Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Omni Shoreham Hotel
February 9, 2017
(As prepared for delivery)
Thank you very much, Chris, for that kind introduction. To Ambassador Masilingi, his wife Marystella, and all of the ambassadors and other foreign dignitaries in attendance today, welcome.
I want to start by expressing my deep appreciation to Jim Wolf and the entire Global Ties network JB - see]. I’ve said a number of times since becoming acting Under Secretary that I inherited an incredible Public Diplomacy apparatus at the Department of State, not the least of which is the thriving public-private partnership with Global Ties that forms the basis of our meeting today. It is my privilege to help further your cause within the Department, and it is an honor to work with you as colleagues in citizen diplomacy and international exchange.
You’ve certainly come to Washington at an exciting time. While priorities may shift and agendas change as our political transition continues, these changes remind us of what remains constant across administrations. I’ve had the privilege of serving six U.S. presidents of differing styles and political philosophies, and throughout my career, I have been heartened by the consistently high value each has placed on Public Diplomacy efforts. What you do for this country has bipartisan support and remains as critical as ever for the safety and success of our nation.
President Trump has stressed that the goal of his Administration is to return government to the people. I believe that the International Visitor Leadership Program is as strong as it is today because it hews to that very principle. In these projects, the United States is directly represented by you, the American people – not by officials, not by politicians, not by celebrities or sports heroes, not even by professional diplomats like myself – but by citizens who care so much that they volunteer their time and energy to represent their country to the world.
As the President affirmed in his inaugural address, “Everyone is listening to you now.” Well, for over 75 years, the goal of the IVLP has been to bring the world’s future leaders here to listen to you. The importance of citizen diplomacy remains a lodestone for our foreign policy efforts.
And when our visitors come to your towns and cities, what do they find? Do they meet a homogenous citizenry that always agrees on everything? Do they encounter the Hollywood version of America shown on TVs and movie screens around the world?
As you all know from meeting with participants, the America they encounter is very often different than the America they expected. They see our country in all its diversity. We come from different backgrounds, we believe in different faiths, we grow up in different cultures, and we hold different points of view.
But the beauty of citizen diplomacy, the secret to the success of our international exchanges, is that we never hesitate to share with participants a balanced, honest portrayal of America. Again, to paraphrase the President’s inaugural address, as Americans, we speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.
In that spirit, I urge you to continue meeting and sharing with our foreign visitors. But as you tell your stories, as you share your own unique, personal narratives, I ask that you not leave out the part about meeting together like this and working hand-in-hand to examine what we do and find ways to do it even better.
Please keep telling our visitors about the challenges you face, and help them learn from our experiences, both good and bad. But don’t leave out the part about how neighbors help neighbors in your town, about how the police find ways to work with the community to reduce violence, and about how churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques reach interfaith solutions to confront hate and intolerance.
At the same time, there is no need to hide the lively political discourse that we sometime take for granted as Americans. Because as heated as these debates may become, you serve as an example for those who do not enjoy the same freedom of expression at home, who have no say in the choosing of their political leaders.
British Prime Minister Theresa May put it well just last week during her visit to the United States: “The opportunity to visit to the United States is always special…I defy any person to travel to this great country at any time and to not be inspired by its promise and its example.” The Prime Minister knows of which she speaks – she herself is a program alumna, having taken part in a 2004 British-American Parliamentary Group IVLP project.
Although I am new to the role of acting Under Secretary, I am a long-time student and practitioner of Public Diplomacy, and I’ve spoken to hundreds of IVLP participants from around the world. I’m struck by a repeated theme: how vividly participants recall their brief stays in the United States and how these lasting impressions inspire them to create positive change back home.
I like to call it the IVLP “Butterfly Effect” – it is no exaggeration to say that a short lunch-hour meeting with international visitors or an informal hospitality visit over a home-cooked meal can have tremendous, positive repercussions on lives thousands of miles away. Every meeting during a three-week visit adds more to each visitor’s definition of the American dream.
And what is it that they learn from spending this short time with you?
They learn that we are entrepreneurs: Soon after returning to Belarus from an IVLP project on social entrepreneurship, Oleg Galtsev co-invented a new prosthetic arm using 3D-printed parts – then put instructions for how to build it online, hoping to “spark a do-it-yourself revolution in prosthetics.”
They learn that we believe in fairness and accountability: After examining the U.S. judicial system during his IVLP visit, Shalva Tadumaze returned to Georgia and formed a groundbreaking commission of government officials, NGOs, and judges to improve his country’s administrative code.
They learn that we are volunteers: Chen Yongsong arrived in the United States on September 12, 2001, for a project on NGOs. What he saw of American volunteerism at this pivotal moment in U.S. history led him to create the Green Home for Youth, training Chinese and international university students as volunteers to protect the environment.
And of course, I’m proud to congratulate and share today’s stage with alumna-of-the-year Rebeca Gyumi, whose visit to NGOs in New Mexico during a 2013 American Youth IVLP project provided her with important background that helped her win a landmark court decision against child marriage in her native Tanzania.
Never doubt the power you have as citizen diplomats. You are ambassadors, you are role models, and in every administration, you represent the best of what America has to offer the global community.
In his recent confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Tillerson stated that “our leadership demands action specifically focused on improving the conditions of people the world over.” I have no doubt that as he settles into his new role, Secretary Tillerson will recognize that citizen diplomacy is a potent foreign policy instrument at his disposal in this effort.
In his hearing, he added, “In the scope of international affairs, America’s level of goodwill toward the world is unique…Quite simply, we are the only global superpower with the means and the moral compass capable of shaping the world for good.”
Let’s stop and reflect on some of the important projects that depend on our partnership with you for success.
If you’re working within your communities to help foreign participants meet with social services experts for at-risk youth, you are contributing to the erosion of violent extremism. As participants meet with American entrepreneurs and local business leaders, it often sparks ideas that can be applied both here and back in the participants’ home communities. These efforts, and countless others, are making America stronger, while also making the world safer and more prosperous.
Thank you for what you do to represent our country, and thank you for everything you do to shape our world for good.
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United." Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."