Obsolete Restrictions on Public Diplomacy Hurt U.S. Outreach and Strategy. Read. Good stuff. For the longest time I thought I was a voice howling in the wildnerness. I wasn’t, but I couldn’t hear the rest of the pack. Now the pack is tuning up, and is being heard loud and clear.
At issue is Section 501 of the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (Smith-Mundt Act), the legislation underlying America’s overseas informational and cultural programs. While the act is rightly hailed for establishing the programming mandate that still serves as the foundation for U.S. outreach, it has one serious drawback: It prohibits domestic dissemination of information designed for foreign consumption, ostensibly so as to ban “domestic propaganda.” Yet in this age of instant and global communication, expecting to prevent such public information from reaching Americans is unrealistic and technologically impossible. In the war on terrorism, this restriction is worse than an anachronism: It amounts to self-sabotage. Until Congress relegates this piece of legislation to the dustbin of history, the U.S. cannot expect to conduct public diplomacy effectively.
I don’t think Smith-Mundt will be repealed by this Congress, but questioning applicants for the next Congress would be useful. Haranguing the Regulars into casting off the yoke of pettifogging lawyers misinterpreting laws not meant to apply to their Department would be an excellent use of Civilian Irregular Information Operator time and talent.
H/T: Swedish Meatballs Perception Management Tracker