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The State Department, not the Pentagon, should lead America's public diplomacy efforts

Why is the Department of Defense getting so much money and personnel to carry out the mission?

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Today's public diplomats wear boots, not wingtips. Increasingly, the Defense Department is at the forefront of US efforts to engage public opinion overseas. While the State Department formally leads the effort, the Pentagon has more money and personnel to carry out the public diplomacy mission.

This trend is risky. The message foreign publics receive – not the message the US sends – changes when the Pentagon is the messenger. Putting our military, not civilians, at the forefront of US global communications undercuts the likelihood of success, distorts priorities, and undermines the effectiveness of US civilian agencies.

According to a Washington Post report, the Department of Defense will pay private contractors $300 million over three years to produce news and entertainment programs for the Iraqi public. These well-intentioned efforts aim to "engage and inspire" Iraqis to support the objectives of both the US and Iraqi governments.

Such outreach campaigns can be powerful if done well and as part of a broader strategy of engagement, political reconciliation, and economic development. Indeed, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has argued eloquently that the United States must call increasingly upon "soft power" to advance national interests. Soft power can take many forms, but it is primarily the use of culture, values, and ideas to attract, instead of military or economic threats to coerce.

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