Thursday, September 18th, 2014

The Obameter

Open "America Houses" in Islamic cities around the globe


"Modeled on the successful program the United States launched in Germany following World War II, America Houses would offer state-of-the-art English-language training programs, discussions, and a wide selection of current periodicals, newspapers, and literature. They would offer free Internet access and moderated programs that promote direct exchange with Americans through the use of modern information technology."

Updates

Jakarta center is first of a new generation

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to replicate a program launched in Germany after World War II. "America Houses would offer state-of-the-art English-language training programs, discussions, and a wide selection of current periodicals, newspapers, and literature," he promised. "They would offer free Internet access and moderated programs that promote direct exchange with Americans through the use of modern information technology."
 
A year ago, we rated this promise Stalled. But the Obama administration has since made significant progress putting this promise into action.

On Dec. 1, 2010, Judith A. McHale, the undersecretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs, traveled to Jakarta, Indonesia, to open the first @america Center -- a new-generation gathering place where young Indonesians can see "the best of the United States -- our ideas, our creativity, our ideals and our ingenuity," McHale said at the dedication.

The center is located in a shopping center -- Pacific Place Mall -- and conducts outreach on social media such as Facebook and Twitter in order to reach young Indonesians. It has partnered with Google Earth, Cisco and Microsoft -- which donated Xbox Kinect game consoles -- to bolster its high-tech resources.

"By getting out from behind the Embassy walls, @america will be an open, inviting, and accessible place to explore and experience the best of America," McHale said. "Although the United States and Indonesia are separated by the vast Pacific Ocean, @america will use modern technology to bring our young people together to learn and cooperate on issues of importance to our nations and the world."

Indonesia is the world's largest majority-Muslim nation.

In the meantime, American cultural centers elsewhere are enhancing their facilities and outreach.

An America House in Arab East Jerusalem recently sponsored an evening of entertainment for more than 100 children aged 5 to 15 from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi al Joz. "The evening included a Ramadan sing-along, a puppet show, and balloons and school gifts for the kids," said an account in a State Department website. "This is the first of eight cultural activities that the America House is sponsoring in east Jerusalem during Ramadan."

Several other American cultural centers are also undergoing upgrades. They include Burkina Faso, Burma, Chile, Haiti, Mozambique and Nicaragua.

While a broad network of these centers remains to be built, the Jakarta outpost appears to fit the promise's description so closely that, in combination with the activities of the center in East Jerusalem, we're rating this a Promise Kept.

Sources:

State Department, remarks by Judith A. McHale (undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs) in Jakarta, Indonesia, Dec. 1, 2010

White House, "Indonesia: Follow-Up To The President"s Cairo Speech" (fact sheet), Nov. 09, 2010

Consulate-General of the United States-Jerusalem, "America House Kicks Off Ramadan Activities in East Jerusalem" (blog post), Aug. 19, 2010

"America Houses" not built yet

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to replicate a program launched in Germany after World War II. "America Houses would offer state-of-the-art English-language training programs, discussions, and a wide selection of current periodicals, newspapers, and literature," he promised. "They would offer free Internet access and moderated programs that promote direct exchange with Americans through the use of modern information technology."
 
However, we did a search of Whitehouse.gov, Google and Nexis and found no recent mentions of this effort.
 
Equally notable, the president's fiscal year 2010 budget request for the State Department makes no mention of this program. While the administration sought an increase of $62 million for public diplomacy efforts, including 20 new positions, the detailed list of programs that would receive the additional funds did not include America Houses.
 
Until any tangible evidence of progress emerges, we're rating this promise Stalled.

Sources:

State Department, budget request , fiscal year 2010