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June 05, 2006



Thanks for the report. It seems from your comments on the West Point conference that the working definition of public diplomacy has shifted as the resource rich DOD takes over the term if not the function too. In fact, from your report it would appear that a key political function of government is in the process of being militarized.

In a CFR speech early in the spring Rumsfeld called for increased communications training for military public affairs officials by drawing on private-sector expertise. He also called for creating 24-hour media operations centers and "multifaceted media campaigns" using the Internet, blogs and satellite television that "will result in much less reliance on the traditional print press." Rumsfeld's criticism of the press found echo in the conference as you reported it.

Rumsfeld's CFR speech language about the need to fight “terrorist tyranny” and “militant Islamic radicalism” is echoed in the National Security Strategy where we are told to prepare for a “long struggle, a work of generations, against a new totalitarian ideology grounded in the perversion of a proud religion.” Apparently, by default and given its resources the Defense Department will lead us into ideological battle to win the hearts and minds of the world. What this adds up to is the militarization of a political function.

This inverts the general understanding that countering terrorism involves the use of security forces within the context of a political strategy. By failing to anchor our use of force in a broader political process and instead directing our political advocacy from the defense department we open ourselves up to the delegitimization strategies of others and erode any influence we might have because we compound our loss of credibility or trust. This is a point you appear to have made repeatedly. Were you supported by State and other non-military officials and academics at the conference?

Traditionally, those of us in public diplomacy have actively opposed efforts of military planners to extend their psychological operations to civilian audiences abroad. [Kimmit on Al-Jazeera is public diplomacy, the Lincoln Group payola is not.] Historically, those working in public diplomacy, understood psyops to be an important tactical battlefield function. But, felt it should have no role in creating or carrying out a national strategy for engaging international publics on both policy and socio-cultural issues.

Surely if the concern of the United States government is now the 1.2 billion Muslims "whose minds have been poisoned by extremist views" the target populations for the strategic communication strategy are civilian and they are in Europe as well as in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. This is not a discreet battlefield, it is the world.

It seems to me that our concern should be larger than the enternal argument of advocacy versus dialog. Your description of the conference discussion is disquieting on far more fundamental grounds of the militarization of America's political advocacy abroad. I guess, as a friend of mine likes to say, "this is not your grandmother's public diplomacy."
It isn't mine either.


ya ustez, I just realized that the us ambassador's appearance on "al-Qahira al-Youm" is on the embassy's website.

You might find it interesting:

other stuff in arabic there as well. I'll be intersted to see your evaluation of how he did.


You list "wire tapping" as a source of embarrassment. The 17 terrorists arrested in canada were spotted and red-flagged on internet forums and blogs. After which their online chats were monitored, and at some point, their phones tapped.

Embarassment? No. Success? Yes.

More wiretapping and internet trawling please, US government.

BTW, I'm pretty sure Canada doesn't even HAVE a Patriot Act.

Abu Aardvark, do you think the Arab media is either more or less hostile towards the US than it was in 2001? How about Arab public opinion? More, or less hostile?

If anything, I'd blame the current administration for being too open. They give their enemies too much ammunition, and it gets used against them. Every single day. I'm with the Psyops guys. There's no truth that can be told to teh Arab media that will not be changed into a lie. Why not plant our own lies, instead of letting them create the lies for us?

John Burgess

There's an old PD admonition--which was never given much credence by the "pure politics" types: "You have to be there at the takeoff, as well as at the crash landing."

While some--and, to be fair, an increasing number of--ambassadors get this, making PD an active part of the Embassy's goals, many still pay only lip service. Worst is that the political appointees, who work on a 2-4-8 year basis exclusively, are utterly incapable of looking 15-20-30 years down the road.

PD is not a short-term project. It doesn't pay back until three or four administrations have passed through the White House, a dozen congressional elections. No single "party line" can survive these time scales, a fact that is near impossible to impress upon elected (and appointed) senior officials.

PD has a hard row to hoe. But I applaud even incremental steps.


The big problem, I think, is whether we really are the proverbial pig or not. If we are the "pig," then all that we can do is to put lipstick on the pig--because we can't change what we are. This is the choice that the old Soviet Union faced--that they were so dysfunctional that they could get by only through psyops/censorship/propaganda. I imagine that the Soviet folks in charge of these were very good, but their efforts, at least in the strategic sense, were doomed from the beginning because the truth wasn't with them, so to speak. It is ironic that this board should be invaded at this point by a troll extolling the virtues of propaganda etc.--one should hope that he is totally without any grain of truth, because, if we have to rely on these methods, then we'd be in no better shape than the Soviet Union was--an empire of lies decaying and dying of hypocrisy from within. If, on the other hand, America's virtues are what we believe them to be, and if they are universally appreciated as we hope they are, then honest and earnest engagement, without deception and trickery, is the only game in town.


If, on the other hand, America's virtues are what we believe them to be

They are.

and if they are universally appreciated as we hope they are

They are not. Dead end. What next?

Thanks for the "troll" comment, by the way :D


hk, by the way, I'm somewhat surprised that a media pundit such as yourself doesn't recognize the difference between propaganda and disinformation.


And one more by the way, hk...

then we'd be in no better shape than the Soviet Union was--an empire of lies decaying and dying of hypocrisy from within.

If you think Reagan brought down the Soviet Union with the media, you're woefully misinformed.

Your comment here would be a good example of the disinformation i was talking about in my previous comment. The Arab press picks up on the "little" ignorant things that western journalists publish, whether knowingly or not, and turns them into major high impact negative headlines. The nonsense about White Phosphorous being a chemical weapon, for instance. The BBC backpedaled on that shortly after they published it, but Al Jazeera s cited that one story for MONTHS as proof the US had used weapons of mass destruction in Falluja.

That's what we are up against. And people who say stupid things, like what you just said about teh cause of teh end of the USSR, are not helping.


that was really very good, O Father of Aardvarks.
the problem with our psyops is exactly what you describe. unsubtle.
here is my plan for redeeming al-Hurra-- be what we are.
an MTV-clone for arab and islamic hiphop--no-- for WORLD hiphop, pop, alternative and punk and techno! NO CENSORSHIP!
ADF and DAM and Missy and 50 and Natacha and Subliminal and Iron Sheik!!
make it a 24 hour channel.
islamic soaps.
political and religious debates translated into arabic.
movie reviews.
be commercial--go with what sells.
and quit with the cultural sensitivity issues and just be ourselves.


here's fifteen minutes of programming for a first cut.


Ha, so now I'm a media pundit? Could I be the President of USA too now that you are at it?

Nur al-Cubicle

Speaking of conferences, I went to one myself. Academic experts in empires (esp Roman) say they have been hauled up to the National Defense University, West Point and elsewhere several times to explain how empires (at least in their particular domain) function but were told to cut the cultural crap. Just the control facts.


Hey, I remember you, Nur! You're the one who likes to blog about anti-Arab/anti-Muslim bigotry, while she's making fun of white people and Christians :D

What was the conference about, to have all the "empire" experts there? Re-establishing the caliphate?

hk, my bad... I assumed you were a pundit because that looked like "punditry" to me. A revisionist historian, perhaps?

Nur al-Cubicle

Who is the Craig creature lurking about the Aardvark's crib?


NC - ignore, he likes to make silly remarks and then whine when people call them silly, swear he'll never come back and then pops up again to reveal bottomless ignorance.


Nur, you don't remember me? I'm crushed! Go check through all your racist rantings on your blog from a year ago, and you'll find my comments there.

Or not. You really should remember people who you have grievously offended. They will certainly remember you.


he likes to make silly remarks and then whine when people call them silly, swear he'll never come back and then pops up again to reveal bottomless ignorance.


Love this blog. Such high quality commenting. You're either congratulating each other on your own brilliance or making childish and juvenile personal attacks on anyone who dares to burst your self-important bubbles.

Don't worry. I'm not going anywhere unless Abu Aardvark bans me. I actually enjoy seeing what makes you guys tick. It's an interesting alliance between the western left and the arab mainstream. It really blows my mind how much leftists will whore themselves and what they believe in just to go along with hateful bigots like Nur. Just to oppose the right, on general principals. It's fascinating watching it in play, on this blog.


Nah...I'd still rather be the President of US, since Craig can always whatever people are...

Although the "revisionist" bit is peculiar. Who knew USSR didn't implode.... Maybe they did win after all?

J Thomas

Hk, it's hard for me to be sure I'm right when I attribute cause. But here's my estimate of the main causes for the USSR collapse.

First, they had to dismantle the Gulags etc. Stalin had a lot of people who supported him no matter what, who didn't believe it happened or who thought somehow he didn't know. That support was what kept it going. Khruschev didn't have that support, and he couldn't have kept that system going even if he'd wanted to. So they couldn't keep people as afraid.

Second, they had Chernobyl, and they got caught lying about it. That was like Kastrina here but about 50 times as bad. They didn't warn people who lived in the high fallout zones, and there was no reason not to except they were trying to keep it a secret. Their citizens decided rightly that, never mind nuclear weapons, this was as government that couldn't be trusted with nuclear power plants.

They figured out how much it would cost to clean up the mess and found out they plain couldn't afford it. So, like a failing conglomerate, they sold off their various money-losing subsidiaries.

There's a question whether Chernobyl was due to US sabotage. I see no evidence confirming that. It would be tempting for us -- we'd studied what could have happened at Three Mile Island. We had vietnam, the USSR had afghanistan. We had TMI, they had Chernobyl. Etc. But no evidence.

There are people who claim that we broke the USSR by revving up the arms race. The theory is that when we spent more money on weapons (including weapons that plain didn't work) the soviets would have to do the same thing and they'd increase military spending until their economy broke. It's my understanding that this is false. Instead of increasing military spending beyond their abilities, instead they bluffed us. We weren't going to start a conventional war, and we weren't going to start a nuclear war, so why should they play arms race with us? They didn't do it, although our own domestic propaganda said they did.

But their own public lost all faith in them when they lied about Chernobyl.

Of course there were lots of other components to it. Hard to be sure you're right when you pick out the most important causes. But this is the one that's supported by the evidence I believe.

Hmm. You say "the Soviet Union was--an empire of lies decaying and dying of hypocrisy from within". Fully compatible with my view.

Craig says, "If you think Reagan brought down the Soviet Union with the media, you're woefully misinformed". Also completely compatible with my view. I sort of vaguely wonder where he's disagreeing with you, though it's of no importance.

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