There are titans and oracles among us in the fields we study.
From one, I’ve come to understand that “irregular warfare is the military’s contribution to political warfare.“
From another, I’ve also come to understand that we don’t need to bring back the United States Information Agency (USIA) or any variation of it in order to be successful.
In case you missed it, Matt Armstrong and Dr. Christopher Paul wrote an article last week debunking some of the myths around the USIA. This has become a bit of a pet project for Matt, as there are new think-pieces on this topic sprouting up all the time.
Part of this comes from the constant cries from some leaders that we’re “getting our asses kicked in the information environment.”
To address that concern, smart people look at the problem, do a little research, and come to the conclusion that the reason we’re “getting our asses kicked” is because we don’t have a mega-organization that manages all of this.
Well, we used to have a United States Information Agency – maybe we should bring that back?
After all, it has ‘information’ in the name.
The whole thing reminds me of something Colin Powell once said regarding seemingly simple solutions that have no basis in fact or history. He was on Face the Nation discussing the issue of how to try terror suspects in court. There were a lot of calls at the time to hand over terrorist suspects to the military to be tried in “military commissions,” instead of the federal court system.
Here’s how Powell responded (12:25):
“So the suggestion that somehow a military commission is the way to go isn’t born out by the history of the military commissions….a lot of people think just give them to the military and the military will hammer them.”Colin Powell, Face the Nation, 2/21/2010
It’s similar to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ statement that some people have a “cartoonish” view of military capabilities.
“It’s sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces,” he said. “The one thing that our forces are noted for is planning and preparation before we send people in harm’s way, and there just wasn’t time to do that.”Robert Gates, Face the Nation, 5/12/2013
There are no simple solutions to what we are trying to accomplish. I’ve become a true believer in Matt’s thesis that to “do” information right (warfare, operations, whatever) it starts with setting a very clear vision for where we are trying to go. What is the vision? What is the story we are trying to tell? From there, we have robust capabilities to make that happen.
You have to be able to picture what “right” looks like first.
Sure, there are things we can do to tweak the system, and we should. But those things are mostly procedural, not organizational.
The challenge here is there is no shiny object being carted out. New organizations are exciting. So are new capabilities or tech. Think-pieces without a big reveal don’t get a lot of attention.
As frustrating as it must be to continuously have to champion the same argument, I’m glad that Matt (and others) are out there doing so. If you’re not following his newsletter (infrequent, but always great), you can subscribe here.
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