Remarks at the Defeat-ISIS Coalition Communications Working Group Meeting

I. Steven (Steve) Goldstein
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office
London, United Kingdom
March 6, 2018

As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning and thank you for that kind introduction.

Minister Burt, Coalition colleagues. It is an honor to be here this morning on behalf of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the United States government to reaffirm our commitment through this Working Group to ensure our Coalition is successful in defeating ISIS.

I would like to begin by expressing my appreciation for the efforts of Despo Michael and her team in the Strategic Communications Cell, who have done an outstanding job in organizing this meeting of the Working Group and creating an environment that will foster robust dialogue. Thank you, Despo.

I would also like to acknowledge the commitment and hard work of our other two Working Group co-leads, Daniel Kimmage and Abdulnasser Alshaali.

As the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, I am eager to work with all of you in creating real world outcomes that will change the landscape on how we counter poisonous propaganda.

Last month in Kuwait at the Defeat ISIS Ministerial, Secretary Tillerson noted just how far we have come in the fight against Daesh. Approximately 98 percent of the territory once held by ISIS in Iraq and Syria has been liberated. Approximately 3.2 million Syrians and 4.5 million Iraqis have been freed from the tyranny, and over 3.3 million internally displaced Iraqis are now back home.

Those are impressive numbers and a testament to the vital work of the Coalition. But ISIS remains a threat. Not just to the people of Iraq and Syria, but to all of our populations as well, particularly in parts of the world where it is attempting to branch out.

One of the most pressing threats we face is that of disillusioned and desperate individuals succumbing to, and acting on, ISIS’s barbaric propaganda. As its losses on the battlefield mount, ISIS seeks to convince its followers to attack and kill civilians wherever they find them, with whatever means they have.

Many of our cities have set up barricades, increased security at events and landmarks, and warned people to remain vigilant. But in the long run, physical barriers are not going to protect us from a threat that is borderless and flows at the speed of information. We must work collectively to discredit and expose this poisonous propaganda, wherever it is found.

As a coalition, we are at a critical stage in the campaign to defeat ISIS. Even before the dust settles on the physical battlefields, ISIS and its supporters are already attempting to recast their legacy of cruelty and tyranny into one of missed opportunity – claiming that if it were not for the infidels, or if only more fighters had joined them, they could have built a utopia. We are armed with the truth, and it is the duty of the people in this room to ensure that it reaches the widest audience, in the most compelling and accessible ways.

ISIS is banking on the idea that it can sell its own narrative, even if only to a handful of uninformed individuals open to being radicalized by their version of history. Which is why it is critical that we as governments take the necessary steps to ensure that future generations are not left with questions or misunderstandings about what transpired.

They must know the stories of the Iraqis and Syrians who ISIS tortured and killed when they refused to pledge support. They must know about the cultural heritage sites, which long embodied national pride and human history, that ISIS destroyed or sold on the black market for profit. They must know about the people forced to stand in bread lines while fighters feasted at banquets.

The legacy is well known to those who have lived under its rule. It is our responsibility to ensure that others know it as well.

I have made it a priority to empower and resource the Department of State to do exactly that. We have also increased our engagement with private industry and the tech sector to ensure they remain vigilant in keeping ISIS propagandists off their platforms, as well as to partner with us in providing credible voices with the tools they need to reach the right audiences and bridge the gap between online and offline interventions.

I have sought to bring a new urgency to our interactions with companies like Google, YouTube, and Twitter, among others. While our governments have different approaches to industry outreach, we all share the same goal, and I encourage this working group to continue pushing these crucial efforts. We give credit for how far the companies have come, but there is always more to be done.

As Secretary Tillerson said in Kuwait, the fight against ISIS remains difficult and continues to evolve. This Working Group must also continue to adapt and refocus its efforts.

Thank you very much for the hard work you have already done, and will continue to do, in this fight. I encourage you to make the most of the next two days, and I look forward to working together, using our communications skills, to create a safer and more secure world, free of ISIS.