The memoir by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, published in 2015, remains required reading for everyone who worked at the embassies, consulates, and Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq and Afghanistan. The book allows readers to compare Secretary Gates’s top-level view of the wars with how Public Diplomacy officers experienced it on the ground.
“Information” is one of the four D-I-M-E elements of national power, the two wars were to be “whole of government” fights, and Secretary Gates made a striking call for more funding for diplomacy and development in a speech in November, 2007, but there’s no mention of Public Diplomacy in his memoir. In general, he notes in several places that the State Department could not provide enough people for the civilian side of the war.
And there’s this:
“Some in the military establishment appear to have embraced the notion that modern military leaders should also be ‘strategic communicators.’ This trend accelerated when Petraeus achieved superstar status during the Iraq War. The increasingly accepted theory is that “getting the message out” — in television profiles, op-eds, speaking tours, think-tank speeches — is part of the duties of high command. Interestingly, when Petraeus arrived to take command in Baghdad, he corrected a member of his staff who complained of a ‘strategic communications problem.’ No, we have a ‘results problem,’ Petraeus said, and when the violence in Iraq declined dramatically under his leadership, the strategic communications problem took care of itself.
“Enabled by the ample availability of war funding, a strategic communications/public relations cottage industry cropped up around the Pentagon and the combatant commands, a bonanza for consultants who produced questionable results for those in the military paying for their services. The Esquire (Fallon) and Rolling Stone (McChrystal) episodes represented the most damaging end of the spectrum. On the other end of the spectrum, I never understood why top admirals and generals felt compelled to go on Facebook, to tweet and blog, usually about their daily schedule and activities, typically a mundane chronology of meetings, travel, and generic pronouncements. To me, that diminishes the aura of rank and authority. It is par for the course now for politicians, university administrators, and corporate executives. But I think the military is different, or at least it should be.” (pp. 575-576)
That’s a lot to chew on in two paragraphs.
This is an updated version of a Public Diplomacy Council Commentary that is no longer available on the web.
Donald M. Bishop is the Bren Chair of Strategic Communications in the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Creativity at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia. Mr. Bishop served as a Foreign Service Officer – first in the U.S. Information Agency and then in the Department of State – for 31 years.