By Patricia H. Kushlis
James Farwell’s soon to be published book Persuasion and
Power: The Art of Strategic
Communication (Georgetown University Press) is a “how to” book for
professionals and wannabe professionals as well as an interesting read for
those who simply want to learn more about how governments and politicians
(elected and non-elected) have informed and influenced publics about their policies
Farwell is a long-time political campaign and US military
strategic communications consultant. He wrote this book as a way of explaining
in lay terms the thinking behind campaigns of influence – or in less pejorative
terms – ways of “winning hearts and minds.”
In essence, Farwell suggests that there are certain common elements
between what the US military calls strategic communication, governments call
public affairs and public diplomacy, businesses see as advertising and
political advisors view as campaigning. He
eschews or questions incomprehensible jargon and quantitative studies and
instead uses numerous real world examples told through narrative to illustrate
Paramount importance of truth telling
Farwell’s basic argument is that the overriding goal of any
information campaign is not only to inform but also to influence the people who
matter. He suggests that this is the case
for authoritarian regimes and dictators seeking to keep their populations in
line as well as for democracies, militaries, foreign offices and elected
politicians. And, he argues that
whatever the message – the facts and the story need to be accurate. They must be judged as credible by the
intended recipients because the long term veracity of the messenger is crucial
to his or her obtaining and maintaining popular support.
I also think the medium is not the message; the message is
the message; but the messenger must choose the most effective medium or media
for its delivery whether for good or ill.
Witness – as Farwell tragically points out – the efficacy of hate radio
campaigns in the 1996 Rwandan genocide and, I would add, also 1990s Former
Truth be told, you will see my name in several different
chapters of this book because I was involved in its initial editing. I donated my time – and expertise on public
diplomacy – because I thought the book had the potential to go beyond the tiny
readership of communications specialists cloistered – for the most part – on
military bases and in university communications departments.
And although I have been subjected to various
social science quantitative theories over the years in graduate school and
beyond and found some useful in practice, I also know that people remember
concepts told through stories far better than when presented through hard, cold
data or entangled in specialist jargon.
Farwell uses his gift for story telling – he after all, lives in
Faulkner country – to excellent advantage in this readable and instructive volume.
It’s incredibly hard to keep a book of this sort
up-to-date. Farwell did as well as he
could before it went to press in July. Unfortunately, his last update occurred when
the 2012 US presidential race was very much tied. At the time, he called the Obama
campaign unimpressive – perhaps underestimating the campaign’s organizational
activities on the ground – although Farwell did credit Obama for “getting onto
the Bain issue,” an approach which the campaign then played successfully and
relentlessly to and through election day.
In short, I
would have told this tale differently – but then Farwell and I are simply
on different sides of the political aisle. Besides, hindsight is always better than
foresight. This, I might add, made for a
number of interesting conversations early on – although let me be clear, we
agree on major concepts, approaches and operational principles of influence as presented
in this book.
What Can Be Done?
In “Change that would Matter,” Farwell’s penultimate
chapter, he includes lists of recommendations for the US military as well as
the State Department as these behemoth bureaucracies navigate the shoals of
reduced government spending during the final four years of the Obama
administration and yet again divided government. Since one of those lists is mine –you may
credit or blame me for its contents – let me conclude by indicating that I
stand by all of my recommendations.
They, in a nutshell, suggest that I think American public
diplomacy – indeed American foreign policy – needs to begin at home with “the
last three feet” and that the State Department has not only been derelict in
its treatment of public diplomacy specialists abroad and hence squandered much potential
influence needlessly but that it has yet to grasp that it needs to obtain
support for its activities abroad through educating and communicating better with
publics right here in the US.
Living in Albuquerque, New
Mexico’s River City on the Rio Grande, believe me, the Pentagon has been far
more effective in selling its heavily armed approach to “solving” US foreign
policy problems than State’s far more benign, nuanced and non-lethal diplomatic views.
I would just add one more recommendation in
retrospect: there needs to be much
greater support by State, Congress, the US political leadership and members of
the international business community for the long planned Museum of Diplomacy than there has been up to now. This Museum is
designed to fit into an open space next to the Department. Let’s face it, the State
Department is a boring, security entombed building to which not even retired US
diplomats have much access – let alone the public. Meanwhile, the US capital
overflows with easily accessible and impressive memorials to America’s war dead.
There’s even a Spy Museum that commemorates the CIA and the Newseum trumpets the
feats of the commercial media. Maybe, however, with a greater accent on
diplomacy and what it can bring combined with far less reliance on shoot’em ups
at the OK Corral America's fiscal and social wellbeing would be far better served. An
attractive and welcoming Museum not far from the Mall – should be part of
James P. Farwell, Persuasion and Power: The Art of
Strategic Communication, Georgetown University Press, December 2012, 271