Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Congress and Strategic Communications – Are They On The Right Track?

Today’s Washington Post covered comments made by the Senate and House Armed Services Committees concerning Strategic Communications. Rather than point to failings of the military I believe it shows that President Obama – one of the great info warriors of our time – is paying more attention to communicating with the American Voter than to the world audience. (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/27/AR2009072701896.html)
(Pictured are Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Representative Ike Skelton, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee)
There were several key points raised by Congress in the article:

1. Strategic Communications Programs are too big, have grown too fast to allow effective oversight, it is impossible to determine whether the efforts are integrated within DOD or with the broader US government” and Pentagon planning “is insufficient compared to the needs.”
2. The military is producing propaganda and other materials that mask US government sponsorship and focus beyond traditional military IO – they are “alarmingly non-military propaganda, public relations and behavioral modification messaging.”

3. There needs to be a new legal review of the law prohibiting strategic communications (or PSYOP) accessible by American audiences.

Presidential Action Need to Command and Control Strategic Communications

Given that funding for Strategic Communications is rapidly approaching $1Billion and that there is no central control or coordination of these efforts across the USG it seems to me Congress is right on. There are other critical issues here though. First of all it appears that the President has not focused any attention on strategic communication. His information advisors are concentrating on making sure the Health Care Agenda goes forward and are paying scant attention to foreign audiences.

The President or his designated Information Leader needs to be the focal point for Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy because our efforts worldwide are moving to information engagement over kinetic operations and this trend is likely to accelerate over time. The President needs to be mindful of the previous criticism of USG information management and the disaster experienced by the Pentagon Office that sought to address this issue.

There needs to be an approved overall USG information engagement strategy and a designated leader for it reporting to the President. Only be applying the principle of unity of Command will the USG be able to effectively manage its information engagement efforts and determine the adequacy of planning and resourcing for the task.

Information Engagement Must Be More Than Military

Congress has missed the boat on the ‘military nature’ of strategic communications. DOD is the critical resource serving as a conduit of information to civilian audiences. US forces abroad are faced with the need to effectively communicate to foreign audiences on their own soil. This messaging is inherently non-military in nature. The so called ‘winning of hearts and mind’ is no longer the leaflet urging surrender. Rather the messages are support your government, help defeat the insurgents, explore possibilities for a more stable economy – the stuff of nation building and bolstering governments rather than the traditional messages associated with combat.

Information Laws Are Obsolete

The Internet Age has brought the world to smart phones, the notion of ideas being bound by traditional national borders is nonsense and the time has come to amend the laws restricting information engagement even if American audiences can receive the messages.

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