Mullen vs. the Money Changers (Strat Comm Run Amok)

In a sobering look at communications in the current defense environment, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen calls out the monster that “strategic communication” has become and its detrimental effect to U.S. efforts abroad.

In the latest Joint Forces Quarterly Mullen uses straightforward, plain language with great effect. He is not impressed with strategic communication and even less so with its role as the enemy from within. He writes:

By organizing to it [strategic communication] — creating whole structures around it — we have allowed strategic communication to become a thing instead of a process, an abstract thought instead of a way of thinking. It is now sadly something of a cottage industry. (Mike is being kind. It is more a multimillion dollar industry, with those bucks lining the pockets of defense fat cats as they often do.)

Strategic communication took on a life of its own a decade or so ago with boutique and overpriced defense contractors uncovering those unrealized needs, playing on the fears of the Defense Department and other government agencies.

Facebook- and Twitter-savvy Mullen seems to know the strong public affairs officer has long used strategic communication principles and rolled them into command planning. In strat comm, Mullen sees an idea run amok and maintains defense problems more often are policy and execution issues, not communication concerns. He says:

“To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate.”

Mullen writes the Quadrennial Defense Review should redefine the strategic communication concept so it is no longer separate function, but rather a process for guiding and informing decisions. Essentially, effective communication comes through action, good works. (While that may be true, there is a place for further communicating those good works.) His stance on communications and its “force multiplier” effect are unclear. Mullen probably long has seen strategic communication for the money scam it can be, but probably could not (until now) get the green light to cry “Foul!” and throw the money changers from the temple.

We can only hope these outrageous strategic communication contracts will run their course. Divisions built on misinformation and client fear and trust should go the way of the dinosaur or Crusader.

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