris
Ross, Arabic-speaker and former U.S. Ambassador to Syria and Algeria, have made
frequent appearances on the Arab satellite network. Alterman called for more
native speakers to compete with the negative messages directed against the United
States on these stations. In addition, the government holds daily a high-level
strategy phone call among media, the Pentagon, the White House, the State Department
and others to address the ever-changing media space.
In Alterman's estimation, the United States has made an effective case that
"it's not just us beating up a bunch of poor Afghans." For the past
two months, the complexity of the situation in Afghanistan has come through
on Al-Jazeera, NBC, LBC, Orbit, all the different Arab satellite stations, in
addition to CNN and other U.S. stations. While the public celebrations in the
Middle East in the days just following September 11 no longer pose a major problem,
Alterman believes that the U.S. must address deeply ingrained anti-imperialist
sentiments directed towards the nation.
William Drake began the question and answer period by inviting the panel to speak more directly to the effectiveness of the Bush administration's current campaign. Metzl responded by emphasizing that until recently, the United States had not been competing at all in information issues. Metzl advised the U.S. to develop and put forward an affirmative vision of the allied campaign against terrorism and develop systematic strategies to open the Islamic media space. "The lessons of Bosnia and Kosovo have demonstrated that we need to be involved right away because nature abhors a vacuum," Metzl said, arguing for the establishment of indigenous media outlets in the Middle East that involve international organizations and ample journalistic training.
One audience member asked about the role of private American media, such as
CNN, in the public diplomacy effort. Metzl believes that the government should
not place limits on media organizations, arguing that National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice's effort to discourage networks from airing bin Laden's messages
did not serve U.S. purposes. Fulton added that the government should not interfere
with private sector operations, but strongly encourage news media "to cover
this world fully."
Another participant asked how the United States could maintain the support
of our present coalition partners, the Europeans and Russians? Alterman urged
the United States to think of information programs "as a two way street,"
agreeing with Metzl that the government must gauge how accurately the feedback
we receive in the open media environment reflects the position of people in
other countries and address their concerns. On a different note, a third audience
member asked about how the United States should address allies such as Egypt
whose governments tightly control media that demonize America. Metzl ventured
to argue that on a bilateral level the United States could urge allies to open
up their media in exchange for certain kinds of assistance including helping
nations establish legal safeguards and training journalists for responsible
media organization. In response, a participant recalled the panelists' previous
criticism of Secretary Powell's move to place pressure on Al-Jazeera. Metzl
countered the point with the distinction that in the context of the administration's
action towards Al-Jazeera, there was no effort to support the growth of local
A participant expressed concerns about possible contradictions in previous
U.S. information campaigns. For example, he argued that while the media demonized
Serbia and portrayed the Muslims as heroes worthy of U.S. support, the State
Department indicted the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) as a terror organization.
In response, Livingston disagreed that the media presented a unified view of
the KLA throughout 1999, urging people to appreciate the complexities of media
and the porous nature of the media environment. Alterman agreed with Livingston
that as long as alternative media exists in some states in a region with significant
media control, viewers have the possibility for independent news. Metzl explained
the situation by acknowledging a tendency on the part of the media "to
root for the underdog" or to discard "the more cynical interpretation
when politically expedient." However, he added that in the open political
environment, the KLA came under attack because its values failed to compete
well with other values.
Finally, a participant offered a skeptical syllogism about the discussion: "the number of media sources is increasing exponentially; the United States benefits from the healthy exchange of information; therefore, the United States has nothing to worry about." In response, Alterman argued that the United States could compete well in the information space if our message resonates with the global audience and addresses their concerns. "More bad or dull information is not going to have any impact whatsoever," he said. Fulton claimed that the logic of the panelists remarks endures when applied to those populations with adequate access to our values and views, admitting that John Ashcroft translated into Arabic on Al-Jazeera cannot compete with vicious anti-American propaganda that children receive for eight hours per day during school.
Livingston approached the statements by arguing that until recently, the government
has not kept pace with the new capabilities of the information environment due
to a lack of leadership in the immediate aftermath of September 11. "This
is a new information environment," he said, optimistically. William Drake
added that one problem with the syllogism is the prospect of increasing "disinformation"
campaigns by U.S. opponents, who can use the new technology to both manipulate
and disseminate words and images.
Report prepared by Pavani Reddy