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Creating Great Expectations: Strategic Communications and American Airpower

Authored by Dr. Conrad C. Crane.

Creating Great Expectations: S... Cover Image

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Of all the American military services, the two most active and adept in strategic communications in the last century have been the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Air Force (USAF). As the smallest service, the Marines have pursued a very successful public relations campaign to trumpet their accomplishments and ensure their survival. It is a standing joke that a Marine rifle squad consists of eight riflemen and two cameramen. As the newest service, the USAF has had evolving motivations for its communications efforts, but the main goal has always been to escape being relegated to simply a supporting role for everyone else. Initially, USAF leaders wanted to gain independence for their service and later to prove its equality and even ascendency relative to the others. Arguably, adept strategic communications is what created the USAF. With the country’s vast distances and relative isolation from continental threats, along with faith in technology and a preference to avoid bloody close combat, Americans have always been uniquely attracted to airpower, a fact that has been very successfully exploited by generations of USAF leaders. But as a result, the nation has often entered conflicts with exorbitant expectations about what airpower could really accomplish, creating unique challenges in strategic communications when promises did not match reality, especially in recent conflicts. American airpower doctrine built around precision-strike capability envisions a rational targeting approach to war that is more relevant to the conventional battlefield than to wars among the people. Airpower is an important component of a unique and asymmetric American way of war that relies heavily on technology, and adaptive enemies have become very adept at using carefully crafted information campaigns as an effective counter.

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