US Strategic Communications

In a blog published yesterday on (,  Marc Lynch (aka Abu Aardvark) wrote about the failure of US stategic communications efforts in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Mr. Lynch says “Better public diplomacy and strategic communications could make a real difference in shaping the conditions for foreign policy success.  I don’t know why it has proven so difficult for the US government to mount public diplomacy and strategic communications campaigns in support of key administration policy goals.”

Lynch cites the aftermath of President Obama’s speech in Cairo, the war in Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as examples of US failure to communicate its message to foreign publics.

Communications and public diplomacy (so-called “smart power”) are often lauded by public officials and other foreign policy professionals, but the task of using them to achieve foreign policy goals is difficult, which explains why US efforts in this area have failed.

Perhaps it is true that the US should have been ready to implement grass-roots programs in the Muslim world soon after the president’s well-received speech in June.  But it is difficult to see how the situations in Afghanistan and Israel can be significantly improved by communications and public diplomacy.

Nearly 90 percent of Afghans do not want the Taliban to regain power.  The reason the US is not getting more support from the Afghan people is that coalition forces have not been able to protect them from the Taliban and the Afghan government is corrupt and ineffective.  No amount of strategic communications and public diplomacy will change that situation.

The vast majority of Israelis want peace and recognize the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The main reason that America has not been able to sell its Middle East peace plan is that Israeli governments do not trust Palestinian groups like Hamas to abide by any peace agreement, and Palestinian officials are not unified enough to make a deal.  The US cannot say or do anything to alter those views.

In some situations, “smart power” may significantly help the US achieve its foreign policy goals.  But in many cases, foreign officials will have to change their attitudes before their policies can change to satisfy the US.  And the American government will usually have to win public support through actions rather than words.


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