Reforming U.S. Public Diplomacy for the 21st Century

Required reading for today: Heritage’s latest titled Reforming U.S. Public Diplomacy for the 21st Century by Tony Blankley, Helle C. Dale and Oliver Horn. (also required: President-elect Obama, we need a new kind of public diplomacy by Heritage’s Kim Holmes.)

Margaret Thatcher once said that America is the only nation in the world "built upon an idea." This idea–liberty–has transcended geography and ethnicity to shape American identity and to inspire political discourse, both domestic and foreign, since the nation’s founding nearly two and a half centuries ago. Indeed, John Adams wrote that the American Revolution occurred first "in the hearts and minds of the people." Ideas lie at the very core of this country.

It is therefore both frustrating and ironic that the United States should have such difficulty conveying ideas today. Seven years into the war on terrorism, it has become apparent that final victory must be won not only on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in the hearts and minds of people.

Margaret Thatcher also said that the media is the oxygen of the terrorist. The same is true of the counterterrorist and the counterinsurgent. Being able to communicate ideas and counter misinformation and distortion has always been essential to peace, stability, and national security in general. Understanding that everything we say and everything we do is linked and shapes perceptions is, fortunately, becoming vogue.

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Can Facebook defeat terrorism?

Maybe. From Gutenberg to pre-Revolutionary pamphleteers to the Internet, increasing the access to information has been a catalyst for change. Yesterday, Steve Corman looked at this question and noted that

[w]hile Facebook played an important role in the development of the protest march, it can be better described as a catalyst than a cause.

The media, formal and informal, new and old, is the oxygen both terrorist and counter-terrorist movements require to exist and thrive. The advantage of the latter over the former is truth, transparency, and promising futures. New Media’s ability to engage, mobilize, and empower transcends geography and time. It simultaneously reaches locally and globally, providing instant and “time-shifted” access to text, pictures, and videos. It also fosters trusting peer relationships that add credibility to messages and the movement itself.

Today, the State Department announced an event to facilitate more catalysts for change:

Facebook, Google, YouTube, MTV, Howcast, Columbia Law School and the U.S. Department of State Convene the Alliance of Youth Movements Summit

Dec. 3-5 Summit in New York to Bring Together Global Youth Groups, Tech Experts to Find Best Ways to Use Digital Media to Promote Freedom and Justice, Counter Violence, Extremism and Oppression

New York, NY, November 18, 2008—Facebook, Google, YouTube, MTV, Howcast, Columbia Law School, the U.S. Department of State and Access 360 Media are bringing leaders of 17 pioneering organizations from 15 countries together with technology experts next month in New York for the first-ever conclave to empower youth against violence and oppression through the use of the latest online tools. 

Rising star Jared Cohen (author of Children of Jihad: A Young American’s Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East) is a major force behind this event. The rest of the press release is below the fold.

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You must be agile to be effective in the global information environment

The presidential campaign was a close-to-home example of how speed is essential to modern campaigns of informing and persuading. You must be quick and adept in your response lest your adversary beat you with an effective blow, truthful or not. Truth may be the greatest ally in any struggle for minds and wills from presidential politics to countering Al-Qaeda propaganda in Iraq. But truth is useless if you can’t get the word out.

A barrier to getting the word out includes not having “public affairs authority” to release a statement, or video to counter, or even preempt, adversarial narratives of all sorts of engagements. Only when the media, or the media consumer, is hostage to you does this work. If they have an alternative, even an adversary with a questionable or non-existent track record on the use of facts, they’ll go. The cause is most often a zero-defect approach to information, which is laudable, but this can be costly.

Today, I had the “pleasure” of again witnessing the challenge of not having PA authority. A request for interview came to me. I wasn’t the guy (not geographically desirable, plus there are better people to speak on the subject) so I forwarded the time-sensitive request to others. Of the several key individuals I pinged, all were well-qualified and eager to talk but unable to go on the record within the required window of time because they lacked PA authority. (Another was temporarily geographically undesirable, so that person doesn’t count here.) The result: the requestor went with someone else. In this case, the ‘someone else’ is fortunately a very knowledgeable and smart person that will give a top answer, however this person is tangential to the subject matter and not the preferred respondent. In other cases, we may not be so lucky.

These people were all educated, equipped, and (to some degree) encouraged to communicate (they were at least interested or enthusiastic). What they lacked was empowerment. We can debate the merits of centralized messaging, as well as the demerits, however in the fire hose of the global information environment, the ability to respond swiftly (and of course accurately) matters.

Briefing 2.0 – Answers

Ask questions and you get answers. Assistant Secretary of State Sean McCormack announced a new program to engage the American public in fulfillment of the his mandate “to help Americans understand the importance of foreign affairs.”

Sean took a different route – a hybrid route – than his boss and the Department of Defense, both of whom bypassed the Fourth Estate and went after the proto-/pseudo-/pamphleteering media of the Fifth Estate with their own Blogger Roundtables where the discussion was propagated by the bloggers. Instead, Sean used new media – YouTube, Facebook, and State’s own blog DipNote – to field questions from the general public and respond directly within the host format. Also unlike the Roundtables, where the principal comes to the table with at least one topic to discussion (i.e. is proactive), Sean the Public Affairs Officer is completely reactive: answers are limited to the questions, although the skill of the speaker creates opportunities to go beyond the question.

A few of us thought this interesting, but we did not envy Sean and thought he was a bit optimistic to think what he was about to do would be, as Sean put it, “fun.”

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FCC to Probe “Hidden Hand” Analysts

The Federal Communications Commission is looking into whether the Pentagon’s program to use and leverage retired officers as “message force multipliers.” David Barstow broke the story in The New York Times earlier this year. Today, writing in the Congressional Quarterly, John M. Donnelly’s reports the FCC launched a probe to “address congressional questions about a Pentagon program viewed by some lawmakers as propaganda.”

The FCC is looking into whether TV networks and certain on-air analysts broke the law by failing to disclose to viewers that the apparently independent analysts were in fact part of a Pentagon-funded information campaign, a spokesman for the commission said.

“What I can confirm is that the enforcement bureau at the FCC is looking into this matter, and I can confirm that they have sent letters in connection with it, seeking information,” the spokesman said late Tuesday, without elaborating on when the inquiry began or who its targets are.

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Principles of Strategic Communication (Updated)

This is Part I of two posts on describing “Strategic Communication.” Part II is here. In the coming months, reports and Congressional legislation will attempt to change how the United States communicates with the world. Called “public diplomacy” or “Strategic Communication,” the importance of this type engagement has finally come to the forefront of our national security debate, at least for those taking a serious look at the present and future. Irregular conflict, the present and future reality of war, is based not on our ability to “kill our way to victory” but to operate in a local and global information environment.

When there are no capitals to take or “hearts” to be “won”, real security comes through enduring engagement of local and global groups in a modern proxy struggle for minds and wills. Operating “by, with, and through” such groups not only extends our reach, but acts as a force multiplier against adversaries who elicit support in the global information environment for money, recruits, and sympathetic actions. Think Hamburg, Madrid, London, and Glasgow.

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Boyd and Information Operations

From Air University at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base:

In the midst of the Korean War in the 1950s, an American fighter pilot developed a revolutionary concept that changed tactical, operational and strategic war planning.

Based on his tactical dogfighting experience with North Korean MiGs, Col. John Boyd coined the term OODA (observe, orient, decide and act) Loop, which stresses the importance of collecting, interpreting and reacting to battlefield information faster than the enemy in order to maintain a strategic advantage.

More than 35 Airmen and civilians from installations worldwide converged at Maxwell Air Force Base’s Curtis LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education Aug. 11 through 15 to learn how the OODA Loop and other key concepts apply in information operations.

… “The goal is to give students introductory knowledge of information operations in accordance with Air Force Doctrine Document 2-5,” [course instructor Capt. Ernest McLamb] said.

During the week-long course, students discussed electronic warfare, influence operations and network warfare in the air, space and cyberspace domains. To top things off, students put their new-found knowledge to the test with an exercise simulating an information operations cell within an air operations center. Students like Master Sgt. Michael Brogan were split into three groups to plan an information operations campaign including key concepts such as public affairs strategic communication, network and electronic warfare, and military deception.
“I have a much better understanding how public affairs supports combatant commanders and what we bring to the fight” …

While the graphic is cool (credit: SSgt Jason Lake, author of the above article), it conveys the absolutely wrong image of IO. No doubt unintentional, but note that public affairs is furthest from the foreground.

On the subject of John Boyd, see The John Boyd Roundtable: Debating Science, Strategy, and War edited by Mark Safranski, with a foreword by Tom Barnett. My copy came yesterday; review to come.

(h/t Sam)