Preparing to Lose the Information War?

It has now been eight years since 9/11 and we finally seem to understand that in the modern struggles against terrorism, insurgency, and instability, the tools of public diplomacy are invaluable and essential. We live in a world where an individual with a camera phone can wield more influence than an F-22 stealth fighter jet. The capability of engaging public audiences has long been thought of as the domain of civilians. But for the past eight years, the functions, authorities, and funding for engaging global audiences, from anti-AIDS literature to soccer balls to development projects, has migrated from the State Department to the Defense Department. It seems whole forests have fallen over the same period on the need to enhance civilian agencies – be it the State Department or a new USIA-like entity – to provide a valid alternative to the Defense Department who most, even the detractors, agree was filling a void left by civilians who abrogated their responsibility for one reason or another.
This summer may be a turning point. Some in Congress have unilaterally decided that 2010 is the year America’s public diplomacy will stop wearing combat boots. Sounds good, right? This is the future most, including analysts and the military, have wished for. The military has been the unwilling (if passionate once engaged) and often clumsy surrogate and partner for the State Department in representing the US and its interests in Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere around the world through what the House Armed Services Committee now calls “military public diplomacy.” In some regions, State is almost wholly dependent on Defense money and resources to accomplish its mandate.

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