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Richard Stengel: Public Diplomacy is a Conversation

27 September 2014. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Richard Stengel outlined his strategy and key issues facing practitioners of public diplomacy at State Department in remarks at a meeting of the American Security Project on 16 September. Excerpts from Stengel’s discussion and video (51:44) follow.

Public diplomacy is a conversation. It’s people talking to people—it’s not governments talking to people—it’s sometimes people talking to governments. And all of this new technology, particularly social media, enables this conversation to happen in a way it was never able to happen before…I want us to be in that conversation.


In that conversation, our job isn’t to make people like us, or to persuade people that we’re right. It’s to tell people what our policies are, it’s to explain why we have come up with these policies, and then engage in a conversation.

In response to a question about a battle of ideas with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, Stengel noted …

I would say that there is no battle of ideas with ISIL. ISIL is bereft of ideas—they’re bankrupt of ideas. It’s not an organization that is animated by ideas. It’s a criminal, savage, barbaric organization—I feel like we won that battle already. Their ability to recruit fighters has to do more, I would say, with conditions we don’t control: economic conditions in the Arab world, the ability for individuals to be empowered in the Arab world.

American Security Project is an organization that aims to forge a bipartisan consensus and educate the public on the complex, changing nature of national security in the 21st century. The group’s members include  business leaders, former members of Congress, retired military flag officers, and former government officials.


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