James K. Glassman: Winning the War of Ideas


[H/t NY Sun]

My subscription to the NY Sun lapsed some weeks ago. I intend to resub but have not managed to send in my check yet. I used to look forward to reading the paper on the subway during my commute. I’m really starting to miss it. My wife subscribes to the NYT weekend addition and her good friend has been dumping her old copies of the Nation and New Yorker on the weekends (per my wife’s request). Needless to say the household is in need of some balance. Commentary once a month is not enough.

So I went to the Sun’s website to see what I’ve been missing. This op-ed penned by under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs James K. Glassman was encouraging.

Winning the War of Ideas

During my confirmation hearings, Senator Lieberman called me “the supreme allied commander in the war of ideas.” I like the ring of that — even though I haven’t asked our allies if they agree. While the under secretary of state for public diplomacy has a big portfolio, the war of ideas will be my focus.

Unless we get the war of ideas right, we will never succeed in meeting the most significant threat of our time. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates put it well in a speech on July 16: “Over the long term, we cannot kill or capture our way to victory. Non-military efforts — these tools of persuasion and inspiration — were indispensable to the outcome of the defining ideological struggle of the 20th century. They are just as indispensable in the 21st century — and perhaps even more so.”

During the Cold War, after a slow start, we became good at public diplomacy, with such institutions as the Congress of Cultural Freedom and Radio Free Europe. But starting in the early 1990s, America, in bipartisan fashion, began to dismantle this arsenal of influence. In its 2003 report, the Djerejian Group, a commission of which I was a member, would call, in desperation, for “a new strategic direction — informed by a seriousness and commitment that matches the gravity of our approach to national defense and traditional state-to-state diplomacy.”

Today, the environment has changed. Budgets have risen. Backing is bipartisan. There’s a lot of talk — as usual in Washington — about restructuring public diplomacy. Structure is important, but two things are far more important: will and strategy.

[read it all]

Under secretary Glassman’s perspective is definitely a step in the right direction. The U.S. needs to do much more in this arena. However, when the author writes:

Our priority is not to promote our brand but to help destroy theirs. We do that by showing foreign populations that the ideology and actions of the violent extremists are not in the best interests of those populations.

I wonder if this is possible for outsiders to accomplish. I suspect it is not. The people living in these places are going to have to do that vital political work. Unfortunately, in many places, the majority does support violence against the “infidel.” Even in the United Kingdom, close to 25% of the Muslim population felt the terrorist attacks of June 7, 2005 were justified.

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