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October 10, 2001
As Americans, we are justly proud of our country. If any nation has been a greater force for good in the long and tormented history of this world, I am unaware of it. We have guarded whole continents from conquest, showered aid on distant lands, sent thousands of youthful idealists to remote and often inhospitable areas to help the world's forgotten. Our generosity is a matter of record, from rebuilding our defeated enemies to feeding tens of millions around the world.
Why, then, when we read or listen to descriptions of America in the foreign press, do we so often seem to be entering a fantasy land of hatred? Much of the popular press overseas, often including the government-owned media, daily depict the United States as a force for evil, accusing this country of an endless number of malevolent plots against the world. Today, as we strike against the terrorists in Afghanistan who masterminded the murder of thousands of Americans, our actions are widely depicted in the Muslim world a war against Islam. Our efforts at self-defense, which should be supported by every decent person on this planet, instead spark riots that threaten governments that dare to cooperate with us.
The poisonous image of the United States that is deliberately propagated around the world is more than a mere irritation. It has a direct and negative impact on American interests, not only by undermining our foreign policy goals but by endangering the safety of Americans here at home and abroad. How has this state of affairs come about? How is it that the country that invented Hollywood and Madison Avenue has such trouble promoting a positive image of itself overseas? Clearly, this situation has not emerged suddenly or without warning. It has been building for decades, even as we stood and watched. Over the years, the images of mindless hatred directed at us have appeared on our television screens with a sickening regularity. All this time, we have heard calls that "something must be done." But, clearly, whatever has been done has not been enough.
The question facing us is what can we do to correct this problem? When I look at the range of programs that constitute our public diplomacy efforts overseas, I see many things of value. But even if the individual programs have merit, can anyone doubt that the sum of our efforts has been insufficient? It is not my purpose to place blame on any person or agency for this state of affairs, for that would be neither accurate or helpful.
Were the problem solvable simply by urging others to work better or harder, I would happily make that call. However, we must assume that the responsible individuals are committed and competent public servants who do their best to perform the job before them.
It appears to me that the problem is too great and too entrenched to be solved by our current efforts. The same must be said about any partial reforms, such as tweaking an agency here or reshuffling a program there. Instead, we must ask ourselves whether or not our public diplomacy effort as currently constituted can ever do the job of correcting the damage that has been done to our image and reputation overseas and, beyond that, establishing a positive image of the United States abroad.
If we ask this question, a host of others follow. How can we use our current programs to better effect? What new approaches to promoting America's image abroad should we consider? Is there a role for the private sector and does it have any lessons to teach us? How can we measure impact? Who are our allies in this effort overseas? Can we enlist the resources of friendly governments? There are many other questions to be asked, and it is my hope that these hearings will be a beginning of that process.
We must open this discussion to many others, to all who have expertise in this subject and who have ideas to offer. This must, of course, include those currently in positions of responsibility, but we must also hear from those whose experience lies in different areas, especially those in the private sector whose careers have focused on the creation of images both here and around the world.
I cannot claim to have a ready solution to this problem, but one surely exists. We must accept that there can be no quick fixes. The problem has been gathering strength for several decades, and an effective approach will take time to assemble. But we must begin now if we are to win this long-overlooked struggle. In so doing, we must remember that we will not be the only beneficiaries of success. As Abraham Lincoln stated, America represents "the last, best hope of earth." We must reestablish the identity of America and hope among the peoples of the world if we are to merit that description and by so doing secure our world for the generations to come.
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