#1 Afghan People, #2 Afghan National Security Force

COIN-Fox Company

The tactical guys in the field understand the significance of influence. From Command Sergeant Major Michael T. Hall at NATO ISAF HQ:

[The words on this cardboard] encapsulates everything we’re trying to achieve in Afghanistan at the strategic, operational and tactical level on a single piece of cardboard that is understood and practiced at every level in Fox Company.

We have all have got to take the mental leap and realize that the best way to protect ourselves and the population is thru the Afghan people and the ANSF.

Everywhere we build trust, there are examples of this. The ANSF are, our relief, treat them that way, help develop them that way, and understand it has to be an Afghan way, or it will not be sustainable and everyone knows that. We have to push as hard as we can, but the push can only be lead by example, and sometimes that doesn’t seem to be enough, but, remember, we have tours, this is life for them.

The cardboard reads from Fox Company 2/2 US Marines reads:

Best counter to IEDs: #1 The Afghan people, #2 ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] partners and then metal detectors, dogs, [Afghan] BOSS, [Airplanes], etc. More than 80% of our IED finds have been the direct result of tips from local nationals because of the respect that you show to the people – and because they’ve watched you ruthlessly close with and destroy the enemy. Never forget that the best X-IED TTP’s = #1 the Afghan people & #2 our ANSF partners.

See also:

Burn the Books: What China’s decision on Google reveals about the PRC

By Carson Thomas Checketts

“When ideas fail, words come in very handy.” – Goethe

Something or someone in the PRC has failed. China’s attempts to attack Google betray a deep discomfort with the PRC’s own decision to ban the worlds leading technology leader from its shores. Perhaps, given Goethe’s insight, it’s fair to say that the PRC’s “ideas” have failed so it is now resorting to all it has left: words. Despite a widely shared international consensus among academics[1] that an industrial revolution remains hollow without a transition to a services and information based economy, China has turned its back on its own modernization. This change has many implications for the world, but perhaps the most significant is that the Google decision shows who really holds the cards in the PRC’s inner circle. It would appear the less educated military may have moved from a position of moderate influence into the inner circle, where their paranoia has apparently convinced China that technology is what ancients called a “Greek gift,” intended to harm rather than enlighten the recipient.

Continue reading “Burn the Books: What China’s decision on Google reveals about the PRC

Guest Post: Explaining Why Afghanistan Matters – Whose Job Is It?

By Tom Brouns

As highlighted in this blog and others, the use of “new” and “social” media by military and government organizations as a part of their public communication strategy is undergoing a quiet evolution – or in some cases, revolution.  Where consensus between allies is not a concern, organizations like US Forces – Afghanistan are taking the bull by the horns: their Facebook page amassed 14,000 fans in six weeks, and their 4500+ followers on Twitter are nothing to sneeze at.  In an alliance like NATO, progress has to be a bit more tentative and exploratory.  Regardless of the pace, increasing dialogue and transparency between military organizations and their publics should be seen as a positive thing.

Continue reading “Guest Post: Explaining Why Afghanistan Matters – Whose Job Is It?

Making Diplomacy Public

Continuing on the subject of defining public diplomacy, it’s important to recall that a key feature of international relations is and always has been the need for and ability of individuals to affect – and defend against – influence. Classic realpolitik authors from E.H. Carr, writing in The Twenty Years’ Crisis, and Hans Morgenthau, in Politics Among Nations, described the importance of public opinion and national morale in international relations.

Briefing 2.0 by Sean McCormack (see similar from the UK) and roundtable discussions by Under Secretary Jim Glassman are important to loop the public into the process. It can also spark an interest by the mainstream media, something the DOD Blogger Roundtable is rather proud of.

It is essential the public, both foreign and domestic, be realized as central to the enduring psychological struggle of minds and wills. They are not only the target the persuasion from information activities to cultural and educational exchanges, but the agents of influence themselves. As I wrote in the Routledge Handbook of Public Diplomacy,

Continue reading “Making Diplomacy Public

Wanted: Islamic Religious Specialist for COIN and IO

Walter Pincus writes in The Washington Post about Bagram’s expansion:

Bagram has become a central location for holding detainees picked up in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Similar to its activities in Iraq, the U.S. military has begun hiring intelligence contractors, many with military experience, to screen those captured to determine whether they should be held as enemy combatants. This month, the military advertised for an “Islamic religious specialist” to support “counterinsurgency and information operations” in the Bagram prison.

That person’s job would be to “deliver Islamic religious services for enemy combatants detained” with the facility and also “act as a linguist/interpreter in emergency situations,” according to the statement of work attached to the contract solicitation.

I hope the military, or their contractor, reads Task Force 134’s Strategic Communication Plan

For our purposes as the counterinsurgent force, we will consider it an absolute imperative that our actions are fully congruent with the ideals that we promote. There can be no “gap” between what we say and what we do.

Beyond reading the plan, will they follow the requirement of working by, with,and through locally legitimate and trusted resources?

See also:

Book Review: Losing Arab Hearts and Minds by Steve Tatham

In the global information environment, the media influences public opinion and government policy around the world. It conveys to the public not only what the government is doing, but provides a feedback loop to the government through the coverage created by editors and reporters in response to their listeners, viewers, readers, and sponsors, whether advertisers or owners. Policies can no longer be presented to the public in the abstract as they are constantly measured against images on television, in the newspaper, and online, around the clock and around the world.

Reports on American Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication are filled with examples of how the United States failed to engage the Arab public since 9/11. These have come from the Defense Sciences Board, the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, and numerous think tanks, and more will appear as we near the end of 2008 and the end of the Bush Administration. There are also several books on the subject, see below for more on these, however none closely examines the critical relationship between the U.S. Defense Department and the Arab media and public. There is one book that does explore this “last three feet” of engagement and you’ve probably never heard of it.

Losing Arab Hearts and Minds: The Coalition, Al Jazeera and Muslim Public Opinion is by Steve Tatham, a serving officer (now Commander) in the Royal Navy. He was the Royal Navy’s public spokesman in Iraq from 2002-2003 and is uniquely qualified to give an outsider’s “inside” view of the Coalition’s engagement with the Arab media, or rather their intentional non-engagement with Arab media.

Drawing on first hand experience and other resources, Steve carefully and thoroughly describes the media affairs of the Coalition, notably of the United States. He does so on a foundation he establishes in the first one hundred pages as he explores the biases of the Americans, the British, and the Arab world. This includes superb analysis of the public statements from the Bush Administration, the American media environment (including “The Fox Factor”), lessons learned from the 1991 Gulf War, and Hollywood influences. He also looks at the major Arab media and their evolution, America’s response, such as the creation of Al-Hurra, with a scholarly, yet conversational, examination. His insider’s view of operations at and the people running the Information Centers in Doha, Kuwait, and Bahrain amplifies the theme of the book: that the United States public affairs were focused almost exclusively on the American public.

The tactical maneuvering of ignoring the Arab media created substantial handicaps in our ability to get the word out. By excluding a critical link to the Arab public, the very people the President would claimed was the purpose for the invasion (“to bring democracy”), air time would be filled not by our information and explanations. The resulting information product would spiral down.

To exclude significant media who speak to major target audiences was a combination of naivete and even arrogance and was not restricted to the Arab media. Threaded through the book is the truth the United States, and the military in particular, has only recently begun to come to grips with: that perceptions matter more than intent and that operational activities must be formed and guided by the information they generate and not followed ad hoc by a communication plan. Steve quotes an Al Jazeera executive, who said

By merely disseminating a point of view the battle is not finished. It take more than information to convince public opinion of your good will towards the Arab world.

Steve does a superb job exploring the frustration, prejudice, and ignorance displayed by America toward the Arab media and Arab public opinion and how it undermined the engagement and understanding of a critical, if not the critical, audience in the global struggle for minds and wills. Losing Arab Hearts and Minds is required reading for those interested in Public Diplomacy, Strategic Communication, Information Operations, and general military-media engagement. The failure of the Coalition, and the United States Defense Department specifically, to engage the Arab media was lost the battle for ‘hearts and minds’ before it really began.

Related Reading:

The War of Ideas: UK edition

The new Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Jim Glassman, reinvigorated the concept that the “War of Ideas” is central to our national security. It is, as he describes it, a field of battle whose purpose is to “use the tools of ideological engagement — words, deeds, and images — to create an environment hostile to violent extremism.” While admittedly the phrase isn’t perfect, as he acknowledges, it conveys purpose and mobilizes the Government for the struggle minds and wills.

How do you arm yourself for this struggle? You understand the adversary and its support systems. In the case of Al Qaeda, an organization that has arguably lost much of its central operational capabilities (although there are arguments it is rebuilding and gaining strength), you undermine the brand on which hopes and myths are based. To be effective, the message must reach all elements of societies in all corners. The key effort must be to separate the base from the group and to isolate the group. Creating questions in the support group and the ‘swing voters’ that the adversary cannot answer, has proven it cannot answer, reduces the moral, social, and financial support, not to mention their ability to recruit.

On this point, read The Guardian’s Britain’s secret propaganda war against al-Qaida:

The document also shows that Whitehall counter-terrorism experts intend to exploit new media websites and outlets with a proposal to "channel messages through volunteers in internet forums" as part of their campaign. …

The report, headed, Challenging violent extremist ideology through communications, says: "We are pushing this material to UK media channels, eg, a BBC radio programme exposing tensions between AQ leadership and supporters. And a restricted working group will communicate niche messages through media and non-media." …

The government campaign is based upon the premise that al-Qaida is waning worldwide and can appear vulnerable on issues such as declining popularity; its rejection by credible figures, especially religious ones, and details of atrocities.

The Whitehall propaganda unit is collecting material to target these vulnerabilities under three themes. They are that al-Qaida is losing support; "they are not heroes and don’t have answers; and that they harm you, your country and your livelihood".

Of course, this isn’t original. A certain element of the Defense Department has been working the angle of attacking Al-Qaeda’s brand for a year or more. What is new is that it’s in the public sphere.

Public Diplomacy tip: speak to audiences as if they were investors, because they are

From the interesting (and required) Hill and Knowlton blog, another tip for public diplomats (or global communicators) and those looking to revamp America’s global engagement.

Lots of hits on your [Investor Relations] website does not equate to IR success.  It may just be your webmaster and employees hitting the site and inflating your stats.

Putting together an impressive IR presentation with lots of cool graphics does not equate to IR success.  Cool graphics are no substitute for good performance and direct communication of your strategy.

Hosting an event and having lots of analysts and investors in the room does not equate to IR success – I hate to tell you this, but many of those guys in the room are probably there for the free lunch.

Meaningful and engaging communication with analysts, investors, and prospective investors – now that’s IR success.

This meaningful and engaging communication happens via telephone, email, one on one meeting, group meeting, quarterly earnings call, or blog interaction.

For some reason, many companies (especially small caps) don’t get this.

Yup, for some reason, people in general just don’t get this.

See also:

Today’s Recommended Reading on Public Diplomacy

Several recommendations for you on the subject of public diplomacy.

Check out and subscribe to Craig Hayden and Shawn Powers’ Intermap.org.

The Intermap website and blog presents news, opinions, and research on issues related to communication-centric foreign policy, public diplomacy, global media and news flows. More broadly, this site aims to investigate the intersections between communication, media studies and international relations scholarship that deal directly with how global controversies and politics are carried and sustained through media. We call this media argument: where media outlets, technologies, and tactics represent the symbolic and visual space for the contest of ideas between nations, citizens, non-state actors.

Recent posts:

Read David Steven’s June post The new public diplomacy and Afghanistan at the Global Dashboard.

… I believe there are three key interlocking problems:

  • A lack of understanding. …
  • A lack of interoperability. …
  • A lack of understanding and interoperability translates into persistent strategic and tactical failings. …

The starting point for change is to:

  • Accept that influence is now core currency for all arms of international relations – foreign policy, development assistance, and military operations.
  • Build a common language and joint concepts across these disciplines – not just at a national level, but internationally, in order to allow the effective operation of multinational, multi-sectoral coalitions and networks.

However, the barriers to change are sizeable, while the knowledge to surmount them is fragmented across sectors and disciplines. The first battle for ‘hearts and minds’ therefore needs to be won in our own organisations – within governments, between governments, and between governments and a range of non-governmental organisations.

See Marc Tyrrell’s 3-part series a lengthy and very scholarly discussion on asymmetric conflict as a struggle for minds and wills

It is important to remember that the goal of warfare for many of the current groups is control over the interpretive framework of a population, not actual, physical control over the geographic area, that will flow inevitably from control over the framework and massive military costs. For many of these groups, kinetic operations, “violence”, is merely a means to an end that is shaped not by the logic of violence but, rather, by the logic of communications; a lesson learned from Vietnam where the insurgents lost almost all of the battles, but won the war.


Also, check out the latest addition to the blogosphere, Chasing the Flame. This is Samantha Powers’ project to “tell the story of the peace-maker Sergio Vieira de Mello and introduce audiences to the kind of conviction and insight that inspires movements.” That movement is to build a “movement for a smart U.S. foreign policy.” 

Who engages and informs the American public on foreign affairs?

imageimageWho engages and informs the American public on foreign affairs.  It isn’t the media.

This shows Lara Logan’s lament about television’s cutback is a reality in print. 

Read the New York Times article, the Pew Research Center website, and the Journalism.org site (including this page).  If you don’t want to read them all, read the last link:

The survey used three different measures to probe the question. It asked about space devoted to a range of topics. It asked about the amount of reporting resources assigned to cover each topic. And it asked how essential editors thought each topic was to their paper’s identity.

By all three measures, international news is rapidly losing ground at rates greater than any other topic area. Roughly two-thirds (64%) of newsroom executives said the space devoted to foreign news in their newspaper had dropped over the past three years. Nearly half (46%) say they have reduced the resources devoted to covering the topic-also the highest percentage recording a drop. Only 10% said they considered foreign coverage “very essential.”

This decline in foreign news occurs as U.S. armed forces confront stubborn insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Administration talks of a global war on terrorism and international trade increasingly impacts the everyday lives of Americans.

Is domestic broadcast media picking up the slack?  Kim shares a report that CNN might be with (only?) one show: Fareed Zakaria’s GPS:

“‘Fareed Zakaria GPS’ (GPS stands for ‘Global Public Square’) … is, in effect, an international version of “Meet The Press,” with prominent newsmakers answering his tough, well-researched questions. … In an era in which Americans are demanding — and thus getting — less international news, Zakaria’s ‘GPS’ is an auspicious event indeed. Only ‘BBC World News’ has been offering this kind of responsible global perspective and news to U.S. view." Bill Mann, Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA), 20 July 2008.

Obviously the first story has Smith-Mundt implications – who tells the story of what’s happening overseas if it isn’t the media?  Telling “America’s story to the world”?  What about telling it at home?  At one time, the major media, print and broadcast, and the government had a cooperative relationship.  At one time, the products of US information activities were to be easily available to academics, Congress, and the media and were not to be under any limit on domestic redistribution.  Things have changed.  Today, the American public knows little about what is said and done in its name overseas.  Today, the American public is subject to the “inform but not influence” mentality of press releases and sound bites designed not to educate, engage, and truly inform but to pierce the media’s filter. 

Once upon a time, the government subsidized the overseas purchase of US news, books, and film to the tune of $15m in 1948.  The Informational Media Guarantee program was put (buried) into the European Recover Act, aka the Marshall Plan.  Think we should do that again?  Makes you think.

Unrelated, congratulations to Chris Albon and his journey with SOUTHCOM on the USS Kearsarge

That’s it for now.