"Public Diplomacy" Finally Gets a Clue
Tigerhawk says better late than never. He notices this effort by the State Department as reported by the Washington Post
The State Department, departing from traditional public diplomacy techniques, has what it calls a three-person, "digital outreach team" posting entries in Arabic on "influential" Arabic blogs to challenge misrepresentations of the United States and promote moderate views among Islamic youths in the hopes of steering them from terrorism.
Tigerhawk says even John Robb is impressed by recent efforts by the military to organize publics in Iraq and Afghanistan. He concludes:
The wider war, and even parts of the theater battles going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, is primarily an insurgency within Islam. We are the declared enemy of one side in the insurgency because we are perceived as the patron of the hated "apostate regimes" that govern most of the Muslim oil states, but in the end the real fight is intramural. It has always been the case that we needed Muslims to win the war against al Qaeda, not to love us but to hate them. The clash between jihadi brutality and American intransigence, wittingly or otherwise, motivated many Muslims who were on the sidelines during the rise of al Qaeda and its cognates to throw in their lot with one side or the other. The evidence is mounting that whatever Muslims may think of the United States, many more are fighting against the jihad than fighting for it, and that is the key to victory in the long run.
It might be worth remembering that the necessary (but not the sufficient) condition for waging effective information warfare is to possess the correct information in the first place. Deep knowledge is a prerequisite for any information operation, though the knowledge is often implicit. For example, the State Department blogging team must implicitly possess not only a fluency in Arabic but a familiarity with Muslim culture, Islamic theology, strategy, policy and so forth.
If knowledge is vital to support argumentation it is doubly important in operations. Just a few hours ago, UPI reported the US is studying plans to arm the tribes in Pakistan against al-Qaeda. It is an obvious outgrowth of the successful application of this tactic in Iraq.
U.S. military officials say a plan to arm Pakistani tribes against al-Qaida may be accelerated because of concern about instability in Pakistan. The plan would finance a separate tribal paramilitary force and, if adopted, would likely increase the U.S. military presence in Pakistan, The New York Times reported Monday. Dozens of military trainers could be added to the estimated 50 troops the U.S. has there now, the newspaper said.
But it should never be forgotten that US efforts to arm the Anbar Sheiks was built on knowledge accumulated over several tours. It was not the concept of arming the Sheiks nor the arms themselves that was the foundation of the revolution. The keystone was knowing who to arm and how to deal with them; that was the crucial piece.
Those who point out all the "mistakes" America committed early in the campaign might ask themselves if the Coalition could have successfully armed the Anbar tribes in 2004. My guess is that the effort would have been less successful because a lot of the groundwork -- language familiarity, experience, institutional Iraqi development, intel networks, etc -- would not have been available in 2004. The "secret" or unrecognized factors of success are as important as finished product. And the greatest secret factor is specific knowledge.
The US has been active in Afghanistan for several years now. It may well possess the knowledge to arm the tribes against the al-Qaeda and Taliban. But in my opinion it is useful to explicitly recognize that success is often built on the exact knowledge of local conditions. Arming the tribes might work in Pakistan -- even if the US must work through Pakistanis -- but the key will be tailoring the approach to the exact conditions on the ground.