At the same time, the range of acceptable national security signals is a very narrow spectrum framed by "strong" on one end and "weak" on the other. The former is always characterized as the preferred communication, while the latter is dismissed pejoratively. As a result, the constant need to signal American strength is the overriding justification and/or objective for more -- more spending, more troops, more carrier battle group tours, etc. But since only weak or strong can be indicated, officials never ask if some foreign policy activity will signal whether the United States is wise, hypocritical, just, or moral.
Finally, it is ironic that many of the biggest advocates of non-verbally signaling intentions to adversaries also believe that the United States must never actually communicate directly with them. For these policymakers, speaking to an adversary face-to-face is a "reward" that should be withheld, and one that is much less effective than indefinitely stationing tens of thousands of U.S. troops in a neighboring country.
There is little doubt that the United States -- due to its military power, range of self-generated global interests, and perpetual state of warfare -- is more closely watched and studied than any other state on earth. However, what outsiders think about the United States based on national security debates on Capitol Hill and U.S. foreign policy actions is beyond the control of Washington. There are specific strategies, missions, and tasks that U.S. servicemembers and diplomats are sent abroad to achieve. Signaling, as a justification in itself, should not be one of them given its significant costs and inherent limits -- though it might be worth trying.
In 1977, the United States sent two Voyager spacecraft on a mission to "conduct closeup studies of Jupiter and Saturn, Saturn's rings, and the larger moons of the two planets." Only intended to last five years, both Voyagers are now more than nine million miles from earth, sending back information on an open-ended interstellar mission of discovery. Attached to each are identical gold-plated copper records. The records' contents, developed by a committee chaired by astronomer and cosmologist Carl Sagan, included: greetings in 55 languages, various natural and human-generated sounds (including one hour of author Ann Druyan's brain waves compressed into one minute), music samplings from around the world, 115 images encoded in analog form, and instructions for how to play the record for extraterrestrial life forms.
Sagan later warned, "Many, perhaps most, of our messages will be indecipherable. But we have sent them because it is important to try." Indeed, it was important to try signaling this information to aliens, though notably it was never the primary mission or justification for the Voyager probes, nor done with any expectation of success. Moreover, listening to the golden records -- much like listening to signaling claims in Washington -- communicates much more about who we are to us, than it ever could to anyone, or anything, else.