On Friday at the New America Foundation, the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, James Glassman, spoke about America’s strategy in the so called ‘war of ideas’. The speech outlined a process of gentle encouragement and openness. As Glassman was keen to note, when it comes to radical fundamentalism based on Islam, “we [Americans] are not the credible voices”. Instead, Glassman says that the battle against radicalism must be conducted by those who are well respected within the Muslim world.
Glassman’s vision for US public diplomacy in the current era is “focused not on making people like us more, but rather on defeating an ideology.” We are attempting to influence the outcome of a battle for power within Muslim society, and the only way that Glassman sees us being effective is by taking on an enabling role. For the Undersecretary, the objective is to make sure that the many voices of reason within the Islamic world get heard.
Glassman’s speech took on an amused tone when he mentioned that he himself disliked the name ‘war of ideas’, despite his unofficial title as its ‘commander in chief’. He insisted that the name has connotations that imply a simple, two sided ‘us vs. them’ struggle. Instead, Glassman was adamant that the objective is not to get anyone to accept our own ideologies, but rather simply to have them reject ideologies that promote unprovoked violence.
All in all, Glassman’s speech was a breath of fresh air in a climate where enemies, friends, and bystanders are often confused with one another. Terrorism cannot be stopped by force of arms. The ‘war of ideas’ is perhaps the most crucial initiative to our longterm security, and it’s nice to see that the man in charge recognizes the complexities and understands the indirect approach that we must adopt.