The leadership of information and policy and implementation is once again to be merged. The Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, H.R. 5658 (as reported in House), would establish the Strategic Communication Management Board (SCMB) “to provide advice to the Secretary on strategic direction and to help establish priorities for strategic communication activities.” While members of this advisory body may and are likely to come from all parts of the government, it consolidates the shaping and execution of government-wide strategic communication, our public diplomacy with the world, within the Defense Department.
H.R. 5658 is sponsored by Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) and co-sponsored by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA). The Senate version does not include the same language. No word on whether Section 1031 (see below) will survive negotiations.
According to House Armed Services Committee report 110-652 the decision to create the body is fallout from the dissolution of the Strategic Communication Integration Group just a couple of months ago.
The committee is concerned about the state of strategic communication and public diplomacy (SC/PD) efforts within the Department of Defense. The committee believes that the dissolution of the strategic communication integration group (SCIG) was a major setback to the coordination of SC/PD efforts. While the SCIG resources and authority may not have been adequate to completely manage the Department’s SC/PD effort, the Board remained a focal point within the Department and positively contributed to the effort to mitigate conflict and confusion.
The advisory board will provide the leadership that used to be come from and be vested in public diplomacy professionals. This is, however, an increasingly rare breed with the passage of time, the personnel system in State, and overall a failure to understand what is necessary to effectively conduct a vigorous information and education campaign with the peoples of the world.
Well intentioned, this Congressional recognition that leadership of U.S. Government-wide strategic leadership in public diplomacy is missing but this choice further militarizes America’s public diplomacy and foreign policy. Instead of addressing the shortcomings of and strengthening civilian institutions, Congress chose a path of least resistance. This places Defense policy at the head of communication, driving it, shaping it, and likely at the forefront of implementing it. Communication is thus in support of Defense policy and subject to Defense priorities. As the House Report notes,
The committee believes that the SCMB’s near-term priority should be the development of a comprehensive Department-wide strategy that can be used to effectively inform and guide the disparate and vast community involved in strategic communication activities. Such a product should simultaneously serve as a Department perspective for informing a more comprehensive government-wide strategic communication strategy.
While on its face the SCMB may not broaden the Defense Departments mandate and area of operation, it represents a further entrenchment of the Pentagon as the sole protectors of our national security. We’ve seemingly forgotten the range of the tools of our national power.
Perhaps the best contemporary example of the problem of putting DoD in front of strategic initiatives with foreign populations is AFRICOM. Despite it’s noble (and necessary) aspirations, and despite its novel organizational plan that inserts the State Department at the co-deputy level, AFRICOM has been unable overcome its Pentagon-parentage.
The SCMB should not be under the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (or his designee), but under an empowered Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy that drops the “and Public Affairs” distinction for reasons of bureaucracy and institutional cultural but combines the elements of domestic and international communication to focus on the global information environment. This should be the first step toward separating and resurrecting a new and independent agency along the lines of the United States Information Agency, but updated, to provide a professional development path and separate policy and implementation to protect continuity, legitimacy, trust, all of which requires a substantial degree of independence to avoid the tactical pressures of White House politics. This agency (or some other organizational unit) would not only be on the take-offs and crash-landings of policy, but sit at the National Security Committee table, rather than advise somebody who advises somebody else.
In the meantime, Congress continues to place policy and information activities within the same organization, the very defect many say was the chief problem of moving the United States Information Agency into the State Department. This is also a chief defect Congress sought to correct when it debated and passed the Information and Educational Exchange Act sixty years ago, the Act more commonly known as Smith-Mundt.
It is time Congress stepped up to the plate and acknowledge a whole-of-government approach is required. The current architecture of America’s information programs is broken and too often we speak with a voice that wears combat boots, using the wrong language, or not speaking at all.
The language of SEC 1031 is misleading. Today’s fight is not just a psychological fight of ideology with those the Defense Department is (properly or improperly) assigned to deal with, but one of relevance as the prestige and strength of our economy and diplomacy degrades.
The text of Section 1031 is below the fold. Thanks CS for the tip on H.R. 5658.
Continue reading “American Public Diplomacy Wears Combat Boots: Proposed Strategic Communication Management Board to advise the Secretary of Defense