A Look at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: A Historical Look at the Politics of US Information Warfare

Notes & details behind my 8-minute presentation

Since mid-2022, my primary outlet has been mountainrunner.substack.com. The mountainrunner.us site will continue to exist, and I will occasionally repost articles from my substack here. However, these reposts, like the one you are about to read, will be neither timely nor include all of my substack work. In other words, if you want to follow my writing, I suggest you subscribe to my substack where this post first appeared on 24 April 2023. The substack version of this article includes substantial footnotes that were not copied to the version below.  

I spoke at the #Connexions Conference on Global Media in Diplomacy and Foreign Policy this past Monday. The event was held at the University of Texas at Austin, and while I was remote, Dr. Nick Cull, the discussant, and Jeff Trimble, the moderator, were both in-person. 

The conference keynote was given by Ukrainian Ambassador to the US Oksana Markarova, whose comments are worth your time

Our panel was titled “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: A Historical Look at the Politics of US Information Warfare.” We immediately followed the Ambassador’s keynote to provide a kind of scene-setter (at the 1hr mark at the above link). That was the hopeful intent to try to push conversations into either accurate and meaningful invocations of history in support of their arguments or leave aside the history they misread, don’t understand, or invent. One subsequent presentation, for example, checked all three boxes quickly, even as the presenter could have left out their (inaccurate) historical narrative without affecting anything. 

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Recommended Reading: Cull on Lugar’s leadership in America’s leaderless Public Diplomacy

Read Nick Cull’s post on the strategic pause that is today’s American public diplomacy, Lugar To The Rescue: Senate Committee Backs ‘Science Envoy’ Plan:

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously lamented "How much of human life is lost in waiting" and observers of U.S. public diplomacy these last few months could be forgiven for saying the same thing. While other areas of government have something to show for the first one-hundred days of the Obama administration, formal public diplomacy initiatives have been hard to find. The president himself has led the way admirably with his interview on Al Arabiya, a Nowruz message to Iran and public rejection of landmark Bush excesses, but the Department of State has been slow to follow up. This stands in stark contrast to the crescendo of web 2.0 activity that marked the final months of James Glassman’s tenure as Under Secretary. Indeed, a range of initiatives planned, approved and funded during the Glassman period have been held in limbo pending the arrival of the new Under Secretary, Judith McHale. Bureaucrats are always timid during transitions. This being so, it is especially heartening to see the leadership coming from the Senate in the form of initiatives from the ranking minority member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Dick Lugar.

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Blogging on Public Diplomacy: the UK in the USA

I have been pushing for our  overseas embassies blog, conduct blogger roundtables similar to the Under Secretary’s Blogger Roundtable that was based on a format established by the DOD Blogger Roundtable. And while I was told it is happening in the EUR bureau, I never heard the details.

All the while, the Brits have been doing it here. Andy Pryce, First Secretary Public Affairs Washington (gasp, Public Affairs is Public Diplomacy??), drew my attention to a plethora of FCO blogs around the world. There are parallels here to DipNote, the State Department’s public affairs blog, such as both are published by the respective foreign ministries and both include multiple voices. I think DipNote is doing well and has come along way, but it might look at the FCO effort for tips (including dumping the dark background).

As far as the current (as of this writing) post titled The Importance of Being Credible, I think Nick Cull’s seven steps are missing a tremendously important step (disclosure: I studied under Nick for my Master in Public Diplomacy): understanding. Yes, you must listen, pay attention to the implications of a “say-do” gap, realize you’re operating in a global information environment, etc. But unless you understand what you’re hearing when you listen and the what the target and non-target audiences are hearing when you speak and act, everything else crumbles. This is perhaps the greatest vector that public diplomacy is “not about you” but about them. Especially today, it is not “us versus them” but “them versus them”.

Check out Andy Pryce’s blog and poke around the Foreign Commonwealth Office’s other UK in the USA blogs.