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.
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?