Rumsfeld and Public Diplomacy

From Gregory Djerejian on Rumsfeld and his replacement, Bob Gates:

…at least there is hope now. We will have a Secretary of Defense who displays pragmatism and humility, not recklessness and hubris. We will have a Secretary of Defense in favor of occasionally speaking to our enemies, not intimating mindlessly and unpersuasively that the war might be expanded to new theaters willy-nilly (see Gates’ co-chairing an excellent CFR task force calling for dialogue with Iran back in ’04). We will have a Secretary of Defense who would never play Secretary of State, needlessly alienating allies with talk of “Old Europe”, or battering our reputation in the Middle East by using gratuitous phrases like the “so-called Occupied Territories”. We will have a Secretary of Defense who will display a much more sophisticated understanding of the myriad challenges presented in Iraq and Afghanistan–not to mention the war on terror more generally (an increasingly empty phrase in need of a radical rethink, of which more soon). And, not least, we will have a Secretary of Defense who understands the import of the Geneva Conventions, of the advisability of treating detainees in our custody with respect and dignity, in accordance with what we used to call American values. In short, we will have a competent pragmatist armed with fresh strategic lens, not an arrogant well past his prime and beholden to the failed policies of the past.

Modern conflict has made the traditional separation of the bureaucracies of war and diplomacy (in the sense it has been traditional for 150+/- years) quaint. In an age when the means of war and disruption have become increasingly inexpensive and available to small groups of people, we have seen in the United States under the forceful leadership of Donald Rumsfeld, a Department of Defense increasingly taking the lead in tasks normally associated with the Department of State. It isn’t surprising that the SecDef has fielded more questions in press conferences on resurrecting the United States Information Agency than the Secretary of State or the Undersecretary of States for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs combined (perhaps this is because the SecDef is simply more available than those folks at State, which itself says something). The perception and apparently the reality is DOD “gets” PD is evidenced by “militarized humanitarian aid” to visitor programs for scientists that is at least as respectable and valued as State’s own International Visitor Program (if not more so as State’s program is gutted and shortened).

We need a SecDef that works with State and other agencies as well as Rumsfeld had envisioned. “Defense, Diplomacy, and Development” were his mantra even if he didn’t move as effectively down that path as he should or could (in his defense, he was moving into territory that should have been occupied competently by State). However, he ignored public diplomacy and its ability to contextualize and provide the means to broadly and deeply counter bad information and perceptions. Where Haditha reinforces stereotypes, reconstruction failures create long-term impressions that erode or destroy future trust that is central to COIN. Breaching this can have significant long-term consequence: we are still wary of “Greeks bearing gifts” as result of the Trojan Horse and the American reputation can’t be far behind. We now have a track record from Afghanistan to Iraq that needs a response.

Theoretically, public diplomacy is the broader listening to and hearing of our actions by foreign audiences. Consider how Valley of the Wolves resonates instead of simply entertains. While the State Department builds “crusader castles”, elements of the military gets the message as their on the frontline of shaping opinions, but not as broadly and institutionally as it should.

But Rumsfeld made severe mistakes. Besides the obvious and well-discussed examples, is the less well known, in the sense his participation is generally hidden or ignored, is in the Fallujah offensives. His direction, or at least acquiescence, in Fallujah in 2004 (Operation Vigilant Resolve) was counter to the local commanders (General Mattis) recommendation based on situational awareness (see Ricks’ Fiasco for one source on this) and created such an (expected) backlash, it would contribute to a sea-change in the region and provide enemy recruiters with ample ammunition for political and emotional, and not military, reasons.

Rumsfeld understood the Three D’s, but he didn’t understand the glue the linked them and the more element of how perceptions are created, propagated, and countered. In this, we’re far better off without him at the helm. This “Long War” is fought on perceptions more than with bullets and Rumsfeld could only complain about this since it couldn’t be put on his board of metrics.

Technorati tags: Rumsfeld, Iraq, GWOT