[Nasional-e] Giving Muslim World True Picture of U.S. Values Is Vital, Beers Says
Fri Dec 20 21:36:02 2002
Giving Muslim World True Picture of U.S. Values Is Vital, Beers Says
(Public diplomacy official outlines State programs at press club briefing)
By Ralph Dannheisser
Washington File Staff Writer
The State Department's top public diplomacy official has told a Washington
audience that this is "a dangerous time not to be engaged" in communicating
American society and values to the Muslim world, then outlined a broad spectrum
of new approaches being used to do so more effectively.
Charlotte Beers, under secretary of state for public affairs and public
diplomacy, described a range of efforts that have been accelerated since the
September 11 terrorist attacks last year in a presentation December 18 to
journalists and others at the National Press Club.
In this campaign to get out the U.S. message, Beers said, "the messenger has to
be right," and she expressed delight with the "absolutely crucial availability"
of officials from President Bush on down.
But Beers, a former top advertising executive brought into government service by
Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that just as important as a credible
messenger is "what we would call, in the advertising world, magnification: If
it's spoken to 200 people, how do you reach two million?"
With terrorist groups and others determined to portray America as an enemy to
the Muslim world, she said, "the reach of our message has now become an
absolutely burning issue."
Toward this end, she said, "It's impressive that we are able to get out any
message from any of the government officials, not just the State Department, on
the same day they're delivered, in 30 languages" through the efforts of the
department's office of International Information Programs (IIP).
Beers acknowledged that a series of polls show "eroding good will" for the
United States in the rest of the world -- a phenomenon that she said is
"considerably more intense and more deliberately manipulated by the extremist
factions in the Middle East."
She urged development of credible and broad-based responses.
"It really helps the extremists when we say nothing," she said. "Our silence, I
believe, is dangerous" -- notwithstanding the "tempting" advice in some quarters
to wait quietly until Middle East peace is achieved.
And part of the effort, Beers said, should be to make the Muslim populace aware
that Americans share with them, as among their most significant values, faith,
family and education -- something that is shown by polls "and yet is not
perceived that way."
Beers cited techniques from exchange programs to publications to paid television
advertising as part of the all-out communication campaign she said is being
mounted, and sprinkled her presentation with film clips and charts illustrating
many of these.
Several of the clips demonstrated efforts to achieve what she termed "third
party authenticity" -- getting the desired message across through people from
the very communities at which they are being directed.
"There is no question that we are in a time where we desperately need to have
other voices speaking for us -- in their own voice and in their own way," she
said, after screening a portion of an interview conducted at the Muslim Center
in Baltimore, which had been aired via satellite in Pakistan.
And she stressed the importance of couching the material in concrete,
"story-telling" terms. This is "something we really have to get better at," she
said, adding, "This is an emotionally laden universe now. It's not just the
facts that are operating in the world now."
Discussing the new series of "Issue Briefs" being prepared on key policy issues,
she observed that "once a policy is set in motion, it's really vital that we
Even if everything else is done right, Beers noted, it is vital to document the
result of the efforts. Not doing so, she suggested, will make it impossible to
get support for the programs and, specifically, needed resources from Congress.
Beers described exchange programs ranging from one that will send distinguished
American writers overseas to a series that brought four groups of women to the
United States in the past three months.
One of those female contingents consisted of 14 Afghan civil servants, and Beers
was quick to point out that "none of these women would be in government service
if it weren't for the fact that the U.S. government said there have to be women
in the ensuing government" after the U.S.-led defeat of the Taliban.
More broadly, Beers said, studies show that "if we can educate women, we do a
lot to propel the prosperity and well-being of a country forward."
Beers was interrupted, as she made a specific reference to U.S. policy toward
Iraq, by four women who approached the podium and, standing between her and the
audience, chanted, "You're selling war and we're not buying." They unfurled a
banner that read, "Stop the War, Charlotte, Stop Selling War," then walked out
calmly after one had turned to Beers and said, "Sorry for the interruption."
Seemingly unfazed, Beers commented as they exited, "Just a reminder that the
president has said that absolutely the last option is war."
And, she told her audience, "We always preserve the right for such interruptions
to take place in our country. I should point out to those young women that, in
Iraq, they wouldn't have stood a chance of walking out freely."
Asked by an Arabic journalist in a question-and-answer session that followed her
talk whether part of her campaign should not be aimed at the American public
itself to promote the tolerance that she hopes to market abroad, Beers pointed
out that such domestic programming is barred by congressional mandate under the
five-decade-old Smith-Mundt Act.
"If you would like to discuss (changing the stricture) with someone else, be my
guest," she told him.
Beers agreed with another questioner, Harriet Fulbright, widow of the senator
who pioneered the Fulbright scholar exchange program, that exchange efforts in
the arts and culture should be expanded, but she observed that resources for the
purpose are extremely limited. "The private sector could help us a lot," she
Several questioners asked about reported Defense Department plans to establish a
new information program and how this would relate to State's public diplomacy
Beers told one that State collaborates with Defense "in terms of programs we
might have a joint interest in." Public diplomacy officials are eager to tell
the story when, for example, U.S. soldiers are involved in building a hospital
in Afghanistan, she said.
When another asked what kind of firewalls are being put in place to prevent
"disinformation and psychological warfare programs from seeping in" to State's
output, Beers replied, "The firewall is really simple: We only tell the truth."
"We are very careful in our work with the Department of Defense that we are
dealing with what we would call the most overt and transparent programs," she
But, indeed, Beers added, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has said he is also
interested in presenting the truth "so I don't think there's any conflict of
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information
Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)