Failure To Communicate

Failure To Communicate
March 2nd, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Failure To Communicate

Failure To Communicate
Washington Times
March 2, 2008
Pg. B4
By Daniel Gallington
If there ever was a truly objective assessment of how effectively we have waged the war on terrorism, at the top of the "failures" side of the list would be our inability to get our strategic message out in a way that was coordinated and consistent with our objectives on the battlefield.
In a nutshell, we allowed the traditional "public affairs" functions of our government to take precedence over the strategic "information operations" necessary to win the hearts and minds of local populations. You might say: "So what?" or "What's the difference?" or even "Why should I care?" All good questions and ones that we haven't (so far) asked ourselves as part of a conscious, decision-making process to favor traditional public affairs over strategic information operations.
So, what is the difference? Simple: Public affairs is telling people what's happening in government but to an audience that can be reasonably sophisticated. In short, it's what press secretaries do. Information operations and/or public diplomacy is what the bad guys are doing to us so effectively: telling their side of the story, advertising their successes, maximizing our failures and minimizing their losses. In short, it's campaign advertising with a central and persistent message. And, we know that it's extremely effective especially with less sophisticated audiences, such as those who populate much of the Muslim world. If you want to see some of these operations relentlessly at work against us, look at most of the material on Al Jazeera.
Well, if it works so well, why haven't we been doing it? After all, we invented modern advertising. The answer is simple: internal Bush administration politics.
It started innocently enough in 2001 when President Bush brought his public affairs team with him from Texas, and put the person in charge of it (a close friend and confidant) in a predominant position of influence in the White House. Furthermore, the president's public affairs person was in direct "staff to staff" communication with her counterparts at Defense and State, and as a result, the public affairs functions at these agencies quickly gained disproportionate "clout" in comparison to other key staff functions, e.g., policy, legal and special operations. And, because the president's public affairs person was accustomed to "speaking for the president," she often communicated this to her State and Defense counterparts, who used it to further enhance their own influence in their departments.
This may have been harmless enough for a nation at peace, and would have merited at most a footnote in someone's historical account of the George W. Bush administration. In addition, and prior to September 11, 2001, the public affairs function at the White House saw no reason to and therefore did not understand the nature, purpose and function of the National Security Council (NSC), and the two functions worked in vertical "pipelines" with their counterparts at State and Defense.
September 11, and our reaction to it, changed all of that: In essence, White House public affairs quickly claimed all of the bureaucratic turf that involved telling any part of any public anything concerning the war and they got away with it. The newly organized "Office of Strategic Information" in the Pentagon, for example, was ordered shut down because it was inconsistent with the public affairs predominance in all things related to information about the war. In other words, the war didn't need a strategic information component, it just needed a press secretary.
Believe it or not, there was even a serious effort in 2002 to subordinate the NSC to the public affairs function at the White House, in direct contradiction of public law. While this ultimately failed, it was a very determined internal takeover attempt and demonstrated the fragility of the current NSC structure at the White House.
Now for the "down and dirty" part of this sad but true story:
The war on terror is primarily an ideological war and we must fight that part of it as hard and as creatively as we do on the battlefield.
We haven't done this, and it cost us dearly in the battle for local and in-theatre public support, which instead was converted into support for the enemy and mostly as a result of their own aggressive information operations against us.
The military specialty for "Information Operations," a long-time mission of U.S. Special Operations, has largely been unable to gain the traction and influence necessary to make a difference on the ground even in very local theatres of operation, let alone at the strategic level.
Probably most significant, "strategic" information operations prosecuted overseas and targeted against terrorist propaganda have not been allowed to develop and mature because they were perceived as bureaucratic threats to the traditional public affairs function of our government. Ironically, efforts to get strategic information operations off the ground were countered by aggressive public affairs campaigns against them inside our own government.
If we are serious about actually winning the war on terror, we must implement and sustain widespread and effective information operations and public diplomacy programs at both the local and strategic level. This effort has very little in common with dealing with the various press corps and is simply not the work for press secretaries and traditional public affairs people.
Perhaps a new administration will at last be able to bring this enormously effective tool to bear against Muslim extremism, whether the war on the ground continues or not. That being said, there is still no excuse for our long and persistent record of amateurish public diplomacy failures. It is squarely the fault of a few of the president's very closest friends. Like a few others in this category, it looks like they didn't know any better.
Daniel Gallington is a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Va.

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