About the Author: Judith McHale serves as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
I am deeply honored to join President Obama and Secretary Clinton in spearheading America’s renewed engagement with the people of the world. As Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs I will work with a talented team of career diplomats all over the globe to build lasting relationships of mutual trust and respect between the American people and foreign publics.
As the daughter of a U.S.Foreign Service Officer, I was taught that there is no higher calling than public service. When my father was stationed in apartheid-era South Africa, our home was under police surveillance, friends were detained and mistreated, and I saw what it means to live in a society that is not free. That experience instilled in me the importance of fulfilling our responsibilities as citizens, of public service, and of standing up for what we know is right.
So even though I am new to the State Department, I am deeply aware of the importance of engaging people across the globe. At Discovery Communications, which I helped expand into 170 countries, we prided ourselves on building bridges of knowledge and information that connected people all over the world. We believed in engaging people internationally on their own terms, respecting their languages, customs, and interests.
I believe passionately that public diplomacy is both integral to our foreign policy and essential for our national security, and I plan to bring that same spirit of respectful engagement to my new role here at the State Department.
In today’s rapidly changing world, the United States must continue to move beyond traditional government-to-government diplomacy and seek innovative ways to communicate and engage directly with foreign publics.
The challenges we face require a complex, multi-dimensional approach to public diplomacy. We have to listen more and lecture less. And we have to learn how people in other countries and cultures listen to us. We need to understand their interests and aspirations, and use our leadership to provide them with information and services they value. If we do this right, we can forge relationships that become part of their daily lives. They may come to see their relationship with us, the United States of America, our government, and our greatest asset of all – the American people – as essential to their ability to achieve progress and prosperity, and fulfill their dreams of a brighter future.
This vision is more possible than ever because new communications advances provide unprecedented opportunities to engage people directly, to connect them to one another, and to dramatically scale up many traditional public diplomacy efforts. They provide us the opportunity to move from an old paradigm in which our government speaks as one to many, to a new model of engaging interactively and collaboratively across lines that might otherwise divide us from people around the world. Public diplomacy is not something the government can or should do alone. New technological tools will help us tap into the spirit, optimism, and diversity of the American people, including our many Diaspora communities with their deep ties and networks spanning the globe.
I look forward to working with the dedicated professionals here at the State Department and new partners from across our country to provide the open hand of friendship the President promised the world in his inaugural address.