Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and State Department Spokesperson
The Department of State
May 4, 2018
Thank you Elizabeth for that kind introduction, and thank you Ambassador Todd for inviting me to speak at today’s luncheon.
I want to extend a warm welcome to all of the members of our foreign affairs family who have returned to the State Department today to celebrate the 53rd anniversary of Foreign Affairs Day.
It is a privilege to be with all of you in this magnificent and historic room to honor your rich tradition of service, courage, and integrity. It is truly humbling.
I also want to express my congratulations to Richard Greene and Ambassador Kenney for receiving the Director General’s Cup. Your distinguished careers, both with the State Department and afterwards in service to your communities, are an inspiration for us all.
Since joining the Department more than a year ago, I have been consistently impressed by the talent, ingenuity, and work ethic exhibited by my Foreign Service and Civil Service colleagues, who steadfastly advance America’s interests around the globe. The Department enjoys an impressive reputation, both here at home and with governments and publics abroad, thanks in large part to the work you accomplished during your careers and the work of generations of committed public servants who came before you, as well as those who are now following in your footsteps.
People sometimes say that I have one of the toughest jobs in the building, but that “honor” – if it can be called that – of course goes to the Secretary. But my colleagues serving on the front lines of diplomacy overseas also serve with distinction in very challenging situations, particularly those working in hot spots like Syria, Yemen, and South Sudan, as well as those stationed at other unaccompanied posts far from family and friends. Those are truly tough jobs, and the patriots filling these roles have my deepest admiration and gratitude.
The dedication, expertise, and experience of the Department’s career staff is among our nation’s most valuable assets in achieving America’s foreign policy goals, bolstering our national security and prosperity, and promoting America’s image and values abroad.
Secretary Pompeo is sincere in his commitment to respect, trust, and empower the Department’s Foreign Service and Civil Service staff. I had the pleasure of traveling with the Secretary on his first trip, and I would like to share two observations from my time with him that I think demonstrate this commitment.
The first speaks to Secretary Pompeo’s faith in the people of the State Department. After he was sworn in last week, the Secretary immediately went to Andrews Air Force base to travel to the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels. When the Secretary arrived at Andrews, he boarded a plane full of State Department staff. He didn’t bring anyone from the Agency; he didn’t bring anyone from his time in Congress. Rather, he came alone, trusting his new State Department team – only a few of whom he had met before – to provide him the information, expertise, and recommendations needed for successful, high-level diplomatic discussions in Europe and the Middle East. Knowing this first trip would set the tone for his entire tenure, the Secretary gave us his complete trust.
My second observation from the trip relates to his appreciation of the need to communicate with our constituencies: with our colleagues, both in the Department and the interagency, looking for a policy steer; with the media to provide them factual, accurate content; with Congress and the White House, who always want, and need, to know about the important work the Department is doing; with our Allies and partners – as well as our adversaries – so they know clearly where the United States stands on issues; and with the American people, who deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent by the State Department to bolster their security and prosperity.
The trip started with six members of the press on the plane, and by the time the trip was over, we had eight. Secretary Pompeo said we’d fill up that plane on every one of his trips and, given his interactions with the traveling press both on and off the record, it is clear to me that he intuitively understands the vital importance of communicating, both publicly and internally, our policies and the reasons for them.
Why are these observations significant? As you know better than anyone, we face some very serious foreign policy challenges. New rivals and new risks – such as terrorist organizations that morph and recalibrate, cyber warfare, and systematic disinformation campaigns – are testing our creativity and resourcefulness. Some of the old risks remain too: nuclear weapons in the hands of unpredictable adversaries, regional power rivalries, and autocratic regimes seeking to extinguish the flame of democracy.
Given today’s challenges, the art of diplomacy is as crucial, and as indispensable, as it has ever been. And Secretary Pompeo is dedicated to ensuring we are all working together effectively and is confident in our capabilities.
The particular aspect of diplomacy that I want to discuss with you today is the enduring value of Public Diplomacy and the tools that enable us to connect America to audiences abroad, shape their opinions, promote our values, and safeguard our interests.
While I’m a relative newcomer to government service, I am not a newcomer to the idea that communicating effectively with the public is critical to creating political possibilities and effecting change. I have spent much of my career engaging the U.S. public through the media. This experience has given me a great respect for the value of shaping public opinion. I firmly believe that our ability to connect and engage with foreign audiences, particularly in ways that demonstrate our core values, directly increases their receptivity to America’s policy goals.
Secretary Pompeo knows this also. He raised this with me on the trip and said a goal of his is to better tell the story of what the State Department does. And it is an incredible story to tell – from PRM providing aid to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, to the work that Mark, our former Press Office Director, is now doing in Syria as part of the START-Forward program. These are just a few of the countless examples, and I hope that you will also help us to tell these stories.
By building a network of supporters aligned with America’s cause, we make it politically possible for foreign governments to side with the United States on sensitive policy issues and affirm our continued leading role on the world stage. Building these networks requires a strategic, long-term effort, using the full range of Public Diplomacy tools and programs at our disposal – including social media campaigns, press outreach, and firsthand experiences like educational programs, press tours, cultural performances, and American Spaces.
During a trip to Bangladesh late last year, I had the pleasure of visiting our American Space in Dhaka – the Edward M. Kennedy Center – and I was so impressed by its dynamism. It has a state-of-the-art Maker’s Space, including a 3-D printer and other technologies, most of which I had never even heard of before; a professional-level recording studio for students and civil society representatives to create podcasts; and most importantly, it was filled with young people. When I visited, there was an education fair taking place, with banners for American colleges and universities hanging from the ceiling and walls and scores of students applying to study in the United States.
Just as you were required to learn and adapt to new situations throughout your career, Public Diplomacy must constantly adjust to new communication techniques and changing operating environments to ensure our efforts are as efficient and effective as possible. We take the need for continuous reform seriously, and there are several current initiatives worth highlighting.
For instance, we are improving coordination of Public Diplomacy efforts across bureaus and offices by sharing common functions and capitalizing on comparative strengths. A prime example is the work of the Global Engagement Center – the newest member of the Department’s Public Diplomacy family – to lead, coordinate, and deconflict our efforts to counter disinformation and malign propaganda across an array of regional and functional bureaus, as well as the interagency. Secretary Pompeo and I have had numerous discussions about this effort, which is helping to reduce overlap and duplication, identify gaps, and strengthen our overall effectiveness in countering those who wish to mislead and sow confusion.
Another transformative effort underway is the use of data and cutting-edge evaluation methods to test whether our programs are achieving the desired results. While still nascent, we are fostering an environment of constant learning that uses research to guide our decision-making. Once fully developed, this approach will allow us to double down on programs that work, recalibrate or end those that aren’t achieving results, and demonstrate to the American taxpayer that we are good stewards of scarce resources.
The ways in which we are utilizing research and analytics are quite exciting. For example, we can now rigorously evaluate the sentiments of foreign publics and tailor our messaging so that the target audience is more open to hearing what we have to say. A great illustration of this ability is recent analytical research that shows the message that resonates most with audiences in Southeast Asia regarding North Korea’s nuclear program is not the security threat it poses to the region, but the terrible toll that supporting the program has taken on the North Korean people. Using this information, we have been able to better tailor our messaging on a critical policy issue in this part of the world.
Similarly, by making accurate research on local audiences available to posts in real time, we are enabling them to design and implement carefully tailored programming unique to their needs and situation. Cookie-cutter approaches rarely work, but the detailed information now available allows us to develop strategies and approaches that methodically account for local nuance, yielding superior results.
These reform efforts – improving coordination across Public Diplomacy functions and using new data-driven methodologies – are just a few of the ways we are working to enhance our effectiveness at persuading and influencing audiences abroad to support U.S. foreign policy objectives.
I know you do not need to be convinced of the importance of public engagement to achieving our policy goals. You know from your own firsthand experiences that building and strengthening ties with people around the world is vital to securing our national interests. However, we need to ensure the value of Public Diplomacy is articulated clearly and convincingly to the American public, and there is no one better to help share this message than all of you in this room.
I am honored and privileged to be able to help tell America’s story to the world, in a way that spreads our values and increases our influence, and in so doing, enhances our prosperity and security at home.
Now, I would be happy to open the floor up for a few questions.