Do we need a National Strategy on Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication?

Here is a question for the community interested in public diplomacy, strategic communication (or signaling integration), and global engagement: Does the U.S. Government need a national strategy on public diplomacy and strategic communication?

My view: yes, the President must issue a strategy that declares the imperative of synchronizing words and deeds across the interagency and within the departments, provides a high-level and flexible definition, and avoids details like specific themes. This document must provide flexible guidance and support to empower organizations to support strategic goals, such as the global information environment, global audiences, telling the truth, bolstering morale and extend hope through actions supported by words (and vice versa) and not words alone, and combating misrepresentation and distortion. 

Building the necessary capacity follows the development of necessary capabilities, which follows developing the appreciation for the need which includes understanding the gap. These all require not only awareness of the modern environment (physical and informational) but also support from the top, hence the need for the President to provide the guidance and imperative necessary to fight the bureaucratic and intellectual inertia that must be overcome for our national (physical and economic) security.

This document would replace the National Strategy for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication by Karen Hughes, which, absent a replacement, continues to come up in conversation.

Your thoughts?

See also:

5 Replies to “Do we need a National Strategy on Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication?”

  1. I think its safe to say the Karen Hughes-developed document is considered OBE. While the NSC-developed ‘1055 report’ is not everything everyone would want (and could it ever be?), is it not a baseline on which department and agencies could build? I think there might be a misconception about the (past) ability of U/S Hughes to direct other Departments (not). Its more important that each Dept and agency have a strong concept of how to organize its own efforts which will make any interagency effort much more productive.That said; having a strong document outlining USG efforts (from this administration) to combat extremism globally would be helpful.

  2. @ErsatzG7,I agree that the Karen Hughes document is *functionally* OBE however it continues to come up in polite conversation, at least in the conversations I’m involved with. In my personal experience, when it does come up, it is usually raised by a foreign national (one time, for example, it was a Romanian officer) but it has also been mentioned by two Americans (one legislative branch, one executive branch) who each raised it as a valid reference to current and future strategy.
    The NSC 1055 report to Congress is not a baseline on which departments and agencies can build because it is not a strategy. It is an organizational framework that did not, according to my discussions on the Hill and it is their perceptions that matter more than mine in this regard, answer the request of Section 1055 of the NDAA. Regardless, the NSC/White House 1055 does not provide the guidance and imperative necessary for some to fight the bureaucratic and intellectual inertia that must be overcome.

  3. Matt, I’m starting to think Dan Kuehl had it right all along. We need a National Information Strategy vice National Strategy for PD and SC. That is, a holistic look at information that considers content, connectivity and cognition. We currently have the “Maginot line” defenders of the net at all costs (to include shutting down social media) in one corner and we have “tweeters” expecting full use and openness in the other. This clash continues to exist and the answer is, of course, a balanced approach that describes both opportunities and threats. A national information strategy that explicitly gave us that would be beneficial.

  4. Let’s not over think SC/PD. The US SC/PD problem is not a lack of strategy or definition. It’s the lack of ability to recognize how its deeds reflect its image. That’s all. Global engagement, cultural exchange programs, American Corner’s are all splendid. But all of these efforts combined reach a small minority of the target audience and in the end, amount to a hill of beans.The overwhelming majority of this target audience, like in say, Pakistan, are staunch in their belief’s that the US is managing some type of global terrorist conspiracy through it’s devious network of think tanks. Do Pakistani’s really see America through its USAID success stories or PAO press release? No, they see it through Drone attacks and a hearty flow of anti-American press.
    Just take the small example of the visa process, on how the real strategy is common sense.:
    Hundreds, if not thousands, of Pakistani’s visit the US Embassy and its Consulate’s on a daily basis. To get to the Embassy in Islamabad, first you must park your car about one-mile from the embassy (for obvious reasons). Then a shuttle bus takes you to security screening area, and once through there, to an outdoor waiting area. People have been known to wait up to six hours outdoors, on hard benches with no water or shade, while sluggish bureaucrats behind a 5-inch thick wall of bullet proof glass call out numbers in a Ben Stein-ish tone. Imagine standing in line at the DMV for six hours, outside in 115 degree heat, then times that by 10. All of this to eventually be denied a visa. I know several Pakistani’s who have gone through this process and their ability to be sympathetic to US goals, practically vanished.
    I’m not suggesting the US up its visa rate as some PD tactic. But at least make these pending rejections somewhat bearable. Why not have air-conditioned tents with free water, televising public diplomacy ads on big screens? Advertisers would kill for six hours of anyone’s time. The US has it!
    So, let’s start by assessing how we’re really affecting people en masse and forget about defining strategic communications, which just seems like a never ending wank.

  5. I agree with Scott. Actions speak louder than words and we’ve seen this happen with Obamas’s speech in cairo. Obama hit it instantly with the public then, but all those good impressions have dissipated as you keep reading comments criticizing Obama as nothing more than a more polished version of Bush and that as far as the Middle east is concerned nothing will change. TVs in the Middles East are still discussing Abu Ghraib abuse, dessication of the Koran in Gunatanamo, unfriendly US Vetos at the Security Council, unilateral decisions on international conflicts, tolerance of Israel’s transgressions against international law and its aggressive ways in the occupied territories and peace ativists. For example the recent attack on the NGO ship in international waters should have been condemned with no reserve especially as America is a strong proponent of NGOs, peacful activism. It should have encouraged Israel to let the ship reach Gazza as a lot of youth are watching this highly mediatized event and a successful completion of the mission would have catalyzed an important change in how the youth behave when faced with injustice. They could have learned that peaceful resistance is more effective than violence. Instead they saw on Tv that joining a peacful NGO can be deadly. This was a lost opportunity and the mild statement issued byt the US confuses people. The public also sees providing a blanc check of billions of tax dollars to support Israel without holding it to any commitements, providing the same state with f-16 and advanced military technology used against unarmed civilians in occupied territories. These are the dominant topics of conversation in the Middle East and they leaveno room to express gratitude for the numerous acts of generosity and support from the American people. Actually people think the aid is given as a bribe to buy people’s submission to foreign powers or help the despot government in place stay in power.As long as we avoid looking at the real issues that everybody knows but avoids to bring up for fear of hurting one’s career, losing a vote, or even genuine mythical beliefs in the superiority or a certain tribe, the country will continue to look for ways to do things differently without success. It’s self defeating. There was a time when Western media and other despotic governments’ mediocre radios and Tvs controlled the airwaves. Thanks to the internet,you tube, blogs, SMS, twitter etc, and the proliferation of native news oulets and satellite TV in the Middle East, people have an infinite choice of outlets. The extremists have succesfully moblised all these resources and manipulated US public positions to brain wash those who are willing and draft them for sinister activities. How does the US establish a credible presence in the midst of this media chaos?
    Both Israel and the US have to be protected against themselves. The pendelum could easily swing in the other direction against Israel since we all know that the administration and Congress positions are based on votes and lobbying power. It’s only a matter of time before the voting pattern changes. It has already happened in several European countries as the immigrant populations continue to take root and influence national politics both through vote and occupying decision making positions in the legislative and executive. Where would Israel find itself then? The US must help them now use their position of strength to estblish real peace with their neighbours instead of exploiting every little weakness to inflict more destruction and misery. Any startegy that does not include this factor and uses morality and ethics as foundations for asserting the nation’s interests is doomed.

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