What the SecDef Didn’t Say at Kansas But Should Have (Updated)

Checkout my post on what Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates didn’t say in his Kansas State University speech.

Today, American public diplomacy wears combat boots. In the global media and the blogosphere, the military and its uniformed leaders shape the image of the United States. But that is not how it has always been. On the contrary, American public diplomacy was born out of the need to directly engage the global psyche and avoid direct martial engagement.

On November 26, 2007, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, speaking at Kansas State University, recalled how the United States marshaled its national power at the beginning of the Cold War. Mr. Gates reminded his audience that sixty years ago the United States dramatically restructured itself in the face of a global threat and passed the National Security Act of 1947, created the United States Information Agency and the United States Agency for International Development, among other agencies and institutions. Key to the success of all of these was the timely creation and transmission of quality information, or truthful propaganda.

In his clarion call to revamp the current structures of government to meet modern threats, Mr. Gates sidestepped an obstacle that has been misinterpreted and misapplied over the last three decades: Public Law 402: United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, commonly known as the Smith-Mundt Act. Despite popular belief, the restrictions the Act is known for today were not designed or intended to be a prophylactic for sensitive American eyes and ears.

Read the whole thing at the Small Wars Journal.

Defense Secretary Urges More Spending on the “Civilian Instruments of National Security”

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wants other agencies to step up, get funded, and do the work they excel at. He wants the other parts of government to not only start participating in the national security of the United States, but doing a better job if not simply starting to do something. Speaking at Kansas State University today, SecDef Gates sounded like a man truly concerned with national security, as he should, and concerned other parts of government are not being mobilized and funded to do their part.

There’s a change a comin’.

Continue reading “Defense Secretary Urges More Spending on the “Civilian Instruments of National Security”

Readings on Public Diplomacy, #1 (Updated)

In just a couple of weeks and barring any last minute problems, a colleague (Yael Swerdlow) and I will be the first in the U.S. (the world?) to be earn a Masters in Public Diplomacy. So what does one do with such a unique, yet extremely timely, degree? Good question. That’s a very good question. Of course I’m actively looking now and I’m open for suggestions (or offers ;).

Partly because I’m being introspective and partly motivated by Abu Muqawama’s counterinsurgency book club, this is the first of an occasional series on books and resources (that may or may not have been used in my program) I found particularly useful. In the spirit of James Traub’s NYT Magazine article this weekend, this series kicks off with one of my recent favorites. 

totalcoldwarKenneth Osgood’s Total Cold War: Eisenhower’s Secret Propaganda Battle at Home And Abroad is a timely read on the original intents and purpose of what has been stripped and twisted into the public diplomacy we know today. Shaped by Charlotte Beers and Karen Hughes, public diplomacy as it is commonly understood today is a far cry from what it was. Osgood gets into the gritty details of why and how the whole of government approach toward the psychological struggle for minds and wills was developed. It was a Total War. 

While the National Security Act of 1947 was debated, revised, and subsequently passed, Public Law 402, otherwise known as the Smith-Mundt Act, was also being debated, modified, and then passed in the following year. A few years later, presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower would attack President Truman for being soft in the ideological war. Experienced in PSYOP, Eisenhower knew the importance of the "psychological struggle over minds and wills" and included such in his speeches on foreign policy.

The former general was attacking President Harry S Truman for ignoring the grass roots, the battleground where the enemy was present. Truman, however, was set on engaging people through the international institutions he was busy promoting, such as the United Nations, NATO, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and even the Marshall Plan. We might call that soft power (although economics were explicitly excluded from Joseph Nye’s original definition of soft power). None of these "looked" like the public diplomacy we talk about today. In the struggle for minds and wills, these institutions effectively supported and enhanced the image and impact of the West, albeit in primarily in contested spaces that culturally similar.

In the 1950’s, to those paying attention, policy and propaganda were inextricably intertwined. Morganthau recognized the importance of national morale and the quality of diplomacy as the world struggle shifted from the arena of power to the arena of ideas and international persuasion. Osgood walks you through a time when Smith-Mundt was not about protecting the American public from the government, but about competing against a different threat than the traditional territorial threat. As Osgood puts it, the

primary threat was not that the Soviet Union would take territory through military force, but…capitalize on economic and social unrest, expanding its power through subversion and manipulation.

Understanding the history and evolution of public diplomacy is important when critiquing and suggesting changes to it today. Returning to history is important if we seek "causes, sources,and conditions of overt changes of patterns and structures in society" as well its systems.

Osgood’s book will give you a strong appreciation of what was public diplomacy before Edward Gullion coined the term (because, as Gullion put it, "propaganda was already taken"), as well as the creation of USIA and USAID. The neutered beauty contest we know today was both more vertical and horizontal, cutting across the whole of government and relied less on muscular approaches in contested spaces both abroad and in the home front. Back then, it wasn’t about "hearts" even if communism played on the hopes for a better life (sidenote: contrast with the hope of communism today with the fear peddled today by AQ). There was no love to be gained or earned, but respect and ideological attractiveness (probably the source of ‘love’). 

How we’ve traveled from that original path is for another post, however.

I strongly suggest most of this book for anyone interested in public diplomacy or strategic communications. My copy is full of flags and highlights.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s got a blog!

The president of Iran is posting what he calls his "personal musings". From the Guardian (h/t Opinio Juris):

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, wanted to create a forum to trumpet his populist political message without the interference of media and opposition catcalls he launched his own blog….

Somewhat gleefully, the reformist newspaper Etemad reported yesterday that some respondents were venting their spleen with little regard for pleasantries.

One writer – calling himself Sadegh Al Ebrahim – sarcastically congratulated Ahmadinejad on his success in creating new jobs through last summer’s decision to ration petrol. "In our city before rationing there were two petrol stations, of which one was always shut. But now, due to you, we have 3,000 petrol sellers," the message reads, hinting at the rampant black market.

Another, claiming to be "on behalf of the more than 50 million people who didn’t vote for you", berates Ahmadinejad for high unemployment and high inflation. The writer says: "Instead of useless provincial trips, fake propaganda on state TV and unrealistic news fed to you by your aides, you should come to the heart of the society."

The blog’s been around for a while, but Ahmadinejad made his first post two weeks ago after a five month hiatus. Promising at least fifteen minutes a week and writing in his most recent post that he spent much more reading the comments, he may have laughed at the irony in this comment, ostensibly from an American:

I hate you. you are retarted [sic]. that simple mentally retarted [sic]

Public diplomacy goes both ways with a blog. Perhaps the comments on a blog really can shape perceptions. Hmm…

Update: See Hamid Tehrani‘s article on HNN for more insight on Iranian blogging.

Iranian Islamist blogs probably provide one of the best places to learn information and news about power and state-related issues in the Islamic Republic, because some of their writers have close ties with Iranian leaders and some of them even are leading figures in the regime….

In the last two years, Islamist bloggers became much more active and organized than before. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory played a key role in mobilizing these blogs in different ways. Reformist bloggers found themselves out of power and started to use the blogs as instruments to get votes. Government itself supports — directly or indirectly — organizations such as the Office for Religious Blogs Development (ORBD). This office has a project to help every religious student get a blog. But we should emphasize that Islamist bloggers existed before the Ahmadinejad era.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all. And to those who don’t want the American holiday that celebrates a 386 year old meal, happy Thursday.

While my tradition of a 10k meter Thanksgiving Day pool workout ended a couple of years ago, a six year old tradition of giving thanks for our troops overseas has not. While giving thanks for family, food, friends, and shelter, remember the soldiers, sailors, Marines and Airmen on duty around the world, not just those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A couple of admin notes:

  • I’ve updated the blogroll, adding some blogs that were accidentally dropped and updating others.
  • Checkout ZenPundit’s cool new design and new url.
  • Checkout Adam’s new blog, Rethinking Security (his old blog, Simulated Laughter is going away)

Of the few foreign fighters in Iraq, most come from two allies

Interesting story in 22 Nov 07 New York Times: Foreign Fighters in Iraq Are Tied to Allies of U.S.

Saudi Arabia and Libya, both considered allies by the United States in its fight against terrorism, were the source of about 60 percent of the foreign fighters who came to Iraq in the past year to serve as suicide bombers or to facilitate other attacks, according to senior American military officials.

The data come largely from a trove of documents and computers discovered in September, when American forces raided a tent camp in the desert near Sinjar, close to the Syrian border. …

The most significant discovery was a collection of biographical sketches that listed hometowns and other details for more than 700 fighters brought into Iraq since August 2006.

…The documents indicate that each foreigner brought about $1,000 with him, used mostly to finance operations of the smuggling cell. Saudis brought more money per person than fighters from other nations, the American officials said.

…According to the rosters found in the raid, the third-largest source of foreign fighters was Yemen, with 68. There were 64 from Algeria, 50 from Morocco, 38 from Tunisia, 14 from Jordan, 6 from Turkey and 2 from Egypt.

Two quick (and not the most important) thoughts. First, this suggests you can’t pull our people out of allied lands to go elsewhere just because they’re allies ("transformation"=bad). Although in at least one source country, you can question the depth of the support for the U.S. vice internal control.

Second, five terabytes of data? Wait, I didn’t share that part yet:

In addition to $18,000 in cash and assorted weapons, troops found five terabytes of data that included detailed questionnaires filled out by incoming fighters. Background information on more than 900 fighters was found, or about 750 after eliminating duplicates and questionnaires that were mostly incomplete.

Typo or these guys were running a small data center. Were the drives striped with a hot spare? More importantly, did they have an offsite backup? Engineering degrees at work…

MountainRunner around the web

Who linked to MountainRunner recently? Not much this time…

Mike starts his Christmas list recalling an offline comment on his pink Pearl (maybe it’s not pink, but it may as well be). 

There are times when I see something that interests a friend and forward it with the hopes it spurs a smart post). Jason’s post, Depth of Stupidity, is one example.

A few linked to Doing Strategic Communications in Iraq, or Not: Dave at SWJ noted I got my "dander up"; Josh Foust gave me two hands: the (first hand) Conjecturer and the Second Hand Conjecturer; and Wolf Pangloss’s Fish Taco Stand (?) linked to it as well for a definition of CLCs.

Dave at SWJ linked again: MountainRunner cuts to the quick in pointing out something we should be very concerned about in Iraq OKs Raids on Blackwater.

Alias linked to Bringing the real world home and knowing their real world.

Los Angeles Times, two days late…worth getting your news from the Blogosphere

Maybe they should pay attention to the Blogger’s Roundtable. From the LA Times today, 15 Nov 07:

"We have not seen any recent evidence that weapons continue to come across the border into Iraq. We believe that the initiatives and the commitments that the Iranians have made appear to be holding up," Army Gen. James Simmons said.

From the Blogger’s Roundtable with COL Donald "Bits" Bacon two days earlier:

Now, we would like to talk a little about the Iranian origin of some of these caches. We do find EFP stockpiles — or the explosively foreign penetrators — and also the rockets that are Iranian origin. So we have found quite a few of those. In October we found in Saidiyah 120 EFP stockpile, 100 mortars, 30 rockets — all of Iranian origin. Shortly thereafter, in Husseiniyah, we found 10 EFPs and lots of components to build more.

But here’s the interesting thing that we would like to stress is that Iran has, in September, promised Iraq that they would stop and try to be a supporting role here to stop the violence here in Iraq. And as we studied these caches, they were both older than the September timeline of when, you know, they made that promise. So really, we haven’t found any caches as of late that we can attribute that they arrived in-country after Iran made that promise to Iraq.

(I was going to post the Iran item in this post, but I’m trying to raise the editorial standards here…. If I’m not going to proofread my stuff, at least I’ll try to keep it on point, somewhat.)

U.S. Enlists Arab Bloggers for Info War (Updated)

Read Noah’s pre-emptive post on today’s hearings on strategic communications before the House Armed Services Committee’s panel on terrorism.

My thoughts on State’s blogger outreach team: not impressed. (Thanks Noah for the link.)

DoD’s Mike Doran, testifying to the Committee, has the right ideas. 

When al-Qaida launched its attacks on 9/11 its primary goal was not to cripple the United States, but to create a perception of American weakness and vulnerability among key audiences. Similarly, when terrorists launch IED attacks in Iraq today, we see them expending great effort to capture the event so that it can be posted on the Internet, often within hours. The spectacle of the attack is as important to them — sometimes more important — than the destructive effect itself….

The Iraqi example underscores the idea that CIST [Countering Ideological Support to Terrorism] is not primarily about creating “Brand America.” It should not be reduced solely to public diplomacy campaigns with the objective of burnishing the image of America. Those are laudable and important efforts, carried out principally by the US Department of State, and we fully support and encourage them. They are a critical element of the CIST mission, but they are not its essence.

The key to the CIST mission is influencing a primarily intra-Muslim conversation, with the goal of undermining the intellectual and perceptual underpinnings of terrorism. Much of the appeal of terrorist groups rests on a collective sense of victimization, a sense of an impending existential threat. Terrorist leaders actively foster the perception that the global Islamic community is under threat of extinction. To counter the terrorists, we must inject critical doubt among key populations about the terrorists’ singular vision of hate and fear. It is important for us to realize that this sense of threat often derives from internal Muslim political processes as much as it does from perceptions of American intent.

Shouldn’t some of these thoughts be visible not only in DoS policy and programs but in the language DoS uses in its public diplomacy?

Will we see a change when Karen Hughes leaves office? Is this IIP’s fault? Should we gift Duncan MacInnes an account with a blog aggregator so he can see what’s going on out there?

How is it possible for the type of inane activity of State’s bloggers get condoned? Is it true that none of the people behind the policy actually read blogs or participate in the blogosphere? We’re talking a certain kind of culture here, and God help us when State ventures into Second Life, hopefully they’ll have the help of the Center for Public Diplomacy’s after their half-mil grant. State’s demonstrated at the highest levels, not at the hamstrung and overworked tactical levels, an inability to comprehend anything other than mirrored imaging U.S. politics.

State used to be able to understand foreign audiences, but that was in the first decades of the Cold War. Now, not so much. Back then, State was on a war footing. Now, not so much.

It is no wonder State’s budget is so low. Not only do they not hammer on Congress for more money, but Congress doesn’t see a real payback for what they are receiving now. Where’s the leadership at State to bring them into the 21st Century, into Information Age conflict?

Should State just abdicate to DoD’s Support for Public Diplomacy, as Thom Shanker closed in his NYT article today? I don’t know, but this will be default if State doesn’t get a capable leader soon.

Update: Rep. Adam Smith comments on the Danger Room post:

We gaveled our hearing about an hour ago. My sense after the hearing remains that we are not adequately resourcing our online activities, both in terms of funding and in terms of giving the people on the front lines authority to act outside of a lengthy bureaucratic review process. We’re also not doing enough to reach out to online communities and bloggers based here in the U.S. to get the benefit of their expertise.

Your point about having two bloggers posting with a moderate number of page views illustrates my concern, and I agree with Matt Armstrong’s comment about our post hoc strategy…if we are serious about fighting the battle of ideas, waiting until after the messages hit the Internet to get active on them is not the best way to go.

A lot of that has to do with the way government bureaucracies work; the person posting for us has to get approval in advance for whatever they are going to send to or post in an online community, and that means we’re constantly behind. One of our subcommittee members suggested to State and DoD that they empower their people to act quickly outside that process in order to be more effective, and I think that is an excellent suggestion.

Swimming in the sea of the people

Noah’s interview with JIEDDO chief General Montgomery Meigs is enlightening. America’s technological responses to the IED threat cannot be sourced for the reduction in IED incidents.

“I can’t get the data,” Meigs says about the drop in bombs.  “I would love to be able to say to the American taxpayer, ’40 percent of the reduction in IED incidents and 80 of the reduction in IED effect is due to the things we’ve put in the field.’  I can’t get the data that would let me make any kind of an assessment of that.”

What Meigs and others were able to point to, however, was stats on the participation of the local population in countering the IED threat.

About 8,500 tips came in September of 2006; by May, the number had peaked at more than 24,000.  In August, the figure was approximately 19,200.  Similarly, the number caches found – about five per day in September, 2006 – jumped to more than 20 per day in May.  After a dip over the early summer, that figure has been steady in recent months, at about 15.

Concerned Local Citizen groups, or CLCs, also found 40 of the last 72 weapons caches.

This interaction with the local population, a foreign concept to many, is the key to understanding the current trend.

A centerpiece of the new American counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq has been to put move combat troops out of local bases – and have ‘em hang out with the locals, instead.  This increased interaction – and the increased attention to understanding local culture, and the ramped-up recruitment of local watchmen – fairly naturally leads to more tips.

While at the same time, we have the MRAP debate that further isolates our personnel from the local population (see Abu Muqawama’s post on Humvee v Jeep and this CSBA report on the MRAP as the uber un-COIN vehicle).

In a struggle for support, and denying support, you must interact with the people, get them to understand and appreciate the severity of the mission. By distancing yourself from the fight, they won’t see you as committed. Non-committal means eventual abandonment and siding with the perceived victor. In this case, the various flavors of insurgents.

Getting in with the people and enlist them in the fight, convincing them this is the path to peace, and success is yours. Perhaps we’re finally on that path. At least in some areas.

Update: how do you a robot would fare in this situation?

The Persian Influence

The 11/6/07 Blogger’s Roundtable with Colonel Wayne Grigsby is interesting in hindsight, something helped by the transcript.

In repeating Persian influence six times, COL Grigsby tried to get a point across that wasn’t caught. Nobody picked up on the point Iraqis aren’t just fighting AQ, but Iranian intrusions.

Our battlespace is filled by a mix of Shi’a extremists — excuse me —
a mix of Shi’a, Sunni and also some Persian influence, and is primarily
agrarian, farmland. Some of the major population centers in our AO are Salman Pak, Jisr Diyala, Nahrawan and Wahida. …

And the insurgents we’re going after, gentlemen, is the Sunni
extremists, the Shi’a extremists and what we like to call the Persian influence within our area of operation. …

We have attacked the problems in the Madain qadha along all five lines of operation. We have applied pressure against the Sunni extremists, the Shi’a extremists and the Persian influence along each line of operation, to include security, governance, economics, transition and information. …

Large segments of the population have rejected al Qaeda and their
violent and oppressive ideologies. That goes back to, I’m tired of this; I want to have a good life; I’m tired of the Sunni-Shi’a extremists, the Persian influence; we want to get better. …

Yeah, I talked to one sheikh that said he went over. It was Sunni. He went over to visit his cousin in Al Anbar, saw what he was doing there. And then he brought that back here and he approached us, on the concerned citizens groups, that they were interested in building the same type of model that we’ve had here to eliminate the bad people, the bad people being Sunni extremists, Shi’a extremists and Persian influence within our battlespace. …

But no kidding, once we put the — once we had — we were living in the patrol bases in the community, we were taking bad guys off the street — both Sunni, Shi’a and Persian influence. …

Update: See Abu Muqawama on parsing Persian and the oft-repeated American error of adopting other peoples vocabulary and grammar without paying attention to local meanings and perceptions it generates.

Doing Strategic Communications in Iraq, or not

Just finished a Blogger’s Roundtable call with Colonel Donald Bacon, Chief of Strategy and Plans, Strategic Communications at Multinational Force Iraq (MNF-I). Since COL Bacon is a strategic communications guy, I figured I’d ask an SC question. The Colonel’s opening statement went on about the numbers of weapons of caches found, the fact that what appeared to be Iranian-provided weapons caches pre-dated the Iranian pledge to Iraq to stop providing explosives, and then briefly the Colonel mentioned the Concerned Local Citizen (CLC) program.

CLC is the over-arching name of the country-wide program of empowering local citizens to defend and engage al-Qaeda and others fighting against the state (i.e. insurgents). They are a local militia, in the spirit of pre-US Civil War militias, often paid by MNF-I.

200711131200_Col_Bacon_Oct_2007_Rollup200711131200_Col_Bacon_Oct_2007_Rollup2 With most of the Colonel’s remarks on operational successes — weapons caches discovered, AQ leaders captured or killed — and very little, save the mention of CLC’s discovering 40 of the 72 most recent weapons cache finds, on motivation, a prime target of strategic communication, I asked what he was doing.

  • How was MNF-I engaging in the struggle of minds of wills of the people?
  • How was MNF-I communicating the functional successes to the local population?
  • Are they developing organic information pathways to get the information out?
  • Are they developing and enhancing USG information pathways?

His answer? To paraphrase (transcript will be available later):

We’re still not doing a very good job of this.

Really? Yes. The informational value that CLCs, in their various names in various locations around the country, are rejecting AQ because of the severe punishment for smoking and forced marriages to create bonds is not exploited. All "the terrible deeds done by AQ" are not exploited. You’re not winning if no one knows it. If AQ is really getting beaten back, killed & capture stats don’t tell that story and are the wrong thing to focus on.

I followed up with a question asking whether there’s a strategic communications plan for Iraq like the one recently released for Afghanistan. Apparently there is one and I missed it. Does anybody have it or can point me to it?

The Colonel was honest. Which is good. But what we have is a problem when a competent person is put into a role in which he’s not trained for.

"We can do better" is the refrain I hear too often in terms of Iraq public diplomacy, information operations, and strategic communications (all the same thing or different pieces of the pie, depending on who you talk to). Isn’t it about time we actually start to do better?