Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Admiral's Critique: "Getting Back to Basics" in Strategic Communication

An authoritative voice that has joined the "stratcom" debate, rather unexpectedly, is that of Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen. His recent commentary in the current issue of Joint Force Quarterly about "getting back to basics" in strategic communication includes the revelation that he does not much care for the term itself. Strategic communication, he continues, has become "something of cottage industry."

Mullen sees a degree of arrogance in current Pentagon stratcom efforts, noting that "We've come to believe that messages are something we can launch downrange like a rocket, something we can fire for effect." Adm. Mullen makes what is just about the most important observation that a senior military officer or Administration official possibly could on this subject -- namely that "we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate." Amen.

It was something of a surprise, then, to see the Admiral's observations bludgeoned shortly thereafter in a "guest post" on Matt Armstrong's influential blog, mountainrunner.us. A Marine Corps information officer, who insisted his comments were his own, dismissed Mullen's Joint Force Quarterly piece as a reflection of bureaucratic tribalism -- an attack by the Chairman's ostensibly misguided aides, adherents of a traditional "public affairs" emphasis at the Pentagon rather than a more forward-leaning "strategic communication" approach. "DoD needs to be in the SC business -- etymology of the term be damned," he writes. "The generation of leaders that has come of age in this war -- those who have real experience on the ground -- they know what SC is, they know how to do it, and they are getting better at it."

Talk about a strategic disconnect!

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