The Last Three Feet: Case Studies in Public Diplomacy

By Carlson, Brian E. | Joint Force Quarterly, January 2013 | Go to article overview
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The Last Three Feet: Case Studies in Public Diplomacy

Carlson, Brian E., Joint Force Quarterly

Edited by William P. Kiehl

The Public Diplomacy Council/PDWorldwide, 2012

196 pp. $14.99 (paperback)

ISBN: 978-1-47811-295-2

How hard can it be to do information operations (IO) and strategic communication in foreign countries? This is America--the land that invented marketing, public relations, and survey research, right?


After all, what most of us know from watching car advertising and political campaigns is that there are just a few rules. You develop a message, keep it simple, and say it often. If you are in a foreign environment, you do not have to translate from English. Just turn up the volume and say it again. Negative advertising always wins in politics. Right?

Too often and inadvertently, we slip into the language, if not the theory, of artillery--using terms such as OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) loop, concentrating fires, target audiences, and intelligence preparation of the battlespace. Those who work in this field know that messages are not cannon shots, civilian audiences are not targets, and what matters is not what we say but what they hear. That is why the arrival of The Last Three Feet: Case Studies in Public Diplomacy is a welcome addition to the IO library.

To be fair, the U.S. military has made tremendous strides in recent years and has become, about this subject especially, a much smarter organization. From Field Manual (FM) 3-24, Counterinsurgency, to FM 3-0, Operations, to Joint Publication 3-13, Joint Doctrine for Information Operations, progressive military thinking is evident.

Moreover, a number of military monographs have explored the role and purpose of IO. But still today, the Barnes & Noble bookshelf does not feature many text or reference books on the actual practice of strategic communication, information operations, or public diplomacy. Yes, you can find Leigh Armistead's edited work (Brassey's Inc., 2004), and there have been books about soft power and public diplomacy at the national strategy level by Craig Hayden, Phil Seib, Barry Sanders, and others.

This book is unique. Where else do you find current public diplomacy practitioners pulling back the curtain on their craft, explaining the judgments, and analyzing the factors that led them to take one path or another to accomplish something in a foreign context?

Take, for example, the excellent description of the effort to "recapture the narrative" in Turkey, a vital U.S. ally, member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, regional power, and example of a secular Muslim majority nation with democratic values. Yet the Embassy faced one of the world's most hostile and erratic media environments, exceeded perhaps only by that of Pakistan. As the Embassy public diplomacy chief Elizabeth McKay writes, they "recognized that if we addressed the problem from the sole perspective of what we wanted, our efforts would be less successful than if we approached things from the perspective of what our audiences wanted from us."

McKay goes on to describe in detail what the Embassy did with Turkish youth, from entrepreneurship training to innovative film production, but if there is a lesson for communicators, it is that we need to learn "to approach the design of programs with the audience's needs in mind--rather than merely our own.

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