A short while back I wrote about the cost the U.S. incurred by State's unchecked desire to keep its principals off the 'X' and a while back I arranged discussions on the role of private military contractors play in public diplomacy. Nicholas Kralev, writing in the Washington Times, has more on State's inept understanding of the environment in which it works.
The State Department cited legal reasons in turning down a 2005 request from Blackwater USA to install cameras in official U.S. motorcades protected by employees of the security contractor in Iraq, The Washington Times has learned.
Blackwater's request is more than about protecting Blackwater, it is about the U.S. protecting itself and its mission. Blackwater is an agent of the U.S. and a representative of the U.S. This is about the U.S. participating in and countering enemy propaganda. State has systematically denied its role in the war of perceptions and this is just the latest example of how it rejects reality.
In contrast, the Defense Department provides massive amounts of video, a broadcast channel, even going so far as to create a YouTube account for MNF-Iraq. And don't forget to count soldiers' personal video recorders as well. (Of course, there are the differences in State and Defense's approach to the blogosphere).
Instead of providing more information, State sticks to its 19th Century role of speaking privately and taking the corporate defense that less information is better (which is extendable to destroying data as soon the retention schedule permits it, or rather, when legally permissible to do so, which I'm sure will surface soon). State minimizes information so it can't be held accountable -- which is a false hope. Even if it shuts its eyes really, really hard, others saw the event and a vastly greater audience heard unchallenged reports of the event. Closing its eyes and pretending the world of information isn't an adequate defense. For the criticisms of Blackwater, they knew the value of video recording.
Hell, even NATO is seeing the value of sharing video.
The imbroglio over contractors is good. It's a discussion that's long, long overdue. It's unfortunate, however, that the spark was State's failure to comprehend and manage its presence in Iraq. Information continues to come out how the tactics of Blackwater were encouraged and explicitly or implicitly condoned by State.
And while we're talking about public diplomacy, where is Karen Hughes' office in this? Are her bloggers still slinging "official government positions" in the comments sections of blogs? Hard to say, but not much to say to cover up a bad policy.
UPDATE: Iraq is moving to repeal CPA Order 17 and of yesterday (23 Oct 07), rumor has it Blackwater is "flying out 90-120" of its contractors a day, although that seems high.
- The Cost of Keeping the Principal off the X (Updated)
- Mercenaries: Useless and Dangerous? It is a matter of choice
- IED as a Weapon of Strategic Influence: Creating the Blackwater Nightmare
- Rescinding CPA Order 17
- Congress continues to screw up its priorities and we still don't get privatization issue