About the Author: Jennifer Archibeque is a Program Officer at the State Department's Foreign Press Center.
The new Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs James K. Glassman engaged a crowded room of foreign correspondents from around the world in a discussion about U.S. Public Diplomacy and the War of Ideas at the Washington Foreign Press Center on Tuesday, July 15, 2008. [Full Text|View Video]
He returns today to give the keynote address at the Washington Foreign Press Center's 40th anniversary celebration. The Foreign Press Center (FPC), part of the Bureau of Public Affairs at the State Department, was created in 1968 to assist the 160 foreign correspondents based in Washington so that they could "provide their newspapers, radio stations and television outlets with better coverage of American developments and with more frequent in depth coverage." It is one tool in America's Public Diplomacy arsenal.
On Tuesday, Mr. Glassman explained that the current mission of U.S. diplomacy "...is to use the tools of ideological engagement -- words, deeds, images -- to create an environment hostile to violent extremism."
Although the Under Secretary emphasized the importance of U.S. engagement in the war of ideas in the Middle East, he also said that this war must be international in scope and that its goal is not to persuade foreign populations to adopt more favorable views of the United States and its policies, but to ensure that negative sentiments and day-to-day grievances toward the U.S. and its allies do not manifest themselves in the form of violent extremism."
As Mr. Glassman spoke, I thought about how the FPC, created under the U.S. Information Agency 40 years ago and then folded into the State Department in 1999, fit into the mission that he articulated.
Had the work that my colleagues and I have done with journalists over the years helped to ensure that negative sentiments had not manifested themselves in the form of violent extremism?
Public diplomacy is difficult to gauge because there is no quantifiable measure for human relationships and mutual understanding. Yet, anecdotal evidence leads me to believe that the answer is yes.
Immediately following September 11th, we took groups of Muslim and Christian journalists from around the world on reporting tours to learn about religious pluralism and ethnic diversity in the United States. During one of these tours, we visited mosques in New Mexico, an evangelical mega church in Texas, and interfaith organizations in Chicago. Afterward, the journalists wrote about how Americans of all colors and creeds were free to practice their faith in the U.S.
The journalists were often surprised at how freely everyone worshipped and by how religious Americans privately were. They wrote about this and talked to others about their experiences.
Had the journalists, in sharing their first-hand experiences when they returned home, caused someone who was susceptible to believing extremist ideology to change their mind? And if so, wasn't information that challenged one's world view a crucial first step?
Journalists' testimony that their U.S. experience challenged their previous perceptions, lead me to believe that the answer is yes. Cross-cultural encounters that FPC officers set up during the course of their every day work helps create an environment hostile to violent extremism.
As we celebrate 40 years in operation with a membership that now exceeds 3,000 journalists, I will think of how important carrying our message the last three feet in face-to-face communication truly is.