The Pentagon’s Global “News” Network

Melinda Brouwer of the FPA’s U.S. Diplomacy blog flags a USA Today article on the Pentagon’s latest information operations campaign, “a global network of foreign-language news websites.” The sites feature “reporting” by local journalists designed to promote American interests, and while the Pentagon’s involvement is not hidden, it is far from prominently displayed.

The article itself focuses on the ethical problem of targeted propaganda being passed off as “news.” It mainly discusses the site already launched for Iraq, but additional sites are in the works for Latin America and Asia. The program is based on a site launched in 1999 in the Balkans which has now become a regional news outlet.

Brouwer raises the additional question of why the program, which boils down to a public diplomacy effort, is being run out of the DoD instead of the State Dept. The obvious answer is that the Pentagon has more money. But it also reflects the ways in which historically civilian tasks are increasingly being militarized. I’ve mentioned humanitarian operations before. Now, as Brouwer aptly puts it, the military is “. . .assuming the responsibility of communicating internationally on behalf of the U.S.”

The phenomenon involves not just program implementation, but the conceptualization phase, as well. The logic of national security has become the dominant paradigm not only for understanding the world, but for justifying American action in it. Paradoxically, it represents an expression of American isolationism, since it transforms the world from a subject to engage with into an object to protect oneself from. The field of action has been displaced, but the essence remains the same.

Also, paradoxically, it comes at a time when the U.S. faces a long list of security threats, but very few national security threats. The conflation of the two might very well be the greatest failing of the past seven years, leading us to squander much of the hard and soft power we had at our disposal in the aftermath of 9/11. In fact, an argument can be made that the misuse of American power, more than any actual external threat, now poses the greatest risk to our national security.