Matt Armstrong's blog on public diplomacy, international journalism, and the struggle against propaganda

Understanding State’s Budget Woes

Andrew Exum at CNAS blames – only somewhat tongue in cheek – the absence of federal money creating jobs in Congressional districts for the State Department’s budget woes. His point, of course, is that Congress sees little direct benefit from State’s activities. My friend draws additional insight from Gordon Adams and Cindy Williams and their highlight of an operational difference between State and the Defense Department:

The State Department’s dominant culture — the Foreign Service — takes pride in [the department’s] traditional role as the home of US diplomacy. Diplomats represent the United States overseas, negotiate with foreign countries, and report on events and developments. Diplomats, from this perspective, are not foreign assistance providers, program developers, or managers. As a result, State did not organize itself internally to plan, budget, manage, or implement the broader range of US global engagement … State department culture focuses on diplomacy, not planning, program development and implementation.

This is evident across the board at State, including, but not limited to, inadequate budgeting processes and systems, rigid hierarchies, and cultural bias against outside advice.

Below is a quick list of some of the other substantive issues I’ve talked in various public and private forums:

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New blog on the block: The Campaign War Room

There’s a new blog focused on “analysis of communication and strategy”: The Campaign War Room by James Frayne. James has a background in political communication and, as he told me last year, is frustrated that “all the standard rules of communications that are accepted in politics and commercial communications seem to be rejected by IO practitioners.” After reading his post about the recent meeting of the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, his frustrations appear at least intact.

One of the issues this blog will be focusing on is Western public diplomacy efforts. It’s always been an area of interest for me because it’s about the battle of ideas, which the West has rarely engaged in effectively. Over at MountainRunner – the best blog on this area – Matt Armstrong links to the minutes from the March meeting of the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.

As ever with public diplomacy, the minutes are a depressing read. There are endless stories about Government agencies cutting across each other, or antiquated rules preventing effective action, or a general lack of shared ideas on what the Government should be doing. It’s extremely difficult not to become weary with the process very quickly.

I will be writing some longer pieces about public diplomacy in the next few months, trying to answer some of these questions…

I recommend going to The Campaign War Room to read the rest of this post, including his questions.

Qualified Support from Congress of DoD Strategic Communication

For your reference, the below citations are from reports of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees from before the summer recess in support of Defense information activities commonly referred to as strategic communication. As far as the House Appropriations Committee, Defense Subcommittee, there is nothing in support of DOD information activities, as you may already know. The numbers in parentheses at the end of each citation is the page number of the report.

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Guest Post: How to win the GWOT – or whatever it’s called today

By Mark Pfeifle, Jonathan Thompson

America has the finest military and diplomatic leaders in the world. They know how to win on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. Yet, despite those winning ways, there are times when they become victims of circumstances rather than drivers of events. At such times, some may falter with the media and public, and when that happens, they too often lay blame the results on bad press coverage.

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Still Wanted (?): An Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (Updated)

Still wanted: an Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. This Want Ad remains, at least as of this writing, valid as the U.S. still needs a leader for the interagency process.
Some quick thoughts (apologies for the bullet format, this is all I have time for now):

  • The Defense Department must be balanced by another vertically integrated heavy weight otherwise it will continue to be, by default, the coordinating entity for America’s global engagement.
  • The State Department, to be relevant and to offset Defense, must become a vertically integrated Department of State and Non-State. It makes no sense to de-emphasize or dis-empower State’s “R” Bureau (Public Diplomacy) when modern diplomacy is not compartmentalized (detente and closed door diplomacy is over). From an organizational standpoint, eliminating or marginalizing State’s ability to directly engage global publics from individuals to leaders requires doing the same for Defense, which won’t happen nor it is practicable to even consider.
  • The State Department must adopt the concept of “commander’s intent” and drop zero-tolerance for information errors.  Rigidity in the informational hierarchy inhibits agility to the point of paralysis. 
  • Everybody at the State Department must be educated, encourage, empowered, and equipped to engage in the modern global “now media” information environment. If Defense can push in this direction, why not State?
  • Understanding and engaging the “Human Terrain” was and must again become a function of civilian-based public diplomacy. Empowering grassroots engagement, as USIA did in the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 70’s gives the HUMINT the Intelligence and Defense and Policy Communities so desperately crave. It was the responsibility of USIA to identify and engage current and future foreign public opinion leaders and to know the “street.” To de-militarize our national security, to move it more into open source, requires a full spectrum engagement that is not unlike something we’ve done before.
  • The United States requires a central coordinating hub to monitor and facilitate global informational and exchange activities. This is a core mission of the State Department and it should be prioritized and funded appropriately by both the State Department itself and Congress.
  • The State Department has existing roles and relations that extend beyond the ‘traditional’ national security threats and into issues of the economy, health, poverty, etc that when upside down are breeding grounds for extremism but more importantly are the current and future ‘battlegrounds’ of which we remain mostly unarmed and unaware. Defense is necessarily and appropriately focused on kinetic threats. It is State that take the broader view.
  • The real impact of too few people at the State Department is not the field activities, but the failure to allow Foreign Service Officers to return to academic and think-tank environments to reflect on and share lessons learned and socialize best practices. The Defense Department has the capacity to rotate substantial numbers of its people through training, whether at Defense institutions like the Army War College, National Defense University, Marine Corps U, Air Force U, Leavenworth, Navy War, or the public university system. This means that people with field experience can come back, teach, write, discuss, and create best practices. There is no such luxury at State to the significant detriment of its ability to detect and adapt to changes in the global environment.
  • We must stop imagining a bifurcated world of a US and a separate non-US information environment. If we understand the global information environment and the importance of the truth and smart foreign policies that would, in the absence of adversarial misinformation and disinformation, be successful in the struggle for minds and wills, then we can understand the importance of speaking to foreign audiences, being transparent in our global engagement, informing Americans, and proactively engaging in the global information environment.
  • The State Department must align its regional bureaus with the Defense Department’s Combatant Commands and elevate the leadership of those bureaus to be co-equal with the Combatant Commanders. The Under Secretary for Political Affairs (no offence to the current office holder) should be eliminated and the Assistant Secretaries leading the regional bureaus should be promoted to Under Secretary. The equivalent to a four-star general, the Under Secretary would, at the very least, appear on the Hill whenever a Combatant Commander does and would create some parity in cooperation. If the Secretary of Defense can have COCOMs report directly to him, why can’t the Secretary of State have the Bureaus report directly to her? By changing the leadership and matching the geographic coverage of COCOMs and Bureaus, State and Defense will increase cooperation. Ambassadors would lose some independence as the Bureaus become more powerful as State shifts to a regional view from a country-level view. (About the Ambassadors, for brevity, I’ll just say here that everyone is the President’s representative.)

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