New Caucus To Probe Strategic Communication, Public Diplomacy

Inside the Pentagon reports on the new caucus on the Hill that shows the level of heightening interest in improving America’s global engagement. In “New Caucus To Probe Strategic Communication, Public Diplomacy”, dated 11 March 2010, reporter Fawzia Sheikh writes:

A new Capitol Hill caucus focused on strategic communication and public diplomacy officially launched last week and plans to study the latest government efforts in these domains during its inaugural meeting later this month, according to a congressional source.

A new Pentagon report on strategic communication, a State Department plan on public diplomacy and a National Security Council framework outlining how agencies will collaborate in these areas will be among the discussion topics, the congressional source said on the condition of anonymity. (See related story.)

Reps. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Mac Thornberry (R-TX) are heading the caucus, which is still being rounded out, the source told Inside the Pentagon. Organizers have collected the names of three other Republicans and three additional Democrats interested in joining, said the source. There has also been “a lot of interest at the staff level,” including the House Foreign Affairs Committee, defense authorizers and “other elements of the congressional staff,” the source said.

“Given the interest in this issue,” added Michael Amato, Smith’s spokesman, “we expect a significant number of members to join the caucus.”

The rest of the article follows.

In an era where more and more people have access to a wide variety of digital media, “misinformation about U.S. actions can be quickly disseminated to millions, damaging our country’s reputation when not vigorously countered in a timely fashion,” Smith and Thornberry write in a March 2 letter to colleagues announcing the caucus.

In order for foreign audiences to better understand our objectives and message, the United States must be able to understand and engage these audiences, the congressmen write.

“It is time that America finds creative new approaches to deny internet safe havens, communicate directly to the people of the world, and renew the positive reputation of our country abroad,” the letter continues. “Yet, U.S. strategic communication and public diplomacy lacks a clear strategy, as well as the tools and resources to achieve results.”

The Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Caucus seeks to raise awareness of the challenges facing these issues and offer multiple perspectives on proposed solutions, according to the letter.

The idea was to “create more informed legislators, which hopefully will create more informed legislation,” noted a source familiar with the caucus. Too often, added the source, “members and staff don’t really understand the holistic problem; they only see a sliver.”

These off-the-record briefings will take place roughly every four to six weeks, this source noted.

The American Engagement Caucus, in contrast, focuses on the role the United States can play in strengthening international institutions like the United Nations, which is essential to respond effectively to global challenges. To achieve its security objectives, the United States must project “smart power,” a blend of military strength and creative diplomacy, according to the caucus. Reps. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) and Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-LA) lead this group, which was officially launched in January.

The Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Caucus held a preliminary briefing discussing budget-related issues in November, according to the source familiar with the caucus. Future meetings may examine the difference between public diplomacy and strategic communication and the corresponding roles of stakeholders, as well as adversarial use of new media, including a discussion on how al Qaeda and the Taliban use YouTube and Google, said this source.

Another topic may include the “difference between public affairs and the whitest-of-white” psychological operations, added the source.

The Smith-Mundt Act, which governs U.S. global engagement, will also be a subject of discussion down the line, the source told ITP.

The role of business and technology in strategic communication and public diplomacy may also show up on a future meeting agenda, the congressional source stated. Caucus members may probe previous efforts in this area like the Voice of America and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, in addition to past legislation and reports on how to reform strategic communication, added the congressional source.

U.S. strategic communication and public diplomacy efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan may also be reviewed during caucus meetings, Amato told ITP. -- Fawzia Sheikh

See also: