When It Comes to The Battle of Ideas, The U.S. Has No General

hughes A smart title for an intelligent article by Stew Magnuson in the July 2007 issue of National Defense. Adding to MountainRunner’s ongoing series of “What the Hell is Karen Hughes Doing?”, yet another defense source criticizing American public diplomacy over the last several years. It seems the really serious commentary now comes from the defense sector. I don’t know if that’s because the “softer” side has given up or because America’s at the mall when the Marines are at war.

Either way, Ms. Hughes needs to start being effective now and stop wasting our time and money. In a very real sense, Ms. Hughes’ failure to lead puts the lives of our soldiers at risk by not countering insurgent propaganda in Iraq, the Middle East, or elsewhere recruits and money flows from. Overall, this is a national security issue as the enemy becomes stronger and more empowered by our failure to participate effectively, if at all, in modern information warfare.

Read Magnuson’s article or read an extract below:

“Our adversaries are way ahead of us in the use of the Internet and the use of the media,” said Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin, undersecretary of defense of intelligence

“The question is on a day to day basis, who is responsible for information operations for the United States government?” Boykin asked. “And the answer is ‘nobody’… There is no one in charge on a day to day basis.”

Thomas O’Connell, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict [SO/LIC], is among those who are lamenting the nation’s lack of unity in countering the ideas of radical Islam. The enemy is adept at using information technology tools, he said at the conference. He criticized the U.S. and international media, but also laid some blame on the Defense Department.

“We have got to do a better job of telling our story,” he said. “I think we make efforts. I don’t know if they’re efforts that are very well coordinated both on an international and a domestic level.”

Credibility is the key. If the message is perceived as coming from the United States, then it wall fall on deaf ears.

The State Department is spending $700 million per year on the U.S. Middle East Television Network, better known as Al Hurra, which has been sharply criticized for failing to gain market share. Radio Sawa, part of the same effort, has gained an audience, but it is not clear whether either of them has been able to positively shape attitudes in the Muslim world toward U.S. policies, Rand said. Both stations are seen as proxies for the United States.

The ultimate goal, [Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University] said, is the deconstruction of the al-Qaida brand. That’s “not to be confused with a public relations campaign to improve the image of the United States,” he added.

If the United States is to help “reverse the flow of ideas,” who is responsible?

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, at the hearing asked the Pentagon’s Doran if anyone was in charge of countering extremist ideology.

Karen Hughes, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, was his answer.

Hughes was a close political advisor to President Bush, tasked with reinvigorating the State Department’s public diplomacy sector, which had its post-Cold War budgets eviscerated by Congress.

But within the State Department, Rand analysts said, there is little consensus on what public diplomacy means. Is it changing opinions, garnering support for policies or marginalizing extremists? The sector gets short shrift there. And at the Pentagon, the public diplomacy office didn’t open its doors until more than five years after 9/11.

“This strategic uncertainty ensures suboptimal policy performance,” said the Rand study.

Ask military public affairs officers about “public diplomacy” and they always responded that was a job for State. Now, intolerant of State’s continued failure to step up, the Pentagon has formed it’s own public diplomacy office.

The new office — serving the undersecretary of defense for policy — is tasked with “ensuring strategic communication and information are integral to policy making … developing and coordinating key themes within the Defense Department to promote policies,” and working with other U.S. government partners, particularly the Department of State … to design and facilitate whenever possible strategic communication policies and plans to effectively advance U.S. national security,” the new deputy assistant secretary of defense, Michael Doran told the committee.

This new office shouldn’t exist. State should be managing, if not owning, this role, but it’s not. Now, to be fair, it’s not entirely the fault of incompetent leadership, but a failure to position the Department properly in the modern world, which is arguably a failure of leadership as well.

The Pentagon understands linkage between action and words, which is the heart of the “new” counterinsurgency strategy (in quotes because counterinsurgency strategies for the last one hundred years, and before including Sun Tzu, all teach the same thing we’re relearning now). Al-Qaeda understands this as well, from warning to Zarqawi to change tactics to exercising caution in bringing on affiliates.

Meanwhile, the State Department as a whole and the public diplomacy department in particular, continues to shrivel in size, stature, and spirit as the military expands its role to fill the vacuum. “Suboptimal” is an understatement.

(H/T Haft of the Spear)