Reorganizing Government to meet hybrid threats

Read my guest post over at the Stimson Center’s Budget Insight blog titled Hybrid Government:

Nine years ago we went to war with the enemy we had, not the enemy we wanted. For several years after 9/11 we struggled to comprehend how military superiority failed to translate into strategic victory. We created labels like “irregular” and “hybrid” to describe adversaries that did not conform to our structured view of international affairs shaped by the second half of the Cold War. Today, conflict is democratized, not in the sense of bicameral legislatures but strategic influence in the hands of non-state actors empowered by falling barriers to information acquisition, packaging and dissemination as well as easy access to the means of destruction and disruption, physical and virtual.

Calls for “smart power” and a “whole of government” approach has resulted in countless articles, memos, and reports on updating the State Department, the Defense Department, and other agencies to confront the challenges of today and tomorrow. The focus on improving the operational elements of national power, while necessary, ignores a critical national security actor that has received little to no attention or pressure to adapt to the new and emerging requirements: Congress.

Read the whole thing here. Comment there or below.

The Real Psychological Operation for Afghanistan

This article is cross-posted at the George C. Marshall Foundation. Also at AOC’s IO Blog.
On December 1, 2009, President Obama announced his Afghanistan strategy and what immediately followed was an expected and unoriginal cacophony of sound bites based on selective memories of the past and shallow and ignorant visions of the present and future. The decline in the public’s support for the struggle is surely a delight for Al Qaeda and the Taliban who, unlike our pundits and some in Congress, understand this is foremost a psychological struggle for the minds of people in “Af-Pak” and around the world to affect their will to act.

Continue reading “The Real Psychological Operation for Afghanistan

Breaking the silence

It’s been quiet here on the blog for several reasons, including a Christmas holiday. Of course, the news hasn’t stopped but I am focusing on clearing a few writing assignments off the desk that will be published elsewhere (I will post links to them when they come out). Among the items on the plate: a recent Congressional Research Service report on public diplomacy (18 December 2009) and required comments on this week’s Walter Pincus article on strategic communication. 

Stay tuned. I hope you’re enjoying the downtime / quiet time.

CRS Report: U.S. Public Diplomacy: Background and Current Issues

U.S. Public Diplomacy: Background and Current Issues by Kennon H. Nakamura and Matthew C. Weed, 18 December 2009, at Congressional Research Service.

…The attitudes and perceptions of foreign publics created in this new environment are often as important as reality, and sometimes can even trump reality. These attitudes affect the ability of the United States to form and maintain alliances in pursuit of common policy objectives; impact the cost and the effectiveness of military operations; influence local populations to either cooperate, support or be hostile as the United States pursues foreign policy and/or military objectives in that country; affect the ability to secure support on issues of particular concern in multilateral fora; and dampen foreign publics’ enthusiasm for U.S. business services and products.

This report cites Matt Armstrong and his work several times throughout the report.

Berkley Center discussion with Matt Armstrong

A Discussion with Matt Armstrong, Executive Director, MountainRunner Institute, on the Uses and Limits of New Social Media by Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, & World Affairs, 15 December 2009, at Georgetown University.

…New social media democratizes influence. Anybody can influence anybody. Today, the gatekeepers are challenged, bypassed, or ignored. People who may have been alienated or oppressed are now able to come together and make their voices heard, regardless of culture, ethnicity, location, or even language.

…Apart from democratizing influence, social media makes information both global and hyperlocal as it makes it extremely accessible. Social media is also visceral… you see videos and you have a greater sense of being there than reading text.

…Social media, like the Internet in general, is in many ways a double-edged sword. While it can empower people for positive goals and causes, it can help others do the opposite. There are groups online for teenagers that cut themselves, there are groups on anorexia and how to do it better, there are deviant groups and hate groups. Terrorists benefit from using new social media, especially YouTube, as propaganda and recruiting tools. They no longer have to wait for media coverage to spread their message, now terrorists put their videos online in 30 minutes. Furthermore, terrorists can be their own media crew now. They, not NBC, not CBS, package and send out their message and the global media picks up on it.

US Government Meets New Media

From Helle Dale at The Heritage Foundation, Public Diplomacy 2.0: Where the U.S. Government Meets “New Media”:

Public diplomacy and strategic communications experts within the U.S. government are exploring the potential of the new social media in the effort to win hearts and minds abroad, especially in the Muslim world where today’s war of ideas is being fought. Enemies of the United States are already expert in using these low-cost outreach tools that can connect thousands, potentially even millions, at the touch of a computer key or cell phone button. As public affairs blogger Matt Armstrong writes,

In this age of mass information and precision guided media, everyone from political candidates to terrorists must instantly and continuously interact with and influence audiences in order to be relevant and competitive. Ignoring the utility of social media is tantamount to surrendering the high ground in the enduring battle to influence minds around the world.

… When employed strategically, social-networking sites clearly offer potential for U.S. public diplomacy to reach younger, tech-savvy audiences around the world. Social-networking sites can also be cost-effective and run with relatively low overhead. Yet, nothing can replace the power of person-to-person contact and individual exposure to American culture. Furthermore, the unevenness of global technological progress means that a variety of media will remain critical to spreading the U.S. message. As part of a clear and calibrated U.S. government communications strategy, however, Public Diplomacy 2.0 can be a valuable tool.

I would add that there is the convergence of new and old media into Now Media makes intense focus on “new media” channels as distracting and potentially dangerous. As Helle Dale notes, person to person contact remains essential. Even in America’s social media world, studies indicate online relationships that have by real world connections are far stronger than those without.

A powerful, important, and too often ignored is the use of the online media by our adversaries. We require culturally aware, linguistically capable actors in the same languages and cultures we are operating in the “meat space.” What you see in your English-language search of Google or YouTube is not the same list as an Arabic-language search using the same .com site. How many know that? This is a far more dangerous world than many realize. Helle Dale’s recommendations are valid but are ultimately a small part of the solution. The institutional dysfunction across Government and the extreme lack of awareness of the requirements in both the executive and legislative branches overshadow any advantage of these recommendations. We have surrendered primary battlegrounds in the struggle for minds and wills. It is time to reverse this and answer counter the highly damaging propaganda of our adversaries.


Report: Al Qaida kills eight times more Muslims than non-Muslims

A recently released and unreported report from West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center has some fuel for the struggle of minds and wills. Deadly Vanguards: A Study of al-Qa’ida’s Violence Against Muslims (PDF, 875kb) is a survey of attacks carried out by Al Qaeda that should be part of a counter-narrative to Al Qaeda’s broadly accepted proposal that they are the champions of Muslims. For too long we have accepted the propaganda of the enemy, allowing him to set the time, place, and vocabulary, all to his advantage. He declared the war was between us and them and we agreed. It wasn’t and it isn’t.

From the report:

The results show that non‐Westerners are much more likely to be killed in an al‐Qa’ida attack. From 2004 to 2008, only 15% percent of the 3,010 victims were Western. During the most recent period studied the numbers skew even further. From 2006 to 2008, only 2% (12 of 661 victims) are from the West, and the remaining 98% are inhabitants of countries with Muslim majorities. During this period, a person of non‐Western origin was 54 times more likely to die in an al‐Qa’ida attack than an individual from the West. The overwhelming majority of al‐Qa’ida victims are Muslims living in Muslim countries, and many are citizens of Iraq, which suffered more al‐Qa’ida attacks than any other country courtesy of the al‐Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) affiliate.

It is interesting to note that the percentage of non‐Western victims increased in the more recent period at the same time that extremist scholars, pundits, and supporters are questioning the indiscriminate use of violence and the targeting of Muslims. Al‐Qa’ida leaders stress that these individuals are not formal members of the organization, but recognizes their legitimacy as scholars and intellectual contributions to the movement nonetheless.

It is a short and required read. Supporting data fills most of the report’s 56 pages. See Deadly Vanguards: A Study of al-Qa’ida’s Violence Against Muslims.

Funny thing happened on the way to the newspaper

A funny thing happened to some facts on their way to the newspaper this week. Last week, on November 23, I blogged on the slate of nominees for the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The night of the 24th I updated post with additional information for Michael Meehan to highlight that he was previously nominated by President Bush to the Board so that it read “…(previously nominated to the Board by President George W. Bush and a business partner of the husband of Judith McHale’s Chief of Staff ).”

A week later on November 30, Al Kamen of The Washington Post’s “In the Loop” graciously mentioned me as pointing out Meehan has a connection to the office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, but did not mention the previous nomination.

Then today, the December 2 edition of “In the Loop” noted what my blog said for the prior week, that Meehan was first nominated by Bush. Where was the clarification that my post had that important data point Kamen’s researcher ignored?

For all the congratulatory email I received for the “In the Loop” mention, there was no noticeable change in the number of visitors to the blog – although digging deeper I found there were an unusual number of visitors from The Washington Post domain – so if I hadn’t known I was mentioned, I wouldn’t have known I was in one of the – if not the – most read gossip columns. Either not many cared about the Meehan-DiMartino connection or not many of Kamen’s readers follow the links he provides to read the source. There’s also the possibility that Kamen’s readers who care about public diplomacy already read this blog and knew the week before about the connection and the previously nomination.

The initial spin on the story was not surprising, the spin in today’s correction was. I’m implicitly portrayed as the one who did not write on Meehan’s previous nomination. Ah, the media.

Event: Public Diplomacy and the United States Information Agency

At the USC Washington, DC, office Thursday, December 10, 2009:

A reception and discussion to celebrate the publication of The Cold War and the United States Information Agency: American Propaganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945-1989, new in paperback.

Discussion to include Dr. Nicholas J. Cull, Professor and Director, USC Master of Public Diplomacy program, and Dr. Michael Schneider, USIA veteran and Professor of Practice, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University

Time and place:

Thursday, December 10, 2009
6:00 pm

USC Washington DC Office
701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Suite 540
Washington, DC 20004
(Navy Memorial metro station)

RSVP here.

Event: The Abolition of USIA and Its Effects on U.S. Public Diplomacy

At The Heritage Foundation December 9, 2009, 10a – 11:30a: The Abolition of USIA and Its Effects on U.S. Public Diplomacy. Speakers include Joe Duffey, Bill Kiehl, Stephen Johnson, Robert Schadler and hosted by Helle Dale.

Founded in 1953, the mission of the United States Information Agency (USIA) was to “understand, inform and influence foreign publics in promotion of the national interest, and to broaden the dialogue between Americans and U.S. institutions and their counterparts abroad.”  For years, USIA was the U.S. government’s public diplomacy arm, charged with telling America’s story abroad.  Ten years ago, USIA was disbanded and its functions were folded into the State Department under the management of Undersecretary of State for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy.  Since then, U.S. public diplomacy has fallen upon hard times.  The new administration has repeatedly proclaimed that U.S. engagement in the world would be revitalized and yet there has been little change at U.S. foreign policy’s lead agency.  Our panelists will analyze the changes that U.S. public diplomacy has gone through in the past 10 years and what should be done to improve America’s ability to “understand, inform and influence foreign publics in promotion of the national interest.”

I won’t be there but RSVP here if you want to be there. I’m interested in your feedback on the discussion.