2009 Smith-Mundt Symposium

On January 13, 2009, a week before President Obama was sworn in, nearly two hundred people participated in the Smith-Mundt Symposium at the Reserve Officers Association on Capitol Hill. This “discourse on America's discourse” consisted of two keynotes, four panels, and one of the most diverse groups ever brought together.  Practitioners to policymakers to observers came from the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Congress, the media, other government agencies, and from think tanks, consultants, universities, and other organizations based inside and outside the United States. Many of these people had little reason to be in the same room, let alone the same table, to discuss public diplomacy and strategic communication, or whatever they called activities intended to understand, inform, and influence. Having them all at the same place at one time to listen to and discuss topics of mutual interest served as a kind of cultural exchange and networking event. This feature was readily apparent by the networking between panels and at lunch.

On its face, the discussion was organized around the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, the law intended to “promote the better understanding of the United States among the peoples of the world and to strengthen cooperative international relations.”  The intended purpose was to facilitate a broad and on-the-record discussion about the purpose, structure, and direction of America’s global engagement.

The event was recorded and transcribed. We expected the event to be covered live by C-Span, however, C-Span informed me that morning that they ran out of cameras covering several confirmation hearings, including the Secretary of State's.

A report of the event is available here and at Scribd while complete transcripts and the agenda are available below. Biographies are available at the version of this page found at mountainrunner.us/symposium.

Welcome message by Matt Armstrong, event chair (transcript)

Amb. James Glassman delivering the morning keynote
Amb. James Glassman delivering the morning keynote

Morning Keynote by Amb. James Glassman, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. (Transcript, Amb. Glassman's comments begin at the bottom of page 5, after Matt Armstrong's welcome message.)

Panel 1: History of Smith-Mundt (transcript)

  • Len Baldyga, moderator, former Director of the Office of European Affairs at the U.S. Information Agency

  • Richard Arndt, USIA alumni, author of The First Resort of Kings: American Cultural Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century.

  • Barry Zorthian, retired Senior Foreign Service Officer, retired Colonel in the U.S.Marine Corps Reserve, former VOA program manager

  • Mike Schneider, Director of the Syracuse-Maxwell International Program

  • Matt Armstrong

Panel 2: America's Bifurcated Engagement (transcript)

  • Marc Lynch, moderator, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs George Washington University

  • David Jackson, former VOA Director, Senior Advisor for Communications Bureau of European & Eurasian Affairs at the Department of State

  • Karen DeYoung, Associate Editor, Senior Diplomatic Correspondent at The Washington Post

  • Jeff Grieco, Assistant Administrator, Legislative and Public Affairs U.S. Agency for International Development

  • Rear Admiral Greg Smith, Director of Communication at United States Central Command

Lunchtime Keynote by Mike Doran, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Support to Public Diplomacy (Transcript)

Kristin Lord, Ted Tzavellas, Nancy Snow, Colleen Graffy, Bill Kiehl

Panel 3: Rebuilding the Arsenal of Persuasion (transcript)

  • Kristin Lord, moderator, Fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program and Saban Center for Middle East Policy at The Brookings Institution

  • Ted Tzavellas, former Senior Information Policy and Strategy Advisor to the Department of Defense, Joint Staff Deputy Director of Global Operations, Information Operations

  • Nancy Snow, Associate Professor of Public Diplomacy Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

  • Colleen Graffy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs

  • Bill Kiehl, former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Resources of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Department of State, and former USIA Acting Deputy Associate Director for Educational and Cultural Affairs

Panel 4: The View from the Hill (transcript, 140kb PDF)

  • Doug Wilson, moderator, former Senior Advisor to the Director of USIA, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs

  • Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.)

  • Rep. Paul Hodes (D-NH)

  • Lynne Weil, Communications Director for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Closing Comments by Matt Armstrong (included at the end of the Panel 4 transcript)

On January 6, 2010, a pre-event media roundtable was hosted by the Association of Old Crows (transcript). Speaking at the roundtable were:

  • Rear Admiral Greg Smith

  • David Firestein

  • George Clack

  • Matt Armstrong

This event was organized, chaired, and funded by Matt Armstrong. Additional financial support was graciously provided by the Center on Communication Leadership.

Questions or comments should be directed to Matt Armstrong at blog@mountainrunner.us.