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A Blog on Understanding, Informing, Empowering, and Influencing Global Publics, published by Matt Armstrong

Using Information to Beat Gadhafi

This morning, I was on the radio show The Takeaway, a co-production of WNYC Radio and Public Radio International, to discuss non-military options for the U.S. in Libya.

My comments focused on the empowerment of Libyans by enabling the acquisition and dissemination of information. In other words, freedom to get and give information creates not only knowledge of the environment, it lays the foundation for an open society. The actions of the Libyans must be by and of the Libyans. The only substantial role here, at this early phase of the establishment of a new state, for the United States (or the West in general), is one of facilitator. The Libyans must pull themselves up. 

The United States is considering a range of options to deal with Libya, including military action and sanctions. However, there’s another possibility for Libya: an information campaign and the Pentagon has reportedly explored at the option of jamming Libya’s communications so that Gadhafi has a harder time talking to his forces. Matt Armstrong, lecturer on public diplomacy at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism and publisher of  the blog MountainRunner.us, takes a closer look at how an information campaign might work in Libya.

The segment is about than seven minutes long and my conversation with host John Hockenberry, begins at the 1:30 mark. Listen below or go to The Takeway.

Yes, it was recorded live at 6a Eastern Time, making it 3a where I am…

Berkley Center discussion with Matt Armstrong

A Discussion with Matt Armstrong, Executive Director, MountainRunner Institute, on the Uses and Limits of New Social Media by Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, & World Affairs, 15 December 2009, at Georgetown University.

…New social media democratizes influence. Anybody can influence anybody. Today, the gatekeepers are challenged, bypassed, or ignored. People who may have been alienated or oppressed are now able to come together and make their voices heard, regardless of culture, ethnicity, location, or even language.

…Apart from democratizing influence, social media makes information both global and hyperlocal as it makes it extremely accessible. Social media is also visceral… you see videos and you have a greater sense of being there than reading text.

…Social media, like the Internet in general, is in many ways a double-edged sword. While it can empower people for positive goals and causes, it can help others do the opposite. There are groups online for teenagers that cut themselves, there are groups on anorexia and how to do it better, there are deviant groups and hate groups. Terrorists benefit from using new social media, especially YouTube, as propaganda and recruiting tools. They no longer have to wait for media coverage to spread their message, now terrorists put their videos online in 30 minutes. Furthermore, terrorists can be their own media crew now. They, not NBC, not CBS, package and send out their message and the global media picks up on it.

State Dept Project Signals Foreign Policy Shift

State Dept Project Signals Foreign Policy Shift: Review Could Shift Resources to Civilian Agencies for Foreign Development, by Spencer Ackerman, 22 October 2009, in The Washington Independent.

In July, [State Department's director of policy planning Anne-Marie] Slaughter’s boss, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, announced a new planning and budgeting document, called the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, or QDDR, created to “effectively design, fund, and implement development and foreign assistance as part of a broader foreign policy” every four years. It is the first such effort for the State Department, which is not known for a culture of planning, and is modeled after a planning document produced by the Defense Department that reassesses and guides strategy on a recurring basis. …

The review comes as at a time when the State Department is facing existential questions about its utility to American foreign policy, and some aren’t so sure that it will be as influential as Slaughter believes. In a provocative article last month for Foreign Policy magazine, public-diplomacy specialist Matt Armstrong called the agency “broken and paralyzed, unable to respond to the new 21st-Century paradigm” where both state and non-state actors influence the global agenda. “The QDDR will ultimately be just a document. What it spurs will be the real test,” Armstrong, whose article urged radical departmental restructuring, said in an interview. “As we know from the struggle for minds and wills around the world today, words only go so far.” …

Only one policy option has been ruled out: dissolving USAID and moving development work to the State Department. “There will be no merger,” Slaughter said. “Secretary Clinton has made clear she wants a strong AID, a well-resourced AID, [and] wants diplomacy and development well-integrated.”

Armstrong has a similar focus, but he wondered how thoroughly the QDDR would adopt the critique. “A focus of the QDDR seems to be State’s ability to play well with others,” he said. “But creating more plugs and sockets to connect with other agencies will be of little value if the internal bureaucratic friction that inhibits agility and creativity are not addressed.” He said that the department would need to abandon its bureaucratic “emphasis on national borders”- the State Department is primarily organized around countries, rather than transnational phenomena — if it wants to become “become an effective alternative and counterweight to DOD.”

Die Wahrheit zuerst

Die Wahrheit zuerst.pdf, September 2009, at PRMagazin (German).

„Amerikanische Public Diplomacy trägt Kampfstiefel”, mäkelt
auch Matt Armstrong, Gründer der Agentur Armstrong Strategic Insights
Group und viel gelesener Public-Diplomacy-Blogger auf mountainrunner.
us. Er vermisst eine klare, vom Außenministerium statt vom Pentagon vorgegebene Linie. „Unsere globale Kommunikation ist nach wie vor unterfinanziert, schlecht strukturiert und wird zu wenig eingesetzt”, so Armstrong gegenüber dem prmagazin.