Washington Times Editorial: Fighting the War of Ideas

Strongly recommend reading the unsigned editorial in The Washington Times titled “Fighting the War of Ideas: Congress leans toward unilateral disarmament in info ops”:

Information operations are known by many names -- public diplomacy, strategic influence, political warfare -- but the purpose is the point. It's vital for America to advance national security by changing the way people think about our country and challenging the negative messages spread by our adversaries. …

Ideally, the United States would pursue information operations through an integrated, coordinated interagency program following a coherent strategy aimed at achieving critical strategic effects. This would require a major presidential initiative, something President George W. Bush did not do but which President Obama may yet undertake. In the meantime, the Defense Department is the sole government agency adequately executing this mission. If the Pentagon goes silent, the field will be left to our adversaries. In the battle of ideas, Congress is forcing unilateral disarmament.

Congress is understandably concerned about the role of the Defense Department in America’s strategic communication and public diplomacy. But as Congress wakes up to the reality that American public diplomacy wears combat boots, Congress and the public should remember the history of recent years.

Since 9/11, the Defense Department has been America’s unwitting, reluctant, and often clumsy ambassador to foreign publics. The Defense Department was given the lead in communicating to the American public and the world as the Bush White House deferred to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and others.

While the Secretaries of Defense under George W. Bush, both Rumsfeld and Robert M. Gates, and not Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, were repeatedly asked about the need to counter enemy propaganda and whether the United States Information Agency should be reestablished. During the same time, from the government, think tanks, and academia, report after report came out clamoring for more funding for and changes at the State Department to take the lead in representing America abroad and countering accidental misinformation and intentional disinformation. And yet Congress remained understandably reticent to increase funding for a State Department they had little confidence in. (When Congress did put in money, for example $2m to fund private-public interagency partnerships in the FY2009 budget, the money was never spent because of a lack of leadership, strategy, and bureaucratic intransigence.)

The primary and essential nature of the conflict we are engaged in today against terrorism, insurgency, and even H1N1 and the economy is one of information, perceptions, confidence and visions of the future. But the US has a long way to organize and arm for this struggle.

For example, defeating terrorism and insurgency requires combating them as the propaganda activities they are. Both are information operations supported by death and destruction to affect change. Both require requiring accessing and influencing local and global audiences to elicit sympathetic actions and undermine morale and support for counter operations. Success in the struggle for minds and wills requires undermining the tactics and goals of terrorism and insurgency through exposure, ownership, and bringing actions in line with words. Information activities are essential to create the conditions for self-governance, security, and commerce.

Also worth reading, Clifford May’s write-up on Ilan Berman’s new book, Winning the Long War where is hits on the dysfunction of America’s public diplomacy and strategic communication operations:

Berman observes that since the end of the Cold War, U.S. strategic communications has "suffered death by a thousand cuts," and that the current system is plagued by "systemic dysfunctions."

One example: American broadcasting abroad is overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, part-time volunteers, mainly prominent businessmen and media figures. Berman quotes one board member, in 2002, saying: "We've got to think of ourselves as separate from public diplomacy."

Why would an entity set up for the purpose of public diplomacy want to distance itself from that mission? What mission would it undertake instead? Why has this contradiction not been addressed by either the Bush or Obama administrations?

Berman gives higher marks to the U.S. Treasury Department, which has waged economic warfare by seizing or freezing hundred of millions of dollars that otherwise would have gone to al-Qaeda and similar organizations.

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