Commentary Magazine


Contentions

The Future of Information Operations

Every administration organizes the Pentagon its own way; there is no right or wrong way to go about it. So we shouldn’t read too much into news that the Pentagon Office of Support to Public Diplomacy has been eliminated. It is nevertheless slightly dismaying.

For years the talk within the U.S. military and the U.S. government has broadly been that we are terrible at “information operations,” thus ceding this critical battlefield to our enemies. I heard many iterations of this complaint while touring Afghanistan recently. Yet
every attempt to correct this deficiency runs up against overblown concerns that the U.S. is too pure to engage in — gasp — “propaganda.”

For instance, in 2006 there was a tempest-in-a-teapot scandal when news emerged that the “the military had paid the Lincoln Group, a Washington-based Pentagon contractor, to plant articles written by American soldiers in Iraqi publications, without disclosing the source of the articles. The contractor’s work also included paying Iraqi journalists for favorable treatment.”

Never mind that no one contended that the articles in question made false claims. Never mind also that paying for publication is a standard practice in Iraq and many other countries around the world. It is certainly the sort of tactic Iranian agents do not hesitate to resort to. Nevertheless the decision was made at the highest levels of the Bush administration that this was an embarrassment and could not continue.

Similar “outrage” has greeted other revelations that the Pentagon was daring to engage in information operations. Thus we read in today’s New York Times:

Questions over the proper role of the Pentagon in public diplomacy have lingered since it was disclosed in 2002 that the Defense Department had created the Office of Strategic Influence; that office, a forerunner of the Pentagon public diplomacy office, was shut down
after members of Congress expressed concerns that its behind-the-scenes efforts to shape public sentiment in wartime might undermine the military’s credibility.

Now the public diplomacy office (which—full disclosure—was started by a good friend of mine: Michael Doran) has been closed amid anonymous complaints that a set of talking points that it produced last year were “blatant propaganda.”

I agree we shouldn’t engage in “blatant propaganda.” If it’s too blatant it’s self defeating. But what’s wrong with skillful, not-so-blatant propaganda? Not only is there nothing wrong with it, it is an essential task at which we are now failing. We cannot afford
unilateral disarmament in the battle of ideas.



Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »





Pin It on Pinterest

Shares
Share This

Share This

Share this post with your friends!

Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.