Friday, June 16, 2006

Public diplomacy

Marc Lynch from Abu Aardvark recently gave a workshop about public diplomacy:

I laid out the rapid transformation of the Arab media, especially satellite TV, and said something about the causes of anti-American attitudes. But mostly I argued for taking the "public" in "public diplomacy" seriously, thinking about it as an environment rather than as an instrument: an environment which isn't amenable to centralized control, where information can't be compartmentalized, where messages can't be tailored for a domestic or international audience without the other listening in, and where the game rewards argument and engagement rather than message control and spin.

I got some pushback on my argument that this growing "publicity" means that PsyOps and strategic deception should be avoided because of the devastating effects of their inevitable exposure on the credibility of America and America's would-be defenders in the Arab political realm. Several military and psyops folks objected, pointing out that I don't know how many PsyOps have not been exposed, and expressing great confidence that their operations would never be exposed. Maybe - they're the experts. But I still urged them to take seriously the implications of the transforming Arab and global media environment, where the the odds of eventual exposure of secret programs is high and increasing. Look at the wiretapping or the CIA flights or Abu Ghraib or the Lincoln Group payola scheme - the planners of all of those policies must have assumed they would never be exposed, and here we are. Exposure should be assumed, and its implications worked in to the operational plan, even if it doesn't happen. Even if 19 out of 20 of the operations remain secret, the one that gets exposed is enough to devastate credibility.

Credibility is a major issue in all of this, and I would like to see more serious thought put into America's failure there. It's a heck of a lot easier to lose credibility than to get it back, and "partially credible" is like "partially pregnant" - no such creature. American credibility in and about Iraq is so low now that everything it says is met with skepticism, even if it's true. Somebody should take responsibility for that lost credibility, and learn some lessons from it beyond just blaming the media.

Fascinating stuff, and worth reading.

There is another lesson to be learned, which so many people don't do. Instead of planning for the exposure of bad schemes, and working to minimize the harm from them, here's a radical thought: don't be a mongrel in the first place. If you think that world public opinion will hate you if they find out you've done something bad, just don't do that bad thing. Do something else instead.

International politics would be so much simpler if people weren't such dicks.

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