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18 January 2002

U.S. Developing Communication Strategy in Anti-Terrorism Campaign

(Ross, others, address Brookings Institution forum) (1360)
By Stuart Gorin
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The United States is developing a total communication
strategy utilizing three essential themes to tell its story in the
anti-terrorism campaign, says State Department official Christopher
Ross.
The first is to represent the basic American values that unite the
country, Ross said at a Brookings Institution forum on "The Propaganda
War" January 16. He is a retired U.S. ambassador who serves as senior
adviser to Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Charlotte
Beers.
"The second theme," Ross said, "is to present democratization and
openness as a vision for a better future, a future which does not
require people to resort to terrorism."
He said the third theme "hits at what we are coming to consider
increasingly to be perhaps the most important audience for our work --
young people, those who are going to create the future, whose world
views and mindsets are not yet fully formed." This theme focuses on
them through a look at educational systems and how they are
structured, Ross added.
The plan will mobilize the resources of public diplomacy in all
aspects both on the information side and on the educational and
cultural exchange side, he said. Ross added that while crafting such a
strategy, Beers is consulting within and outside the government and
will travel abroad to consult with U.S. embassies and local opinion
leaders.
Ross said he views public diplomacy as being "the public face of
traditional diplomacy." While traditional diplomacy seeks to advance
the interests of the United States through private discussions with
foreign governments, he said, "Public diplomacy seeks to support
traditional diplomacy by addressing non-governmental audiences" as
well, both mass and elite.
Asked if "propaganda" is another name for public diplomacy, Ross said,
"Much propaganda contains lies and does not shy away from them. In
public diplomacy, we don't deliberately look to state things that are
not true. We may couch them a certain way, but we deal with the
truth."
Appearing on the symposium panel with Ross, Joseph Duffey, former
director of the U.S. Information Agency, which is now part of the
State Department, said "propaganda is not that bad a word in French"
and it used to be used in the United States "without the kind of
connotation it now has."
The issue now, Duffey said, is credibility. "You can't get away with
lies very much. They damage your credibility," he said.
Duffey added that public diplomacy is "an attempt to get over the
heads or around the diplomats and official spokesmen of countries and
sometimes around the press to speak directly to the public in other
countries and to provide an interpretation or explanation of U.S.
values and policies."
Thomas Dine, president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, said the
negative view of propaganda is that it is methodological way of either
being in favor of something or against it. "From a news and
information point of view, you are trying to fulfill the first
responsibility of our freedom - the freedom of speech, freedom of the
press," he said.
Credible news organizations, Dine added, try to understand the
difference between important and non-important news, and then
disseminate it with the belief that "in a democracy, in a society of
pluralistic ideas and situations, that you will be informing people of
news and information so that they can make decisions."
Washington Post associate editor Karen DeYoung said that from a public
diplomacy standpoint, the Bush administration has been doing very well
at home because people "are very much disposed to agree with them."
Regarding communications overseas, she said the administration is not
doing very well, "not because they've been derelict somehow in putting
out information, but just because people are not disposed to believe
this particular brand of information and they're getting other
information from other sources."
Ross said that from his perspective, "As we try to address all of
this, our first task is to make sure that our government's policies
are understood for what they are and not for what other people are
saying they are."
One of the main accusations hurled at the United States in the
aftermath of September 11, Ross said, "was that we were not really
fighting terrorism, we were fighting Islam, and I think we've been
fairly successful over the weeks in countering that to the point where
no serious commentator at this point in the Arab world or the Muslim
world is harping on that theme. I think there's been acceptance of the
notion that the war was, in fact, against the al Qaeda organization
and against the Taliban regime that was harboring the al Qaeda in
Afghanistan."
Asked about the value of public diplomacy educational and cultural
exchanges in the Middle East, where Ross served much of his
professional career, he said, "When you look at the number of people
who have been brought to this country to be exposed to American
values, to return to their own country and take up positions of
leadership, I would posit that had that kind of activity not existed,
attitudes in the Middle East would be even worse than they are today."
Adding that while "the world is better for public diplomacy," he said,
"The great dilemma is that there are very few concrete barometers,
very few concrete ways to measure the effectiveness of any particular
activity."
Still, Ross said, the effort continues. Regarding the educational
program, he said the United States wants to ensure that "the current
campaign against terrorism, particularly in the Muslim and Arab
countries, evolves in a way that provides to young people the tools
needed for modern life so they are not attracted to the apocalyptic
kind of vision that Osama bin Laden and others have proffered."
Ross said the United States recognizes it is "an enormous task, but
the fact that it's enormous doesn't make it not worth pursuing."
One of the problems in the Middle East, Ross said, is that "civil
society as we know it here is very weak." He added that one of the
tasks at hand is to encourage nongovernmental organizations to fill
the void between government and people in many of these countries and
to create a different kind of political culture.
Asked how the United States is responding to disinformation in the
area, Ross said it is through its press guidance operation.
"The world press is surveyed on themes that come out, whether they be
true or false. If they're of relevance to them and we feel we need to
answer them we will. And if something is an outright lie, we will say
so," he added. "Another part of it is to make oneself available for
media appearances in which these lies come out."
Noting that acts of terrorism have been committed by followers of
virtually every faith in the world, Ross said, "This is not uniquely a
Muslim problem. But it is clear, and this goes back to the early
history of Islam, that Islam is a religion open to many different
interpretations."
He said that "what has happened in the Osama bin Laden phenomenon is
that a group of extremists with a very precise agenda coming out of a
very fundamentalist branch of modern Islam, have begun to speak in the
name of Islam as if that is Islam. The fact is that a vast majority of
Muslims do not identify with the kinds of positions that Osama bin
Laden and his Taliban protectors would take on how you live a good
Muslim life."
There is work to be done to try to promote within the Muslim
population a discussion about what Islam is today, Ross said, but he
stressed that while perhaps it is a discussion for the United States
to encourage, "it is not a discussion for the U.S. government to
lead."
(A transcript of the Brookings forum is available on the institution's
website at www:brook.edu)
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)



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