John Rendon, head of The Rendon Group, is a senior communications consultant to the White Houses and Departments of Defense. His subject in this talk is how to replace tactical, reactive response to terror with long-term strategic initiative.
John W. Rendon Jr.
John W. Rendon, Jr., CEO and President of the Rendon Group, oversees our global operations.
John is recognized internationally as an experienced and innovative strategic communications planner and operator. He is a leading advocate of new and emerging technologies that are changing the way individuals, agencies, and organizations observe, analyze, and communicate information.
John has served as a senior communications consultant to the White House, the U.S. Department of Defense, senior government and military officials in the U.S. and internationally, and to Fortune 500 companies.
He is a participant in forward-thinking organizations such as the Highlands Forum and the Aspen Institute, and is a contributor at key international strategic communications forums.
Considered an authority on the real-time global information environment, John lectures on strategic communications, international campaign management, and crisis management at universities worldwide.
It might help to give a little background of why and how John Rendon is here, tonight.Turns out that five of the Long Now board members have worked with John Rendon inthe past in one meeting or another. Danny Hillis, Peter Schwartz, Paul Sappho, me, andwe just got reminded, Kevin Kelly, John remembered Kevin in a session we were doingin the future of science, and Kevin had forgotten it. The thing that all of us have found isif there's some kind of workshop or meeting and John Rendon is there, the workshop willgo better. He has, doesn't say much, but when he speaks up he has extremely usefulinteresting stuff to say and when you're working in government meetings and workshopsyou always wonder if it's going to connect to anything in the real world, because there's alot of gears that don't. And when John is there, you know that the gears are connecting,because it is engaged, and I don't know what he's going to say tonight.Which is part of the pleasure for me, because usually with other speakers, I sort of know,but in this case, it's the man and his experience that we're bringing, and his interest insomething that the Long Now is interested in. I've talked to three people about how thepolitical needs to engage an important role of governance, which is long termresponsibility, and a better way. That seems to have gotten out of whack somehow. AndMadeline Albright has said she would like to give a talk on that subject. Al Gore has saidhe would like to give a talk on that subject, in the sequence. But when I raised the subjectwith John Rendon last week at a workshop we were at in Berkeley, The Future in LatinAmerica, he said he would like to talk on the subject. So please welcome John Rendon.Thanks, Stewart. Good evening. It's important for full disclosure that I share someobservations. First off, these will be my personal observations. They don't represent thegovernment of the United States, other governments, planets, solar systems. Also athousand years ago when I was 12, I served as executive director and political director ofthe Democratic Party. I was director of scheduling in advance for President Carter, andfrom time to time served as an analyst for BBC World Television. With a small, globalaudience of 365 million people every day, which in a global information environmentmeans that they reach more people in one broadcast than all the US networks combined.In fact, in the United States, they have a larger audience than Fox and MSNBC, which aretwo of our premier panic channels. A little humor is okay in the summer.I want to thank Stewart for inviting me. I've known Stewart for a few years, he's a brilliantinsightful soul, probably the first mythic poet I've ever met. But I was really sort ofintrigued and not baffled, but moderately depressed by one of his emails either thisafternoon or yesterday when you said I'd come out from behind the curtain, and maybe25, 26 years ago, when I was President Carter's convention manager in New York, ABCdid that piece about Oz and the person behind the curtain, so I'm thinking, a quartercentury later, I'm back doing this same thing. It's really a thousand years ago.I wanted to talk about a couple things. Stewart touched on this. I am increasinglyconcerned about the polarized nature of the nation, and I think it's harmful to the country,because people who hold views very passionately, and passion is a good thing, getattacked viciously by people on the other side, and as some people mentioned to me thismorning, there's no voice in the moderate middle. And what I wanted to do was just toshare some observations about the War on Terrorism, and most importantly against thoseobservations talk to you a little bit about the length of and the nature of a conflict andwhy I'm really happy and honored to be here.Because I think you may be the only group or continuing conversation that's taking a longview to everything. Or to anything. Uh, bless you. The increasingly, in Washington,everybody is consumed with today's news cycle. The tyranny of real time as NickGowing, who is the principal presenter on BBC describes it. And nobody has taken anytime to think about time in a long view. And so I'd like to share my observations against that backdrop.I started with the notion that 1,756 days ago, there was an attack in and at the UnitedStates, and as I began to think about that, it also occurred to me that 22,163 days ago inthis very room the United Nations started. And if we look back over that period of timeand if we begin to think of things in a longer context, we begin to see things a little bitdifferently. At the start of the war, the information objectives of the US military werereally for to create and maintain a coalition to counter, deter, and defeat the enemy, andthe enemy would change over time. To support the war fighter. If brave men and womenare going to go in harm's way, they deserve some support. 7 days a week, 365 days ayear. Not 9 to 5 Eastern Standard Time.To counter, deter, and degrade the enlistment of potential terrorists. So let me talk a littlebit about each one of these in a little bit more detail. I think if you're being honest withyourselves and you asked yourself if this is really a global war on terrorism, or America'swar on terrorism, you would tell yourself that it's America's war on terrorism. And yet inopen source reporting alone, since September 12th, 2001, over 76 countries haveconducted unilateral operations against terrorist targets or provided support for othercountries that were doing that. And these were countries that were saying so on theirown. Now, admittedly in that, some of that is round up the usual suspects, some of it isdomestic political considerations. But there is enough that is going on in different placesand many countries are participating.So what does that mean. That means that probably one of the largest strategicconundrums of the war is that the difference between perception and reality is divergent.The perception is that it's America's war on terrorism and there is enough comment thatit's really a global coalition working in different places at different times. Coalitions are,as people in the government would say, a center of gravity. The relationship of theUnited States and other countries is vital. Against that backdrop, the US government hasa huge credibility deficit when it messages overseas and has so for a number of years.We must find ways not just to engage the governments of other countries, but it'simportant and in our vital interests that we engage the people of other nations.Counter, deter and defeat the enemy and the enemy will change over time. We learnedearly on, because of the credibility deficit of the government, to talk about bin Laden andMullah Omar, meant we actually increased their value. So the debate shifted a little bitfrom people to their organizations. Because we could tell the truth, and in that truth iswhat al Quaeda sought to do, which was to turn different countries in to the next Talibanstate. That dynamic has shifted once again. It's now important to talk about the tacticsthat they use and not necessarily the people who use them. After all, who could supportsomeone who puts a bomb on a school bus and kills children? Who could support, andthis actually is a real issue in Iraq now, who could support someone who stops a busloadof people and checks their Ids and then selectively executes people because of their name?And then, as we begin to think about this, we need to think about the multiverse and notjust the universe. What we do is, we tend to look at things just from our eyes and notfrom others'. And this derives together with the coalition, strives together with theimportance of other countries and other cultures, and the values that they bring to thefight. Now, in terms of what's going on now, I'll share these observations. First, I thinkwe're fighting two wars. Where we shouldn't be. One is, we're fighting a war that'scomprised of real terrorists, coming at us and at coalition partners, whether it's London,Madrid, Casablanca, Aman. Names, faces, places, locations, some of which we knowand some of which we don't. That war is being fought largely by the military and theintelligence community. And it's being fought tens of thousands of miles away from here,and sometimes close to the border, or even just inside the border, with law enforcementagencies. And that part of the war, quite candidly, is going fairly well. A lot's beenstopped, sometimes in the middle of the night. But it's going fairly well.The second war is the war of potential terrorists, some of whom are alive, and some ofwhom are not yet born. And that's the war I can actually lose sleep over. Colleagues ofmine who are media analysts and native language speakers from the region remind methat in this war, it's really not a war of potential terrorists, it's a war of potential allies.And these allies are individuals, and they're citizens. And here's the reason they say that.If you remember my comment earlier about the credibility deficit of the US governmentmessages overseas, then think about this: we say that it's not a war against Islam, and werun the risk that 1.2 billion people hear that it is. If 1% of them are violent extreme actorsbent on attacking and destroying the United States of America and coalition partners,that's 12 million people. If they come with support networks of 2 to 3%, that's 48 millionpeople. Now, no government of the United States, regardless of political party orideology is going to authorize the construction of a combat operations plan that goes after48 million people one by one.That means that if we don't think long, and think long sooner rather than later, we will bein a situation where we will be fighting the fight and not necessarily fighting to win. Sowhat does that mean? That means in reality, the threat comes not from the 12 millionpeople, the 1%, the threat comes from the rest if we don't get them engaged in the natureof this conflict. What we need to do is to, and I'm going to borrow from Tom Friedmanon this, we need to turn the street into an active ally and away from being a passiveobserver. What we really need, and this is to think long again, is we need the parents andthe countries to believe because it is true that the American people care more about theirchildren and their children's children, than the governments of the countries in which theylive. If we don't start thinking about the people in these countries,we're going to miss an enormous opportunity.Against that we have some choices and challenges. First, we remain a peacetimegovernment while the military and others are at war. Second, we are an industrial agestructure in an information age environment. And that hasn't changed. Third, we havetactical opportunities that produce strategic threats. This is the temporal conundrumproblem. That right now there are actions being conducted in a number of places thatmeet a requirement at a tactical or local level now that could very well create a strategicproblem in the longer run. And then I think the single biggest threat in the nature of thewar is that the United States unplugs from the rest of the world and disconnects. I knowafter a recent debate in Congress which was very vitriolic, I had the opportunity to call anold friend of mine, who was a former member of congress, and I told him that I wasafraid that the Xenophobes were overrepresented in Congress. And this guy, with a goodSouthern drawl, said, "Rendon? You just might be wrong. There are a lot of them here."So what does that mean about the nature of the conflict now? Early in the war, and Iwould go back now to December 2001 and all of 2002, we conducted a number of focusgroups globally. We conducted them because we weren't sure if the war was going tobreak out, where else it was going to go. So we used marketing techniques, focus groupsas I just mentioned, specifically with the point of trying to find out what people weresaying, because we thought if the war was going to break out, it would manifest itself inthe rhetoric of young people first. So we did gender-divided, age-splits on youth, 16 to20, 21 to 25. So here are the top lines of that.Young Muslims said to us, "You look at us but do not see us. You talk to us but do notlisten. You believe in democracy inside your borders but not outside. And you lead increation and innovation but you do not share." And I look at that research probably oncea quarter, and I ask myself, how much has changed. And those views remain the same.Across different countries and across different regions. Ironically, to me, the first severalof those points are virtually identical to research that we saw in the late sixties and earlyseventies, and in the early seventies, I worked on Phase 2 de-segregation in Boston. Andthis "look at us but do not see us" and "talk to us but do not listen" was virtuallyidentically to what we were seeing across Boston and what we saw in the Civil Rightsmovement across the South.The second set of research that we took a look at really asked the question about theUnited States, Do you support the United States or not, do you like the United States ornot. The most interesting question of that was What is the United States to you? Andthis is where degrees of separation became very important. If the respondent to thesesurveys had studied the United States or worked in the United States, or had animmediate family member that did so, their definition of the United States was theAmerican people. And at that point it was a high positive and a low negative. So youwould think, 80 something to teens. If they were two and three degrees of separation outfrom that respondent, they defined US policy as American businesses in the globalmarketplace. McDonald's, Burger King, Nike, Reebock. And that was in the negativeprobably low fifties, medium forties.And if they were four and five degrees of separation out from that, their definition of theUnited States was the US government, and that was a very high negative to a very lowpositive, in fact, it was inverted. If you thought about people who, respondents whodefined the United States as the American people versus respondents who didn't know theAmerican people and defined it as US policy, those numbers were virtually identical, butinverted. So a recent poll that Piu did pointed out some very interesting numbers, that ina number of countries, popularity or support of the United States continues to declineover time, but there remains huge separation in numbers between a definition of theUnited States as the American people and a definition of the United States as US policy.Therein lies a key in the long war. In reality, what the United States really needs is thestrength and the credibility of the American people to increase the strength and credibilityof its government.So what about solutions. Talk a little bit about networking strategy. And I'm going to dothis from the same three places that I just described in the early polling numbers. Talk alittle bit about the government, a little bit about the private sector, and then a little bitabout the American people. First, I think the future is about convergence, those of youthat are in technology would all see that and a lot of the conversation is about platformson convergence. But I think it's about convergence not just in communications but also inrelationships. So what should the United States government do to shorten the long war?First, we need to use soft power to recover the credibility of the government. And it's notabout spin, it's really about substance.I remember a friend of mine describing a conversation with President Clinton in Russiaon a trip that he went over there, and the President was troubled and for those of you thatknow President Clinton, you know what troubled means. And he was expressing himself,and those of you that know President Clinton know what that means. And he wasoutraged that the news media would not give him credit for the things that he was doing,and one of these senior aides turned to him and said, "Mr. President, bad facts do notmake for good spin." We need to use soft power as Joe Nye describes it to increase thecredibility of the government.But what about issues we share in common with different populations? I think one of thesuccess stories that hasn't been told as much as it should have in the wake of the wallcoming down and the transformation in the post-Communist environment, is how muchof a role the National Endowment for Democracy has played in giving people anopportunity of empowerment, and an ability to express themselves, and to help with theformation and creation of governments. With that as a backdrop, I would encourage youto think about the creation of a Global Endowment for Education. It's important thatevery child on the planet has access to education. I would ask you also to think about theGlobal Endowment for Health Care. This is really about pre-natal health care, this isabout immunization, this is about stopping diseases that break out in these places. Andplaces that people don't pronounce. And they haven't been to.Also getting the Visa issue right is vital in our interest. There are colleagues of mine thathave told me stories about what it's like, so I'm going to share one of those with you now.In some of our embassies, people spend the equivalent of one month's salary for theprivilege of scheduling an appointment to stand in line for 4 or 5 hours, regardless of theweather, to go in, and it's a crap shoot, and they bring their children with them to find outwhether or not they can get a visa to come to the United States to visit. And invariably,depending upon how they're treated or what the process is like, some of these parentscome out and they're actually crying from the experience they've just gone through. Andthat's hard enough if you think about somebody that wants to come to the United States.Just as a visitor, this isn't a work permit. And this colleague of mine reminded me that it'snot just about the parents, it's about the children of the parents who just watched theirparents be treated that way.And here, not far away, in Silicon Valley, the whole emergence of the Silicon Valleyphenomenon had a lot to do with people who came from other countries, who shared theirinsights, their observations, learned, and then worked and helped make it productive.Visas are vital. Conductivity is essential, whether it's the hundred dollar laptops at themedia lab, we have to find ways to get people connected through technology, throughexperiences, shared commonality. All of that becomes essential. For those of you thatare active in alumni programs with your respective universities or schools, alumniprograms with international students are essential. The government also has to do, Ithink, a better job of engaging publics at home and abroad. Dialogue is helpful, debate isessential. In fact, it's vital to our national interests. After all, how can we tell people thatit's important to come up and have a democracy and a country if the debate here isn'tpermitted at home?Then also I think universal service, which started under the Clinton administration is alsoimportant to keep in mind. In this, I think a little bit about the Peace Corps, and I thinkabout the experience in the Tsunami, that I think now is almost a year and half, almosttwo years ago. I got one of the first alerts in activity that we maintain about open sourceinformation about the earthquake. And then in conversations shortly thereafter, by email,with military commanders in the Pacific, and at other commands, about the fact that an8.9 earthquake was going to have havoc, which was what the first news report was. Andthat providing humanitarian assistance was essential. We watched with interest over aperiod of time about how support for the United States shifted in Indonesia.I guess the good news is, I told people that were on this that over 35 days, support levelsfor the United States moved 56 points, and that was the good news. The bad news wasthat over 35 support levels for the United States moved 56 points, that if you move thatmany points in that short a period of time, they can move back. And if there is notsomething that comes in behind humanitarian assistance that has enduring value on theground, can actually lose the nature of the support that was developed. And now inIndonesia the support levels for the United States, as of last month, the computer was at 37%.Also to peg off of what Joe Nye talks in soft powers, that there's also a balance of smartpower. Which is a new characterization. Which is using both a combination of strong, orhard power, and soft power, and applying it selectively. And then as I think about thegovernment and I watch everything that's transpired over four years, and I see frustration,not just in citizens but also in people, commanders and soldiers, sailors airmen andmarines, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that the best role for the United Statesgovernment is to be the enabler and not the actor.The private sector: this is about connectivity again. This is about connectivity andtechnology, connectivity and education, connectivity and health care. Americanbusinesses that operate in the global market space that form part of the definition of whatthe United States is in an increasingly connected world, having increasingresponsibilities, not just to their shareholders, but also the citizens of the United States,and equally important, if not more important, are citizens of the country in which they doThey've really got to take a look at it. And they've got to engage at a much greater level.About a week ago, I was in Germany for a meeting and I was talking to somebody andshe had virtually perfect English, and I said to this person, well where did you learn yourEnglish? I fully expected it to be an English program in her school, and she said whenshe was growing up and going to high school, Volkswagen, which was just coming intothe United States at the time, which gives you an idea of the age of the person, who couldactually talk about the Beetle. And she said Volkswagon paid for her entire high schoolclass to study in the United States for 1 year and paid for US students to go study inGermany for one year. And I thought that was a tremendous program. And then Iwonder about US businesses that are operating out there now, whether they wouldconsider doing something similar, or helping wire schools in places in which they work.And then finally and most importantly the American people: what can they do? SenatorKennedy's done a good job, in the United States Senate, of establishing the importance ofbuilding bridges. But bridges go both ways, they're two way streets. And this ties back alittle bit to the United States government and what it can do. But if you think about theworld, and think about the world in a global context and the different countries andcultures, and I'm fortunate to work in 91 of them, the reality is that we have much to learnfrom each other. This isn't about bringing people over from other countries and askingthem to learn how we do things so that they can do things better.We have to learn from them as well.And so in that-- I want also to think about the importance of education. This is sort of mymagic wand solution. I ask colleagues from time to time if they could do one thing whatis is that they would do that would make a difference. And my answer to that question,because I'm not immune, is that I would make the third year of high school in the UnitedStates mandatory overseas, and I don't care what direction the students go. If we losetouch with the rest of the world, then we'll see the rest of the world as a threat and not asan opportunity, and the diversity of this nation is what produces the strength and thecharacter of the American people.Along with that, we could do a lot with health care. This is about building partnerships. Ilike the concept of the bridges that Senator Kennedy talked about. But health care incommunities across America should be related to health care and communities across theMiddle East, related to communities across Asia. We should be able to use thetechnology that has made such a big difference in everybody's lives, certainly in thisroom, across the country, an ability to build a bridge on education, an ability to build abridge on health care.And then also on communications, and I would say this to the news media across theUnited States, you're not absent from this either. I think that newspapers in the UnitedStates could do a lot worse than trading one position and partnering out with a newsorganization in the Middle East. I would think, for example, in my own state ofMassachusetts that the Boston Globe could send one journalist to work for Al Hayat, andtake one journalist from Al Hayat to the Boston Globe for a year. I think that helps. Thisis about understanding each other, it's not about being right.And the finally I think we have to think about how jobs, how economics works, in anumber of these countries, and a number of these cultures, and give people access to thatvery innovation that they see in the United States that they admire and that they respect,and that they think we keep away from them. So finally before I get to the 4,312questions that you've obviously collected, let me just address the future a little bit. I thinkthat the future, other than my comment about the final frontier in San Francisco and thestarship enterprise, I would tell you that I think the final frontier is really about networksand narratives, desperately in search of an alliteration, you say. The networks are allabout linked people, organizations, the scalability, social networks, not just hardwirednetworks, I think we really do have to find a way to have people communicate acrossboundaries and borders. I think the old definition of borders no longer works.And I think also that this multiverse, each of you has a universe around yourselves, or ifyou're here with family members, it's around your family members, and you cometogether and it pulls apart at different times. Well, you have to understand that everybodysees something, lives something differently, and that that multiverse is essential. Andthen it's about the narrative. I think a lot about this too, in the context of the long war.What is it that people will be taught in schools five years from now around the worldabout what transpired over the last five years? Whoever writes that narrative willprobably decide, will play a big role in whether the war is a hundred months long at thatpoint, or a hundred years long. This narrative will become central. And how will thosestories be handed down, family to family? Neighborhood to neighborhood, generation togeneration. This narrative is essential. And how will that story be told in movies, whichafter all are our tools of time. It's about networks and it's about the narrative.And then I come back to my concern about the crossroads the country's in, so I took alittle bit from Robert Frost's two paths, and I wonder if we can think about this from thenation's perspective, then I too will be telling this with a sigh that somewhere ages andages hence two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and as thepolitical discourse in the nation polarizes even more, that road that's less traveled by,which is maybe the one of civilized discourse, that's the one that will make all thedifference. It will make the difference over months, over years, and over the ages RobertFrost described. So thank you very much for having me, and I promised Stewart that I'dactually leave time for questions, and also for answers, so thank you very much andStewart, you come up here now I guess?