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Countering Misperceptions of U.S. Requires Dialogue, Rice Says

Secretary tells National Public Radio that America is not just its pop culture

Posted: May 27, 2005 Related item: United States "Opening a Path for the March of Freedom," Rice Says  

Washington -- Countering misperceptions of the United States requires not only doing a better job of explaining what it is America is trying to do in promoting democracy, but also keeping this country open to other cultures and conversing with people of other nations, says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Interviewed May 27 on National Public Radio, the secretary said she thinks “there’s a lot to be gained from … getting out and talking to people about their perceptions of the United States, many misperceptions of the United States.”

The secretary also drew a clear connection between U.S. support for democracy and U.S. national security interests: “The link between democracy and security and peace, and the absence of democracy and insecurity and conflict is very clear. Sometimes you have to keep in mind that greater goal in order to get through what are obviously very difficult, turbulent times right now.”

Rice acknowledged that some in the Arab world see the United States as hostile and said those individuals must be reminded “that the United States has often acted on behalf of Muslims around the world who were oppressed,” including Kuwait, the Balkans and Afghanistan.

The secretary also talked about World War II, “when hundred of thousands of young Americans who, at 18 and 19 years old, came across the Atlantic and gave their lives” to liberate Europe.

Building democracy takes a long time, Rice said. “We know because of the hard work that we did in Europe over generations that nobody can imagine war now between Europeans. That wasn’t the case when France and Germany emerged out of World War II. But we stayed the course. We built NATO. We helped create a democratic Germany. And, as a result, Europe is a peaceful and prosperous continent,” she said.

Japan’s success as a stabilizing force in the world, she said, is another example of the changes that can happen when a country becomes democratic.

“Now, the people in the Middle East are demanding their rights,” Rice said, “ and they have, in the United States, somebody who supports that just demand.” The secretary said she was not surprised that some resent that the United States did not do so in previous years.

Asked about how U.S. pop culture might affect others’ image of America, Rice agreed that “some of the culture is extremely crude, and I would certainly not want it to be thought to be representative of what America is.”

She said she hoped that people would see not just the “rougher sides” but, instead, “a little bit more of the heart of America” and the values that are illustrated in the generosity of its people. As an example, Rice talked of the thousands of American youth who volunteer for community service, working with the poor, the young, and the elderly.

“And look at the response of Americans to the [Indian Ocean] tsunami,” she said. “In every community and in every neighborhood and in every church, mosque or synagogue, people were raising funds for the tsunami [victims].”

It is by such actions that the people of the United States have a key role in outlining America’s image, she said. Rice said it was important for U.S. students to learn other languages and study other cultures to further our engagement with the world. Public diplomacy, she said, is not just the responsibility of the government.

“We need to talk to people and we need to listen to them,” Rice said, in order to undo misconceptions.

The secretary said the United States stands for freedom and liberty and the belief that all people wish to be free.

“There is a reason that people come here from so many different cultures, from so many different religious backgrounds, from so many different ethnic groups,” Rice explained. “It’s because you can come here and be American because being American is an ideal and a state of mind – not a religious affiliation, not an ethnic designation, not a drop of blood. It’s an ideal.”


Rebecca Ford Mitchell
Washington File Staff Writer



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