Will the U.S. military's hard-fought gains against international terrorists be undermined because the people back in Washington still don't understand how to win hearts and minds? That's what some supporters of President George W. Bush are beginning to fear as the U.S. government finds itself incapable of waging effective public-diplomacy and political-warfare campaigns abroad. And this just as the military side of the war on terrorism promises to take more difficult and contentious turns.
Across the federal government, the situation is the same: A national-security and foreign-policy bureaucracy that is managing the military and diplomatic dimensions of the war effectively is bumbling and botching the crucial information campaigns around the world needed to discredit terrorists and their supporters and foster support for the military effort. The United States may be managing its relations with governments adequately, but it is not yet winning the hearts and minds of the peoples.
The State Department has a huge public-diplomacy apparatus designed to reach foreign populations, but it appears incapable of effective mobilization. The Pentagon has yet to reestablish the strategic-information office that the Clinton administration abolished. The CIA's information-operations staff has shriveled to one-tenth of its size during the 1980s. And the White House, which used to coordinate sending of the U.S. message to the public and the world while countering enemy propaganda, doesn't seem nearly so serious about doing the job today.
John Lenczowski, director of the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft in Washington, puts it this way: "The United States is failing and has consistently failed since the Reagan administration to use its most powerful tools of statecraft, which have to do with telling the truth to the public and the peoples of the world -- having relations with peoples of the world and not simply with governments as a way of ensuring that hostility toward our country does not emerge as a result of misinformation, disinformation and other forms of falsehood."
Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich, who ran some of the Reagan administration's most difficult but successful public-diplomacy campaigns, agrees. "We're the world's greatest public-relations and advertising power, but we don't seem to be able to get the message out," he says.
To date, most U.S. public-diplomacy and information operations in support of the war effort have been piecemeal, tactical and mostly reactive instead of strategic, comprehensive and anticipatory. A long-term strategy has yet to be developed, according to administration officials. That, critics say, leaves the enemy to define the terms of debate and severely complicates U.S. diplomacy and military planning.
"The United States ought to have a political-warfare capability, which is another corollary of public diplomacy, but there is no place in the U.S. government that considers it its business to conduct political warfare abroad," Lenczowski says. "One might think it would be preferable to exercise political persuasion and conduct political action before resorting to killing people to defend our interests but, apparently, this is not within the conceptual framework of the foreign-policy establishment."
For even reactive public-diplomacy and information operations to be effective, the United States needs mission-oriented leaders throughout the government who can think and act creatively and quickly. As a Reagan National Security Council director for Soviet affairs in 1983, Lenczowski was an active player in the global-information campaign the United States used to prove the Soviet Union deliberately shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007, apparently killing all 269 aboard, including Rep. Larry McDonald (D-Ga.).
Reich is hopeful that the newly created post of undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, held by former advertising executive Charlotte Beers, will make up for lost time. …