During the recent crisis in Libya and the events surrounding the online dissemination of a hateful video, many asked: what tools does the State Department have to respond to audiences and engage people around the world in real time?
The answer is many. A robust team at State is making use of every tool in the proverbial toolbox to communicate U.S. foreign policy and American values while identifying new and innovative ways to engage audiences. Good ideas have multiple authors, and multiple ways to circulate around the world. That is the essence of Secretary Clinton’s 21st Century Statecraft. And you can see it in our public diplomacy.
A quick look demonstrates the breadth and depth of our capabilities to meet the complexity of the communications challenges we face in critical ways. Every day, we make available international public programs, books, manuals, e-journals, tweets, video products, and publications that relate to U.S. policy in Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Urdu, and multiple other languages.
In a day and age in which the 24-hour news cycle has been accelerated by the immediacy of the Twitter timeline, we are using social media and leveraging our networks. Social media is an important tool to correct misinformation, counter violent extremism, and offer positive narratives that shape the conversation and behavior. Social media and new technologies also allow us to connect to more people than ever before in history. U.S. Ambassadors are introducing themselves to citizens through video messages broadcast online and via local media and are holding web chats with the public. We are even connecting with foreign publics in non-permissive environments, such as Cuba or Iran, through our virtual embassies and SMS text campaigns
The traditional State Department briefing podium is not gone. In fact, it matters more than ever — but it has new amplification power. Our State Department flagship social media accounts and those of our embassies disseminate press briefings, speeches, media notes, videos, and online materials everywhere. We are conducting virtual press conferences with journalists on every continent through our “LiveAtState” program. We have U.S. International Media Hubs working in every geographic region of the world to communicate our messages and help explain U.S. policy.
We recognize that speaking with people, and listening to them, is an integral part of the policy process. We reach out to hundreds of thousands of people every single day through exchange programs, roundtables, and outreach to religious scholars and NGO leaders, businesspeople and entrepreneurs, students and educational advisors. Many people do not realize this, but we have over 800 “American Spaces” around the world. These spaces — many of which are a corner at a library or a room at a bi-national center — provide foreign citizens with a place to learn English, meet and interact with American subject-matter experts, find information on study abroad opportunities in the United States, and in some countries, access the Internet where Internet access is otherwise limited or restricted. Here in the United States, we hold discussions with students across the United States through our Foreign Policy Classrooms program. The result of these efforts is a more informed, more engaged, and global citizenry, which is vital to the long-terms interests of the United States from the vantage point of economic prosperity and security.
We also reach people through what we used to call “soft power,” but what is really “smart power.” Music, sports, food. These are things that connect people across language and culture. We would be shortsighted if we did not use these things to bridge divides and build peaceful relationships. Jazz artists help explain American values on tours around the world and use their music to explain democracy to foreign audiences. Sports help empower young women and girls through our partnerships with ESPN and others. Chefs offer unique perspectives on agriculture and food security, critical conversations as we work to address global hunger.
In short, public diplomacy goes on, despite all the vicissitudes of global events. We are communicating and engaging every second of every day. And we are working, as journalist and public diplomacy practitioner Edward R. Murrow once said, to close that crucial link: the last three feet.
On the very same day of the devastating attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, a group of high school students from Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt were visiting the United States on an exchange program. I spoke to those teens that day, and they expressed sadness and offered a poignant plea that the tragic events should not be allowed to characterize their entire countries or peoples. A week later as protests subsided in Pakistan, I met with Pakistani religious leaders who had come to Washington, D.C. on an embassy-sponsored program on “Religious Pluralism in the United States.” They were in America to talk about religious diversity and to visit Christian, Muslim, and Jewish scholars in Dallas, Salt Lake City, and Chicago. They told me of the value of people-to-people diplomacy in breaking down stereotypes and walls. They wanted me to know that despite all they had seen on television and on the Internet, that to really understand America, one has to come and experience it. “Seeing,” they said, “is believing.”
We cannot let the vocal minority eclipse the silent majority of people who benefit from U.S. engagement and public diplomacy. This is 21st century statecraft at work. With a click, a call, a tweet, a handshake, we are putting it into action every day.