Saturday, August 29, 2009

August 29

“During one of my treks through Afghanistan, we lost our corkscrew. We were compelled to live on food and water for several days.”

--W. C. Fields; image from

"Frankly, I don’t care for the term."

--Michael G. Mullen, Admiral, U.S. Navy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, regarding “strategic communications”


1950s Cold War Propaganda: Security is Sense - with Marilyn Monroe


Adm. Mullen Elevates ‘Strategic Communications’ Debate Above a Third-Grade Level - Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent: "For years, public diplomacy — and its uniformed cousin, ’strategic communications’ — has been discussed in Washington like a mantra: just find the most authentic ways of telling the 'story' of the United States or of particularly unpopular U.S. actions, and suddenly people will realize that they just misunderstood America and problem solved. Critics countered that the argument infantilized the people supposedly targeted by U.S. messaging, who had real problems with U.S. actions as judged through their own interests, and then tended to discount the entire enterprise as a cynical and stupid ruse.

(Some tried to recast public diplomacy as a national-security mission, but it’s not clear how the gains of that uphill bureaucratic battle have endured.) Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a surprisingly vigorous advocate of social media — he’s on Twitter a lot and is currently holding a YouTube town hall meeting — cuts through a stale debate in the new issue of Joint Forces Quarterly (PDF). His basic argument is that public diplomacy/strategic communications is both overthought and underthought at the same time: overthought in the sense of endless PowerPoints and staff lessons about how to spread an effective message and underthought in the sense of basic insights escaping those bull sessions. Mullen’s answer is to spend time and effort at building relationships — actual, interest-to-interest personal and policy relationships — with the cohorts that U.S. actions seek to influence. But that statement doesn’t imply an answer for what happens when the United States wants to influence a population cohort that doesn’t want an American presence. Image from

Adm. Mullen Weighs In On Strategic Communications In Afghanistan - Adam Serwer, Tapped: American Prospect Group Blog: "Spencer Ackerman takes a look at Admiral Mike Mullen's latest article on strategic communications in Afghanistan, and flags this quote: [']I would argue that most strategic communications problems are not communications problems at all. They are policy and execution problems. Each time we fail to live up to our values or we don’t deliver on a promise, we look more and more like the arrogant Americans the enemy claims we are … To put it simply, we need to worry less about how to communicate our actions than about what our actions communicate. ['] It's not just our actions--Mullen points out that the Taliban's ability to make good on its threats is a key part of their strategic communications, or as he put it, 'Each beheading, each bombing, and each beating sends a powerful message or, rather, is a powerful message.' I suppose it's axiomatic that terrorists are good at this kind of messaging, but worth thinking about in terms of what the U.S. is up against. For what it's worth, Richard Holbrooke's strategic communications team seems to understand this dynamic pretty well--at the briefing a few weeks ago, Holbrooke noted that the most effective message the U.S. could send would be to reduce civilian casualties caused by coalition forces."

US public diplomacy: an idiotic fetish - Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star: ”[An] example of sensible analysis and courageous honesty is this week’s article in Joint Force Quarterly by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. He sharply criticized US government efforts at 'strategic communication' with the Muslim world, noting that public relations alone will never generate the credibility the US seeks, if its foreign policy on the ground is perceived as arrogant, uncaring or insulting. '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,' Mullen wrote. '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 we are.' This is sensible and accurate analysis that Americans should listen to carefully, especially given its source. … The most recent example of that peculiarly American vortex where ignorance converges with pedantic arrogance and the crass distortions of special interest lobby groups was the recent creation of a bizarre new post in the US Department of State, the 'office of the special representative to Muslim communities.'” Image: Headphone fetish.See also (1)(2)(3)(4).

A question of identity: Abdel-Moeti Bayoumi tells Gihan Shahine that Muslims have to change their reality if the Muslim ummah is to regain its former worldwide esteem - Al Ahram: "Like many, [‘theologist’ Abdel-Moeti] Bayoumi believes that Obama's empathetic rhetoric has served the US by improving its image after long years of an unprecedented wave of anti-American sentiments. Former US president Bush failed to change America's image abroad despite investing millions of dollars in the establishment of the Al-Hurra TV satellite channel and programmes of public diplomacy. 'Arab regimes also benefited from Obama's clear mention of the fact that the United States will not interfere in the internal affairs of any Arab country, which means the US will no longer push Arab regimes to democratise and respect freedoms and human rights.' What Muslims gained, in Bayoumi's viewpoint, is perhaps the fact that Obama's pro-Islamic discourse, which showed unprecedented respect for Muslim culture and heritage, may help change the image of Islam in the West in the long run. Which, a sceptical Bayoumi quickly adds, 'remains to be seen'". image from article: Abdel-Moeti Bayoumi in his office; an archival photo of Al-Azhar religious classes

Why Africa Matters to U.S. Foreign Policy - Elison Elliott, Global Markets:

"I have postulated in the past that as the demographics of the nation evolves, so too will its foreign policy and international relations voice, values, priorities and objectives change. We’ve see that most recently in hos this president chooses to engage the world. Some call it 'smart power' or 'public diplomacy' as a paradigm shift. Other’s [sic] most recently have framed these changes in terms of ‘The End of Macho‘ or a decline in the underlying paradigms of Anglo-American or Eurocentric male dominance ethos in framing foreign policy issues and international relations. The sharp contrast, for instance, between George Bush – a semi-literate, go-it-alone, blue-blood, poker playing, red-meat eating, 'macho' Texan; and Barack Obama – a bi-racial, up from the bottom, community organizing, consensus building, wine-sipping, intellectually nuanced, constitutional law teaching, internationalist from the South side of Chicago, by way of Hawaii are excellent example of how demographic changes 'shift' foreign policy values and priorities. Image from article.

BBC and VOA as free news sources? - Kim Andrew Elliott discussing International Broadcasting and Public Diplomacy: "I'm not aware of any laws that require BBC (internationally) and VOA to distribute their content for free. BBC video archives are free for UK internet users, but unavailable to internatrional users. Note that there is generally no live stream of BBC World News. (One exception, for now, is You are supposed to watch via cable or satellite systems, for which you pay. VOA could use the same discrimination of IP addresses to make its content free for internet users outside the United States, but, because of Smith-Mundt prohibition aganst domestic dissemination, altogether unavailable to US users."

Remembering Ted Kennedy, and VOA, in 1978 USSR - Kim Andrew Elliott discussing International Broadcasting and Public Diplomacy

Friday round up: Boyer tapped as Europe DAS, Goldwyn in at State, Kennedy's staffers - Laura Rozen, Foreign Policy: "The Center for American Progress' Spencer Boyer starts Monday as the deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian affairs, reporting to Assistant Secretary Philip Gordon. At State, Boyer will be focused on western Europe as well as public diplomacy and press relations for the whole European bureau. Before coming to CAP, where he specialized on transatlantic and European affairs and multilateralism, Boyer worked at international courts and tribunals in the Hague, Zurich and Paris." Image from

Wilson defends his low profile in Washington: `My job' is to work `aggressively' behind the scenes, ambassador says as he readies handover to Doer - Mitch Potter, Toronto Star: “[Outgoing Canadian Ambassador to Washington Michael Wilson] lavished praise on his replacement, calling [former Manitoba premier Gary] Doer 'the most active' of Canadian premiers on the U.S. file over the past decade, establishing high-level contacts that ensure he will arrive 'in a very strong position.' But however Doer shapes his role, Wilson said an essential element of the job will be leading the embassy's campaign of intensive public diplomacy to 'get that Canadian story out.' That part of Wilson's tenure didn't always make the radar, but not for lack of trying. Wilson said that while he 'felt no constraints' from Ottawa in dedicating a quarter of his time to giving speeches on bilateral issues of the day throughout the U.S., his words seldom made more than local ripples.

The Rigged Game - Caroline Glick, Bible Prophecy Today: "Israel has for years based its public diplomacy regarding Iran's nuclear weapons program on successive governments' assessments that given Iran's global reach and the threat it poses to global security, states will be more willing to act to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons than they are to acknowledge Palestinian terrorism which is employed almost exclusively against Israel. What Israeli leaders - including Netanyahu - have failed to recognize is that the antipathy of Europeans towards Israel is so great that they are willing to explain away Iran's nuclear weapons program because it is aimed first of all against Israel." Image from


The Richter Scale > Global Health B.O. = G.O.? - Stephan Richter, The Globalist: Coming to terms with a world where non-Americans are the true agents of change will take a great adjustment on the part of many. And it is fair to say that it will come as a surprise to Americans and non-Americans alike. But the odds are that, as the initial Obama fascination wears off, it will come to be the unwanted (and unexpected) hallmark of his presidency. Courtesy LB.

Karzai Using Rift With U.S. to Gain Favor With Afghans - Helene Cooper, New York Times

Nigeria: Clinton's Fall For Propaganda - Adeyemi Ishola, THISDAY: Lagos -- U.S Secretary of State, Mrs Hilary Rodham Clinton came to these shores last week. She came, she saw, but alas, she was conquered. Yes, propaganda got the better of her. And she fell. She swallowed falsehood hook, line and sinker.

What a pity. At a Town Hall Meeting held in Abuja, Mrs Clinton uttered what has turned a faux pas, an unguarded, misguided, misinformed statement, something not worthy of her position as America's number one diplomat: "The EFCC [Economic and Financial Crimes Commission], which was doing well, has kind of fallen off in the last one year; we will like to see it come back to business to be able to partner with us." Image from

Azerbaijani propaganda machinery malfunctions: NKR Nagorno Karabakh Republic] MFA -

Information-Analytic Agency Image from article

Yale's Misguided Retreat - Mona Eltahawy, Washington Post: In deciding to omit the images from a book it is publishing about the controversy sparked by Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, Yale University Press has handed a victory to extremists.


Elison Elliott said...


You have an interesting blog and a fresh perspective: I truly enjoy reading it. Thank you also for featuring my blog post 'Why Africa Matters.' If you found my views interesting, I certainly would encourage you to take a look at my most recent post, 'Don't Bet Against China' which I believe provides a unique public diplomacy angle. Feel free to share any thoughts or insights you might have. Best regards always.

Elison Elliott
FPA Global Markets blog

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