Public Affairs

It is difficult to understand the depths of his political and strategic myopia.
—  Christopher A. Preble, Cato Institute VP for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies discussing Marco Rubio’s foreign policy. Read the entire Newsweek op-ed. 
GCHQ’s Rainbow Lights: Exploiting Social Issues for Militarism and Imperialism

Over the weekend, the British surveillance agency GCHQ — the most extremist and invasive in the West — bathed its futuristic headquarters with rainbow-colored lights “as a symbol of the intelligence agency’s commitment to diversity” and to express solidarity with “International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.” GCHQ’s public affairs office proudly distributed the above photograph to media outlets. Referring to Alan Turing, the closeted-and-oppressed gay World War II British code-breaker just memorialized by an Oscar-nominated feature film, Prime Minister David Cameron’s office celebrated GCHQ’s inspirational lights:

This is so very moving. Gay Brits are now just as free as everyone else to spy on people, covertly disseminate state propaganda, and destroy online privacy. Whatever your views on all this nasty surveillance business might be, how can you not feel good about GCHQ when it drapes itself in the colors of LGBT equality?

This is all a stark illustration of what has become a deeply cynical but highly effective tactic. Support for institutions of militarism and policies of imperialism is now manufactured by parading them under the emotionally manipulative banners of progressive social causes.

The CIA loves this strategy. It now issues

press releases hailing

LGBT Pride Month and its “Agency Network of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Officers and Allies (ANGLE),” which “heralded the start of Pride Month by unveiling a photography exhibit at CIA Headquarters showcasing LGBT officers, allied employees, and their families.” Last month, the spy agency actually

set up a recruiting tent

at the Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade. Also last month, it summoned Maureen Dowd to Langley to interview female agents — ones whom the NYT columnist hailed as a “perky 69-year-old blond” and a mid-30s “chic analyst” — to produce

a glowing portrait

of “the C.I.A. sisterhood.” What Good Progressive could possibly view such such a pro-gay and feminist institution with disdain?

Neocons have long adeptly exploited this tactic and are among its pioneers. Before the invasion of Afghanistan, Americans were inundated with stories about the Taliban’s oppression of women: as though feminism was part of the cause of that war. To help justify the invasion of that country, the Bush State Department suddenly discovered its profound concern for the plight of “Afghan women and girls.” Some American feminist groups dutifully took up the cause as U.S. bombs were falling and U.S. soldiers were invading that country, as though it were some sort of War for Feminism and the Liberation of Afghan Women.

What Good Progressive could oppose a war like that? The fact that the U.S. not only refrained from invading, but lavishly supported, all sorts of regimes that were at least as repressive to women as the Taliban went unmentioned. That might suggest that liberation of women was merely a propagandistic pretext for that war rather than an actual desired outcome — just as Saddam Hussein’s “gassing of his own people” and other human rights abuses (committed when he was a close U.S. ally) had exactly zero to do with that war other than providing a feel-good means for liberals to support it.

These days, animosity toward leading U.S. adversaries — Vladimir Putin and Iranian mullahs — is bolstered through a sustained focus on their maltreatment of their LGBT citizens. The most war-craving neocons endlessly focus on the plight of gay Iranians — as though that’s what motivates their hostility, as though neocons care about any of that in the slightest — while completely ignoring brutal LGBT suppression by regimes that are highly deferential to the U.S. and Israel. All of this, though blatantly manipulative, is also a remarkably effective tactic: Obama-aligned gay groups in the U.S. such as Human Rights Campaign regularly churn out anti-Russia screeds, and do the same for Iran.

Like any effective propaganda, all of this is grounded in some semblance of truth. The Taliban really are grotesquely oppressive to women; Saddam really was a severe human rights violator; Iran really does punish and sometimes even executes its gay citizens, while Putin has cultivated an anti-gay climate for domestic political benefits.

But none of that has the even the remotest connection to U.S. foreign policy or to the reasons these countries are deemed American adversaries. Just as is true for the Taliban’s treatment of women, the regimes the U.S. loves and supports the most are at least as oppressive to LGBT individuals as Iran is (or, when compared to Russia’s actual record on gays, far more oppressive). The U.S. government doesn’t mind in the slightest if a government is oppressive to its gay or female citizens: quite the contrary, as a look at its closest allies proves. It just exploits those social issues as a means of propagandizing the public into hating the regimes that oppose its dictates, and well-intentioned people then dutifully march into line (just as some Iraq War supporters, and Libya War supporters, genuinely got convinced that invading and bombing those countries would somehow improve “human rights” — as though that were the goal or the likely outcome).

As a general matter, this tactic for Washington is far from new. The U.S. media has long hyped human rights and civil liberties abuses when perpetrated by governments disliked at the moment by the U.S. government, while ignoring far worse ones committed by subservient regimes. That’s why “Pussy Riot” has become a household name among Americans, and why the U.S. media developed an acute interest in the press freedom record of Ecuador as soon as it granted asylum to Julian Assange, but there is almost no interest in hearing about the systematic abuses of the Gulf tyrannies most commonly hailed by the U.S. media as “Our Friends and Partners in the Region.” This is human rights concerns as a cynical propaganda tactic, not anything remotely approaching an actual belief.

But the exploitation of these specific progressive social issues — especially women’s and LGBT rights — is a relatively new modification of this long-standing tactic. It has found expression in the “pink washing” of Israeli aggression: all Good Progressives are supposed to side with Israel because they provide better treatment to LGBT citizens than Palestinians do. Anti-Muslim fanatics use this same tactic constantly (literally every day, I’m told I should never oppose persecution and imperialistic aggression against Muslims because of “their” anti-gay fanaticism: why are you defending “them” since “they” would throw you off a roof, etc.). Similarly, the (genuinely exciting) milestone of the first African-American president was effectively used to obscure what the CIA itself in 2008 regarded as Obama’s irreplaceable value in protecting status quo militarism, while the milestone of the first female president will be used to obscure Hillary Clinton’s similar role.

Figuratively dressing up American wars in the pretty packaging of progressive social causes, or literally decorating pernicious spy agencies with the colors of the LGBT cause, should leave no doubt about what this tactic is. Militarism and aggression don’t become any more palatable because the institutions that perpetrate them let women and gays participate in those abuses, nor do American wars become less criminal or destructive because their targets share the same primitive social issue stances as America’s closest allies.



Last year we discovered that Chicago artist Jim Bachor (previously featured here) was filling unsightly potholes on the street of his city with beautiful custom mosaics of flowers. This year Bachor is back in action with a new series of art installations/pothole repairs entitled Treats in the Streets, featuring colorful ice cream and popsicles.

“My work consists mostly of subjects and ideas not traditionally seen in classic mosaic art.” Bachor explains, “I work in advertising so the idea of consumerism shows up in my work on a regular basis. I love the idea of turning this classic art form on its head and giving it a modern twist.”

Chicago gets very hot and humid in the summer, so we bet these cheerful installations are going to have people running for the nearest convenient store or ice cream shop at first sight.

Follow Jim Bachor on Instagram to keep up with his latest pothole mosaics.

[via Junkculture]


In what the Obama administration describes as a “years-long” coalition effort to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, the United States has reentered conflict in the Middle East. The White House heralds its close cooperation with Arab allies, including a number of petrostates such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, describing their cooperation as vital to the success of the campaign.

But petrostates are unlikely to be good allies for the U.S. campaign in Iraq and Syria. The reliance of those countries on oil and gas revenues distorts both foreign policy decisions and their implementation. First, petrostates have weak foreign policy institutions, producing policy that is of poor quality and strongly driven by personalities. Second, the vast flow of oil income enables the states to back nonstate actors in conflicts, but their weak civil service cannot control the flow of arms or funds. Third, oil income also enriches private citizens, some of whom directly fund terrorist organizations such as ISIS. Thus, largely through ineptitude, those states have helped to foster Syria’s civil war, indirectly facilitating the rise of ISIS.

The idiosyncrasies of oil-rich states make them poor partners for the United States in this instance and in future conflicts. As allies, petrostates are especially likely to draw America into unnecessary and intractable conflicts.

In particular, Washington should largely disentangle itself from the Saudi alliance and from reliance on Saudi intelligence and diplomatic services. Keeping Saudi Arabia at arm’s length will help to minimize involvement in Middle East conflicts that are not vital to U.S. interests.

In light of the ongoing ISIS-driven violence in the region, how should the United States deal with petrostates like Saudi Arabia and Qatar? Cato visiting fellow Emma Ashford offers her take in this short video, podcast, and new paper.

Mountain Man by United States Marine Corps Official Page on Flickr.

This article delves in deeper to what we call many extremist groups lately: terrorists. Some very radical groups employ the same types of violent activities that other terrorist groups use to get what they want. The author of the textbook we are using this semester, Persuasion: Reception and Responsibility, seems to assert that any type of physical action, from protests to violent outbursts, constitutes coercion and not persuasion. I wouldn’t say that is the case for protests, where the audience still has the ability to consciously make a choice. It may not be an easy choice, but a company can choose to ignore striking workers, if it wants, and still find ways to survive.  

The difference comes to the introduction of tactics that leave the other party with no plausible choice between actions. Technically, an animal lab that has been vandalized by an extremist group could ignore the violent act and continue on as normal, but how long would it last? Would people still want to work there, what is to prevent the same action from being taken again? It becomes the only safe choice to shut down the lab.  If you hear about a choice that is “life or death,” do we often hear of someone choosing death?

Not all groups that we think of as “extreme” necessarily rely on definitive coercion. PETA, for example, uses very strong, but none-the-less persuasive methods to advocate for animal rights. They don’t use physical violence, and while some of their imagery and literature may make you squeemish, you can still look away and go on with your day, if you so choose, without fear of retaliation. This is the difference between groups using persuasion, and groups using coercion. 

PAOs, and the reporters we facilitate, tend to operate in rather austere environments and finding the right equipment for these environments is a full time job in and of itself (seriously, there are 2 guys at Ft. Meade, MD doing it for just the U.S. Army). During the beginning days of major operations we are often cut off from reliable electricity and internet in deserts, mountains, oceans, jungles, and lord-only-knows wherever else we get sent. While we have systems such as DVIDS to help us get the story out, such systems are bulky and can be cumbersome when weight and speed are a factor. Alan Arnette isn’t a Soldier (never has been to my knowledge) but he is a bit of a kindred spirit in that he has blogged, photographed, reported, and generally communicated literally from the top of the world. I’ve always followed his story because I believe in his cause but also because I was amazed at how he was able to reliably communicate from places that are virtual black holes. He shares the secrets of how he did if from the tops of the worlds tallest mountains in this post from his site. While the military and professional news outlets have their own equipment and ways of doing business this seems like a great primer for anyone planning to freelance in those parts of the world that few dare to tread.

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine prepares for her swearing-in ceremony with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on April 24, 2012. [State Department photo by Ben Chang/ Public Domain]

Survey of Journalists Finds Public Information Officers Often Prevent the Public From Accessing Information

A chart from the Society of Professional Journalists’ survey indicates the extremely high amount of journalists who say that agency officials monitor interviews with agency employees. In fact, only 9% of journalists say that this rarely or never happens.

Public Intelligence

The Society of Professional Journalists conducted a study for this year’s Sunshine Week surveying 146 journalists who cover federal agencies regarding the role that public affairs or public information officers play in restricting the flow of relevant information to the public.

The survey found that journalists face significant obstacles in the performance of their duties due to the obstructive activities of public affairs officers. Some of these obstacles include requiring pre-approval for interviews, prohibiting interviews of certain agency employees or rerouting interview requests, and the active monitoring of interviews being conducted with agency employees.

Journalists who responded to the survey found that this obstruction is preventing the public from “getting all the information it needs because of barriers agencies are imposing on journalists’ reporting practices.”

Here’s what the survey found:

  • 75% of journalists reported that they have to get approval from public affairs officers before interviewing an agency employee
  • 70% reported that agency interview requests are forwarded to public affairs officers for “selective routing” to whomever they want
  • Almost 50% reported that agency employees are sometimes barred from engaging with interviews with the press and nearly 20% of journalists say that this is a common occurrence
  • More than 50% reported that public affairs officials monitor their interviews with agency employees either all or most of the time

More Info

Still looking for a summer internship? The Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association- Southern California Regional Headquarters (APAPA-SCR) is awarding a number of internships for Asian and Pacific Islander (API) American college students. Current college students are eligible and encouraged to apply for this internship / scholarship opportunity. The purpose of the internship is to help students better understand California state and local government and to develop future leaders in the API community. Each intern must spend a minimum of 50 hours in the assigned office between July 7 – August 8, 2014, working for a local/state legislator, congress member, or constitutional officer in Southern California. 

The deadline to apply is June 13, 2014! 

Two Women, Two Countries, Two People: A Growing Partnership

About the Author: Tara Sonenshine serves as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

There is no more effective form of engagement than face-to-face communication. That’s a fundamental principle of our public diplomacy. And thanks to a strong friendship and understanding between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf , we have just signed an important agreement between the United States and Liberia.

One year ago, this month, Secretary Clinton traveled to Monrovia to attend the inauguration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf . At the time she said, “Democracy hasn’t just sprouted in Liberia, it has taken root.”

The relationship struck between Secretary Clinton and President Sirleaf – strengthened by their own personal narratives of empowerment and their mutual commitment to changing the lives of women and girls, peace-building,… more »