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Diplomacy in Action

Enduring Leadership: Marshall's Legacy For American Public Diplomacy in the 21st Century

Judith A. McHale
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
The 2010 Frances McNulty Logan Lewis Lecture
Lee Chapel in Lexington, VA
October 7, 2010


Thank you, Brian [Brian D. Shaw, President of the George C. Marshall Foundation], for that kind introduction. I am indeed honored to be here with you this evening.

I would like to start by thanking the Marshall Foundation for inviting me to speak with you and by thanking George Logan for his generosity in establishing this lecture series in honor of his late mother, Frances McNulty Logan Lewis. And I would also like to express my appreciation for the gift that has been made to Vital Voices by the Marshall Foundation.

I am particularly pleased to be here as the guest of the Marshall Foundation since, as Brian mentioned, not only is General Marshall a personal hero of mine but, as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, I have the privilege of occupying the office he sat in as Secretary of State. I have a photograph of Secretary Marshall sitting at his desk at the State Department and I like to think he guides our work in public diplomacy as we try to navigate our way through the very complicated world in which we all live.

As I reflected on what I might say to you this evening, I thought, of course, about all the challenges which confront us, from the economy to the environment to extremism. But I also thought about all the opportunities which will be available to us if we pursue our national objectives in a spirit of partnership and mutual understanding. This is precisely the approach Secretary Marshall followed in formulating the plan which bears his name and which I believe is the greatest example in our nation's history of Public Diplomacy done right.

The Marshall Plan started with an accurate analysis and understanding of the situation of Europe's populations after World War II, and how that affected American national security. It was strategic and coherent in design, rather than piecemeal in approach. And it was based firmly on the needs and priorities of the participating European nations, as defined by those countries.

Secretary Marshall established that point in his famous June 5, 1947 speech at Harvard University, when he said:

“It would be neither fitting nor efficacious for this Government to undertake to draw up unilaterally a program designed to place Europe on its feet economically. This is the business of the Europeans. The initiative… must come from Europe. The role of this country should consist of friendly aid in the drafting of a European program and of later support of such a program so far as it may be practical for us to do so."

In his speech, Marshall articulated a rationale for why Americans, who, he observed, were distant from the troubled areas of the Earth, should care about the well-being of impoverished citizens in faraway countries of whom they knew little. He made a cogent political and economic case for American partnership with the people of other nations. But what gave unassailable moral strength to the Marshall Plan was the fact that it was based on the simple but profound insight that what unites us all as humans is far more powerful and important than what divides us. That even after the wreckage and animosity of a world war, we could come together to build a better future.

In framing the enterprise as a true partnership, Marshall ensured that the Plan would give expression to the best tradition of American leadership. Our European partners responded with alacrity and gratitude. British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin recalled: "It was a lifeline of sinking men. I grabbed the offer with both hands." This was just what George Marshall wanted. And today, this is the approach that is informing our engagement with the world.

I contemplate this every day in my current role at the State Department, and it is something that I have benefited from throughout my career in the private sector and now in government: the power of people to overcome barriers and coalesce around their common humanity. From Lexington to Lubumbashi, from Indianapolis to Islamabad, people everywhere share the same aspirations for their families and communities. Let me give you some examples from my personal experience.

I have had the great good fortune to work at some extraordinary organizations, first at MTV, then at Discovery, and now at the Department of State. At MTV we led a cultural revolution of our own, providing the world's youth with creative new approaches to the music and entertainment they sought.

At Discovery Communications, our entire business plan was based on a simple observation about human nature: everyone everywhere is at some point curious about the world around them. Wonder and the thirst for knowledge are immutable parts of human nature. We built our business by asking people what they wanted to know, listening to their responses, and providing them with the information they requested, and programs that enlightened and inspired. We in essence offered a partnership. We provided people something they valued, and they were happy to pay us for it. We were both enriched.

I passionately believe that if we focus on ways to tap into the potential of partnerships based on human commonality, we will find a path to more peaceful and prosperous future. This does not stem from starry-eyed idealism. Rather it reflects the hard-edged, utilitarian calculation that, in this age of social networking and borderless economies, of transnational threats and technological promise, when we enter into relationships with those around us and other around the world, we have a much better chance of creating something useful, and maybe even enriching ourselves, through cooperation rather than antagonism.

This was the guiding principle of the Marshall Plan and this is the insight behind President Obama's vision for how America should interact with the world. It is the power of leveraging human commonality that drives our work at the State Department as we endeavor to carry out President Obama's and Secretary Clinton's vision to renew and expand America's engagement with world. I have found what works in international business works in international relations as well. Reciprocity -- social, political, and even commercial -- creates good will.

Public diplomacy is a key pillar of the Obama Administration’s approach to foreign policy. Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton recognize that we cannot move our agenda forward without doing a better job of informing, influencing and connecting with billions of people around the world.

In a speech last month to the Council on Foreign Relations, Secretary Clinton spoke of the importance of engaging directly with the people of other nations. She said, “Technology and the speed of communication, along with the spread of democracy…have empowered people to speak up and demand a say in their own futures. Public opinions and passions matter even in authoritarian states.”

Secretary Marshall understood the need for people to have a say in their own futures. In order to achieve our national objectives, he worked hard to establish relationships with counterparts and understand their perceptions and goals. George Marshall never lost an opportunity to advance American foreign policy when engagement could make a difference. He understood the constant need to share his vision and values, to build and maintain alliances – political and military – and to address the concerns and motivations of others whenever possible.

As Secretary Clinton said last year, “General Marshall knew that our national interests are inseparable from the interests of people everywhere, that we best bolster our security by advancing our values, and that we best protect ourselves by looking beyond ourselves.”

The global challenges we face today require a strategic, multidimensional approach to public diplomacy. Our Government must develop new ways to communicate and engage with foreign publics at all levels of society. In doing so, we must do a better job of listening; learn how people in other countries and cultures listen to us; understand their desires and aspirations; and provide them with information and services of value to them. In essence, we must develop ways to become woven into the fabric of the daily lives of people around the world as we seek to create strong and lasting relationships with them.

Even as we sit here tonight, the world is changing around us, and we find ourselves in the position of having to rapidly adapt to a constantly evolving global environment.

Today, 45 percent of the world’s population is under the age of 25. These young people came of age during a period of limited direct engagement with the United States. They communicate in new ways and with a vast array of new tools. A few years ago only birds tweeted and few people had heard of Facebook. As we reach out to this new generation, we must develop new strategies to engage and inspire them.

Women account for over 50 percent of the world’s population – yet, in too many parts of the world, they lack access to education and fundamental rights. Countless reports and studies demonstrate that increased participation by women in the social, economic, and political lives of their countries results in more stable productive societies. We must continue to develop and deploy new programs to support and empower women as they seek to improve their lives and communities.

The communications revolution has had an impact on the attitudes, behaviors, and aspirations of people everywhere. More people have access to more information than ever before. Technology empowers people by connecting them with communities, networks and markets, but it also allows opponents and adversaries to spread disinformation and rumors which ignite hatred and spur acts of terror and destruction.

Our work starts with the men and women of the State Department who serve on the ground in every continent. As I have travelled over the past year and a half, I have met with hundreds of our Foreign Service, Civil Service, and locally employed colleagues around the world and I have seen them in action. They are smart, creative, and passionate about their mission. They are willing to live and work in challenging – frequently dangerous – circumstances, on behalf of the American people. They, and their colleagues in the diplomatic and military services, deserve our respect and support.

They also deserve leadership in Washington that maximizes their capabilities and opportunities for success, by providing strategic leadership. George Marshall believed in the importance of planning, and of clearly stating priorities and objectives. At the same time, he drew on the ideas and knowledge of others, and used strategic planning as a valuable road map for the people working under him, rather than as a straightjacket. He understood the need to ensure that strategy was backed up by detailed planning and decisions, to ensure that resource allocations closely matched the stated goals.

These are essential components for American public diplomacy in the twenty first century, and over the past 12 months we have worked with Secretary Clinton and our colleagues throughout the State Department and across government to develop a Strategic Framework for Public Diplomacy to guide our efforts as we move forward.

The framework establishes five strategic imperatives to ensure that all our efforts support the achievement of U.S. foreign policy goals and objectives. First, we are working to proactively shape our national narrative, by developing outreach strategies to inform, inspire, and persuade audiences around the world. Second, we are seeking to expand and strengthen people-to-people relationships, and build mutual trust and respect through expanded public diplomacy programs and platforms.

Third, we are aggressively combating violent extremism, by countering extremist voices with fast, effective, and credible communication of our policies, actions, and principles. Fourth, we are taking steps to ensure that our foreign policy is informed upfront by a better understanding of the attitudes and opinions of foreign publics. And finally we are deploying resources in line with current priorities, and strengthening structures and processes to ensure coordinated and effective public diplomacy.

As we implement this energized approach to public diplomacy, we have undertaken a number of innovative programs and initiatives:

In August, President Obama convened a three-day forum in Washington, inviting more than 100 young leaders from Africa to participate in a discussion about the continent’s future. The individuals who attended were entrepreneurs, activists, civil society leaders and visionaries. They represented the movers and shakers, the next generation, who will shape the continent going forward. These impressive young men and women met with President Obama and Secretary Clinton. But perhaps more importantly, they networked with one another; they met and established relationships with a broad range of American private sector, NGO, and government counterparts. We are continuing to broaden and deepen this conversation with Africans on the continent. This is happening in a variety of ways. Our embassies are continuing the relationships with these leaders through follow-on events engaging other youth. Delegates returned from the forum and used local platforms – the internet, radio, television – to engage with their own communities.

Our Public Diplomacy Innovation Fund has supported a number of projects focused on increasing engagement with youth, from an initiative that brings Libyan high school students to a space camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to a program that connects young Peruvians interested in science and technology to each other, industry professionals, science and technology education opportunities, and local alumni of U.S. Government programs by providing unique mentoring and networking opportunities.

We are using the full range of new social media to strengthen our engagement with youth around the world, from embassy and consulate social media sites to Washington-coordinated forums and web chats on regional and global topics, to film and television projects that enable foreign exchange students to share their experiences in America with their peers. And we are strengthening our English-teaching programs to reach youth in other countries, particularly young citizens from disadvantaged communities around the globe, and to provide them with the skills they need to succeed in today’s world.

American public diplomacy has much to gain from a study of George Marshall’s life and achievements, from his deep commitment to national service, to his understanding of the importance of providing strategic leadership for every mission, to appreciation of the need for serious and sustained engagement with others.

When I travel back from Lexington to Washington, D.C. and return to work, I will look once again at my photo of Secretary Marshall, working in the office where I now sit. I will think once more of what he did on behalf of the United States and the American people, and I know that my colleagues and I value the lessons he provided to guide us in our work today.

At the time that George Marshall put forward his plan, no country had ever done anything like it. It was an audacious enterprise. Secretary of State Dean Acheson put it best when he said that the Marshall Plan was one of “the greatest and most honorable adventures in history.”

Since my first day on the job, I too feel like I have been on a great adventure. Our task is to bring to bear the lessons from our past – those things that we have gotten right, like the Marshall Plan – as well as new thinking and solutions to meet these challenges. If we do this and do it well, I believe we will propel our country forward towards a future of new hopes and possibilities for all our citizens and for citizens around the world.

Thank you.

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