President Bush's choice to head U.S. public diplomacy programs says he will work to ensure that the United States is able to aggressively counter Islamic extremist messages. But in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee considering his nomination, James Glassman, nominated as Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, said the U.S. should not employ propaganda in these efforts. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.
Glassman, who has a background in print and electronic media, says he will use the year or so before the end of the Bush administration to focus on leading a war of ideas using new technologies.
Describing this as "global ideological engagement" he cites one public opinion poll conducted in Muslim nations that one in five respondents agreed that U.S. policies are aimed at weakening and dividing the Islamic world, among other findings.
Such notions, he says, come directly from what he calls doctrine at the foundation of al-Qaida, and must be fought using the Internet, U.S. government-funded international broadcasting, and educational and cultural exchange programs.
"To engage in a much more vigorous way, and we are already doing that but we need to do more of it in the war of ideas, explaining what we are doing, pushing back against the lies and misperceptions," he said.
"OK, what can you do? You have only got a year to do this," said Senate Democrat Bill Nelson.
In response Glassman said the United States must aggressively fight misinformation and work to counter a perception that it doesn't care or take into account views of other nations.
That won't be easy, he says, in the face of an ideology based on a distortion of Islam. He adds that "You Tube" and a new State Department blogging site are among tools now being employed, and urges greater use of what he calls credible Muslim voices.
"That is an area we need to do better in encouraging Muslim voices to step forward and say exactly what you are saying, that you have built an ideology which is a violent and vicious ideology on top of a religion that is not like that at all," he said.
When Senate Democrat Robert Menendez asked whether U.S. public diplomacy should "tell it like it is", Glassman said "we have to be honest" adding "we don't do propaganda."
Senator Russ Feingold, a committee Democrat, pointed to criticisms of U.S. public diplomacy efforts.
"As you are well aware however, this bureau [public diplomacy effort] has been criticized for having a weak communications strategy which obviously raises questions about its ability to meet its important mission," he said.
Glassman says U.S. efforts have suffered from a lack of coordination among government agencies. He pledged to help rebuild a public diplomacy structure he says was largely dismantled amid what he calls a bipartisan period of neglect in the 1990s.
"I think that absolutely, in the last two years, that there is a new spirit and I think a successful beginning at rebuilding that apparatus so that it can do the kinds of things that Secretary Gates, I myself, and many others want it to do," he said.
Before his nomination, Glassman served for seven months as chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) which oversees all U.S. government-funded international broadcasting, including the Voice of America.
Glassman calls U.S. international broadcasting, such as VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the largest single civilian public diplomacy program by far, noting that he will remain on the BBG, an independent government agency, as the representative of the secretary of state.
In recent years, the BBG has increasingly sought to channel funds approved by Congress to television and radio programming directed to the Muslim world, while cutting back on English language broadcasts using shortwave frequencies.
Glassman would succeed Karen Hughes, a close advisor to President Bush, who, when she stepped down last year, said she had succeeded in transforming public diplomacy by making it a central priority.
However, critics asserted that she, and some of her predecessors, had been largely ineffective in combating negative perceptions of the United States and its policies.