Developing a National Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Strategy

And so the push to make the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Bill of 2009 a vehicle to fix America's communication with the world continues.  Today, Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash) was to introduce an amendment (38k PDF) instructing the President to

develop and submit to Congress a comprehensive interagency strategy for strategic communication and public diplomacy by December 31, 2009 [and] requires the President to submit a report describing the current roles and activities of the Departments of Defense and State in those areas, as well as to assess and report on a key recommendation by the Defense Science Board, by June 30, 2009.

Taking its lead from last year's U.S. National Strategy for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication, the Smith Amendment instructs the U.S. Government to put public diplomacy and strategic communication in direct support of foreign policy objectives, specifically in the areas of counter-terrorism and countering ideological support for terrorism (CIST).  The amendment requires consolidating USG's communication leadership and the consideration that one or more positions at the National Security Council be created. 

Today, I spoke with Rep. Smith about this amendment.  We talked about State's capacity -- he acknowledged the universal truth that State is under-resourced -- and the de-professionalization of the public diplomacy corps as a result of the merger --  he agreed and said the same occurred in the development sector.  The Congressman said it was his intention to empower the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (which should be Jim Glassman as Senator Coburn is no longer blocking his confirmation).  The Congressman worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee to craft the language and does not seem to favor any specific recommendation.  (Rep. Smith and Representative Mac Thornberry (R-TX) are behind the NDAA section on the Strategic Communication Management Board.)

The amendment is mute on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) if for no other reason than Rep. Smith has not looked into their area of operations.  Similarly, the distinction between domestic and foreign audiences is ignored and is not seen as an issue. 

Well-intentioned, it is purposefully broad to guide rather than dictate.  The amendment's lists of products and means to conduct public diplomacy and strategic communication are not, according to Rep. Smith, exclusive.  However, the omissions are almost as important as the commissions as what is written will provide important guidance.  This is particularly important considering the amendment reference to the roundly-criticized strategy in its opening paragraph. 

The amendment does not provide any funding as it only calls for a strategy and a coordination of current activities and capabilities. 

In addition to calling for yet another report, perhaps the most noteworthy distinction of this amendment is the effort to know who is saying what on our side (which is assumed to be only elements of State and Defense).  A key first step in describing, analyzing and acting on how media, both traditional and new, can fit into USG priorities and responsibilities is to find out the "lay of the land".  Almost any conversation on the subject yields new "discoveries" of USG actors presently active or soon to be active in this space.  Who is saying what, even just in Defense, is an unknown.  This isn't as big of a problem in State which has few public "touch points" or ambassadors in the last three feet.  This is the best part of the amendment, and a project already in the works by at least two groups that I know of. 

Although it's too late, below are my top three recommendations to improve the amendment. 

First, U.S. strategic communication and public diplomacy are not the exclusive realm of State and Defense, but the responsibility of the whole of government and the American public.  Remove the language that makes it appear State and Defense own SC/PD. 

Second, de-emphasize tactical solutions and operational specifics and focus more on strategic foundations that build the trust, credibility, and legitimacy required to win a war of ideas.  This includes cultural and educational exchanges.  Drop the Western-style market measurements.  As we focus on our competition as well as our audience success will not be measured in market surveys but in the actions of our competitors and our shared audiences.  There is "no needle that moves or computer that clicks" in this struggle.  

Third, return Smith-Mundt to its purpose and remove the artificial and false prophylactic placed on Defense and State conversations with both the world and the American public.  The Defense Department, and most of State, was never intended to be covered by Smith-Mundt.  State does not need to be reminded of this, but Defense does.  This third proviso would have a significant trickle-down effect and would hopefully erase the troublesome belief that one can "inform without influence".  (A longer paper on this point is coming.)

America's ability to proactively engage in the "war of ideology that is fight unto death" is not be enhanced enough by this amendment.  It simply does not go far enough and must be an effort not of the Armed Services Committee but of the Foreign Affairs (or even Homeland Security) committee which must exercise its role as a critical element of our national defense.  This is short of what is required and ignores the "architectural" problems of our information and engagement activities.   

No word on the House Armed Services Committee's view or when and if similar language will appear in the the Senate Armed Services Committee version. 

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