Monday, August 04, 2008

Wolf Blitzer Questions America's Top Propagandist

From a transcript of Sunday's CNN Late Edition interview of Jim Glassman (author of Dow 36,000) with Wolf Blitzer:
BLITZER: There is little doubt right now that the image of the United States has taken a serious hit around the world in recent years. But are there inroads in the effort to try to win the hearts and minds of people around the world, especially in the Middle East?

BLITZER: Let's discuss with the man in charge of this mission, Jim Glassman is the U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.

GLASSMAN: Great to be here.

BLITZER: You've got a tough assignment, as we know. Karen Hughes used to do what you're doing. She had a tough assignment. The Pew Research Center poll that came out earlier in the year said that the favorable opinion in the United States in friendly countries in the Muslim world like Pakistan, only 19 percent. Jordan, only 19 percent. Egypt, only 22 percent. Not very high given U.S. support for those countries over the years.

GLASSMAN: It's true. But things are looking up.

BLITZER: What do you base that on?

GLASSMAN: Well, I base it on the latest Pew Research Poll in June where they looked at 21 countries in '07 and '08 and our ratings increased in 16 of them. But also, this is a very complicated issue. And to reduce it down to a few numbers, I don't think really does anybody --

BLITZER: All right, so let's talk about some of the problems that have impacted negatively on the U.S. image, especially, in the Muslim and Arab world. Senator McCain said this on June 20th and I'll get your reaction, because he's very worried about this. Listen to what he said.


MCCAIN: It happens that I also regard the prison at Guantanamo as a liability in the cause against violent radical extremism. And as president of the United States, I would close it.


BLITZER: How much does an issue like that, the prison at Guantanamo Bay affect the negative U.S. image in the Muslim world?

GLASSMAN: There's no doubt that Guantanamo has hurt our image. The president, though, two years ago said he would close Guantanamo. Of the 750 people that have gone through Guantanamo, 500 of them have been released. The big problem right now, we care about what happens to the 260 or so people who are there now who we would like to release. The question is, what will happen when they get back to their home countries? Will they be properly treated there? So we're working on this question. There's no doubt that that's important. But I think when we talk about the popularity of the United States, let's put it in the right perspective. Our objective in foreign policy is to reduce the threat to the United States and the promote freedom. It is not to win some kind of "American Idol" contest.

BLITZER: Because you've written extensively about the so-called war of ideas that is unfolding right now in this battle, if you will, for the hearts and minds of these young, largely men in the Muslim and Arab world, who potentially represent a significant threat. Is that what you're talking about?

GLASSMAN: Exactly, Wolf. And no matter what people feel about particular policies that the United States has, what we found is that in the Middle East, and in Europe, we've had tremendous cooperation from governments and from individuals in doing in the war of ideas. Really, there are two things we're doing. One is pushing back against the ideology of the terrorists and the second is diverting young people from taking a path that leads to violence extremism.

BLITZER: Because if they're unemployed, they have nothing to do, a lot of idle time. That sort of creates an opening. But let me read to you what Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist wrote on this issue back on June 11th. "It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Democrats' nomination of Barack Obama as their candidate for president has done more to improve America's image abroad, an image dented by the Iraq war, President Bush's invocation of a post-9/11 'crusade,' Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the xenophobic opposition to Dubai Ports World managing U.S. harbors -- than the entire Bush public diplomacy effort for seven years."

GLASSMAN: Well, there's no doubt that there's a lot of excitement in the world about the election that's coming up, and it's not just Barack Obama. And that's very important to people. You know, first African-American. Also, we almost had a woman nominated. We've got John McCain, who is a true war hero, spent five and a half years in a prison in Vietnam.

So the world is very excited about the American election. We're doing a lot, actually, to bring people to the United States to have them observe this election. But it's a lot more than that. It is the success that we've had in Al Anbar. It is the fact that al Qaeda has shown itself to be a bunch of wanton, violent extremists. The world is turning against al Qaeda and that kind of extremism. You talk about polls about the United States.

What's important to us, in fact, is the fact that support for suicide bombing, for example, in Jordan, in Morocco, throughout the Middle East that be dropping. Support for Osama bin Laden has been dropping. Support for al Qaeda has been dropping. Now, we're not out of the woods. Terrorism is a serious, serious problem, was we've done a lot of things in public diplomacy that has ameliorated the situation.

BLITZER: Here's what Robert Gates, the defense secretary said on July 15th. "The solution is not to be found in some slick PR campaign or by trying to out-propagandize al Qaeda, but through the steady accumulation of actions and results that built trust and credibility over a time."

GLASSMAN: He is absolutely right and I think the American people should understand that, for example, this year, we are bringing 50,000 exchange people to the United States. Students, experts in many --

BLITZER: Who pays for that?

GLASSMAN: The American taxpayers pay for it and it's a terrific investment. For example, in Iran, we are now -- we've brought 200 people on exchanges to the United States --

BLITZER: Iranians?

GLASSMAN: Iranians, from Iran. We just had the Iranian basketball team here playing in Utah. And it was a fantastic thing. The Iranian basketball team are throwing roses --

BLITZER: So do you think this is going to lead to an improvement in U.S./Iranian relationship?

GLASSMAN: U.S./Iranian relations, as far as individuals, as far as Iranians and Americans are quite good and we would like to improve them. The problem we have is with the regime.

BLITZER: Let me ask you to explain something that you wrote on July 15th. And because it sort of raises some questions in my mind. "Whether Osama bin Laden himself is killed or captured, I think is not of great consequence. It would have some importance in the war of ideas, but I think if he were killed or if his number two Ayman al- Zawahiri were killed, the ideology would certainly continue to survive."

Because most Americans, they say, it's very important to catch these two guys, to bring them to justice, or to kill them.

GLASSMAN: I think it is important to bring them to justice or to kill them. What I'm saying is that this is a powerful ideology. We're coming up on the 10th anniversary of the bombings by al Qaeda at our embassies in of Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. Al Qaeda is killing Muslims. Al Qaeda has longevity, they have perseverance, they're tough, their ideology is the base of what they're doing. And we need to fight back against that ideology, and that's what we're trying to do right now in the war of ideas.

BLITZER: Good luck. Jim Glassman, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. Thanks for coming in.

GLASSMAN: Thank you, Wolf.