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25 September 2007

Real strategic communications and the wages of ignoring diplomacy

We have long noted our continuing interest in the world of soft power, and in the intersection between it and the harder aspects of military and intelligence instruments. It seems the topic gains much momentum in recent days, to our great pleasure. Zenpundit brings up a series of interesting points regarding the challenges of the contemporary information operations environment, and how these differ from the world of Kent, Langer, and his younger brother – a pioneer in the field of leadership analysis. The incomparable Mountainrunner has been leading an examination into the continued misinterpretation of Smith-Mundt, along with excoriation of the ineffective machinery for public diplomacy at State – a discussion also joined by Swedish Meatballs and Political Warfare.

In these discussions, several important concepts continually resurface in various forms. The first is that of the information threshold – the sensemaking barrier below which modern attention deficit and information overload so degrades signals in the IO environment as to render them meaningless. Related is the idea that certain actions will always speak louder than words, especially in given unanticipated higher order effects.

It is against this backdrop which we measure the shameful performance of Columbia University in giving a podium to our adversary’s propaganda. Ridiculous though the Persian pretenders statements may be to Western ears, one cannot help but reflect how many times a Farsi narrated video of the events’ dubious “highlights” will be shown to legions of adoring Basiji and the true believers among the Pasadaran.

We feel that one who previously violated the sanctity of international diplomacy should not be allowed to rest secure in its protections when it is convenient for them to seek to do so. In an alternative history, yesterday’s events could have provided a platform for a real strategic communications message of lasting historical import – as opposed to the disgraceful, but ultimately brief, irrelevance that transpired.

A nation that understood the value of actions in its public diplomacy, and the strategic worth of unpredictability, would have seen the Iranian hostage taker seized by the Mobbe – a body of men that would have been comprised of those NYPD, NYFD, and ordinary citizens who remember well the costs of inaction. It would have seen the very cranes once used to remove the remains of the fallen towers now choking the life from a man whose orders are also responsible for the deaths of Americans, in the same manner in which his own regime carries out its hangings in the public square. The image of his kicking feet would have graced the front page of every fishwrapper and news weekly across the globe this morning.

In this alternative history, America’s cowboy image is used as a weapon against our enemies – not as a strategic weakness which must be overcome through perception management and re-branding efforts. It is an alternative history which would have evoked an earlier time, when the affairs of nations were conducted by serious men for real stakes – rather than in the senescent pretence of “dialogue” with one who comes to the table in bad faith, with the blood of our people on his hands from an undeclared war stretching across the decades.

Troubled times call for difficult actions. We fear that only more dark days lie ahead because the nation is unwilling to undertake the kind of messages carried by that brief counterfactual thought experiment.

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