Thursday, February 26, 2009

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing Reaction

Engaging with Muslim Commuities Around the World

I attended today’s Foreign Relations Committee “Engaging with Muslim Communities Around the World” hearing for the first panel with former Secretary of State Albright and Adm. William Fallon former head of CENTCOM and PACOM.

I included links to the opening statements of all witnesses today including those from the second panel at the bottom of this page.

The language at the hearing today indicated that public diplomacy is on the rise, particularly smart PD. Senator Kerry said in his opening statement, “We need smart public diplomacy that is embedded in our political and military decision-making.”

Senator Lugar, minority leader on the committee, had some very insightful and relevant comments on Public Diplomacy in his opening statement, particularly to our discussion of how the US can effectively reach out.

Regarding the Message/Means of PD;

“President Obama’s popularity alone will not guarantee success in the absence of a consistent and compelling American narrative that is closely synchronized with our policies. This narrative must be embraced and implemented throughout our government. It must be echoed by diplomats, development experts, contractors, and military professionals alike. We must continue to support exchanges that bring people from other nations into contact with talented Americans capable of explaining and representing our country.”

Regarding the Undersecretary of State for PD;

“This Committee stands ready to support the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy. We want the Undersecretary to have the power, the funding, and the political backing required to do the job. Funds for public diplomacy will have to be spent efficiently and creatively if we are to explain the views of the United States, display the humanity and generosity of our citizens, and expand opportunities for interaction between Americans and foreign peoples.”

I learned at the hearing about a piece of legislation introduced by Sen. Lugar, S.Res 49. It is “A resolution to express the sense of the Senate regarding the importance of public diplomacy.”

A major piece of this resolution is the consideration of re-opening American libraries and learning centers all over the world like we once had throughout the cold war. He and Madame Albright agreed that this would be vitally important for public diplomacy; it would allow anyone to come in and be exposed to US history, government, and culture. However, the concerns for security which led to their closures in the 90’s must be weighed carefully.

Action was also stressed. The humanitarian aid that the U.S. engages in does a great deal for our image. Admiral Fallon spoke highly of this point and believes firmly that the more the military forces all over the world engage with communities and not hide behind walls, the greater their positive impact.

This hearing is evidence that the US government is eager to engage in dialogue and put PD forward. The Chairman (Sen. Kerry) made clear that this is not a onetime event but will be part of a greater dialogue. Members of the committee on both sides of the aisle seem to be in agreement on the importance of engagement with the Muslim world and what that requires. There was recognition of the need for a dialogue and a new approach to how the US engages the Muslim-world and these ideas can apply all over.

Testimonies Today;

Madame Albright, former Secretary of State

Admiral William Fallon, Former head of CENTCOM and PACOM

Dalia E. Mogahed, Gallup Center for Muslim Studies
Dr. Eboo Patel, Executive Director of the Interfaith Youth Core
Zeyno Baran, Senior Fellow, Center on Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World Hudson Institute

1 comment:

  1. Great reporting Leslie. Kerry and Lugar make sound arguments and show good-faith about empowering PD, although I thought Lugar's unity-of-message proposal was quite similar to some of our discussions on what went wrong with the message-receiver and 'magic bullet' model.

    Dalia Mogahed of Gallup provided some really interesting insights on Muslim opinion (often inferred or assumed rather than actually polled) that left room for optimism and seem to simply argue for a more complex message and a move from monologue to dialogue. Some of her recommendations also dovetail well with the NY Times article I posted on the 'terrorist' label dispute:

    "[This requires] de-emphasizing the unquenchable demand for mainstream Muslims to condemn terrorism again and again as this assumes their co-membership in one group with the terrorists, instead of with us as fellow victims of the same crime. Use of terms like 'Islamic terrorism' or 'Jihadists' glorifies the terrorists with religious veneration, while fueling the very perceptions they work to exploit — that America is at war with Islam."

    "While many Muslims are critical of actions carried out by both our government and their own, from the wars in Iraq and Gaza to economic corruption and lack of freedom, the majority reject terrorism as a legitimate response. To further weaken the extremists, instead of defending our way of life, we must listen to — not necessarily agree with — mainstream Muslim concerns over injustice, and engage those peacefully working to address them."