Four Under Secretaries for PD testify before Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Four Under Secretaries of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs—three past and one current—gathered yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss “the Future of U.S. Public Diplomacy.” The panelists testified in chronological order based on their tenures in office— former Under Secretaries Evelyn Lieberman (1999-2001), Karen Hughes (2005-07), and James Glassman (2008-09) spoke on the first panel, while current Under Secretary Judith McHale (2009-present) followed them as the sole voice on a second panel. Their collective remarks presented an intriguing snapshot of the state of U.S. government international exchange programs over the past 10 years.

[Download the full testimonies of the four Under Secretaries on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee website.]

A principal challenge faced by Lieberman when taking office in 1999 was, as she said, “the extent to which [exchange] programs had to struggle for resources to survive, let alone grow.” For Hughes, who took on the Under Secretary role four years after Lieberman stepped down, exchanges were already receiving increased focus and funding—her mandate was not only to continue an expansion of exchange funding and programming, but also to determine how to “use technology to expand the impact of exchanges.” Glassman followed Hughes with a distinct focus on “Public Diplomacy 2.0,” which he described during the hearing as “using technology to reach a wider audience with each individual exchange – through video, for example, or sophisticated use of social networking media.” In office now, McHale faces the challenges, as outlined in her “roadmap” for public diplomacy in the 21st century released on Monday, of increasing traditional exchanges while at the same time leveraging the success of past exchanges through alumni engagement and integrating the use of social media begun by Hughes and Glassman. As McHale said:

In addition to growing our highly successful exchange programs, we are broadening the demographic base of those with whom we engage beyond traditional elites. We are using social networking and connective technologies such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to expand our reach and ensure that we are represented in new media and conversation spaces.

The hearing brought into relief how the discussion of exchange programs has evolved over the past decade and how views can differ on what actually constitutes an “exchange.” Both Lieberman and Hughes expressed the view that face-to-face exchanges—in which an American travels abroad or a foreigner comes to the United States—are one of the most effective tools of U.S. public diplomacy. Hughes called education and exchange programs “the heart of public diplomacy” and noted how during her tenure, exchange programs were “dramatically expanded.” Lieberman exclaimed that if she could recommend one item of our public diplomacy strategy to increase, it would be “exchanges, exchanges, exchanges. Let Americans see people from other places, and let people from other places see and interact with Americans.”

Glassman praised the Fulbright program as “almost certainly the most successful public diplomacy program” (along with international broadcasting), but otherwise spoke little of traditional face-to-face exchanges, focusing more on strategic communication, “ideological engagement,” media, broadcasting, and Public Diplomacy 2.0. McHale, for her part, highlighted as a strategic imperative “expanding and strengthening people-to-people relationships.”

While all participants paid much attention to the necessity of inbound exchange and contact—that is, bringing foreigners to the United States and in contact with American people—little discussion, if any, focused on increasing opportunities for Americans to go abroad and interact with their foreign counterparts.

A discussion of exchange funding also played out in the hearing, with general agreement that, despite increased resources for exchanges over the previous two administrations, more is needed, though with possible dissent on the best way to provide those resources. Noting the “clear” impact of educational and cultural exchange programs, Lieberman advocated for “investing heavily in these programs”:

We all know that throwing money at issues does not necessarily improve things, but these programs work so powerfully for our country that I continue to advocate a great surge in their growth whenever I get the chance.

Hughes followed by saying that “most of these programs that build relationships and understanding over the long term are hard to fund, but they are vital and must be expanded in a world that is increasingly inter-connected.” When asked later during the question and answer portion to expand on the notion of “hard to fund,” Hughes explained she believes that certain programs “don’t necessarily need new spending but that certain existing resources are misallocated.” She mentioned how Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said that there are programs within the Department of Defense that should be within State, and discussed the lack of flexibility within the public diplomacy budget. “We need better coordination among the agencies,” Hughes said, in order to properly direct resources.

McHale noted that she would like to “expand some of our very successful exchange programs,” but did not specify which of those programs would see increased funding. She noted, however, that “we are investing new resources” in alumni engagement, as well as “more exchanges, more presence, more Lincoln Centers, more face-to-face meetings with engaged citizens in Pakistan.” At the conclusion of the hearing, when further discussing resources during a difficult budget climate, McHale said regarding exchanges:

If I could wave my magic wand and bring everyone here and send everyone there, I would, but we can’t do that, but we’ll do our best to expand them.