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Statement on Public Diplomacy

Mr. Chairman, I commend you for convening this hearing on America’s public diplomacy efforts. Just as American foreign policy cannot be sustained at home without the informed consent of the American people, it cannot succeed abroad unless it can be explained, not only to presidents and prime ministers, but also to foreign publics.

We must deal with this simple fact: many foreign governments are constrained in their ability to support American policy if their own people oppose the United States (US) position. We therefore must engage with foreign audiences in a dialogue about the objectives of American policy.

In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks, support and sympathy for the United States was nearly universal. The French newspaper, Le Monde, proclaimed, “We Are All Americans.” Hundreds of thousands of people filled public squares across Europe and Asia in support of the United States.

Less than eighteen months later, this enormous goodwill has been largely squandered. Earlier this month, hundreds of thousands of people rallied in the streets of  Europe and elsewhere to condemn American policy on Iraq.

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center indicates that the number of people in many foreign nations who have a positive view of the United States fell significantly between 2000 and the end of 2002.

In key countries with significant Muslim populations, the United States is viewed unfavorably by large majorities. In Pakistan and Egypt, 69 percent of the population had an unfavorable view of the United States; just six percent of the population in Egypt had a favorable view.  In Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally, 55 percent of the population had an unfavorable view. A remarkable percentage of people in Europe believe that US policy on Iraq is driven by a desire to control Iraqi oil—as many as three-quarters of the public in France and Russia believe this nonsense. 

Why this dramatic reversal? I would cite several factors.

First, the administration has failed to heed the President’s own advice, given in the second presidential debate in 2000. When asked how the world should view the United States, then-Governor Bush said this: “It really depends upon how our nation conducts itself in foreign policy. If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll resent us. If we’re a humble nation, but strong, they’ll welcome us...our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power, and that’s why we have to be humble.”

Humility is not a term familiar to many in senior levels of this administration,  which has often been disdainful of the opinions of foreign governments on a range of issues—from the abrupt abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol to the provocative assertion of the doctrine of preemption just as the diplomatic campaign on Iraq was commencing.      

Second, there is another problem—the way in which we perhaps inadvertently embarrass foreign leaders. From embarrassing South Korean President Kim on his first visit to Washington to refusing offers of assistance by NATO partners in Afghanistan to Secretary Rumsfeld’s dismissal of two of our oldest partners in Europe as “old Europe,” this administration has often taken allied support for granted.

This is not how you win friends and influence people.

Third, our outreach to the world since September 11 has been hampered by the slowness of our response and the failure to properly invest in public diplomacy programs. 

Soon after September 11, I suggested to the President a major expansion of US international broadcasting to Muslim countries. I didn’t mind that it wasn’t adopted. I mind that it wasn’t discussed.

Soon after September 11, the State Department began planning for an advertising campaign to Muslim countries about the United States. It took until October 2002 to reach the airwaves, and even then some of our allies in the Middle East refused permission for the advertisements to air.

The administration deserves credit for attempting to coordinate its message overseas through the White House Office of Global Communications.  But organizational change is not a policy, nor does it produce budgetary resources.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors also deserves great credit for the innovative radio broadcasts to the Middle East, and for proposing a Middle East Television Network in its budget for Fiscal Year 2004. 

But the administration’s budget for Fiscal 2004 otherwise shortchanges several important public diplomacy programs.

For example, the request for international exchange programs—which are essential

to exposing thousands of people to the United States and US citizens, are reduced  in the President’s budget for Fiscal Year 2004. For example, the Fulbright program falls from $150 million to $141 million, and professional and cultural exchanges falls from $86 million to $73 million. This will result in real reductions—nearly 2,500 fewer participants in exchanges next year.

Similarly, the budget request for the Broadcasting Board of Governors for Fiscal 2004 requires the elimination or reduction of broadcasts by the Voice of America or Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to several Central and Eastern European countries.

But I cannot understand why we would go off the air or reduce broadcasts in places where there is a significant listenership, such as in the Baltics and the Balkans.

As our diplomatic efforts on Iraq have made plain, we cannot take any allies—old or new—for granted. We must constantly engage them. We should expand our international broadcasting and international exchanges, not contract them. They are valuable tools to tell America’s story to the world.*

* Editor’s Note: Senator Biden delivered this opening statement at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on Public Diplomacy on February 27, 2003.

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Ranking Member, Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate