Of Information Operations, DIME, and America’s Ambassadors

Society is a very mysterious animal with many faces and hidden potentialities, and… it’s extremely shortsighted to believe that the face society happens to be presenting to you at a given moment is its only true face. None of us knows all the potentialities that slumber in the spirit of the population. – Valclav Havel, 31 May 1990

Modern conflict relies heavily on influencing social strata spanning many lands. Information campaigns are waged, neglected, and abused by attempts to manipulate various audiences. We’ve read the news about how the Pentagon made such a bad decision to hire the Lincoln Group to provide news insertion and pondered over the “real” purpose of the ill-fated Office of Strategic Influence. I’ve sat in meetings listening to individuals more intelligent and more knowledgeable than myself use these examples, among many, to fuel their arguments against the validity today or in the future of any link between the Pentagon and “Public Diplomacy”. An erroneous viewpoint in my opinion that’s removed from reality. Their position isn’t surprising, however. The second paragraph of Joseph Nye’s preface to Soft Power gives Rumsfeld’s opinion on soft power to reinforce the argument: “I don’t know what it means.”

The SecDef may have learned the meaning of Soft Power by now, but regardless of if he has and regardless of academics accepting the military as participants, with major and possibly central roles, in American Public Diplomacy, the military is in “the last three feet”.

If you’re a reader of MountainRunner, or have searched the archives, you’ll have seen many posts highlighting examples of how the Defense Department, or sometimes more accurately elements within the Defense Department, “gets it”. For example, from the Office of Naval Research Global and its Science Visitor Program (SVP) that’s on par with the old International Visitors Program (IVP) of the State Department to a submarine tender making port calls in the Gulf of Guinea, we see the Navy smoothly sliding into a role of America’s Ambassador.

You may have read my recent post on CSM Daniel Wood, in writing his memo last month, and how he certainly understood the concept of soft power. While some may think we’re in a new way of war, it is clear by Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War the value of creating and engendering cooperation, as in the Mytilenian Debate, is really older than our civilization, let alone a generational shift.

You may also have seen my comments on Counter-Insurgency (COIN) on this site and references to insightful military authors on how to conduct relations at the personal level. Authors such as John Nagl (Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife) have discussed the value of working with and not against or simply amongst populations. Just as the insurgents are, in Mao’s words, fish in the sea of the people, so too are we and we must use the sea as a force multiplier. Books like Ahmed Hashim’s Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq read like case studies on how to work with the “mysterious animal” that our real ambassadors — the military and its agents — come in contact with daily.

In places that increasingly count ("sanctuaries", disaster zones, etc), the “last three feet” of contact with foreign publics is increasingly “owned” by our military. Modern conflict is both kinetic (bullets whizzing and missiles flying) and non-kinetic (creating influence and disruption) requiring new methods of prevention and counter-action. The war of words and pictures are of greater importance over “traditional” metrics of warfighting. In this reality, we’re seeing old texts resurface and get dusted off like Galula (1964), Calwell (1906), and even USMC’s own Small Wars Manual (1940).

These all have something in common: learning to work with and understand the “mysterious animal”. Robert Scales (Culture-Centric Warfare, Clausewitz and World War IV), George W. Smith (Avoiding a Napoleonic Ulcer: Bridging the Gap of Cultural Intelligence), Montgomery McFate (Anthropology and Counterinsurgency, Military Utility of Understanding Adversary Culture), Robert Pape (Dying to Win), Marc Sageman (Understanding Terrorist Networks), and others have essentially written about using soft power to "get" what Newt Gingrich observed: “The real key is not how many enemy do I kill. The real key is how many allies do I grow.”

Military-authored material on the importance of cultural understanding, building trust, and managing communications appears nearly every day. We can see how insurgents use information operations to cleave our allies and distract us.

Of interest, if only for what it uncovers, is recent monograph by Major Joseph L. Cox, Information Operations in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom – What Went Wrong? You should read Marc Lynch / Abu Aardvark’s highlighting contradictions and surprising admissions made by Cox. Unfortunately, Cox seems to have normalized “information operations” to the point of improperly conflated it “information warfare”. It also very interesting that Cox argues and accepts the firewalling of IO from Public Affairs (PA), as General Myers, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2004, suggested. This forces the very stove-piping Major Cox said contributed to IO failures elsewhere in his paper. Successful IO requires horizontal integration of interagency operations. Co-mingling of Information Warfare (IW) and IO is a necessary evil in the world of manipulated media. Cox does more than co-mingle but treats them as synonyms based on Army usage.

This is essentially the crux of the post by Patricia Kushlis of WhirledView. PHK rightly condemns the Pentagon for using Rendon and its cut-outs like Lincoln to design IO that will knowingly deceive for short-term gain and reflect this bad information back into the US.

Another look at Colonel Ralph Baker’s The Decisive Weapon: A Brigade Combat Team Commander’s Perspective on Information Operations is instructive. The role of the military as the front-line ‘ambassador’ for the US must be accepted. The theme of Baker’s piece echoes Nagl (if you don’t want to read his book, then I urge you to watch his presentation), Scales, Calwell, and virtually all else on counter-insurgency and “Small Wars”. Sounds like Public Diplomacy? That’s because the principles are the same.

Read the following monograph by Robert D. Steele at the Army’s Strategic Studies Institute: Putting the ‘I’ Back into DIME. Where is the DIME (Diplomacy, Information, Military, Economics)? Where does State really come into DIME? Are they doing diplomacy relevant to contemporary issues?

DOD hits the hotspots while State hides behind fortresses, insulated from the outside (to be fair, too frequently and detrimentally the military is allowed to create mini-America in their fortifications for the comfort of home), requiring new rules to “force” rotations to “hardship” posts.

Is it because Defense emphasizes learning? Afterall, all these monographs are being written by DOD personnel and is there anything from State? Learning is a low (not just lower) priority at State, budgeting maybe 5% of the total budget while Defense allocated 10-15% for this purpose. This is one more example of Defense moving ahead to engage the world. As Robert Scales wrote in Culture-Centric Warfare (US Naval Institute Proceedings, Oct 2004):

“Leveraging non-military advantages requires creating alliances, reading intentions, building trust, converting opinions, and managing perceptions… all tasks that demand an exceptional ability to understand people, their culture and their motivation.”

Defense’s initiatives result from greater funding, but also, and more importantly, a greater prioritization as Eccentric Star points out.

Again, where is State? Where are the reports examining State’s role? We do have countless reports criticizing different aspects of American Public Diplomacy, as conducted by State, but no academic and scholarly analyses from within the establishment like Cox’s and Steele’s. Those “many reports” often have valid points, some don’t go far enough, and others miss the point completely. Reports like the 2004 Defense Sciences Board (DSB) “get it” and call on a new “jointness”:

  • “… treat learning knowledge of culture and developing language skills as seriously as we treat learning combat skills: both are needed for success in achieving US political and military objectives.”
  • “…Public diplomacy, public affairs, PSYOP and open military information operations must be coordinated…”
  • “Nothing shapes U.S. policies and global perceptions of U.S. foreign and national security objectives more powerfully than the President’s statements and actions… Policies will not succeed unless they are communicated to global and domestic audiences in ways that are credible and allow them to make informed, independent judgments. Words in tone and substance should avoid offence where possible; messages should seek to reduce, not increase, perceptions of arrogance, opportunism, and double standards.”
  • Policies and strategic communication cannot be separated.”

Other reports, like the Djerejian Report (2003), missed the point and emphasized measuring the immeasurable, a focus on unilateral communication (the “if only they knew us” theory that results in fallacies like Shared Values as “was well conceived and based on solid research”), and ignorance of social networks. And the GAO Report of 2003 falls in the middle with good and bad information, but more importantly missed opportunities. In its appendix, questions in its survey to PAOs simply weren’t analyzed:

  • Is the US Public Diplomacy effort in your country increasing US understanding of foreign publics? 75% Moderate or less
  • Is there limited use / access to Internet by population: 44% Moderate to Very Major
  • Is there opposition to current US policies elsewhere: 61% Moderate to Very Major
  • Do you coordinate with USAID or US Military? 42% (USAID), 59% (Mil) Very to Great Extent
  • FY04 Plan include strategic goal of “mutual understanding”? 77% No

PHK’s concern of what will happen as the military continues to ‘own’ public diplomacy is well-placed, but who else will fill the gap? By PHK’s own observation, the military is filling a void and providing training documents for our public diplomats:

In fact, the model that Baker outlines strikingly resembles that used in U.S. Embassy public affairs offices prior to 1999 or at the very least during the Cold War and its immediate aftermath when there were such things as functioning public diplomacy country plans.

If I was involved in training an incoming State Department class of junior officers, I would include Baker’s article in the must read list. I would also invite Baker as a speaker. In fact, I’d probably add his article to more senior embassy officer training because many of the lessons learned and antidotes described are equally applicable to US embassy public affairs efforts.

Lest we forget the man in charge of officially countering misinformation at State has been ordered to not speak to the press while the military actually incorporates media relations into battle exercises with radio, television, and blog media in their own studios to enhance the realism. By the way, if you’re in the US, you’ll have to Google for the Countering Misinformation website because it is intentionally not available via State.gov for fear of "propagandizing" domestic audiences (even though it is the truth).

Lest we also forget Presidential Decision Directive 68 (PDD 68) that established the International Public Information Core Group (ICG), chaired by the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, to coordinate all agencies’ (DOD, State, etc) International Public Information (IPI) activities. PSYOPS were to operate under this umbrella. According to the IPIG Charter:

The objective of IPI is to synchronize the informational objectives, themes and messages that will be projected overseas . . . to prevent and mitigate crises and to influence foreign audiences in ways favorable to the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives." The charter insists that information distributed through IPI should be designed not "to mislead foreign audiences" and that information programs "must be truthful.

The Defense Sciences Board report on “PSYOP in Time of Military Conflict” (May 2000) explicitly lists PSYSOP as a tool under IPI: “PSYOP actions are a subset of Information Operations (IO) and International Public Information (IPI) as described by Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) 68.”

In working with the mysterious animals that are the societies that are or have the potential of becoming threats to our national security, we need to create a new Jointness like the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, except between DOD and State. PHK is rightly concerned, but with militarized humanitarian aid, physical security concerns, and institutional commitment, we can’t throw out the military’s role when State doesn’t step up.