“Actions communicate,” Christopher Paul of RAND told HASC’s Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities last week. Effective strategic communicators and public diplomats, he testified, “consider the messages and the signals that will be sent by their actions, their utterances, their plans, policies.” Seems simple enough.
But Paul’s co-witness on the panel, Rosa Brooks of Georgetown Law, instead emphasized getting the message delivered over the process of delivering it:
"One of the least productive diversions in the strategic communication game is the endless round of 'why is DoD doing X when really State should be doing X?'... From my perspective, squabbling over the roles of different executive branch agencies is a waste of time. In an ideal world, State should be far better funded, and should be able to recruit and retain a far larger cadre of dedicated, well-trained officials… But in the meantime, if the State Department lacks the funds or capacity to undertake programs or activities that are manifestly in the national interest, then of course other agencies should step in."
We pride ourselves on our civilian-led government. But what do we communicate when we throw our hands up at Washington’s mangled foreign policymaking process and tell DOD to just do it? To the audience, it sounds a lot like “do what I say and not what I do.” There’s nothing strategic about that.
As Becky Williams and I wrote in Defense News last month, our debt is going to present us with many difficult choices and, difficult though every decision is, some of the easiest will be setting the division of labor for our national security agencies. That’s not to say that DOD has no role in strategic communications – but who does what does matter.