Marc Lynch

Glassman and “beyond violent extremism”

Former Under-Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Jim Glassman responds to my remarks on Thursday about the need to expand the "war of ideas" conception beyond combatting violent extremism.  Glassman argues: "Lynch makes it sound as if the only way that public diplomacy during my tenure engaged with the “Islamic world” was through anti-violence and ...

Former Under-Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Jim Glassman responds to my remarks on Thursday about the need to expand the "war of ideas" conception beyond combatting violent extremism.  Glassman argues:

"Lynch makes it sound as if the only way that public diplomacy during my tenure engaged with the “Islamic world” was through anti-violence and anti-extremism activities related to the war of ideas. That’s ridiculous." 

He writes that his office had only a few million dollars, while international exchange and educational programs had a far larger share of the overall public diplomacy budget.  He didn’t try to cut any of those programs, he says, but only wanted to add the "war of ideas" against violent extremism to the mix. 

Fair enough.  I’m a fan of traditional public diplomcy as well, and I’ve often expressed my admiration for Glassman’s efforts to expand such activities into the new media realm and to adapt to the new information environment. But on this specific, very important, point…. why might I think that Glassman intended to shift the focus of the war of ideas on combatting violent extremism? 

Jim Glassman, June 24, 2008:

While educational exchanges and other such efforts seek over the long term to encourage foreigners to adopt more generally favorable views of the United States, the war of ideas today should have a different, specific focus. The aim must be to ensure that negative sentiments and day-to-day grievances toward the U.S. and its allies do not manifest themselves in violence. We want to create an environment hostile to violent extremism, especially by severing links between al Qaeda and like-minded groups and their target audiences. 

 

Jim Glassman, July 8, 2008:

The focus of today’s war of ideas is counterterrorism. As the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism of 2006 puts it: "In the long run, winning the War on Terror means winning the battle of ideas."

So let me be specific. Our mission today in the war of ideas is highly focused. It is to use the tools of ideological engagement — words, deeds, and images — to create an environment hostile to violent extremism. We want to break the linkages between groups like al-Qaeda and their target audiences.

….

Unlike traditional functions of public diplomacy like education and cultural exchanges, the aim of the war of ideas is not to persuade foreign populations to adopt more favorable views of the United States and its policies. Instead, the war of ideas tries to ensure that negative sentiments and day-to-day grievances toward the United States and its allies do not manifest themselves in the form of violent extremism. 

 Jim Glassman, December 1, 2008:

In the war of ideas, our core task in 2008 is to create an environment hostile to violent extremism. We do that in two ways: by undermining extremist ideologies and by encouraging young people to follow productive paths that lead away from terrorism.

 

Perhaps I somehow misunderstood Glassman’s intentions, and he did not mean that the focus of engagement should be on creating an environment hostile to violent extremism and not trying to build support for U.S. foreign policy?  

 Twitter: @abuaardvark

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