Book Review: Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Gerry Loftus

Imperial LifeGerry Loftus, the Avuncular American, reviews Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone at USC’s Center on Public Diplomacy’s blog.

As we mark the fifth anniversary of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it is worth revisiting that first year of the U.S. occupation.  The Green Zone of Chandrasekaran’s title has come to symbolize the entire Iraq venture, the enclave where America tried to graft its national narrative and institutions onto a Middle Eastern society, and then was surprised at the transplant’s rejection.  In the immediate aftermath of the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue, it is a time of striking images and—in some corners of the neoconservative world—heady dreams of remaking the Middle East in America’s mold.  It’s the world of the Coalition Provisional Authority or CPA, under “viceroy,” “proconsul,” “presidential envoy,” or simply, as his official title said, Administrator L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer.

Enter this world with Rajiv Chandrasekaran and prepare to… laugh.  You know you shouldn’t, but some of his vignettes on the heights of hubris on the Tigris are so outrageously funny that you might weep.  As you should, for the absurd tragicomedy of life in the Green Zone is rendered here as nowhere else.  Funny but never flippant, Chandrasekaran was The Washington Post Baghdad Bureau Chief before, during, and after the invasion.

Read the whole thing at either the USC CPD blog blog or at Gerry’s blog.  Also at Gerry’s blog are some additional comments posted almost exactly five years after Amb. L. Paul Bremer was selected for his position in Iraq.

Worth Reading

Too much on the plate, but some links worth your time to read Wednesday morning (or whenever)

For background to both of the above, you should know about Abu Yahya al-Libi, the AQ wannabe leader who authored the points on slide 10 Marc highlights.  So, for more recommended reading:

And related to that, we have a lexicon shift finally happening in the U.S. 

Changing topics, back to the Hidden Hand story:

I’m surprised nobody commented on Effects-Based Public Affairs (possibly related) or that IO begins when Law/Policy prevents PA from engaging

Forthcoming: a review of Chris Paul’s book.

That’s it for now.

Strengthening State by Making It More like Defense has an interesting article by three students at the Joint Forces Staff College, LTC Shannon Caudill, USAF, MAJ Andrew Leonard, USA, and SgtMaj Richard Thresher (what, nobody from the Navy or a Coastie?), titled Interagency Leadership: The Case for Strengthening the Department of State.

In short, they argue State’s geographic focus should drop its early-20th (arguably late-19th) Century European view of the world and adopt the map of the Defense Department’s Combatant Commands.  The authors argue State “should be the pre-eminent diplomatic and interagency leader abroad, but it must be reorganized to become more relevant, robust, and effective.”  They also note Congress’s reticence to fully fund State… They also note Congress’s reticence to fully fund State (no, that’s not a typo, that’s history repeating itself). 

Their recommendation is a smart one.  In fact, CSIS would recognize it as a means to implement Smart Power:

DOS should create a Regional Chief of Mission (RCM), responsible for leading and synchronizing interagency capabilities to project the full range of national power elements. This diplomatic post would work in tandem with the geographic combatant commander and ensure a diplomatic face is planted on the region, not just a military one. It would also provide a regional leader for coordinating the non-military elements of national power and take the lead role in integrating interagency approaches to fulfill government objectives.

However, beyond the importance of having leadership that understands the importance and utility of the full range of national power, there are several structural issues at State that must be dealt with, arguably before the reorganization.  These include updating the personnel system, including increasing interagency billets, and increasing professional and academic education opportunities.  Changes to these would really put State on par with Defense and would facilitate State’s New Map (a book idea for somebody… may Tom’s fifth).  This would really strengthen State and complete the transformation the authors imply is necessary.

I recommend the essay. 

Arab jails: a synonym for torture and repression? Or is that an exaggeration?

That was the topic of today’s (29 April 2008) al-Jazeera show The Opposite Direction according to Arab Media Shack.  However, stay tuned to AMS because GrandMasta Splash decided to watch football, er, soccer instead of watching al-Jazeera for us in the U.S. who a) don’t get satellite (it’s unAmerican to broadcast AJ in the U.S. dontchaknow) and/or b) don’t know Arabic.  Thankfully, AMS does watch and know Arabic…

In case you missed it: McMaster on NPR and Boyd on NUMB3RS

On Monday’s All Things Considered, Tom Bowman interviewed COL H.R. McMaster.  If you’ve been paying attention there was nothing new, well, other than H.R. getting some great publicity (and perhaps a few book sales):

U.S. Army Col. H.R. McMaster has been credited with critical thinking and combat commands that have helped shape some successes in Iraq. Now he’s being tapped for a new, and perhaps more difficult, job: making Iraqi ministries run efficiently.

And on Friday, CBS TV’s FBI show NUMB3RS tried to solve a case using OODA loop analysis.  I wasn’t so impressed by their employment of the OODA framework (actually I wasn’t at all) but I was impressed by how they avoided saying Boyd’s name…

One more thing: SIGMA may be on FOX News Wednesday (29 April 2008). 

Worth Reading (fixed link)

Briefly, a few links worth reading as you start your Monday…

Unrestricted Warfare Symposium 2008: Proceedings are available online

Whether you did or did not attend this year’s URW Symposium at Johns Hopkins University (10-11 March 2008), the proceedings are available online (hard copy typically arrives much later, but I didn’t couldn’t make it this year, so I won’t be getting a book).  A few presentations stand out, even if 80% of the content was surely in the accompanying narrative. 

The first is COL Karen Lloyd’s Experiences from the Field: Using Information Operations to Defeat AQAM (al-Qaeda and Associated Movements).  COL Lloyd is from J3, Joint IO Warfare Center.  The slides don’t give away anything new, except for one not about AQAM:


Effects-Based Public Affairs.  More on this later.

See also Mark Stout’s (Institute for Defense Analysis) Listening to the Adversary About the “War of Ideas” as well as the rest here.

Of blogs and links

This is a quick and dirty post to highlight some additions to the blogroll, posts you should read, and a shameless self-promotion.

New Blogs to Read

  • The Complex Terrain Laboratory is a work in progress (official launch is 1 September 2008) based in the U.K. and with contributions from both sides of the pond.
  • Insurgency Research Group is exactly what its name says and is a spin-off from the Kings of War. In addition to its regular posts, it provides a good wrap-up of UK-specific COIN news. KCL seems to have really adopted this blogging thing…
  • Ubiwar (“conflict in n dimensions”) is Tim Stevens’ blog, one of an increasingly visible cadre of PhD students from King’s College.
  • Don Vandergriff has a namesake blog focusing on the human elements of modern conflict.
  • Arabic Media Shack is on because, well, I don’t read Arabic and even if I did, it’s nice to have an aggregator that gives comments.
  • In Harmonium is friend Marc Tyrrell’s blog. Marc’s an anthropologist who posts infrequently, but he said he’ll increase the frequency (maybe this will help encourage him).
  • Avuncular American where Gerry Loftus, a retired Foreign Service Officer (24 years), comments on world events as seen by an expatriate in Europe.

Recent Posts (of others) to Note

Not posts, but you should still read from Military Review:

And lastly, a shout out to myself:

image MountainRunner is not just on the short blogroll of the U.S. State Department, but also on the Swedish Institute’s blogroll. SI is, by the way, Sweden’s public diplomacy agency. If you’re interested in public diplomacy, I suggest you visit SI’s webpage on public diplomacy and read their operational focus and definition of public diplomacy. More on Swedish public diplomacy to appear in the blog sooner than later (which fits in with their purpose to increase awareness of Sweden). 

Strategic Miscommunication and Smith-Mundt

Briefly, Andrew Exum wrote a very good response over at the Guardian’s Comment is Free to the media’s recoil that some their analysts, who weren’t vetted, may have been influenced by a skilled influence operation to manage the perceptions of Americans of the war.  What a shock.  Isn’t that why the media is supposed to vet their analysts in the first place?  In the rush to get a face on the air, and keep him (any “hers”?) there, they skipped the background checks or simply ignored what came back.  I can understand the one-off, but this was systemic and ongoing. 

To my surprise, Smith-Mundt has not been recalled as often as I expected.  However, Andrew does highlight Smith-Mundt and its purpose of preventing the government from using information created for overseas broadcast from being used within our borders.  He makes the argument that “the most significant clause in the act remains a good one: propaganda cannot and should not be directed by government officials toward the people they represent.” 

If we, in fact, look back we’ll find something interesting.  Smith-Mundt intended, if implicitly and through behind the scenes handshakes, that propaganda designed for overseas broadcast to be shared with the people through the American media.   

There are two important aspects of Smith-Mundt to consider here.  First, one of the pillars of Smith-Mundt was preventing the U.S. government from bypassing the media in its conversations with the general public.  Various reasons were given, the most notable of which was the foreseen impact on the profits of newspaper and radio companies both large and small and the infringing on their First Amendment rights to speak.  The latter was directly related to concerns that the dominance of previous government agencies, the Committee for Public Information (President Wilson’s domestic propaganda office) and the Office of War Information (President Roosevelt’s domestic propaganda office), in speaking to the public would drown out private media, and oh yeah, alternative views. 

Second, Smith-Mundt’s prohibition was against direct dissemination of materials designed for overseas information campaigns by specific U.S. information and exchange agencies (i.e. VOA, later USIA, parts of the Department of Stateetc).  The media, scholars, the public, and Congress, were permitted to view and access the material.  It was not until 1972, 24 years after Smith-Mundt was enacted, were the limitation expanded to prohibit virtually all access and dissemination of information created for overseas use by the same agencies.  Also keep in mind that Smith-Mundt came out of the Foreign Relations / Foreign Affairs Committee in the Senate and House and not a domestic oversight committee, such as telecommunications. 

Propagandizing the American people was never off limits.  Just briefly, consider the monthly tests of air raid sirens, the now-campy warnings of communism and atomic warfare, deep cooperation between the military and Hollywood, and a slew of other campaigns of influence and persuasion undertaken by the government or by private parties on behalf of the government.  Those were intended for overseas consumption and weren’t created by government overseas broadcasters, so were fair game to be broadcast at home, in schools or through the media. 

In other words, Smith-Mundt is not, and never was, applicable and would not have prevented the “Hidden Hand.”  The generals were not sharing information designed for or intended for overseas consumption, they where not sharing information from State, and the government itself was not directly informing the public. 

This doesn’t make what they did excusable.  Far from it, as Andrew capably points out.  The biggest concern we should take-away from David Barstow’s Hidden Hand, is what Andrew closes with (and I mention here):

In the end, I was more heartened by the revelations about the Pentagon’s strategic communications programme than I was disgusted. What disgusted me, by contrast, was that while this well-oiled effort was underway in America, our strategic communications efforts in Iraq and the greater Middle East remained bumbling and inept.

In 2004, for example, when the US mistakenly and horrifically targeted a wedding party in Iraq, killing 40 innocent people, the spokesman in Iraq at the time lamely insisted that “bad people have parties too.”

Now that was something to get upset about.

The fact is, the United States and its allies have largely ceded the strategic communications battlefield to the insurgents and terrorists since 2001. If the Pentagon invested as much time and effort communicating to the audience of al-Jazeera as it does communicating to the audience of Fox News, more Americans soldiers in Iraq might be home by now.

See also:

A model strategic communication plan from where you wouldn’t expect it

One of the most famous aphorisms of Edward R. Murrow is his statement on the “last three feet”: The really crucial link in the international communication chain is the last three feet, which is bridged by personal contact, one person talking to another.  The importance of face-to-face, personal contact in counterinsurgency cannot be emphasized enough.  Engaging in this last three feet requires more than figuring out the right words and establishing a grammar to communicate with locals.  It means understanding we have a “say-do” gap (the propaganda of deeds versus the propaganda of words) that requires emphasizing actions over words and public and private pronouncements. 

TF134coverMarine Corps General Doug Stone, commander of Task Force 134, Detainee Operations, in Iraq has just signed off on a smart strategic communication plan that should be used as a model for other units.  It clearly communicates intent and provides guidance and has the buy-in of General Petraeus. 

It makes perfect sense to focus on detainee operations.  As Stone notes, “detainee operations is certainly a battlefield; it is the battlefield of the mind, and it is one of the most important fights in counterinsurgency.”  Besides the fact he has a captive audience, by definition, his charges have decided to take significant action against the Coalition.  For more on the operations of TF134, read this post

The primary audience and the primary target of the plan is the Task Force itself, which, as one reviewer noted, is a statement that the military culture still requires tweaking.  The challenge will be, according to another reviewer, translating the high-level guidance into action. 

The plan isn’t long, so if you’re at all interested, I suggest you read it.  To encourage that, excerpts from the Overview and Purpose are below the fold. 

Continue reading “A model strategic communication plan from where you wouldn’t expect it

Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency: to some, a natural pairing, to others, not so much

This should be interesting.  This weekend the University of Chicago holds a conference titled Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency that will explore

Anthropology’s relationship to the United States’ global projection of its power, while simultaneously mounting an anthropological inquiry into the nature of that power and of the changing world in which it operates.

Don’t mistake this as a chance to discuss revisions to the Counterinsurgency Manual.  On the contrary, 

We seek ethnographic understanding of global responses to recent deployments of the US military, and of US military actions in comparison to other forms of coercion, compellance, and intervention.  Reading US military theorists, we seek to understand the emerging interest in study of culture in the broad context of military responses to US military failures (and opportunities).  We pursue the full implications of the connection now being sought by the US military between culture and insurgency and turn an anthropological lens on the nature of violence and order in the current era.

The presenters are a varied group and, for the most part, will probably do their best at Ivory Tower analysis to talk past each other.  Below the fold are a few of the abstracts that caught my eye for the “1.6” day event (cocktails/keynote Friday night + all day Saturday + half of Sunday).

Continue reading “Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency: to some, a natural pairing, to others, not so much

Smith-Mundt: a symposium to discuss its purpose, intent, and impact (the symposium that isn’t likely)

Policy and strategy makers from all corners of America are finally realizing that the so-called “War on Terror” is a war of ideas – a war of information.  It is now accepted that cultural understanding and public opinion are equally as important as any bullet or any bomb.  Indeed, the ability of the United States to collect and disseminate information will be vital to the security of the nation for the foreseeable future.  Yet the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, an outdated Cold War relic designed to create an effective counter-propaganda capability through information activities and exchanges, to protect the American people from communist sympathizers (mostly within State), and to protect the American broadcast industry from government-funded competition, is hamstringing U.S. information capabilities.  It is one of the most influential laws affecting America’s ability to fight the War of Ideas, and it is not helping.  And yet, so few really understand this law, it’s purpose, their intent, or even worse, its real impact today.

The “little” matter of Pentagon Public Affairs “co-opting” media analysts has brought to the public sphere — once again — the issue of Smith-Mundt, whether realized it or not.  The amount of misinformation about legislation designed to counter misinformation, ah the irony, is enormous and reverberates through Congress, the Pentagon, and across the traditional and new media discussion spheres. 

Last year, John Brown, formerly of USC’s Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review, and I began talking about putting together a conference in the sixtieth anniversary year of Smith-Mundt.  Six months ago, we began sending out a proposal for an academic conference to promote and discuss new scholarly research on the subject.  No takers so we changed the format to a more accessible symposium (with shorter lead time required for speakers… no longer would papers be required) and despite significant interest (most of the panels are tentatively filled and many have expressed interest in attending), we could not find an organization to fund our modest event. 

Continue reading “Smith-Mundt: a symposium to discuss its purpose, intent, and impact (the symposium that isn’t likely)

What’s Behind the Hidden Hand is the Real Story

David Barstow’s Behind the Analysts, the Hidden Hand story about the Pentagon’s manipulation of the media’s military analysts misses the point in the quest for sensationalism.  On the one hand, this is a story about leveraging a group to relay talking points, which sounds a lot like the White House Press Corps in general during a popular Administration, or a host of other media-government interactions, some of which Barstow mentions.  On the other, this highlights a selective view of domestic influence operations and a failure to look holistically at the importance of global perceptions in the Defense Department under former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. 

I won’t get into the first point, but will make a few comments here on the second.

First the obvious question: isn’t this a violation of Smith-Mundt, the law perceived as prohibiting the propagandizing of Americans by their government?  The short answer is no, it isn’t.  Smith-Mundt, which institionalized the Voice of America as well as cultural exchanges to counter adversarial messages, only covers activities by selective parts of the State Department, specifically those that communicate with audiences beyond our borders.  It doesn’t cover the Department of Defense, but Defense has self-imposed the restriction through a rule, not legislation by Congress or military doctrine.  BUT, Defense has liberally applied the concepts of Smith-Mundt, limiting information operations and PSYOP (see also here).

Much more important is that Public Affairs, that entity that informs without influencing, actively and effectively engaged in perception management on the home front while dismissing the real war of perceptions, the war of ideas of in Iraq and around the globe.  For me, this is a key point that reflects less on Tori Clarke and more on Rumsfeld. 

One last comment, this story makes Tori Clarke’s “outing” of the Office of Strategic Influence more interesting.  Fighting to protect her turf, she proved her skill at manipulation and disinformation at exposing an office that is the essence of public diplomacy and more specifically the United States Information Agency (which highlights the void created by an absent and/or hamstrung State Department that Defense moved into).  Between Clarke and Karl Rove, we could have built a formidable information capability to attack the enemy and their propaganda, which at times was increasingly attractive because of our failure to understand the power of perceptions and the impact of the “say-do gap.”  Too bad she couldn’t be better utilized for good to restructure our information assets from Public Affairs to Information Operations to PSYOP to Public Diplomacy (nothing should be read into the order). 

This deserve more treatment than I have time for here right now.  More later, either in this blog or elsewhere. 

See also (external links):

See also (internal):

The Secretaries of State and Defense on S/CRS

Briefly, both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates testified 15 April 2008 in front of the House Armed Services Committee.  I’ve been told, but haven’t confirmed, this is the first time the Secretary of State has been in front of HASC.  The Secretaries were testifying on “Building Partnership Capacity and the Development of the Interagency Process” and thus talking about Section 1206 and Section 1207 funding.

The Secretary of State described the structure of the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, S/CRS:

…I would be the first to say that our military did take on more tasks than perhaps would have been preferred, and we began some work when I was still National Security Advisor to think through how we might build a civilian institution that would be — would be up to the task. We have, as a result, a Civilian Stabilization Initiative. This initiative would create a rapid civilian response capacity for use in stabilization and reconstruction environments. It could be deployed alongside the military with international partners or on its own.

The Civilian Stabilization Initiative consists of three kinds of civilian responders: an active response corps [ARC] of diplomats and interagency federal employees who are selected and trained for this capability; a standby response corps [SRC] of federal employees; and finally, a civilian reserve corps [CRC] of private sector, local government and civil society experts with specialized skill sets.

And I might especially underscore the importance of this last component, because it is never going to be possible to keep within the environs of the State Department, or really even government agencies, the full range of expertise that one needs in state building; for instance, city planners or justice experts or police training experts. And so this civilian component, to be able to draw on the broader national community of experts, Americans who might wish to volunteer to go to a place like Afghanistan or Haiti or Liberia to help in state building, we think is an important innovation. The President talked about this in his State of the Union one year ago, and we are now ready to put that capacity into place. We have requested $248.6 million in the Presidents foreign assistance budget for the construction of that corps.

Yes, if you’ve been following along, there’s a new name here: Civilian Stabilization Initiative, or CSI (you may add your own joke about an association with the popular CBS show in the comments or via email if you so desire).  I’m confirming that CSI is just window dressingConfirmed: CSI is the name for the name for the FY09 budget request for the ARC, SRC, and CRC.

Now, the Secretary of Defense (click here for the submitted text) on the other hand spoke in general terms. 

I know members of the Committee also have questions about Section 1207, which currently allows Defense to transfer up to $100 million to State to bring civilian expertise to bear alongside our military. We recently agreed with State to seek a five-year extension and an increase in the authority to $200 million. A touchstone for the Defense Department is that 1207 should be for civilian support to the military – either by bringing civilians to serve with our military forces or in lieu of them.

That’s it for now.

RIP StratComm?

Earlier this year, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen wrote the Pentagon placed too much emphasis on the strategic in “strategic communication.”  The modern environment of New Media and strategic corporals (or captains if you prefer) blur the distinctions (and stovepipes) of tactical, operational, and strategic communication and perception management

Then came the permission to ditch the Strategic Communication Integration Group, or SCIG, early last month.  So, when the SCIG expired on March 1, 2008, instead of rechartering it for another year, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England let it rest in peace.  In its place, CAPT Hal Pittman, USN, will form “a communication integration and planning team” within Public Affairs, a group that believes it can inform without influence.

Now comes word the phrase “strategic communication” itself has fallen out of favor at the Pentagon and those with these words on their business cards have been advised to get new cards.  

Is it true we’re saying good-bye to strategic communication’s selective emphasis on controlling the narrative, a public relations approach?  Is it being replaced by an another word pair that signifies interactive discourse and perception management to indirectly control or affect behavior in the psychological struggle we face today and into the future?  What is the new title?  And, is “strategic effects” also out of favor? 

Mapping the Iranian Blogosphere

imageThere’s an interesting report from Harvard’s John Kelly and Bruce Etling.  Their paper, Mapping Iran’s Online Public: Politics and Culture in the Persian Blogosphere, breaks some conceptions of Iranian bloggers and what they blog about.  Understanding who is saying what is critical in any information environment, but in the New Media environment of a simultaneous compression of time (instant communications) and suspension of time (persistency that permits time-shifted access to content), understanding the target audiences is more important.  It is also easier if you have the Rosetta Stone that bridges language, culture, shape and form.  As Kelly and Etling note,

…where there are topics of interest in a society, there will often be collection of blogs connected to each other (and to other online resources) by many links. This simple insight, on the scale of a society, nation, or linguistic community, has a remarkable implication. Unique as a snowflake, the network structure of a society’s blogosphere will reflect salient features of that society’s culture, politics, and history. A society’s online communities of interest, social factions, and major preoccupations can be seen and measured, their words read and analyzed, through a combination of structural and statistical analysis and textual interpretation.

In their analysis, Kelly and Etling identified four top-level groups of bloggers:

  • Secular/reformist. Includes secular/expatriate and reformist politics and contains most of the ‘famous’ Iranian bloggers, including notable dissidents and journalists who have left Iran in recent years, as well as long time expatriates and critics of the government.
  • Conservative/religious . Includes conservative politics, religious youth and ‘Twelver’ (Shi’a who believe the entire purpose of the Islamic Republic is to prepare the way for the 12th Imam’s imminent return) and features bloggers who are very supportive of the Iranian Revolution, Islamist political philosophy, and certain threads of Shi’a belief.
  • Persian poetry and literature. The third major structure in the Iranian blogosphere is devoted mainly to poetry, an important form of Persian cultural expression, with some broader literary content as well.
  • Mixed networks. The fourth group of blogs is different from the first three in that its structure is looser and less centralized. It does not represent any particular issue or ideology, but rather the loosely interconnected agglomeration of many smaller communities of interest  and social networks, such as those that exist around sports, celebrity, minority
    cultures, and popular media.

They note that blocking by the government is mostly against the first group above, the secular/reformist.  Their exploration of blocked blogs outside this cluster is this interesting as well.  They also note geography isn’t widely used in blocking and that readers inside Iran may not care, or know, the blog they are reading is authored in Los Angeles or Tehran. 

Radio and television can be used to engage a country, but let’s not forget the internet.  This report deserves a careful read to engage and leverage one component of New Media against an ideological adversary. 

Understanding the value of exchanges… including inter-agency exchange with State

Pat Sharpe at Whirled View has a timely post on a small but telling example of the lack of real transformation at Foggy Bottom.

State Department people admit that they do a terrible job of lobbying Congress, and the general population is still obsessed with the old striped pants, cookie-pushing stereotype, which is correctly seen as irrelevant in todays world. As a result of this oversight and/or ineptness, the American diplomatic function is chronically starved for money and many posts abroad go unfilled because the budget cant absorb the cost of the needed personnel.

Sometimes I think the State Department takes a secret pride in this state of affairs, as if lobbying is just too crass and ordinary people aren’t worth communicating with. Yes, gestures are made. Speakers are sent out. Diplomats-in-residence are lodged at various universities. “Citizen diplomats” are recruited to entertain foreign visitors funded by the State Department. But all this is a drop in the bucket. So the habitual refusal/inability to engage perpetuates the snobby elitist image. A perfect feedback loop.

In a way, the building of expensive fortress embassies abroad, of which the monster nearly finished in Baghdad may stand as somewhat inflated symbol, mirrors this insular habit of mind: there’s us—and the rest of you. That was the State Department attitude even when American diplomats were allowed to mingle and roam freely in the countries to which they were posted. Many hardly ever left the embassy compound; even the reporting officers seemed to spend more time reading newspapers than getting a first hand look at what the journalists were writing about. Admittedly, I exaggerate—a little.

The self-righteous reliance on the supposedly self-evident persists, it seems. A little bird told me of a recent visit to the State Department by National Security Agency interns. The group was bused in from their Maryland campus, an hour’s trip each way. They spent three hours at State, including lunch. Even though some handlers shared lunch with the interns, which allowed the burgers and pizza to be flavored with a little information, the visit contained little more than two hours of substance. All the briefers (and handlers) were NSA people working at State. Their role was to tell their young colleagues about the NSA role at State.

In short, the NSA interns didn’t have a single briefing about State or a single briefing by a State Department officer. No one, evidently, thought it important that they learn something about the role of diplomacy in today’s complex world.

It’s possible that the State Department attempted to insert some diplomatic content into the program and was contemptuously rebuffed—and yet it’s hard to believe that NSA would have refused to permit its junior officers to be exposed to a couple of hours of briefing about State by State. Given State’s self-admitted failure to maintain effective liaison with its funders in Congress, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if the powers that be in Foggy Bottom just couldn’t be bothered. IF I’m wrong, please let me know.

See also Hard Power, Soft Power, Smart Power