Getting serious about strategic influence
The US isn’t declining as a world power because of the war on terrorism. It’s declining because it has ceased to be serious about using strategic influence. The United States has become a military Achilles but a political Lilliputian.
“More troops” seems to be the universal answer to the world’s security problems. Plus weak, plaintive cries for “more public diplomacy.” Whatever that is. And then there’s the newest fad: “strategic communication.”
Yeah, that’s the ticket: more strategic communication. Really! But wait – Does the government have an active, functioning machine that’s doing the huge job of strategic communication? Can anybody name the government official currently responsible for the job? Is that person being effective? Does he or she have the right tools, resources, personnel and procedures? Is there anybody on the National Security Council with the stature and authority to coordinate the “strategic communication” of the world’s sole superpower?
Of course not. That’s part of the problem. I take a look at the issue in the current issue of the Journal of International Security Affairs – a journal, by the way, that’s crammed with thought-provoking material on the subject of influence during war and peace. (My only quibble with the journal is that my friends, the editors and publisher, are capitalistic types who actually want readers to buy their publication, so the articles aren’t available yet online.)
You can download a pdf of my essay, “Getting Serious About Strategic Influence,” here: Download Waller JINSA Fall09. Meanwhile, here are some of the highlights:
- The mission of strategic communication “must be similar to the mission of the armed forces: to project American power and influence and provide a permanent system through which to ensure the national interest globally.”
- The mission must not be “simply to make the United States a player in the ‘global marketplace of ideas.’ The mission must be to dominate the market.”
- The effort “must be to fight to win. It must be run strategically, like a permanent political campaign.”
- Therefore, current State Department diplomats are not qualified for the job. The job is for “real strategists and practitioners in the art of political action.”
- The State Department’s wartime public diplomacy record is so free of successes, so hideously failed, that the public diplomacy mission should be removed from Foggy Bottom: “Nobody has been held accountable for the public diplomacy mess. Yet everybody seems to want the State Department to continue its role as the leader in wartime strategic communication.”
- “American message-makers have failed to develop a coherent strategy to wage an ideological counterattack against political Islamism. They can’t seem to grasp that there is a significant difference between Islam the religion and the politicized, power-seeking ideologies of radical Islamism. Our national obsession with not wanting to offend has trumped our obligation to defend our national interests. And so our young soldiers continue to die.”
- “Imagine . . . if the James Carvilles, Dick Morrises and Karl Roves of the world put their visionary, calculating, often deviously cynical genius to work to promote the national interest globally.”
- “Reforms will take years. What the US leadership can do now is to define the purpose and nature of American strategic communication. That is why the nation needs diplomats and communicators who are political warriors, and not simply ex-politicians who checked their political instincts at the door when they entered the State Department.”
- “Strategic communication must be strategic. . . . It must be designed to achieve national objectives through other than lethal combat, and to enhance the capabilities of the warfighters who must go into battle.”
Leadership starts, of course, with our president, who is a gifted politician and communicator in his own right, but who seems to need help in developing a strategy. Our vice president was for years the ranking member and then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, yet he did nothing significant in those capacities on the public diplomacy/strategic communication front. Maybe he can do something about it now. Our secretary of state is a masterful, school-of-hard-knocks political warrior who can win a partisan fight but doesn’t seem to be getting traction at the State Department. Like the president, she is a trained disciple of the late Rules for Radicals author Saul Alinsky. I’d like to see her put those skills to work against the Islamist extremists of Al Qaeda, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Muslim Brotherhood and elsewhere. I’d gladly help out.