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Wartime public diplomacy: A strategy to deliver the messages

This article is the second in a series of White Papers about the transformation of American public diplomacy and strategic communication.   This version is a draft that is posted for public comment.


As the United States struggles to shape coherent messages to the world, it must shape the means through which it delivers its ideas. The near-universal default is public diplomacy – the U.S. government’s communication with the publics of the world – and a larger evolving discipline called strategic communication.

Yet policymakers and others lack a clear definition of how one relates to the other, or how either relates to present international political, diplomatic, military and security realities. Our public diplomacy approaches and applications are inconsistent with the realities of the new international environment.

Advances in information technology and the proliferation of electronic media outlets have enabled small powers, non-governmental organizations, and even individuals to undermine Washington’s carefully crafted messages rapidly and constantly. Cheap and plentiful information outlets allow adversaries or any size to attack in swarms and refute, distort and drown out U.S. messages, and agitating an increasingly shrill opposition that can dominate news reporting and public discourse worldwide. 

The United States can reorient its approach for immediate-term wartime necessities. It need not wait for the crucial but time-consuming structural changes in the public diplomacy machine, but can begin by reexamining its messages, recalibrating them, and modernizing their means of delivery.

What are those messages? What do we want to do with them? How effective have they truly been and are they likely to be? What can we do to give those messages greater impact, right now when we need them, and with the people and resources we already have? How much can we expect to accomplish when public affairs offices work only one shift a day in an age of 24/7 news cycles?  

Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today’s media age, but for the most part we – our country – our government, has not adapted,” the secretary of defense said in February, 2006. “For the most part, the US Government still functions as a five and dime store in an eBay world.”[1]

Creative and capable use of information technologies can make up for years of lost time. A new approach toward information technology will help the nation to pull itself out of its political nosedive. The issue is more than mastering Blackberrys and blogs. Good public diplomacy and strategic communication in support of the war effort – and larger 21st century national interests – need an accelerant. That is what this paper is about: Accelerating the tempo and intensity of the nation’s conduct of the war of ideas.  

Points of departure

To develop successful wartime messages, we must know first what we seek to accomplish and how we wish to achieve it. We want to win the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and win a long-term global war. We must mainta