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  • Guest Blogger: Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) on Strategic Communication

    On September 11th, 2001, America changed.  Since then the United States has been at war with violent Islamic extremists who plot and plan against us every day.  We have sent American troops to Afghanistan and Iraq to defeat them in combat.  Our intelligence and special operations forces have fanned out across the globe to disrupt terrorist networks and deny them safe havens.  And we have cooperated with friends and allies to reinforce existing counterterrorism resources and build new coordinated capabilities.  While these actions are necessary to defeat the jihadist threat against the United States, they are not sufficient to do so.

    To truly defeat terrorism, we must also wage and win the war of ideas.  Success in the debate between moderate and extremist voices within Islam is necessary if we are ever to secure a lasting peace.  Unlike traditional kinds of diplomacy, such as education and cultural exchanges, the goal of the war of ideas is not to persuade people to like America and its policies.  Instead, the aim is to make sure negative attitudes toward America and its allies do not take the form of violent extremism.  These efforts are often called “strategic communication.”

    Winning a war of ideas is an endeavor in which America has traditionally been quite successful. During the Cold War, the United States passed ground-breaking strategic communication legislation like the Smith-Mundt Act, established the U.S. Information Agency, created Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, and undertook other measures to fight communism and totalitarianism abroad.  These measures, along with containment and President Reagan’s defense spending, helped bring down the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

    Today, we are a world away from the fall of the Berlin Wall, especially when it comes to communication.  This is largely a result of the widespread adoption of cellular technology, the proliferation of broadcast, and the advent of the Internet.  Initiatives that once served U.S. interests abroad may now hinder them.  For example, language in the Smith-Mundt Act ties the hands of U.S. strategic communicators to counter online jihadists.  Some on-air contributors to Radio Farda and Radio Liberty are prone to curious assertions that many Americans may be surprised to hear from taxpayer-funded “pro-American” radio.

    Now is the time to explore and spread creative strategic communication ideas and to revisit existing legislation.  To help reinvigorate the discussion, I have introduced H.R. 489 a bill to improve how America directly communicates with people across the world.  This bill would establish an independent “Center for Strategic Communication” that would coordinate America’s message across our government.  It would provide research on attitudes and media trends in foreign countries and build expertise on how we can better communicate around the world.

    There is no one right answer to winning the war of ideas, and any solution requires bipartisan consensus.  A solid first step is establishing the Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Caucus in the House of Representatives, which I have done with Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA).  Our goal is to bring together a bipartisan group of Representatives with an interest in waging and winning the war of ideas.  As the 9/11 Commission Report reminds us, “If the United States does not act aggressively to define itself in the Islamic world, the extremists will gladly do the job for us.”  America can’t afford for that to happen.

    The views expressed by guest bloggers on the Foundry do not necessarily reflect the views of the Heritage Foundation.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    5 Responses to Guest Blogger: Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) on Strategic Communication

    1. bill darbyshire, Gal says:

      Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this open discussion.

      With all due respect to the Congress, it's not the right place to start anything like this, because we've seen what has been done to most pieces of legislation in recent memory: misguided, porked, and based on twisted logic.

      We also don't need another dollar-sucking entity like the “Center for Strategic Communication”, especially not if it's got any connection with our "Intelligence" community.

      What I believe we need is some common sense dialogue between "regular" Americans and "regular" folk from other Countries. Don't we have some people like that already serving at Embassies around the World? And I don't mean CIA folks who apparently inhabit those embassies either…..

      I'm betting there are many, many people out there who have served this Country well over the years and who have some knowledge of the locals and other folks in those Countries and regions. And they can go out, ask questions, and listen some of the time.

      I'm betting there are many who already do that, but they may be "pooh-poohed" or their ideas discounted for one reason or another by people with more power in our Government.

      I'm betting there would be less of a terrorism problem in the World if we stopped our Intelligence community from direct "operations" and returned them to their original duties of gathering intelligence.

      I'm betting the terrorism problem would be significantly reduced if we didn't have military people and/or bases in more than 150 Countries of this World.

      No, we don't need another organization. We need to let humans do what humans always did: "we talked to each other", as Waddy Mitchell * once wrote.

      * http://www.waddiemitchell.com/WaddieMitchell/inde

    2. Pingback: Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Caucus at iDiplomacy

    3. Steven Brinton says:

      "To truly defeat terrorism, we must also wage and win the war of ideas."

      “If the United States does not act aggressively to define itself in the Islamic world, the extremists will gladly do the job for us.”

      Unfortunately, it appears America doesn't know who or what it is. Just take a look at the distinguished panel of "minds" that comprised The Commission on America's National Interests.
      Bottom line: Americans can't agree on their national interests and priorities. This is a signature effect of a people who refuse to define themselves as a nation.

      It's evident all around us. Although we remain the immigrant nation of choice, immigrants today don't appear to be motivated to adopt the cultural norms, attributes, and morays of middle America — the underpinnings of what made America exceptional across the globe. (Is "middle America" and existing concept anymore?)

      Still, immigrants come here. Therefore, we must re-discover what are the "ideas" that attract people to our shores.

      An introspective look would probably reveal some "national interests" in there somewhere.

      Students of human nature would proffer that our "national interests" mirror those of other nations. Therefore, a possible course of action in America extending itself thru strategic communications would be to demonstrate that we're no different than other nations while downplayng our exeptionalism.

    4. Alma G Ryan says:

      Dear Rep Thornberry,

      We appreciate all work and efforts..until now!

      Our insurance increased 25% last year, and just last month another 30%.

      Please think about all the folks that are having these increases…I hope that you vote for the Healthcare Bill …it is a pro-life bill. A vote against it is a vote

      for the insurance companies.


      The Ryan Family

    5. Larry Bake says:

      I saw a story on CBS news about Peggy Harris and your failure to do a simple search. You're a disgrace to the GOP and yourself.

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