The War of Ideas: Quick Hit Campaigns More Than Long Term Plays


David Kaplan of US News & World Report has an insightful short piece out on the bureaucracy of U.S. public diplomacy and Karen Hughes’ efforts to “win the war of ideas”:

U.S. effort on war of ideas draws skepticism. Even as jihadist networks become tougher to combat, the United States still lacks a comprehensive strategy to thwart the ideological forces fueling their growth, say critics. In response, the administration recently launched its latest attempt to coordinate the “war of ideas” against radical Islam: The White House’s National Security Council has convened yet another interagency committee to develop a strategy aimed at marginalizing extremists. Dubbed the Policy Coordinating Committee on Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication, the group is headed by the administration’s point person on the ideas war: Karen Hughes, the State Department’s under secretary for public diplomacy.
Skeptics abound, as this is at least the fourth attempt at coordinating federal efforts on infowar. The NSC began two ill-fated interagency committees in 2002, one on “strategic communication” and another on “information strategy.” Both generated more frustration than results, say participants. Their work was succeeded, in part, by the Muslim World Outreach Policy Coordinating Committee in 2004, which drafted a widely praised plan that was never implemented. Now that committee is being replaced by Hughes’s new group. “It’s the same old people with a new title,” says one insider.
Hughes, the president’s former counselor, has won points for crafting a Rapid Response Unit, designed to help U.S. officials abroad respond to the day’s news. (For a peek at one of its daily Rapid Response sheets, see Official Use Only) But critics say the effort is typical of Hughes’s quick-hit, political campaignlike approach to what is a years-long ideological struggle. Former State Department diplomat John Brown, editor of the Public Diplomacy Press Review, calls the administration’s efforts “naive, provincial, and evangelical” but says the problem ultimately may lie in the very nature of U.S. government today. “It’s so complex, with so many bureaucracies, that to get anybody to agree on a single message is almost impossible.”

This kind of public diplomacy is extremely tough to do when few people of import are being held accountable for Abu Ghraib, when Guantanamo is still open, revelations of a mass execution at Haditha are shaking Pentagon, and when America continues to be seen as a reckless occupier that cares little for the value and quality of Muslim lives rather than liberator.
Hughes has a tough job in this environment which was mostly self-created by our President and his team — but only serious, long-term plays are going to matter if America wants to get serious about a ‘war of ideas’.
— Steve Clemons


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