Saturday, April 2nd 2016
The short front summary of the March, 2016, report by the State Department’s Inspector General, “Evaluation of Embassy Baghdad’s Implementation of Line of Effort 6 in the President’s Strategy to Counter ISIL: Exposing ISIL’s True Nature,” outlined the shortcomings of U.S. Public Diplomacy at the American Embassy in Iraq. It highlighted the need to include Public Diplomacy goals in the Embassy's Integrated Country Stategy (ICS) and to prepare a Public Diplomacy Implementation Plan (PDIP).
It’s the body of the report that gives a fuller view of the challenges. This gist includes the full executive summary and then a few excerpts from the body of the report, details which reveal the difficulties faced by officers in the field – staffing turbulence and changes in how the sixth line of effort was viewed in Washington and Baghdad among them. The last part of the report noted that “Embassy Messaging Efforts Are Well Coordinated at Tactical Level,” the “embassy has established productive working relationships with Government of Iraq press professionals and invests in building their capacity to support LOE [JB -- Line of Effort 6 objectives,” and the value of the Embassy’s cultural heritage preservation programs as part of the fight against ISIL. Here are some key quotes:
- Embassy Baghdad’s public diplomacy activities operate without formal strategic planning and goals. None of the embassy’s Integrated Country Strategy goals or objectives contain language relating to public diplomacy generally or to counter-Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant messaging, specifically.
- The Department did not formally task Embassy Baghdad with specific actions under Line of Effort 6 in the counter-Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant strategy.
- The embassy focuses counter-Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant messaging on building confidence among Iraqis that the Iraqi Security Forces, with U.S. and Coalition support, can degrade and defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. This approach involves highlighting Iraqi Security Force battlefield gains and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant setbacks, and underscoring U.S and Coalition assistance to those efforts.
- Embassy Baghdad is focusing more resources on social media. The embassy’s Facebook page expanded its audience by almost 40 percent between January and October 2015, beginning with about 250,000 followers and growing to more than 400,000.
- The embassy confronts active disinformation campaigns and residual suspicions about U.S. policy that undermine its messaging. Recent Department polling shows that about 40 percent of Iraqis believe that the United States is working to destabilize Iraq and control its natural resources and nearly a third believe that America supports terrorism in general or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, specifically. About half of Iraqi Sunnis and Shia now say that they completely oppose the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
- Following ISIL incursions into Iraq in June 2014, the embassy reduced PAS staffing from 10 U.S. direct-hire officers to 3. During the following year, PAS gradually restored some positions until reaching the current level of 6 U.S. direct hires, 14 locally employed staff members, 4 third country nationals, 1 contractor, and 2 eligible family members in Baghdad.
- [The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs] stated that they refrained from tasking Embassy Baghdad with specific LOE 6 requirements because of its security and staffing limitations. Specifically, the embassy’s reduction of personnel in June 2014 in response to security concerns limited the ability of public diplomacy staff to conduct normal business. Neither NEA nor the embassy developed formal strategic guidance for public diplomacy programs in Iraq after the announcement of the President’s counter-ISIL strategy in September 2014.
[The exchanges effort]
- PAs estimated that it spent about 5 percent of the public diplomacy budget on activities that directly supported counter-ISIL messaging. . . . . PAS directed approximately 78 percent of its budget—$8.3 million—to educational and cultural exchange programs . . . .
[Changes in guidance]
- In the months following the rollout of the President’s counter-ISIL strategy, a consensus emerged among the U.S. Government elements charged with implementing LOE 6 that “exposing ISIL’s true nature” was no longer the most urgent and appropriate focus for counter-ISIL messaging, especially in the case of frontline states such as Iraq, where ISIL aggressively promoted its own brutal acts. Interagency review during 2015 led to a reframing of the LOE 6 scope from “exposing” the nature of ISIL to “eroding” its support and image.
- Embassy Baghdad also determined that the initial framing of LOE 6 was not relevant for an Iraqi public already keenly aware of ISIL’s true nature and reframed its messaging to reflect the bilateral context.
- Rather than expose ISIL’s true nature, the embassy and U.S. agencies shared the view that, as events had developed, the more pressing messaging task in Iraq was to counter an emerging narrative that ISIL’s battlefield success was unstoppable. Reframing LOE 6 through that prism, the embassy focuses counter-ISIL messaging on building confidence among Iraqis that the Iraqi Security Forces—with U.S. and Coalition support—can degrade and defeat ISIL.
- PAS began in October 2015 to produce short video clips of the Coalition spokesperson's press comments to highlight his top-line messages. Coalition air strike videos are among the embassy’s most frequently viewed counter-ISIL content, according to PAS social media engagement statistics. OIG’s review of 70 Embassy Baghdad Facebook posts during September 2015 found that air strike videos and similar video- and text-based content focused on Coalition actions against ISIL comprised 20 percent of all content posted for the month . . . .