Follow up on American Public Diplomacy Wears Combat Boots

The struggle today is not a struggle against a tactic, but for the minds and wills of groups and individuals around the world. This is not a “battle” to be won or lost, but a continuing struggle to create resistance against threats to America’s national interests and security.

The importance of communicating in the modern environment is critical. It requires informational activities that disregards often quaint notions of state borders, including our own. We lament the ability of a guy in a cave to out-communicate the United States, but the group that was a virtual unknown in 1998 faced little opposition in the information war. We lost that fight as much, possibly more than, Al-Qaeda won it. We are in an era when the value brute force is severely diminished. Increasingly, the pen, or keyboard and camera-phone, is mightier than the gun.

However, like it or not, American public diplomacy still wears combat boots. The military does not like it and neither does the State Department. The Defense Department should not be, as I wrote yesterday, America’s ambassadors to the world. This is especially ironic considering fewer American’s know someone in uniform.

Yesterday I commented on the reality of America’s international engagement. In doing so, I shifted the blame from the Defense Department to the leadership of the State Department as well as on to the Congress. Only recently has the State Department, for example, begun to push to increase the size of the Foreign Service Officer corps. The most visible pressure, however, continues to come not from the State Department, but from the Defense Department.

It should not be a surprise that over the last seven years, the Secretaries of Defense have seemingly fielded more questions about the resurrection of USIA than the Secretaries of State, or the Under Secretaries for Public Diplomacy for that matter.

While “War of Ideas” is not entirely accurate, it is appropriate considering where we are today. The term will die by January 2009, but by then, forward momentum will have been achieved. Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy Jim Glassman is playing the right game to influence U.S. policy makers. The unfortunate phrase does not further militarize America’s foreign policy, it simply reflects an existing condition.

Below, without additional comment, are some key quotes from last week’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on “Defining the Military’s Role Towards Foreign Policy” that reinforces both points.

Senator Kerry:

The questions raised here, obviously important in a lot of different respects, not the least of which is to how you fight what has been called the Global War on Terror, which I think is – is probably misnamed. It’s really a global counterinsurgency. … And I believe that Secretary Gates has been great frankly in — in the comment he has made. And he recently said flatly we cannot capture and kill our way to victory. … And obviously our — our most important weapons are frankly non-military here. I mean, we are engaged in an information battle. And the people we need to be concerned about frankly is the whole Muslim world and the conditions on the ground in many of the countries that are ripe for the pickings for recruits. … So my question to you is — and then we have seen — many of us in our visits on the ground to these places, we’ve seen some extraordinary young men and women in the military who are doing a remarkable job of improvising. They’re acting as mayors, as diplomats, as psychologists, as historians, as cultural experts, as well as occasionally having to perform their military functions. Do we need to think — so that we don’t operate under the banner of defense and our military — and obviously the State Department doesn’t have people who are necessarily equipped to perform this new function, do we need to think in terms of a kind of a civilian reconstruction corp., a differently trained entity that is separate from the Pentagon but has the skills to defend itself and to operate, as many of our contractors do in foreign countries, but also carry with them this broader set of skills with special training to perform these functions of an information struggle?

Under Secretary for Policy Eric Edelman, Defense Department:

Well, Senator Kerry, I agree with almost everything you said in your comments. I — this is largely an information struggle. We don’t believe that we ought to be the — the lead for that in the Department of Defense as part of the national strategy for combating terrorism. The lead for combating ideological support to terror, which is the information function reside with State. We see ourselves in — as supporting that activity. We have created a deputy assistant secretary position in the — in the Department of Defense to — with — with the title of Support to Public Diplomacy. It’s really just an effort to work together with, now John Glassman at the Department of State — Jim Glassman, rather, to help him — to help him in his function. I’d have to think a little bit about — we support the idea of a civilian response corp. I’d have to think about whether something similar on the information side might make sense. My — my boss, Secretary Gates, has talked about the need to have an institution that plays the role that USIA played during the Cold War. USIA is a separate institution. It now longer exists. And I think there’s a lot of what we need…

Senator Lugar:

… I can remember back in the Clinton administration, Secretary Albright asking my assistance during November, say, before the budget’s announced to try to intercede with President Clinton to ask him and OMB, to ask for more money for the State Department, which I did. And President Clinton did ask for more. … In fact, before that, both of us witnessed the whole business of USAID, it’s reincorporation in the State Department, lots of other things reorganized. There was a feeling on my part, even then, that the committee sometimes came out almost as an enemy of the State Department, we were so busy controlling its activities. … I remember, and I’m sure Senator Biden does, we attempting to support Secretary Powell for a couple of years just to have the Foreign Service exam given again. There was no exam. There were no new Foreign Service officers. The attrition had come to that point.

Robert Perito, Senior Program Officer, Center for Post-Conflict Peace and Stability Operations, U.S. Institute for Peace

Let me just reiterate a little — a little history. When I started out doing the report on 1207, I thought — I just assumed that this was a case where the Congress was trying to take money away from State and give it to Defense. When I talked to the staff members on the Armed Services Committees, both the House and the Senate, what I was told was, "No, that’s no the thing at all. We’re trying to force the State Department to exert its leadership and take on these responsibilities. And we want the State Department to ask for this money. We want the administration to ask for this money to put it into the foreign assistance budget."

And when you look at the legislative history, when you look at the hearing that occurred in the House in March, the chairman of that — of the House Armed Services Committee lectured both Secretary Gates and Secretary Rice about the fact that this program had been started in order to give them time switch things back to the way they should be. You know, and he — and his words were they hadn’t taken the hint.

So I think, you know, there are people on the Armed Services side who would like to put this back the way it should be. And so, you know, they’re our allies out there that I think you would find.

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