Where’s Jim Glassman? And was it enough for Sen. Coburn?

I’m told that Mark Twain once said that the trouble with history was that it repeats.  It is surprising how much the events surrounding our public diplomacy and overall political communications mirror the trauma of the same in the 1940s and 1950s.  Sixty years ago, the House and Senate decried the poor quality of our propaganda and outreach, some of which, while good intentioned, backfired.  Today, among other problems, Jim Glassman’s confirmation as Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy is being held up for the same reason. 

Frank Gaffney, Jr., writing in The Washington Times, lets the cat out of the bag on why Jim Glassman has yet to be confirmed in the nearly sixty days since his confirmation hearing.  What’s the hold up?  The good Senator (R) from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn, wants a promise of more VOA into Iran, among other things.

You don’t suppose the Senator’s hold had anything to do with the President’s recent interview with Radio Farda.  Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t.  Regardless, here’s Gaffney:

As it happens, Radio Farda and its official U.S. counterpart, the Voice of America’s Persian Service, have reportedly engaged in recent years in practices that have raised questions about whose side they were on. Whistle-blowers and independent monitors have repeatedly warned that these agencies broadcast into Iran programming that actually advances not the cause of freedom, but the agenda of the Iranian regime that President Bush has correctly decried. Improvements have been made at Radio Farda by Jeff Gedmin, the new and highly regarded head of RFE/RL, but concerns about program content persist.

Such concerns have outraged Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security subcommittee charged with overseeing U.S. international broadcasts. A champion of transparency in government, Mr. Coburn has for years sought to obtain transcripts of all Farsi-language broadcasts from those charged with managing the relevant radio services: the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

Unfortunately, understandable frustration that successive commitments to provide such transparency have gone largely unfulfilled, due to the unfunded cost of transcribing many thousands of hours of programming, has had a most undesirable result. Mr. Coburn has put a hold on the nomination of James Glassman, the current BBG chairman, to become what amounts to America’s combatant commander in the War of Ideas.

Sen. Coburn’s concern has an eerie ring of familiarity if we return to the debates behind something originally called Public Law 402 (4mb PDF).  Sixty years ago, Congress wielded the budget axe when it didn’t like what it was seeing and hearing.  Today, it’s a lone Senator.  Sixty years ago, Smith-Mundt was passed to fix our information systems in a divisive Congress.  Today, we have empty reports and a lone Senator preventing the filling of a position that is quickly becoming more marginalized with each passing day out of necessity.  Ok, so history doesn’t repeat itself completely, but we’re not done yet. 

Senator Coburn knows that we need to fix our information program, but holding Glassman’s nomination hostage isn’t the solution.  The Senator wants more promises that things will change, but he’s looking for a tactical change when a strategic restructuring is required.  Mr Gaffney is right that we’re disarmed in the war of ideas, but putting Glassman in office won’t be the missing link Gaffney suggests ("America’s combatant commander in the War of Ideas").  There is much more required here that Senator Coburn, as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee can do, steps that his predecessors sixty years ago took that have since been perverted and distorted to become not the tool of engagement but a major hindrance.  Move from the tactical to the strategic Senator Coburn and you’ll find you’ll have broad support. 

It goes without saying there’s more to come on this.

See also:

The Future of U.N. Peacekeeping

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, will be speaking Thursday, 27 March 2008, at 1:00p as part of CSIS’s Smart Power Speaker Series:

UN peacekeeping is today the flagship enterprise of the United Nations and has become a central element of the international community’s response to complex emergencies. During his eight year tenure as chief of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Mr. Guéhenno has seen the number of deployed UN troops double to over 100,000 with an annual budget of around $7.5 billion in order to protect vulnerable populations and help local communities transition from a post-conflict to a development environment.

I wonder if some critical truths of U.N. peacekeeping will be discussed, such as those I discuss in a forthcoming article in Serviam due out literally any day now.  A teaser:

…If holding non-state soldiers accountable was really the concern of many, as they claim when discussing mercenaries, then the admitted lack of accountability of and jurisdiction over contracted nations contributing to UN Peacekeeping Operations (PKOs) should be of prime concern if not only for the broader and deeper impact on the societies in which they operate.

The relationship between peacekeeping forces and the UN Security Council (SC) mimics the relationship between a country and its private military company. The UN Security Council (SC) negotiates with its members to contribute to peacekeeping operations, most often in the stead of the permanent SC members who actually make the decision to deploy military observers, police, and troops. The General Assembly does not authorize or oversee peacekeeping forces (PKF) but are the ones tasked to operate on the behalf of the SC. …

I had hoped the new issue would be out by now and that it would spark a question or two for Mssr Guéhenno.  Such is life when trees are killed…

See also:

What is Public Diplomacy?

Not too long ago, Marc Lynch and I had a back and forth on the utility and purposes of Smith-Mundt, a law that today is used not to give America a voice in a global informational struggle — the purpose for which it was passed — but to impose artificial constraints that are unique among our peers and our adversaries. 

That discussion included an interesting (and incredible) statement that public diplomacy was not about advocacy.  I completely disagree, as I wrote in Understanding the Purpose of Public Diplomacy.  Crucial to understanding the purpose of public diplomacy is understanding what it is. 

So, What is Public Diplomacy?

Continue reading “What is Public Diplomacy?

Talking about the Principles of Smith-Mundt

I had hoped that my response to Marc Lynch’s challenge would spark a discussion on Smith-Mundt. It did. First, there was a request to fill in some details and do a cross-post. Now, Marc helps with his comments on my post.

Passed sixty years ago as Public Law 402, the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, the Smith-Mundt Act was to equip the U.S. in a contemporary “war of ideas” and address the danger poised “by the weapons of false propaganda and misinformation and the inability on the part of the United States to deal adequately with those weapons.” It is with some irony that the Act today is itself misunderstood and misrepresented. One might say Smith-Mundt needs, well, its own Smith-Mundt.

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Strategic Information Operations, an example

imageA friend sent an interesting book that I finally started: The Secret War Against Sweden: US and British Submarine Deception in the 1980s

From the introduction:

In modern democratic countries, political control is not easily achieved through military power or propaganda.  However, by the use of deception and psychological warfare, the public, political elite and local military forces may be deceived into supporting the policies of a major power.  Mass media is thus manipulated not by propaganda, but by deception.

…this book makes it clear that the United States and Britain ran a ‘secret war’ in Swedish waters to test Sweden’s capability and will in the 1980s.  Within a couple of years, the number of Swedes perceiving the Soviet Union as a direct threat had increased from 5-10% in 1980 to 45% in 1983.  In the same period, the number of Swedes viewing the Soviets as unfriendly increased from 30% to more than 80%.

The primary purpose of the operations, the author argues, was not just to drive public opinion against the Soviet Union, but to discredit Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, a socialist who was already disliked by Swedish industrialists and military leaders when he was first prime minister in the 1970s, as well as the Reagan Administration.  The incidents began two weeks after Palme took office in 1982. 

Certainly an interesting read.

Continue reading “Strategic Information Operations, an example

Understanding the Purpose Public Diplomacy

Marc Lynch’s comments this week on my “powerful and pointed case” sparked a much needed discussion on what I see as the most significant piece of ignored legislation in all the reports and conversations on public diplomacy and strategic communications. My response is in two parts. This post looks at the definition and purpose of the thing called “public diplomacy” sparked by a statement by one of Marc’s readers. A second post responds directly to Marc’s “mixed feelings” of my critique of Smith-Mundt.

To start, Marc opened his post with a statement from Donna Marie Oglesby, a former counselor for the United States Information Agency in the Clinton Administration:

McCain appears less interested in public diplomacy than in what we used to call advocacy and is now called strategic communication. His interest is in the “war of ideas” and advancing American objectives in the global information battle-space."

While Public diplomacy is a nebulous concept without an agreed upon definition, a central tenant has always been to influence foreign audiences. At its heart, public diplomacy, and its precursors, has always been about advocating a position, inhibiting or preventing the adoption of adversarial positions, and is by nature a tool of national security, American or otherwise.

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Light blogging for the next week

Between a deadline and presentations in DC next week, blogging will be so light there is a good chance nothing will go up between now and next Friday. 

In the meantime, peruse these recent posts

or look through the top picks, the categories or use the spiffy search engine at the top right.  The Google-powered search works creates a tabbed result set.  The tabs are: this blog, the Short List of highly recommended blogs, Wikipedia, Small Wars Journal, and finally the web in general.  And it’s not only cool looking but scary fast.

I’ll still have access to email. 

Headlines and Links

Some quick links to other posts you should read.  No time to comment.

Also, in case you missed it, from Inside the Pentagon (sub req’d):

The Pentagon’s Strategic Communication Integration Group (SCIG) ceased to exist this month, opening a new chapter in the department’s efforts to communicate with the world. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England decided not to renew the group’s charter, so it expired March 1, officials familiar with the decision told Inside the Pentagon. The termination of the group was not announced publicly. …

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen complained that officials are too fixated on the word “strategic” when in reality the lines between strategic, operational and tactical issues are blurred almost beyond distinction, particularly in the realm of communications (ITP, Jan. 10, p1). In a memo to England, Mullen argued that U.S. deeds — not Pentagon Web sites or communications plans – are the best way to impart the country’s intentions on the world stage. The Pentagon should focus less on promoting its own story globally and more on listening to Muslims worldwide and understanding the subtleties of that community, the admiral wrote. …

And then lastly, since this has been the week of putting forth operational and strategic arguments on the use of information and persuasion, and as one colleague has noted my, um, disagreement with Smith-Mundt (although he makes one statement that’s untrue, I’ll let you figure figure out which of the three it is), a piece of domestic propaganda that today we think is illegal across the board (which reminds me of this distantly related post):

Synchronizing Information: The Importance of New Media in Conflict

My post over at the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy shifts gears from the strategic to the operational.  Synchronizing Information looks at the need to synchronize our information systems to effectively engage asymmetric adversaries using New Media. 

The effectiveness of information campaigns today will more often dictate a victory than how well bullets and bombs are put on a target. Putting information on target is more important when dealing with an asymmetric adversary that cannot – and does not need to – match the military or economic power of the United States and her allies.

Insurgents and terrorists increasingly leverage New Media to shape perceptions around the globe to be attractive to some and intimidating to others. New Media collapses traditional concepts of time and space as information moves around the world in an instant. Unlike traditional media, search engines and the web in general, enable information, factual or not, to be quickly and easily accessed long after it was created.

The result is a shift in the purpose of physical engagement to increasingly incorporate the information effect of words and deeds. Thus, the purpose of improvised explosive devices, for example, is not to kill or maim Americans but to replay images of David sticking it to Goliath.

Read the rest here.

Not Afraid to Talk: our adversaries aren’t, why are we?

For an unabridged version of the below post, go here. Otherwise read on.

GWU professor Marc Lynch, perhaps more commonly known as Abu Aardvark, revealed the positions on public diplomacy of the current presidential candidates:

I came across something interesting while doing some research on public diplomacy for an unrelated project.  Since at least the 9/11 Commission Report, almost every foreign policy blueprint or platform has for better or for worse mentioned the need to fix American public diplomacy and to engage with the "war of ideas" in the Islamic world.   I expected all three remaining Presidential candidates to offer at least some boilerplate rhetoric on the theme.  What I found was different.

Marc highlighted the differences between the presidential candidates on what is arguably the most important and yet least understood element of our national security. At the end of his post, he challenged John Brown, Patricia Kushlis, and this blogger to offer our thoughts.  Patricia at Whirled View responded, as did John Brown and a few others. I suggest you read their responses.

Continue reading “Not Afraid to Talk: our adversaries aren’t, why are we?

Measuring “Public Diplomacy”?

What "nine annual and long-term outcomes" would you use to measure America’s public diplomacy apparatus?  State has apparently found them. 

The American concept of "public diplomacy" is a strange one.  As Americans, we seek a return on our investments.  It’s in our blood.  If there is no clear payback, then there’s no clear value and there’s no reason to continue.  Public diplomacy is no different as we, unique to perhaps the rest of the world, view it as discrete cylinder of excellence that must be measured to prove its worth.  Numerous reports as well as historic and recent prominent officials have noted, public diplomacy is presented as something that lacks a domestic constituency and thus support for its programs must be somehow explained.

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Blogger’s Roundtable: “Defense Officials” talk about the China Report (Updated)

This morning was the Blogger’s Roundtable with "defense officials" to discuss DOD’s 2008 report on 2007 China.  The presenters attempted to set attribution to "defense officials".  I’ll honor that here (for now… pending the Roundtable posting), but that’s not the terms of the Roundtable.  This is a follow up to the previous post Winning Informatized Wars.

My quick observations:

The presenters stated clearly at the outset that the report should be read in the context of improving relations with China that are "across the board". 

The call was one of the most widely attended I’ve been on, including James Fallows, Mike Goldfarb, Jason Sigger, David Axe (wearing his Wired hat), Andy Lubin, and many others.  Hopefully they’ll all post on this as well.  Look for posts from them.

The issues raised in my previous post on the significant missing pieces were deflected with the response that Chinese asymmetric thinking is "broadly" addressed in the report.  The reality is "broadly" is super-high level discussion amounting to only a few paragraphs.  In saying that there is a "resurgence of the study of classic Chinese military figures Sun-tzu, Sun Pin, Wu Ch’i, and Shang Yang and their writings" is in the context of deception and not unrestricted warfare. 

Compare this to the much more detailed discussion of traditional warfighting elements and you have a report telling a certain story.  Like all communications, even objective just the facts communications, influence and persuade.  This report pressures the reader to fear a modernizing adversary.  That may be the correct thing to do, or it may not be, but what is concerning is the report’s selectivity. 

On the expeditionary capability, the response to my point that increased PKO participation was dismissed as China finally stepping up to fulfill its responsibilities as a Security Council member.  That there "may" (or was it "perhaps"?) be public outreach benefits eluded the presenters.  The fact that China has stated publicly on several occasions that they see PKO as a tool of public diplomacy was lost as was the experience of force projection (logistics, movement, public affairs, etc). 

I’ll post a link to the transcript when it is available.  Overall, the report misses the important elements of future conflict that will not start with bullets and bombs and may not ever get to kinetics. 

A holistic approach by China as part of its CNP (Comprehensive National Power, a variation on our DIME/MIDLIFE/DIMEFIL, but measured) sets the military not as a cylinder of excellence, but a component of national security.  The report, as written and presented, misses that entirely. 


Mike Goldfarb’s post on the call is up.  His gist:

When the DoD first started this outreach program, there was a great deal of criticism–the Pentagon was spoon feeding administration talking points to conservative bloggers, they said. Well, that was never quite the case, the Pentagon has allowed any and all bloggers to participate in these calls. The effect: today’s call was dominated by lefty bloggers explaining to the Pentagon why the United States shouldn’t concern itself with China’s build-up, and why Beijing’s bulking-up is entirely reasonable.

I suppose this is a better post than what he could have gotten from his question of whether DOD knew who would be on the Chinese side of a hotline between DC and Beijing.

Responding to Goldfarb, James Fallows posts his response.  His gist:

One big theme in this Pentagon report is a continuing "large" increase in Chinese military spending. Large "compared with what?" is the obvious question here — compared with U.S. spending and capability? (Explicitly not the subject of the study, "a Defense official" said.) Compared with their GDP? Compared with their limited previous levels? Compared with what it would take to invade Taiwan? With the concerns, interests, and capabilities of Russia — or Japan? And so on.

The other theme in the report was intention and "transparency." Intention: why are they spending more money? …

Winning Informatized Wars: The China Report

Has anyone read the DOD’s 2007 report on China? Chapter Four begins with the following quote:

China pursues a three-step development strategy in modernizing its national defense . . . . The first step is to lay a solid foundation by 2010, the second is to make major progress around 2020, and the third is to basically reach the strategic goal of building informatized armed forces and being capable of winning informatized wars by the mid-21st century.

Six pages later and the subsection "Information Warfare" has four paragraphs, including a long quote (p21). Granted, C4ISR is at times discussed within those six pages, but three discursive paragraphs on Chinese IW.

This seems to indicate the Chinese do not truly grasp asymmetric warfare, contrary to the report’s assertion (p13). Secrecy and Deception (p14) gets about the same number of words as IW.

Some find the report interesting for what it says.  I find it more interesting in what it does not say. 

First, does this report really reflect the extent of China’s grasp of "informatized" war?  Is informatized code for computer network operations and attack?  I just don’t buy it. 

Second, its odd that "unrestricted warfare" doesn’t appear once in this report?  Have the Chinese moved beyond Unrestricted Warfare?  I hope China doesn’t come up at next week’s Unrestricted Warfare symposium at JHU/APL.  That could be awkward…  

Third, is the exclusion of increased Chinese U.N. peacekeeping in the report (done, as stated publicly, including by the PM, as a tool of public diplomacy (links below) an oversight? Chinese PKO participation is an expeditionary education for China that is otherwise unavailable to them.  Seems to be a significant element in expanding Chinese military reach, capabilities, relationships, etc.

Fourth, the absence of the first three don’t jive with one of the two pillars on which the report says Chinese strategy is based: Comprehensive National Power (CNP).  CNP is much like the American concept of DIME (or MIDLIFE/DIMEFIL,etc, pick your anagram) with the significant exception that each element is measured in the Chinese model. 

This report says more about our mirroring the enemy than a real examination of a future adversary who actively examines our mistakes.  This is a good Cold War analysis, but this isn’t the Cold War. 

See previous posts:

Elvis and the Psychological Struggle

Elvis nailed the elements of the psychological struggle for the minds and wills.  Without further comment now, read the chorus of A Little Less Conversation from the perspective of the audience you’re trying to convince:

A little less conversation, a little more action please
All this aggravation ain’t satisfactioning me
A little more bite and a little less bark
A little less fight and a little more spark
Close your mouth and open up your heart and baby satisfy me
Satisfy me baby

Quoting Elvis may be novel, but the need to synchronize (and find the right priority for) between the propaganda of deeds and the propaganda of words is not. 

The psychological struggle of today is unique only in the details

The psychological struggle of today is unique only in the details.  The need to shape the perceptions of individuals did not materialize after 9/11 or after the Cold War.  Below are two quotes, a factoid, and then a third quote.  The first is from the period of the last great re-org of the American national security apparatus and the second by a man who helped, if indirectly, shape the culture of America’s information capabilities to our detriment today.  The third quote is perhaps the most interesting of the three.

Speaking in 1949, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs George V. Allen, later Director of USIA (1957-1960), said in speech at Duke University:

Propaganda on an immense scale is here to stay.  Technological advance may have made this as important to diplomacy as the invention of gunpowder to the military. … We still write diplomatic notes, but we try to reach directly into as many foreign homes as we can.  Every other major power is doing the same. … I am convinced that unless the United States continues to utilize this new method we shall be left at the post by other countries which are becoming skilled in the use of mass media.

New methods in government, like new discoveries in science, can be used for good or ill.  Direct radio contact with foreign individuals may be taken advantage of to proclaim falsehood as well as truth.  But the potentialities of the direct approach are very great in both directions, and we must understand and perfect the techniques to protect and advance our interests.

Further back, George Creel (see also Espionage Act of 1917) wrote in 1917:

Back of the firing line, back of the armies and navies, back of the great supply depots another struggle [was] waged with the same intensity, and with almost equal significance attaching to its victories and defeats.  It was the fight for the minds of men… and the battleline ran through every home in every country.

Separately (and not related to either of the above speakers), private cooperation in public diplomacy included filling the shelves of overseas libraries. 

Probably USIA’s most successful program of cooperation with private agencies has been with donated books…. Starting in 1963, an arrangement was worked out with the Post Office Department whereby books reaching the dead-letter office were made available for shipment overseas.  In 1964, 250,000 volumes came from this source.

Finally, Edward R. Murrow speaking to a Congressional committee in 1963 as Director of USIA, said his agency’s effectiveness, in spite of quotes from a North Vietnamese newspaper and a Chinese magazine that were similar to recent Iranian warnings to its people, was still very hard to measure:

No computer clicks, no cash register rings when a man changes his mind or opts for freedom. … And above all, it is what we do — not what we say — that has the greatest impact overseas.  USIA can explain, interpret, clarify, synthesize, and project, but we cannot change the unchangeable or do the undoable.  The United States of America cannot and should not try to please everyone on this planet; we have, and will always have, some policies that are unpalatable to some people.  We are, then, and properly so, prisoners of policy. … But given intelligent and effective American policies, supported by Congress and the American people, we can make an important contribution to the achievement of our objectives.  In my judgment, we are today making such a contribution.

See also

Lessons on Iraq From a Founding Father

Briefly, a good reminder of the importance of certain enduring truths by Brian O’Malley in a Washington Post op-ed:

What would George Washington do about Iraq? In a December Outlook essay, historian Joseph J. Ellis argued that it’s not possible to theorize exact answers because the "gap between the founders’ time and ours is non-negotiable, and any direct linkage between them and now is intellectually problematic." But Ellis also conceded that this position is "unacceptable to many of us, because it suggests that the past is an eternally lost world that has nothing to teach us."

History does hold lessons about today’s issues, and this is clear when considering Iraq and U.S. conduct in the war against terrorism. Consider the 1775-76 invasion of Canada, America’s first preemptive war, which ended just days before Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence.

Continue reading “Lessons on Iraq From a Founding Father