Recommended Reading

Heads down on a project but here are several significant items of interest to bring to your attention, submitted below with minimal comment:

 It’s Time to Stop Selling Ambassadorships by Barbara Bodine, Politico. (Related: From the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy: no one in PD conducts PD overseas. )

 Preliminary report from the Project on National Security Reform Cites Need for Restructuring of U.S. National Security System (report as PDF)

 Gates Sees Terrorism Remaining Enemy No. 1 – Josh White, Washington Post

New National Defense Strategy issued, 4mb PDF here.

 VOA Russian is now Internet-only

Rethinking Smith-Mundt: a look back at its purpose

Small Wars Journal published my paper “Rethinking Smith-Mundt” in which I researched the historical record, scholarly books and articles and media reports surrounding the information activities portion of the US law commonly referred to as the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948. After two years (1946-1947) of debates, testimony, amendments and a European fact finding trip, the Act was passed in January 1948. The result was legislation that institutionalized America’s international engagement. It mandated controls and oversight to improve the quality of America’s international broadcasting and as well as cultural and educational exchanges. To the modern reader, the concerns of the 80th Congress are remarkably similar to those of the 110th, right down to the public statements. However, the 80th Congress had deeper concerns than today’s Congress and managed to deal with a far more comprehensive package than being considered today.

The purpose of “Rethinking Smith-Mundt” is to see through the haze of misunderstanding surrounding the Act and understand its original intentions. These intentions were not to prohibit the role of government in information engagement but rather to enhance its role, though in very proscribed ways. In fact, the media and the private sector recognized and supported the notion that engaging the world required assets beyond their capacity. The prohibition against domestic dissemination of news by the State Department’s (and later the the United States Information Agency, created five years after Smith-Mundt) was not an outright prohibition but rather an allocation of responsibilities that let private sector media do what it did best and governmental media do what it did best. The wall between public and private was far more porous than we imagine today, something that only becomes clear when we re-examine the debates surrounding the formulation and passage of the Act. Such a re-examination also reveals why such prohibitions are no longer needed today.

The impact of Smith-Mundt in how the United States engages in the modern information environment — call it a War of Ideas or simply the effort of making sure economic and military partners and threats know what you’re doing and why — is significant and felt in obvious and not so obvious ways. Smith-Mundt, as it has been transformed since the 1972 amendment pushed through by Senator J. William Fulbright and reinforced by the Zorinsky Amendment of 1985, bifurcates the global audience not on ideology or a determination of friend or foe but on physical geography. The modern form of the legislation and indeed the modern interpretation transformed the law from the enabler it was intended to be and into a prophylactic of such proportions so as to be out of touch not only with the modern virtual geography but also of the world in which it was written.

It may be that after looking back at the purpose and intent of the 80th Congress, the 110th Congress and researchers might see that new writing new legislation to avoid Smith-Mundt is unnecessary if the law is returned to its original purpose and updated to reflect the changed domestic conditions. The original Act was remarkably flexible and arguably more prepared for the modern information age than some of the bills and even reports in progress may be. It is important to remember that the Act was written for and in response to a telecommunications revolution. The “fast” communications authorized in the information activities part of the legislation as well as the “slow” engagement of cultural and educational exchange were viewed as complimentary and essential to global engagement.  To be sure, the Act was not perfect (arguably the function was improved five years later with the creation of the United States Information Agency), but it was far better than the distorted version most know today.

Download the paper here as a PDF. This paper is a work in progress, so any comments or criticisms or corrections are appreciated.

The Art of Asymmetric Warfare

Very briefly, an important article by Jason Burke in the Guardian’s comment section on the Taliban’s approach to holistic warfare that includes what our doctrine still sees as unconventional and yet is the dominant form of warfare today and into the future (irrespective of whether the F-22 should be kept).

A US military officer quoted in the excellent report by the International Crisis Group into Taliban propaganda operations released a few days ago says, "unfortunately, we tend to view information operations as supplementing kinetic [fighting] operations. For the Taliban, however, information objectives tend to drive kinetic operations … virtually every kinetic operation they undertake is specifically designed to influence attitudes or perceptions".

This is strategic thought of extreme novelty, and in no small way helps explain the relative success of the Taliban so far in Afghanistan. In terms of a communication strategy it certainly goes well beyond the clumsy international coalition efforts which have remained largely focused on the international audience. Western press officers’ ability to talk to the Afghan public is hindered by their minimal language skills and the cultural gaps that separate them, and remains very limited.

Equally, the idea that military operations should be decided primarily according to their effect on populations and thus should be determined to a significant degree by the exigencies of modern media technology and by journalists is anathema to most western soldiers, most of whom see the press as a necessary evil at best.

The Taliban by contrast are quite happy to shape their military strikes according to the media demand. They know that spectacular attacks such as that on Kabul’s Serena hotel or the repeated attempts on President Karzai’s life are effective.

Their day-to-day media operation targets four audiences – international western, international Islamic, local and regional – in at least five different languages. They are careful to avoid statements that play on Afghanistan’s complex identity politics – though support for the movement remains overwhelmingly drawn from the Sunni Pashtun tribes and the history of the Taliban is replete with examples of persecution of Shia or Afghanistan’s less numerous ethnic minorities.

The ICG report is here and below is part of the report’s Executive Summary:

The Taliban has created a sophisticated communications apparatus that projects an increasingly confident movement. Using the full range of media, it is successfully tapping into strains of Afghan nationalism and exploiting policy failures by the Kabul government and its international backers. The result is weakening public support for nation-building, even though few actively support the Taliban. The Karzai government and its allies must make greater efforts, through word and deed, to address sources of alienation exploited in Taliban propaganda, particularly by ending arbitrary detentions and curtailing civilian casualties from aerial bombing.

Analysing the Taliban’s public statements has limits, since the insurgent group seeks to underscore successes – or imagined successes – and present itself as having the purest of aims, while disguising weaknesses and underplaying its brutality. However, the method still offers a window into what the movement considers effective in terms of recruitment and bolstering its legitimacy among both supporters and potential sympathisers.

The movement reveals itself in its communications as:

  • the product of the anti-Soviet jihad and the civil war that followed but not representative of indigenous strands of religious thought or traditional pre-conflict power structures;

  • a largely ethno-nationalist phenomenon, without popular grassroots appeal beyond its core of support in sections of the Pashtun community;

  • still reliant on sanctuaries in Pakistan, even though local support has grown;

  • linked with transnational extremist groups for mostly tactical rather than strategic reasons but divided over these links internally;

  • seeking to exploit local tribal disputes for recruitment and mainly appealing to the disgruntled and disenfranchised in specific locations, but lacking a wider tribal agenda; and

  • a difficult negotiating partner because it lacks a coherent agenda, includes allies with divergent agendas and has a leadership that refuses to talk before the withdrawal of foreign forces and without the imposition of Sharia (Islamic law).

…A website in the name of the former regime – the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – is used as an international distribution centre for leadership statements and inflated tales of battlefield exploits. While fairly rudimentary, this is not a small effort; updates appear several times a day in five languages. Magazines put out by the movement or its supporters provide a further source of information on leadership structures and issues considered to be of importance. But for the largely rural and illiterate population, great efforts are also put into conveying preaching and battle reports via DVDs, audio cassettes, shabnamah (night letters – pamphlets or leaflets usually containing threats) and traditional nationalist songs and poems. The Taliban also increasingly uses mobile phones to spread its message.

Rethinking Smith-Mundt

Rethinking Smith-Mundt by Matt Armstrong, 28 July 2008, at Small Wars Journal.

Sixty years ago, the elements of America’s national power – diplomacy, information, military, and economics – were retooled with the National Security Act of 1947 and the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948. The former has received significant attention over the years and is currently the subject of an intense project to recommend updates. In contrast, the latter, a direct response to the global ideological threat posed by Communist propaganda, has been variously ignored, glossed over, or been subject to revisionism. Smith-Mundt was a largely successful bipartisan effort, establishing the foundation for the informational and cultural and educational engagement that became known as “public diplomacy.”

While today is unlike yesterday, it is worthwhile to look back on the purpose of Smith-Mundt and the debates surrounding the dissemination prohibition that has taken on mythical proportions. The modern interpretation of Smith-Mundt has given rise to an imaginary information environment bifurcated by a uniquely American “iron fence” separating the American media environment from the rest of the world.

Openness & Government: a guest post by Shane Deichman

In the spirit of engaging and informing the American public and government transparency, Shane Deichman of Wizard of Oz and deep thinker on S&T sent along this post on Openness & Government. Be sure to check out his posts on the June 2008 DHS S&T Conference.

Guest post by Shane Deichman, Wizards of Oz:

“One of the major opportunities for enhancing the effectiveness of our national scientific and technical effort and the efficiency of Government management of research and development lies in the improvement of our ability to communicate information about current research efforts and the results of past efforts.”

– President John F. Kennedy’s opening statement in the “Weinberg Report” (10-January-1963, emphasis added)

In the early 1960s, President Kennedy charged his Science Advisory Committee (chaired by Dr. Jerome Wiesner, Special Assistant to the President on Science and Technology) to charter a panel to review federal information management policies and practices. The “Panel on Science Information” was chaired by Dr. Alvin M. Weinberg, Director of Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL). ORNL is the site of the world’s first operational nuclear reactor (the Graphite Reactor, where the “pile” from the University of Chicago was moved during World War II to validate the “breeder reactor” concept) and a key national laboratory.

According to ORNL: The First 50 Years (chapter 5), the Laboratory’s role as a storehouse of scientific information is traced to Dr. Weinberg’s panel and its attempt to address the “information explosion” of the time. The panel’s report, “Science, Government, and Information: The Responsibilities of the Technical Community and the Government in the Transfer of Information” (informally known as “The Weinberg Report”), provided the impetus for the formation of a number of scientific information centers, including roughly a dozen at ORNL.

Matt Armstrong has used this ‘blog as a bully pulpit to educate us all on Public Law 402, United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, aka the “Smith-Mundt Act”. In particular, the Act’s principles were listed by the House committee that recommended H.R. 3342, the resolution that became the Smith-Mundt Act:

  • Tell the truth.
  • Explain the motives of the United States.
  • Bolster morale and extend hope.
  • Give a true and convincing picture of American life, methods and ideals.
  • Combat misrepresentation and distortion.
  • Aggressively interpret and support American foreign policy.

President Kennedy’s vision was consistent with these principles, and a key question asked by Dr. Weinberg’s panel was “How should Government agencies deal with information, other than its own reports, that is relevant to its mission?” In “Part 4: SUGGESTIONS: THE GOVERNMENT AGENCIES”, the Weinberg Report says:

1. “The Federal Government … must maintain an effective internal communication system; and it must see that an effective overall communication system is maintained”, and …

2. “Since information is part of research, Government must assume responsibilities even toward those parts of the non-Government system that do not overlap with its own, simply because Government has assumed such heavy responsibilities toward research.”

NASA and the Atomic Energy Commission were acknowledged by Dr. Weinberg as excelling in this area, interpreting their responsibilities quite broadly, and being proactive in providing full-fledged information services (not just a “document repository”) for enabling access to information. The AEC’s culture of openly sharing information is still evident today in the Department of Energy’s “Office of Scientific and Technical Information” (OSTI) in Oak Ridge – the nation’s central repository of scientific information stored in easily searchable databases (including, and [BTW: OSTI is located on the first street in the nation named after a website, “Science.Gov Way”, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.]

At the other extreme, the Department of Defense was singled out in the Weinberg Report for having an information agency (Armed Services Technical Information Agency [ASTIA], predecessor of today’s Defense Technical Information Center [DTIC]) that only handled internal reports and internal information retrieval requests.

Dr. Weinberg’s panel concluded that the growth of science and technology requires the help of all technical people, not just information specialists, and the help of all Government agencies with investments in science and technology. While the Weinberg Report has no explicit references to Smith-Mundt, the spirit and intent of the Act are evident: all those involved in R&D were implored to become “information-minded” and to devote more of their resources to information dissemination – wise words that Matt has echoed on MountainRunner.

Shane is also the blogger increasingly pictured drinking with fellow bloggers.

Social Media and Foreign Policy

image Last week, Heath Kern Gibson,the editor-in-chief for the State Department blog DipNote, asked her readers for thoughts on how social media will affect the making of foreign policy in the future

Secretary Rice has called the Internet "…possibly one of the greatest tools for democratization and individual freedom that we’ve ever seen." We are seeing this when people blog from Cuba and Iran and other societies in which restrictions are placed upon their personal freedoms.

Last year, along with the creation of the Department’s own YouTube Channel, this blog signified the Department’s foray into social media. Since then, the Department has created a Flickr photos profile, began microblogging using Twitter, distributed audio and video podcasts to iTunes and others using ten RSS feeds, and last week, launched the Department’s first official Facebook page. We encourage you to explore these products and let us know how we can better utilize them.

There have been many books and articles written on the relationship between traditional media and foreign policy, with the question often asked as to what degree the news media influences foreign policymakers and vice versa. What has not been discussed as much is the impact of social media on policymaking and the foreign affairs community.

It may not be quite clear yet as to what impact social media will have exactly on foreign policymaking. What is evident, though, is that foreign policy does not operate in a vacuum, and it must incorporate or respond to changes in communications. We are interested in your thoughts on how social media — how these changes in communication — will affect foreign policymaking in the years ahead.

The post attracted a number of comments (23), including the expected noise one would a USG blog to get. Fortunately, there is some worthwhile feedback (including the one from a senior State Department official).  The highlights are below the fold.

My thoughts on the subject: these are good steps forward. Whatever engages the global audience, US and non-US, is a good thing. Fostering engagement, creating transparency, and humanizing the “machine” all work toward building trust and legitimacy. The State Department today must recreate itself to reach out and engage state and non-state actors at all levels, from the grassroots to the top, regardless of the size and structure of the “organization” that may range from an individual to a multinational corporation to a state to a potential terrorist group. To do this requires reconceptualizing the utility and value of information, breaking the barriers preventing the effective use of information, and encouraging engagement. 

Social media, or more broadly “New Media”, can be and is used to persuade, mobilize, and facilitate support and action from audiences that dynamically constituted irrespective of region or traditional connections. The Internet democraticized information by reducing (or in some cases virtually eliminating) costs to produce, share, access, and share again. Social media further flattened the hierarchy, creating and fostering direct connections dynamically tunneling through and between bureaucracies and stratified organizations. It is important to remember that social media does not require formal software like flikr, twitter, or Facebook. It’s all in the way you network in the new environment.

State must educate, empower, equip, and encourage its employees to use social media to remain relevant (the 4-E’s are shamelessly stolen from LTG Bill Caldwell).

A step in the right direction to better utilize social media is to start by training its people, all of its people, to interact with the media, traditional or otherwise. An example is the Swedish Foreign Ministry who puts every Ministry employee through media training and gives them a wallet card tip sheet. The Ministry encourages “everyone” to “sit on TV sofas” (e.g. talk shows) to discuss the Ministry’s business. It’s part of the Ministry’s effort to build a positive impression of Sweden abroad and of itself to Swedes at home. The wallet card makes the following recommendations: Respect the role of the journalist; Be helpful in providing information; Never lie; Take the time to check facts; Assume you are on the record; and Stay calm. The card also provides a Swedish phone number to contact the press service, including a number to call after hours. Different cultures of openness offers the most obvious barrier to full adoption of the Swedish plan, but the point is everyone should be comfortable and empowered to speak about State to the media, at least within their lane and if they can’t, actively locate someone who can.

State should explore the Swedish model while also exploring LTG Caldwell effort in which everyone at Command and General Staff College has been told to blog. The recent blogger roundtable with Under Secretary Jim Glassman was a good step in the right direction. Until recently, DoD had a monopoly on US Government blogger outreach that was not so indicative of State absence as much as Defense realizing the need (and having the right guy at the right place to put it together). Let’s see more of this from the lower echelons as well as host foreign call-in roundtables out of our embassies in local languages and make the transcripts available in the local language and English. 

DipNote and’s blog, the blog for non-US audiences, should become vehicles for frequent and deep conversations between the State Department and the global public.

Success will mean relevance in a world where we need a Department of Non-State as well as a Department of State. It will also mean a functional merger of the bifurcated engagement model in which we artificially and uniquely among our peers separate foreign from domestic in the global information environment. 

Continue reading “Social Media and Foreign Policy

Book Review: The Art of Global Public Relations


There’s a new book on the block that will is required reading for anybody seriously interested in the relationship between information activities, cultural and educational exchanges, advocacy, and Congressional and executive branch bureaucracies. This book is Dr. Nick Cull’s The Cold War and the United States Information Agency: American Propaganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945-1989.

As a trained historian, Nick delivers a rich narrative of the United States Information beginning with the seeds of the USIA at the end of World War II and through the end of the Cold War that marked the beginning of the slow death of agency. As an academic, he supports the story with deep research, including one hundred personal interviews, that leave very few stones left unturned. Unlike most of other books on the subject, he focus on both the “slow” engagement of educational and cultural exchanges or the “fast” engagement of the information activities.  

For the many reports being written today on the future of U.S. public diplomacy and whether and how to recreate the USIA, this is a must read. For current and future students of public diplomacy, strategic communication, and global engagement, this is a valuable and necessary resource.

There is one unfortunate problem with the book, however: the price. Hopefully the publisher will drop the price on the soft cover (don’t know if one is planned yet or will ever).

For a more comprehensive book review, I’ll defer to Martha Bayles, who reviewed it in the The Wall Street Journal today. I look forward to other reviews (personally, I’d like to see a review from John Brown). A snippet from Bayles’s review:

Mr. Cull admits that America’s image is shaped by many actors, from U.S.-based transnational corporations (especially the titans of the entertainment industry) to thousands of NGOs, ranging in size from behemoths to pipsqueaks. But because most of these operate with little or no political oversight, the traditional tools of public diplomacy — the foreign service, government-supported international broadcasting and a whole range of military-related communications — remain crucial to the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.

Mr. Cull’s invaluable contribution is to divide public diplomacy into five components, beginning with the most important: listening. Initially, USIA did research and analysis of foreign opinion, and the director sat on the National Security Council and shared these soundings with policy makers. (This changed under President Nixon.) The second component, advocacy, is also tied to policy, in the sense of shaping an overall propaganda "message" in its favor.

Read the review in its entirety here.

One sad note on USIA: Charles Wick, the last USIA director discussed in the book, died yesterday (LA Times article here).

Away from the podium: what does Sean McCormack do?


Earlier this month, I made a comment that most Americans don’t know who is the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs (see the very end of this post). While most of the readers probably know who Sean is, his timely DipNote post from the ASEAN meeting in Singapore gives me a chance to highlight that Public Affairs in State is a global gig to satisfy domestic requirements. It’s a brief yet interesting look into what’s happening in front and behind of the cameras.  

Domestic influence op

The Navy discusses it plan at USC Galrahn at Information Dissemination discusses a Navy domestic “influence operation.”  I’ve referred to this outreach before, noting the Hodes Amendment would prevent such activities.  Galrahn suggests preventing this might be a good thing, at least in the absence of a strategic purpose. 

The “Conversations with the Country” became random seminars in various cities for the purpose of involving the American people in the discussion of the Navy and maritime strategy. It was never intended to influence the development of the strategy, we learned that here and here (PDF) which exposed the process for what it was: a think tank process that ultimately avoided as many strategic issues as it embraced. The "Conversations with the Country" were essentially intended to be a marketing strategy to connect with the American people with the intent of teaching the Navy’s role towards the national interest, and expanding an understanding of why the Navy is important to the nation. This outreach marketing attempt to engage the population can only be described as a total failure.

Quoting History and the “new” predominance of engaging the people

In 1955, a young (and unknown) Henry Kissinger stressed the importance of public engagement over traditional statecraft when he noted the “predominant aspect of the new diplomacy is its psychological dimension.” 

At the same time, Nelson Rockefeller recognized the struggle as “shifting more than ever from the arena of power to the arena of ideas and international persuasion.” 

As much as its vogue to think of asymmetric warfare as new and the war of ideas as a contemporary phenomenon, underlying the Cold War was a pervasive belief in the importance of “national morale” as Hans Morgenthau called it.  A few years earlier, another venerable author, E. H. Carr, relegated to the realpolitik genre and thus supposedly out of touch with modern conflict, also noted the rise of the “power over opinion” as contemporary war nullified “the distinction between combatant and civilian; and the morale of the civilian population became for the first time a military objective.”

It’s easy to forget that we once knew information was the “cheapest weapon.”  It wasn’t the only weapon, but it was the cheapest and it had an effect, if it was backed up by and synchronized with smart policy

Who engages and informs the American public on foreign affairs?

imageimageWho engages and informs the American public on foreign affairs.  It isn’t the media.

This shows Lara Logan’s lament about television’s cutback is a reality in print. 

Read the New York Times article, the Pew Research Center website, and the site (including this page).  If you don’t want to read them all, read the last link:

The survey used three different measures to probe the question. It asked about space devoted to a range of topics. It asked about the amount of reporting resources assigned to cover each topic. And it asked how essential editors thought each topic was to their paper’s identity.

By all three measures, international news is rapidly losing ground at rates greater than any other topic area. Roughly two-thirds (64%) of newsroom executives said the space devoted to foreign news in their newspaper had dropped over the past three years. Nearly half (46%) say they have reduced the resources devoted to covering the topic-also the highest percentage recording a drop. Only 10% said they considered foreign coverage “very essential.”

This decline in foreign news occurs as U.S. armed forces confront stubborn insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Administration talks of a global war on terrorism and international trade increasingly impacts the everyday lives of Americans.

Is domestic broadcast media picking up the slack?  Kim shares a report that CNN might be with (only?) one show: Fareed Zakaria’s GPS:

“‘Fareed Zakaria GPS’ (GPS stands for ‘Global Public Square’) … is, in effect, an international version of “Meet The Press,” with prominent newsmakers answering his tough, well-researched questions. … In an era in which Americans are demanding — and thus getting — less international news, Zakaria’s ‘GPS’ is an auspicious event indeed. Only ‘BBC World News’ has been offering this kind of responsible global perspective and news to U.S. view." Bill Mann, Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA), 20 July 2008.

Obviously the first story has Smith-Mundt implications – who tells the story of what’s happening overseas if it isn’t the media?  Telling “America’s story to the world”?  What about telling it at home?  At one time, the major media, print and broadcast, and the government had a cooperative relationship.  At one time, the products of US information activities were to be easily available to academics, Congress, and the media and were not to be under any limit on domestic redistribution.  Things have changed.  Today, the American public knows little about what is said and done in its name overseas.  Today, the American public is subject to the “inform but not influence” mentality of press releases and sound bites designed not to educate, engage, and truly inform but to pierce the media’s filter. 

Once upon a time, the government subsidized the overseas purchase of US news, books, and film to the tune of $15m in 1948.  The Informational Media Guarantee program was put (buried) into the European Recover Act, aka the Marshall Plan.  Think we should do that again?  Makes you think.

Unrelated, congratulations to Chris Albon and his journey with SOUTHCOM on the USS Kearsarge

That’s it for now. 

Glassman reaches out to bloggers (Updated)

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Jim Glassman is on a mission to let people know that American public diplomacy, as well as his office, is changing.  This is the message he’s been refining since his Wall Street Journal opinion piece after being sworn in as Under Secretary.  He updated it in the CFR briefing a week later, and again at the Washington Institute

However, only the initial WSJ article received much attention by the media, if only because it was in the WSJ.  Even what Karen Hughes wore on her head received more attention by “traditional” media and by the blogosphere. 

Under Secretary Jim Glassman is pushing an aggressive public diplomacy that’s reminiscent of the information, cultural, and educational activities of the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s (a vision I’ve pushed for on this blog) and creating distance from the “neutered beauty contest” (my phrase not his) style of the last decade and more.  My read is he’s pushing for a return to the struggle for minds and wills and away from the phrase “winning the hearts and minds” (see related post on the need for this shift here). 

At State’s Foreign Press Center in DC (transcript here), he updated his message and explained to foreign media the points of his program and mission in a way not just foreign media and audiences need to hear, but in clear and direct language that also must be transmitted to the American public and Congress. 

As part of the effort to create a dialogue on the subject within the United States, a teleconference with bloggers was quickly arranged for today.  On the call were Steve Corman of COMOPS, Melinda Brower of Foreign Policy Association’s public diplomacy blog, and myself.  In reality, it was just Steve and myself as Melinda opted to listen in and not ask questions, which was odd considering her critique of his strategy last week (see Steve’s reply here and a related reply here). 

The teleconference was to be a follow up to the Foreign Press Center briefing the day before, so he began with reiterating only a few points.  These included the intention to engage foreign publics to “help achieve the national interest” and to use the “tools of ideological engagement to create an environment hostile to violent extremism”, among other points.  Note the absence of “Islam” as he emphasizes this is a broader struggle that beyond Al-Qaeda while not minimizing AQ.  His intent is to use “words, deeds, and images to break” the links to “support for violent extremism.” 

The Under Secretary also emphasized that the United States is “not at the center of the War of Ideas” (an appropriate description, but one I believe helps with Congress) but at the same time “we cannot be a bystander.” 

A purpose of public diplomacy, according to the Under Secretary, is to “construct viable alternatives” to violent extremism.  Public diplomacy must be used to exploit the fact that Al-Qaeda’s “ideology contains seeds of the [its] own destruction,” as has been shown in Iraq.  Public diplomacy is a tool of “diversion”, a “facilitator of choice”, and the War of Ideas is “really a battle of alternatives.” 

There were several key take-aways from the teleconference.  First, the Under Secretary said the teleconference would take place “every now & then”.  He is looking for a recurring engagement with the blogosphere to discuss what is going on in public diplomacy.

On resurrecting USIA or heavy restructuring of the elements under him, he said does not want to spend his short time in office advocating restructuring.  He has done some reorganization to reinforce his position as the government’s lead in strategic communication and to have better oversight over the processes (see below for details).

Asked what his advice for the next administration would be, he had two requests.  First, that the next administration adopt the platform and structure that’s being constructed now.  Second, to maintain the commitment to public diplomacy (that presumably this administration will have at the end of the year, which is growing but still now broad enough). 

However, as Secretary of Defense Gates pointed out again this week, “America’s civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long.”  While Under Secretary Glassman is pushing to put State back into the communications void since filled by Defense, he needs support from his boss for money and resources while he works toward the goals he’s laid out.  As he put it:

I have two jobs. One of them is running public diplomacy in the State Department. But the second one is being the inter-agency lead in the War of Ideas.

And State has a role in War of Ideas program. DOD has a [role]. Other agencies have a [role]. And, but, it is my responsibility to be the lead and this is going to be a major focus of my efforts.

Much of the call focused on information, the “fast” communication, but as the Under Secretary made sure to include the “slow” engagement, he continued to show his focus is on the things he can change quickly:

You know, the restructuring sort of allows us to – allowed us to shift focus. And let me add – let me just add one thing. This is not in any way a diminution or de-emphasis on the importance of education and cultural affairs.

We have the biggest budget that we have had in years. We have a very, very good Assistant Secretary and it is the same thing at IIP. It is just that my time, probably because the President designated me as the inter-agency lead and partly because I think this is where my background is, it is going to be focused on the War of Ideas efforts.

(A side note: depending on who you talk to about public diplomacy, the educational and cultural parts of a kind of ‘third rail’ or the only real public diplomacy there is.  A tangent to this post, it is undoubtedly shaping the Under Secretary’s plan of action.)

Even though he wants to avoid the restructuring debate, from the bills on the Hill I’ve seen and heard of, he needs to spend more time getting his vision to the public if he doesn’t want to speak directly to Congress.  

The Under Secretary was late to the teleconference attending the launch of the Civilian Response Corps, an issue close to this bloggers interest

This teleconference was a good start at outreach and engagement, but Steve and I were both caught a bit off guard that it was only us asking the questions.  Hopefully next time more bloggers will attend.  The DOD Blogger Roundtable has proven effective and it’s about time State stands-up its own version. 


The transcript of the call is available.  Below are the comments of the Under Secretary on the internal restructuring:

Well we – I am the Chair of the Policy Coordinating Committee on Strategic Communications which we take to be a synonym for War of Ideas. And there are representatives from a number of other agencies – DOD, the intelligence community, NCTC, Treasury and so forth.

This is a PCC that has been operating for several years now, I think two years. And in fact I went to one of the meetings when I was Chairman of the BBG. And this is the main body that sets strategy and decides on programs.

It meets – it was meeting roughly once a quarter. It will be roughly once a month.

One of the sub-PCCs that is part of this PCC is called The Global Strategic Engagement Center or GSEC. And that is an inter-agency office, believe it is about a dozen people, that is headquarter – is situated here at State but it does have people from other agencies who are part of it.

And those of you who know a lot of these details that went before, there was an organization called the CTCC, Counter Terrorism Communication Center.

And really the CTCC has been turned into the GSEC. And the G, but GSEC has a different function. The GSEC is really the coordinating and day to day operating authority for the PCC.

Then, we have – we are setting up a strategic advisory council which is a public private organization, will be quite small, probably ten members, five – two from each of five different broad sectors.

And they will be able to reach out into the private sector to draw a private sector participant in War of Ideas Strategic Communications Activities.

See also:

State Department File 649

Check out what surely must have been a special collaborative project with Hollywood to shake off the Commie-sympathizer image of State: State Department File 649

The overriding message was: State Department officers bravely serve America abroad. The acting was terrible and the storyline thin and predictable. It was good for some laughs at how outrageous it was though.
Also, if it was an accurate portrayal of Foreign Service Officers back in 1949, it is not now. We don’t carry guns and we don’t single handedly take on Mongolian warlords. Anyway, an interesting movie and fun piece of history if not cinematic excellence.

In 1947, Congress repeatedly told State to purge itself of Communist sympathizers (and Socialist New Dealers for that matter).  The House Rules committee went so far as to say it wouldn’t support any legislation backed by the State Department for this very reason.  In 1948 there was Alger Hiss. 

Did State have a Hollywood liaison?  Dunno, but they needed one.  Was the role originally for an OSS officer?  

From the review, I don’t think I’ll watch to figure it out. 

American public diplomacy (and increasingly foreign policy in general) wears combat boots

From the Washington Post is : Gates Warns of Militarized Policy

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned yesterday against the risk of a “creeping militarization” of U.S. foreign policy, saying the State Department should lead U.S. engagement with other countries, with the military playing a supporting role.

“We cannot kill or capture our way to victory” in the long-term campaign against terrorism, Gates said, arguing that military action should be subordinate to political and economic efforts to undermine extremism. …

“America’s civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long — relative to what we traditionally spend on the military, and more importantly, relative to the responsibilities and challenges our nation has around the world,” Gates said at a dinner organized by the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign, according to prepared remarks of his speech.

Over the next 20 years, Gates predicted, “the most persistent and potentially dangerous threats will come less from emerging ambitious states, than from failing ones that cannot meet the basic needs — much less the aspirations — of their people.”

In brief, Yes.  Absolutely agreed.  Question: why is it the military who seems to be the public proponent of increasing America’s capacity in non-military engagement?

Stop saying ‘Hearts and Minds’, you don’t mean it

There is a terrible plague in public diplomacy and the War of Ideas / GWOT / whatever it’s called today.  This plague is the wholesale adoption of the phrase “winning the hearts and minds” without any real understanding of its history or meaning.  Taken out of context, as it is, “hearts and minds” shapes the view of “soft power” so often seen as the essence of public diplomacy. Ideational engagements are perceived as a way to increase how the United States is liked, loved, or at least attractive.  This is expected if you start from the false premise of “Why do they hate us?”

Steve Corman at Arizona State U has a good response to Foreign Policy blog’s Melinda Brower’s lament that we’re moving away from the beauty contest model of public diplomacy.  Brower was critical of Under Secretary Jim Glassman’s Washington Institute speech begins the return public diplomacy to its purpose: influencing people to not support our enemies.  Sure there’s an element of attraction in there, but it must not be the basis of or driving purpose for engagement, as it has been.

Driving Brower’s view of public diplomacy is the common adoption of the “hearts and minds” aphorism.  She should not be faulted for this view as, after all, everybody does it (well, not everybody).

Getting into somebody’s thoughts is not enough and getting into their hearts means little.  The “hearts and minds” mantra has come to describe only part of the struggle and focuses on increasing America’s likability or popularity as it looks for an answer to the question of “Why do they hate us?”

Unfortunately, most of those who invoke the H&M mantra seems to have little knowledge or appreciation for its roots and its true meaning.  H&M comes out of counterinsurgency doctrine.  General Westmoreland once said that if you grab the enemy by the balls, his hearts and minds will follow.  This was not correct, but today the saying has been completely decoupled from the persuasive, and sometimes coercive, tools that used to accompany it.  Perhaps a better way of thinking of “hearts and minds” is Teddy Roosevelt’s version of the same: speak softly and carry a big stick.

But even the quotable T.R. doesn’t give us the complete picture of what is needed today.  Should we speak softly today?  If so, what do we say? 

The more fitting phrase is a struggle for minds and wills.  This still gets to the thought process H&M does, but it includes the critical action element that’s missing from H&M.  We must get into the minds of foes, their base, “swing-voters”, our base, and our hard and fast allies alike.  Messages must be tailored for each, just as Obama and McCain tailor their messages for the target audiences in their pursuit of the Oval Office. 

Obama beat Hillary by, with, and through local efforts to changing opinions, providing alternatives, and generating action.  Why do we refuse to allow ourselves the same grassroots solution set for our national security?

But changing opinion is not enough.  It is essential to affect a person’s will to act.  Influencing our enemies’ (yes, plural) supporters to act, nor not to act, in the adversaries’ interest is essential.  It is just as essential to influence support for the American national interest, which includes active and passive denial of supporting our adversary as well as active and passive support of our interests. 

Changing someone’s will to act is the essential requirement today.  This is not a popularity contest.  And everything we say and do goes into the struggle for minds and wills.  Managing the “say-do gap” is critical and requires the informational effect be taken into consideration in what we do militarily, economically, and politically. 

The center of gravity today is not a single point but an informational ecosystem in which support systems targeted and relied upon by both the insurgent and counterinsurgent exist and propagate. These spheres of influence include physical (sanctuary), financial (money to buy things), moral (religious leader backing), social (friends and family), and recruits. The effectiveness of information campaigns today will more often dictate a victory than how well bullets and bombs are put on a target.  Success isn’t dependent on how likeable we are. 

Today, we must communicate not only with the individuals planting bombs in Iraq, Afghanistan, England, or Spain, but also to his family, the people who encourage the ideas that support insurgent and terrorist activity, facilitate the exchange and storing of money and weapons, as well as simply not report the presence of destructive elements in their neighborhoods, villages, or Diaspora. Insurgents fight for different reasons ranging from political ideology, religious beliefs, and pecuniary gain.  While disaggregation is not convenient for sound bites destined for U.S. domestic consumption, it is required to properly focus American policy makers, American public opinion, the posture of the military and other elements of civil-military operations, and even to manage perceptions of the enemy to deny him credibility.

As Jim said today, we must use the “tools of ideological engagement to create an environment hostile to violent extremism.”  Public diplomacy must return to an “arsenal of persuasion”, despite some the reticence of some who think it should remain the passive beauty contest that has marked much of PD since the 1980s (if not the 1960s). 

It is helpful that, as the Under Secretary said, Al-Qaeda’s ideology “contains the seeds of their own destruction.”  The War of Ideas (not a phrase I buy into, but it’s close enough) is “really a battle of alternatives.”  Actions to exploit this must be, at least in part if not in large part, based on activities conducted by, with, and through indigenous group members.  

We are not in conflict over hearts and passions, but a psychological struggle over wills and minds.  We must stop telling foreign publics what we want our own people to hear and focus on the minds and wills of a global audience.  The enemy is.  Unless we get our information house in order, the United States will remain virtually unarmed in the battlespace of today and the future.

To this end, I disagree with Steve’s comment that what the Under Secretary is saying “doesn’t fit the definition of public diplomacy very well” and that “we could legitimately ask whether that broader subject is really Glassman’s charge.” 

UPDATE from Steve: “Well, OK…what [Glassman’s] talking about does not fit most definitions of PD, which emphasize dealing with the image/perception of the country doing the PD.”

This is exactly my point on the neutering of public diplomacy of the last several decades. 

First off, we are in a global information environment, not a bifurcated U.S. and Other-than-U.S. information environment many wish.  Second, the charge of the Under Secretary is to be the lead in the government-wide communications effort in this global information environment.

In short, please everyone stop misusing Hearts and Minds.  Most people don’t understand it’s meaning and worse, it’s misleading and incomplete. 

Miscellanea (updated)

First the important stuff

Colonels H.R. McMaster Jr. and Sean B. MacFarland, pending Senate confirmation, will become Brigadiers.  For the story, see Stars & Stripes for the story (h/t SWJ)

The NYT headline says it all: NATO Hires a Coke Executive to Retool Its Brand

Mr. Stopford declined to comment because he had not yet taken up his new position. But his top priority is likely to be helping the organization explain how it has an impact on daily life, and why trans-Atlantic security should not be taken for granted.

According to a new poll (pdf), military officers want to see an investment in non-kinetic engagement.  Not a surprise if you have talked to any of them.  See Patrick Fitzgerald’s post for more. 

 New Chinese jamming equipment for Zimbabwe?

The blog Opinio Juris has relaunched.  OJ is about international law and international relations and I urge you to add it to your reading list. 

Speaking of relaunches, Intermap, as in International Media Argument Project, has returned.  Written by two “meatspace” friends, Craig Hayden and Shawn Powers, it explores political communication, rhetoric, and public diplomacy. 

And lastly, CTLab also relaunched.

Two unimportant items after the fold. 

Continue reading “Miscellanea (updated)

Right now: Under Secretary Glassman to discuss U.S. Public Diplomacy efforts (Updated)

Right now (11a ET, 15 June 2008) at from the Foreign Press Center:

U.S. Public Diplomacy and the War of Ideas

The Foreign Press Center invites you to an on-the-record, on-camera briefing with newly confirmed Under Secretary James Glassman to discuss the Department of State’s ongoing public diplomacy efforts and goals overseas. U.S. embassies worldwide, directed by Under Secretary Glassman, engage in myriad exchange, educational, and travel programs to introduce international audiences to the United States. Under Secretary Glassman also heads the U.S. Government-wide War of Ideas effort countering violent extremism.

James K. Glassman leads America’s public diplomacy outreach, which includes communications with international audiences, cultural programming, academic grants, educational exchanges, international visitor programs, and U.S. government efforts to confront ideological support for terrorism. He oversees the bureaus of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Public Affairs and International Information Programs, and participates in foreign policy development.

Not to leave you hanging, but by simply visiting and watching this video, you are violating aiding and abetting a violation modern interpretation of Smith-Mundt.  Feeling guilty?

Transcript of the briefing is available here (pdf).

Admin note: little to no blogging for the next week

Between a deadline and a conference outside of D.C. next week, there will be little to no blogging the week of 7 July 2008.  Email access will, as a result of the conference, be restricted, so expect a delay if you email. 

For my American readers: I hope you had a Happy Fourth of July.  For my British readers, stop pretending you’re happy to be rid of us.  For everybody, this is a good time to (re)read America’s first and best public diplomacy document, now 232 years old: 

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

Also, check out the podcast version of the blog produced by Odigo.  A computer reads the posts, not me… let me know what you think.

Jesse Helms, RIP, and USIA (updated)

Got an email from a new blog that’s coming online – Undiplomatic – about the passing of Jesse Helms.  Charlie Brown, the blog’s editor (no other contributors are yet listed, the blog is still coming together according to Brown), offers both praise and criticism of the Republican Senator from North Carolina.

Observation one:  Senator Helms was actually quite good on certain human rights questions, particularly those regarding China and Cuba. …

Observation two:  it’s hard picking the worst thing Senator Helms ever did, but one that should rank in the top five — one that most people overlook — is his willful destruction of the United States Information Agency. …

But abolishing the USIA was not a one-man show.  There was more to it than a choice by President Clinton, even if it was his desk where the buck ultimately stopped.  There was the USAID director who had the guts to fight for his agency and the USIA director who did not.  There was also the co-star in the form of a Secretary of State who may have later acknowledged her complicity was her biggest mistake.

It should be noted that Senator Helms succeeded where the equally, if not more, legendary Senator Fulbright (D-AR, and as I just learned a fraternity brother of this blogger) failed.  The 1972 Amendment to Smith-Mundt was, in fact, the best Senator Fulbright could do in his attempt to abolish USIA.  According to Nick Cull, Fulbright demanded that Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty “should be given an opportunity to take their rightful place in the graveyard of Cold War relics.” But they escaped with the creation of the Board for International Broadcasting, the predecessor to the Broadcasting Board of Governors.  According to contemporary news accounts, votes he brought to the floor as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee were losing and losing not on merit but on personality.  He had lost support, an especially bad situation for a Chairman.  The New York Times would remark on the “eclipse of Senator Fulbright and the weakening of the Foreign Relations Committee” and wonder if the Senator would support the pending Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty when he couldn’t count on the support of the Administration or of his own committee.  Soon after he remarked that he would not even bring something up for a vote because he knew it wouldn’t pass.

While he lost the battle and his next election, he won the war against USIA as he adjusted perceptions of USIA and Smith-Mundt, the Act he never fully supported.  His conflict with USIA was openly reported in the papers and explored by Nick Cull in his forthcoming book on the history of USIA, as well as by Stacey Cone in her 2005 “Pulling the Plug on America’s Propaganda: Sen. J.W. Fulbright’s Leadership of the Antipropaganda Movement, 1943-74” in the journal Journalism History.

It’s also noteworthy, for the detail oriented reader, that the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy has no authority by law over the Fulbright scholarship board.  (Nor does it have any authority on the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, but that’s another story and one that is conceptually foreign to modern Americans.)

Addendum: An interesting footnote to this: a colleague John Brown notes these two Southern Senators, one Republican and one Democrat, were both opposed to civil rights legislation.

Fulbright served as chairman of the Senate banking and currency committee (1955–59) and, as chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee (1959–74), he conducted frequent open hearings to educate the public and to reassert the Senate’s influence in long-range policy formulation. An outspoken critic of U.S. military intervention abroad, Fulbright opposed the Bay of Pigs invasion (1961), the landing of marines in the Dominican Republic (1965), and the escalation of the war in Vietnam. However, Fulbright could be conservative as well; he voted against civil-rights legislation in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1974 Democratic primary in Arkansas, he was defeated for the senatorial nomination by Dale Bumpers. He wrote Old Myths and New Realities (1964), The Arrogance of Power (1966), The Pentagon Propaganda Machine (1970), The Crippled Giant (1972), and The Price of Empire (1989).

Jesse Helms forever changed North Carolina politics and the conservative movement. The former senator did it without ever changing much about himself.

There is perhaps no better example of Helms’ unwavering commitment to his beliefs than on the issue of race. Helms was a staunch opponent of the nation’s civil rights movement, where he joined the likes of Alabama Gov. George Wallace and South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond in a fight to keep outsiders from meddling in what he called “the Southern way of life.”

Here’s some cocktail trivia for you.  Senator Buckley, the one who showed a USIA film on his TV show for his constituents that ultimately led to the 1972 amendment, was to be Senator Helms’s candidate at the 1976 Republican National Convention to replace Ronald Reagan if Reagan kept his “too liberal” of a running mate, Senator Richard Schweiker (R-PA).

See Also: