I don’t often find myself in very distinguished company, but I have to say that Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff got it right in his press release of August 28, 2009, From the Chairman – Strategic Communication: Getting Back to Basics (http://www.jcs.mil/newsarticle.aspx?ID=142)
DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/
There are four quotes that tell the story:
“It is time for us to take a harder look at “strategic communication.”Frankly, I don’t care for the term. We get too hung up on that word, strategic. If we’ve learned nothing else these past 8 years, it should be that the lines between strategic, operational, and tactical are blurred beyond distinction. This is particularly true in the world of communication, where videos and images plastered on the Web—or even the idea of their being so posted—can and often do drive national security decision making.”
“No, our biggest problem isn’t caves; it’s credibility. Our messages lack credibility because we haven’t invested enough in building trust and relationships, and we haven’t always delivered on promises.The most common questions that I get in Pakistan and Afghanistan are: “Will you really stay with us this time?” “Can we really count on you?” I tell them that we will and that they can, but when it comes to real trust in places such as these, I don’t believe we are even in Year Zero yet. There’s a very long way to go. The irony here is that we know better.”
“I would argue that most strategic communication problems are not communication problems at all. They are policy and execution problems. Each time we fail to live up to our values or don’t follow up on a promise, we look more and more like the arrogant Americans the enemy claims weare.”
“To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate.”
I have no doubt that these statements are right on the money. The question is – who is the Admiral talking to? He is the chief military advisor to the President. The Admiral rightly feels that the ‘strategic communications’ effort has become a nest of bureaucracies whose goals are to feather their nests anc create PowerPoint.
When he talks about “our actions” – exactly whose actions does he have in mind? Given the context of the remarks, one would have to argue that he was talking about USG actions in theater. I don’t think the Chief is talking to the military serving in the AOs. For surely the Chief can influence the actions of the military. I believe what the Admiral is really getting at is that the President needs to have a cohesive communications strategy and the organization and will behind it to get that strategy properly implemented. That the President needs to orchestrate the actions of the entire Executive Branch to walk the walk, not just talk (or PowerPoint) the talk.
Alternatively perhaps the Chief is really talking to Congress hoping that they will use their power in the checks and balances system to bring out the kind of change to the Administration’s communication efforts that today’s world mandates.
Whoever he’s talking to, let’s hope they listen!