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.

2 thoughts on “U.S. Enlists Arab Bloggers for Info War (Updated)

  1. Matt: The leadership of information policy and its implementation was never in State. It was in USIA and neither State nor the Pentagon can do what is needed now. State’s forte was/is policy. It is not information dissemination or, for that matter, management.USIA took its policy guidance from State and after it was canabalized by State, what was left never had the same impact – Karen Hughes or no. So why should anyone expect State to get the information game right – at this point too many of the pieces have been scattered to the winds and too many experienced professionals have retired, quit or moved up the career ladder to non-IO positions.
    Do people in State read blogs? Clearly some do. Can they comment critically without fear of repercussion – only if they use pseudonyms and write from a private account. Do higher ups read blogs? My guess: probably an occasional post when highlighted by a staffer. But that’s just a guess.
    Can State really enter the blogging world in real time allowing its bloggers the ability to write without sticking to Department boiler plate and prior text clearance? I doubt it – after all – they are paid to represent the party line – just as an Information Officer is abroad- – and they’ve got to get the policy right. They can explain it, they can put it in context, but I can’t imagine State allowing them to go off on their own.

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