The Daily Demarche
Monday, May 02, 2005
The Medium is (Still) the Message

Frequent readers know that we like to discuss Public Diplomacy (PD) on this blog- the State Department version of psy-ops, if you will- the battle for hearts and minds. In a nutshell I am not convinced that our current approach to PD is working. At a minimum the information that our government offers to the world is drowned out in the roar of cultural noise that Hollywood and various television and recording studios put out. At worst our efforts do more harm than good.

Not long ago I came across a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report called Interagency Coordination Efforts Hampered by the Lack of a National Communication Strategy. While the title leaves little to the imagination, the following paragraphs sum up the 40 plus page report nicely:

The absence of a national strategy complicates the task of conveying consistent messages and thus achieving mutually reinforcing benefits. The absence of a strategy also increases the risk of making communication mistakes and diminishing the overall efficiency and effectiveness of government wide public diplomacy efforts. As suggested in the Defense Science Board’s latest report on strategic communications, this strategy should originate at the White House level. The report notes that a unifying vision of strategic communications starts with presidential direction and that only White House leadership, with support from cabinet secretaries and Congress, can bring about needed changes. The report suggests that transforming U.S. government communications efforts is critical to protecting U.S. national security interests and must match the strength of commitment made to traditional diplomacy, defense, intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security.

[SNIP]

Coordination of public diplomacy activities is hampered by the lack of a national communication strategy. An initial effort, the creation of the Strategic Communications Policy Coordinating Committee in 2002, did not result in an overall strategy. The Office of Global Communications has been charged by the President with facilitating White House and interagency strategic planning and coordination efforts; however, a recent study and several officials at affected agencies indicated that the Office of Global Communications has not facilitated the coordination of agency efforts by providing needed strategic direction. In addition, the office has not developed a national communication strategy. As a consequence, agencies have developed their own roles and missions and coordinated their activities on an ad hoc basis.

Now I for one am not terribly comforted by the idea that we are coordinating our efforts to reach out to the Muslim world on an ad hoc basis. I was therefore more than pleasantly surprised to find an article called Hearts, Minds and Dollars on the US News and World Report site:

After repeated missteps since the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government has embarked on a campaign of political warfare unmatched since the height of the Cold War. From military psychological-operations teams and CIA covert operatives to openly funded media and think tanks, Washington is plowing tens of millions of dollars into a campaign to influence not only Muslim societies but Islam itself. The previously undisclosed effort was identified in the course of a four-month U.S. News investigation, based on more than 100 interviews and a review of a dozen internal reports and memorandums. Although U.S. officials say they are wary of being drawn into a theological battle, many have concluded that America can no longer sit on the sidelines as radicals and moderates fight over the future of a politicized religion with over a billion followers. The result has been an extraordinary--and growing--effort to influence what officials describe as an Islamic reformation.

Eric at Total Information Awareness addressed this issue last week, and while we are almost diametrically opposed politically his piece is worth reading. Eric, and the author of the report among others, has questioned the idea of the United States government “interfering” in Islam. Eric warns of the possibility of a nasty backlash, and of course that is a very real threat. Then again we have already been lashed repeatedly by militant Islamists- the list of attacks is as familiar to most Americans as the proverbial backs of their hands. US News takes a different approach- the very constitutionality of the matter:

Federal aid is going to restore mosques, save ancient Korans, even build Islamic schools. This broad engagement with Islam has raised questions about whether the funding is legal, given the constitutional line between church and state.

I find this argument somewhat specious- I am no Constitutional scholar, but it seems to me that the split between Church and State, and indeed all matters Constitutional apply only in America. By the line of reasoning espoused above we should have no relationship, or at least offer no support, to any nation that has tied religion into its government. While I am sure that the Left would gladly exclude Israel, should we never again pursue relations with Iran? Or how about Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Denmark, El Salvador, Finland, Greece, Holy See, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Samoa, United Kingdom or Vanuatu- all of which have declared some form of Christianity as their state religion?

We clearly cannot turn away from the Muslim world for fear of backlash or projected concern over Church and State. The Islamic world has been telling us since noon on September 11th 2001 that their religion has been hijacked. It is time for them to step up and prove it, and if it takes US dollars to create the space in which they can un-hijack their religion than we owe it to ourselves to try.

In 2003 The Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World presented their report to the Congress. The 81 page report opens with this:

At a critical time in our nation’s history, the apparatus of public diplomacy has proven inadequate, especially in the Arab and Muslim world.

The fault lies not with the dedicated men and women at the State Department and elsewhere who practice public diplomacy on America’s behalf around the world, but with a system that has become outmoded, lacking both strategic direction and resources. The good news is that Congress and the Executive Branch understand the urgency and are ready to meet the challenge.

The solutions that we advocate match these times, when we are engaged in a major, long-term struggle against the forces of extremism, whether secular or religious. We call for a dramatic transformation in public diplomacy; in the way the U.S. communicates its values and policies to enhance our national security. That transformation requires an immediate end to the absurd and dangerous under funding of public diplomacy in a time of peril, when our enemies have succeeded in spreading viciously inaccurate claims about our intentions and our actions.

Our adversaries’ success in the struggle of ideas is all the more stunning because American values are so widely shared. As one of our Iranian interlocutors put it, “Who has anything against life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?” We were also told that if America does not define itself, the extremists will do it for us.

That is an interesting question which has been posed by this un-named Iranian. Obviously there are many who do oppose those very ideals. We, America, are unlikely to change their minds. We can, however, provide the tools that their country men and co-religionists who do share our ideals need to persuade them. That is our only hope in winning the battle of ideas. As the US News piece correctly points out, this is a never ending struggle- we need to get over our timidity when it comes to religion and use every tool at our disposal. We have allowed the extremists, both domestic and foreign, to define us for too long. It is time for all of the agencies charged with communicating the idea of America to the world to be on the same page. In this struggle of ideologies ad-hoc is simply not going to cut it.

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dé·marche 1) A course of action; a maneuver. 2) A diplomatic representation or protest 3) A statement or protest addressed by citizens to public authorities.

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