Oral Testimony of
School of Communication, American University
Before the U.S. House Subcommittee on
National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations
The Hon. Christopher Shays, Chair
“9/11 Commission Recommendations on Public Diplomacy”
August 23, 2004
Mr. Chairman, I take special pleasure in being before
your committee. Your continued pursuit to improve American public diplomacy
is leading the way to strengthening American security.
Sir, you asked us to step back and view the 9/11 Commission’s
recommendations within the larger picture. This oral statement provides a
snapshot. The written statement for the record describes that picture in
1. Reviews of American public diplomacy over the past three
years – including the recent 9/11 Commission Report – pin America’s communication
problem on a lack of strategy. They say America needs a strategy so
it can focus its message, coordinate its efforts, and measure its effectiveness.
Sir, when communication lacks a strategy, the results tend to be random.
You win some, lose some. American public diplomacy has had a fairly pronounced
losing streak. The 9/11 Commission’s description – “America’s perennially
troubled public diplomacy” – is particularly telling. Producing such
“perennial” results is difficult without a strategy.
2. Stepping back, that strategy is clear. Since the terrorist
attacks, America has aggressively pursued an information battle strategy
borrowed from the Cold War. The National Security Strategy put the “war of
ideas,” second to the military war. The “battle for hearts and minds” has
been the charge; reverberating from the political chambers of Washington
to the front pages of hometown papers. The 9/11 Commission echoed that strategy:
“Just as we did in the Cold War, we need to defend our ideas abroad vigorously.”
3. Fighting an information battle was ideally suited for
the Cold War era. Then, two identifiable government powers dominated the
political and communication landscape. The bi-polar context defined the messages.
“Us versus them” was persuasive. Governments could control information. Foreign
and domestic audiences were separated by an ocean that technology struggled
to cross. Public diplomacy was a product, made in America and distributed
overseas. Achieving information dominance was key to silencing the opponent.
In an information battle, the one with the most information wins.
4. Fighting an information battle has become the equivalent
of conventional warfare. The strategy lacks the agility and effectiveness
to effectively navigated today’s dynamic political and communication terrain.
The bi-polar political context has proliferated into a multi-polar one. Culture
has replaced nationalism as the prevailing dynamic, filtering and distorting
America’s messages. Regional conflicts, once masked by the superpower rivalry,
have surfaced with a vengeance. For the publics absorbed in the conflicts,
American policy has become the message of American public diplomacy. America’s
domestic and foreign publics has become one 24/7 global audience. Today,
communication is about exchanging information. In a world of information
overload, disseminating information is “spam.” Networking is strategic.
5. American public diplomacy needs to switch strategic
focus: Forget battles, think bridges. To win hearts and minds,
American public diplomacy needs to bridge the perception gap between Americans
and foreign publics. Disseminating information cannot do this. Building bridges
can. Aggressively pursued this strategy can cross the many political and
cultural hurdles and capitalize on advanced technology.
The strategy of building bridges is not new. The Fulbright
program and the Peace Corp represent America’s long tradition of building
bridges. What is new is its strategic power.
Building bridges – networking – underlies the growing
influence of non-state actors. A woman in Maine began with an idea that led
to the Campaign to Ban Landmines, the recipient of the Nobel Peace award.
She built a network. A man in a cave in Afghanistan had another idea. As
the 9/11 Commission so thoroughly detailed, Al-Qaeda, is also a network.
In yesterday’s information battle, the one with the most
information won. Today, the one with the strongest, most extensive network
Achieving this strategic goal requires new tactics to
identify potential links, create relationships and expand a network. My written
statement provided examples of such tactics. There are undoubtedly many more.
Communication research is also emerging to measure the quality of relationships.
The quality of America’s political relationships impacts America’s image.
Using these new research tools will help measure American public diplomacy
effectiveness more accurately and meaningfully.
In its recommendations, the 9/11 Commission began with
a call for “institutionalizing imagination.” For American public diplomacy
to be as effective in the war in terrorism as it was during the Cold War,
America needs to imaginatively explore a new strategic focus. To the win
hearts and minds of others, America itself needs a new more imaginative and
strategic mindset: forget battles, think bridges.
Sir, before I close, I must recognize the communication
professional who took the reigns of American public diplomacy during extraordinary
circumstances and led with extraordinary vision and energy. Thank you, Undersecretary
Rep. Shays, I thank you for your continued pursuit to
improve American public diplomacy. Your trip last week is the epitome of
building bridges, a strategic direction that holds the promise for making
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.