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Sonenshine on public diplomacy today - ISIS

Case Study: The effectiveness of ISIS on the new media in attracting people to join their cause and how the U.S. can counter that message using multiple diplomat tools. Fmr. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs of the US Tara Sonenshine in conversation with Charlie Firestone of The Aspen Institute.

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Video transcript

I'm Charlie Firestone with the Aspen Institute here with Tara Sun and shine so now let's move to Isis are the Islamic state and their effectiveness on the new media in attracting people to join their cause and the fact that some of those messages that are seem abhorrent to Americans seem to be appealing how do you counter something like the Islamic state message the age of Isis and terrorism is now back to competing narratives we are back to the way early days of public diplomacy in which we talked about my story line versus your story line really al-qaeda understood it and Isis understands that information is power that persuasion is half of the struggle that part of the struggle is just showing up and getting people to rally to your cause that there's an emotional psychological part of storytelling that is really persuasive and so Isis has figured out also that that keyboard and that keystroke you don't have to do a lot of real terror you can terrorize with information so when we talked about World War 1 in World War two and you think about how many people were killed on the battlefield in the case of Isis seven guys in orange jumpers and you've terrorized people imagery in the televised age and in the Internet age is so persuasive that you don't even have to do much in spending your money you can simply hire a video crew get someone with a British accent to tell a story and for very little money you have an army of persuasion this is the ultimate public diplomacy fight because I'm in your head and I'm using images and stories and words and actions and I can recruit and then I can recover because I don't even have to come out from my keyboard and risk being bombed you I can stay in there and do my work and have my audience who might be young susceptible easy to allure with a heroic image you can come and fight a glorious fight and build a Caliphate instead of playing your video games in which you get to nab territory you could come and actually you could come and hold a gun you could come and build a country you could come and wear a uniform and be a fighter in Jihad that's really powerful stuff so how do you counter that so to counter it again you can't counter it with information alone here's the perfect example of where sitting at the table you want the guys who say yes we are going to drop stuff from the sky because one of those is an information tower and one of those is a recruitment center and yes we do have to do physical military action at the same time I need a seat at the table across from that Isis guy on the computer and I need to refute in that contested space everything they're saying and third I need to get to these young people and show them something other than the glory and glamour of going to Syria I need to maybe bring them to Syracuse and get them in a program put them on an exchange I need to do some entrepreneurship and economic statecraft to get some jobs into this I need to train these Iraqis so I need an integrative strategy that's not about just countering the narrative or bombing or boots on the ground I know I need something that is going to be comprehensive and that's going to look at the spectrum of what's happening and that's also going to look long term am I really going to convince a nicest guy to go and win a Nobel Peace Prize probably not might I convince a fence-sitter thinking about going to Iraq or Syria to do something else maybe so in the past the American dream was kind of the narrative is there a new narrative for America I think the American Dream is still when you do all the polling what people love about America is its education it's science its technology its culture and its freedoms to a point people don't necessarily want as much freedom as we offer but they like some version of it most individuals actually like individual things and things that promote their sense of Worth and respect so in that way it hasn't really changed what Ben Franklin was talking about independence sense of ownership over your life an ability to practice your faith those rock-solid values I don't think our story has changed that much what's changed is everything around us and the sophistication from China to Russia from Isis to Libya the sophistication people now have about projecting their power and influence and their story on the world