In “Losing Hearts and Minds?: Public Diplomacy and Strategic Influence in the Age of Terror,” Carnes Lord criticizes the U.S. government for failing “to craft an effective strategy for projecting global influence in the terror war, or to develop the mechanisms necessary for carrying one out.”
Mr. Lord, a professor at the Naval War College, had previously served as director of international information and communications policy on the National Security Council (1981-83) and assistant to the vice president for national security affairs (1989-91).
Drawing on his high-level public policy experience, he outlines what he considers to be an appropriate strategy to develop the organizational mechanisms within the U.S. government needed to carry out an effective public-diplomacy campaign to defeat the “center of gravity” of Islamic terrorism, which “lies not in its organizational structure but in its ideological inspiration — the real source of the fresh recruits who continue to flock to the terrorist banner.”
Effectively countering the type of warfare being conducted by our terrorist adversaries to win the “hearts and minds” of the larger publics that support such violence, Mr. Lord points out, requires an understanding of “public diplomacy,” “psychological operations,” “psychological warfare,” “political warfare,” “political action” and “strategic communications” — some of which are political and others military and intelligence measures.
To synthesize these discreet components into a unified response, Mr. Lord uses the more comprehensive umbrella terms of “public diplomacy and strategic influence.” Such “soft power” measures are distinguished from a government’s use of its military’s “hard power.”
In order to deter terrorism he suggests that, first, the U.S. government has to “name the enemy”: Islamic radicalism. Moreover, the United States must better articulate the true nature of radical Islamism in terms of its “dubious religious basis and authority,” while being “careful not to give the impression of lecturing Muslims on how to practice their religion.” Also, the government needs to explain to the radical Islamists that their cause is futile and that the longer they fight, the fewer gains they will achieve.
Borrowing from Israel’s approach, a potential terrorist needs to be told that his “family will suffer for [their] actions,” and defectors from terrorist organizations need to be used to demoralize their former compatriots. Also, psychological warfare ought to be directed against a group to sow “confusion, suspicion, and enmity in its ranks, turning its leaders against one another.” Finally, and most importantly, “the strategic environment that creates and nurtures terrorists” needs to be shaped away from terrorism and extremist ideologies.
For the United States, to play a role in shaping the environments that spawn terrorism it is necessary to work with allies that are equally committed to achieving such ends.
According to Mr. Lord, this requires that the United States organize “coalitions of the willing” in the Middle East to solve local problems, such as opening up autocratic political systems, providing for socio-economic opportunities, and other measures in order to prevent radical Islamists from exploiting these problems to justify the use of violence against those regimes. European governments are crucial allies in countering terrorism so their “views and concerns” about U.S. unilateralism have to be taken into account.
Effective public diplomacy to counter terrorism also requires appropriate organizational institutions, particularly greater centralized coordination. A major part of the book is devoted to a critique of the current U.S. structures and, in what is bound to provoke much public debate, recommendations for new organizational entities. Mr. Lord believes that the former U.S. Information Agency (USIA), which was merged into the State Department in 1998, needs to be revived “in a way that suits contemporary requirements.”
Although a revised USIA should not have a “substantial role” in producing “policy information,” it should form “the institutional base of public diplomacy in the U.S. government,” such as in “managing public diplomacy operations in the field, including jurisdiction over the Public Affairs Officers in the embassies.”
For the Defense Department, Mr. Lord recommends establishing a new institutional infrastructure for strategic communications in the form of a new “Joint Strategic Communications Command.” The new command would manage all the military’s strategic communications elements deployed overseas. And in the White House, Mr. Lord recommends creating a “U.S. Trade Representative”-type office for public diplomacy, which would coordinate such programs and resources across agencies.
Mr. Lord’s discussion of the role of public diplomacy and strategic influence as vital instruments of American national power is especially pertinent today as the administration and Congress go about the business of confronting religious extremism and terrorism.
Joshua Sinai is a program manager for counterterrorism studies at the Analysis Corporation.