Strategic Communications and the Graveyard of Empires – John Brown

John Brown

John Brown, a former USIA foreign service officer who is now associated with the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, has posted an article about an apparent dispute within the Obama Administration on the direction of “strategic communications.” Here are some excerpts:

There seems to be yet another bureaucratic battle brewing in Washington. On one side of the ring, we have a high ranking State Department official, Richard Holbrooke, Special Representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan; on the other, an admiral, Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The conflict is over “strategic communications” in Afghanistan and the so-called “Af-Pak” region.


Unlike the Bush administration, which, initially, reacted to the Twin Towers attack in predominantly military terms, Holbrooke advocated the use of “[c]all it public diplomacy, or public affairs, or psychological warfare, or — if you really want to be blunt – propaganda.” He added that “whatever it is called, defining what this war is really about in the minds of the 1 billion Muslims in the world will be of decisive and historic importance.”


Fast forward to June 24, 2009. Holbrooke, now Special Envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, announced in a statement to the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives that “the Administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan,” a “whole-of-government approach,” was moving full speed ahead. To demonstrate this plan, Holbrooke devoted an entire section of his remarks to “strategic communications.”


So “whatever it is called” — public diplomacy, or public affairs, or psychological warfare, propaganda or (if you really want to be blunt) strategic communications — appears to be an essential element in the administration’s “necessary war” (as President Obama recently called it).


Right? Not quite, if at all. Enter Admiral Mullen. In a three-page Joint Force Quarterly article that received considerable media attention this week, he made it bluntly clear that he’s not fan of “strategic communications.” “Frankly,” he notes, “I don’t care for the term.”

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