(WASHINGTON, D.C. – November 21, 2008) RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin and Brookings Institution scholar Kenneth Pollack today assessed the impact of Barack Obama's election as President of the United States on America's image abroad as well as the challenges his administration will likely face as it confronts the 21st Century's 'War of Ideas.'
"In public diplomacy, the messenger matters," Gedmin said to a packed house at the DC-based Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC). "President-elect Obama's global appeal marks a real opportunity for the U.S. to improve its image overseas. But the message matters, too – his administration needs to craft sound policies that advance our interests and values."
Pollack agreed that the Obama administration represents a chance to improve America's image, but warned that "popularity cannot be a substitute for good policy."
"Our actions speak louder than words," said Pollack, whose most recent book is titled A Path Out of the Desert: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East. "Public diplomacy needs to focus on explaining why we do what we do. Of course, America's policies will not always be popular in other countries; however, by explaining our motives, public diplomacy can take the edge off of some of the hostility we engender."
The discussion, titled Public Diplomacy in the Age of Obama: Getting the War of Ideas Right, was arranged at the invitation of EPPC Senior Fellow Senator Rick Santorum.
Both speakers argued that U.S. International broadcasters such as the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Asia (RFA) and RFE/RL are effective tools of soft power that advance America's foreign policy interests.
"By broadcasting into undemocratic societies, RFE/RL gives people hope," said Pollack. "It demonstrates that there are attractive alternatives out there for a different world. It also highlights the fact that their governments aren't providing the people what they need – unbiased news and information and a diversity of opinion."