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Archive for February, 2006

Friday, February 24th, 2006


The Small Wars Council, a gem of a discussion board if there ever was one, has not disappointed with this posting on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s take on the media and the war on terror. An excerpt from the posted quotation:

“Our nation is engaged in what promises to be a long struggle in the global war on terror. In this war, some of the most critical battles may not be in the mountains of Afghanistan or the streets of Iraq but in newsrooms in New York, London, Cairo and elsewhere.

Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today’s media age, but for the most part we — our government, the media or our society in general — have not.

Consider that violent extremists have established “media relations committees” and have proved to be highly successful at manipulating opinion elites. They plan and design their headline-grabbing attacks using every means of communication to break the collective will of free people.

Our government is only beginning to adapt its operations for the 21st century. For the most part, it still functions as a five-and-dime store in an EBay world.

have just returned from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. In Tunis, the largest newspaper has a circulation of roughly 50,000 — in a country of about 10 million people. But even in the poorest neighborhoods you can see satellite dishes on nearly every balcony or rooftop.

Regrettably, many of the TV news channels being watched using these dishes are extremely hostile to the West. The growing number of media outlets in many parts of the world still have relatively immature standards and practices that too often serve to inflame and distort rather than to explain and inform. Al Qaeda and other extremist movements have utilized these forums for many years, successfully adding more poison to the Muslim public’s view of the West, but we have barely even begun to compete in reaching their audiences.

The standard U.S. government public affairs operation was designed primarily to respond to individual requests for information. It tends to be reactive, rather than proactive, and it operates for the most part on an eighthour, five-days-a-week basis, while world events — and our enemies — are operating 24/7 across every time zone. That is an unacceptably dangerous deficiency…”

Rumsfeld’s perception of the nature of Arab media and various regimes was much criticized at ‘Aqoul by Collounsbury but the SecDef is more than correct regarding the amateurish, uncoordinated, reactionary, culturally tone deaf and non-strategic nature of American information policy.

As I see it, we have two unrelated problems here:

1. The MSM is intellectually homogenized with a distinctive ” herd mentality” of people of a certain parochial outlook and big journalism school background that produces largely superficial reporting that jams all events into the 100 year old Pulitzerian news frame. For more on this, see Paul H. Weaver’s _News and the Culture of Lying_.

2. That being said, the USG has no Strategic Influence policy worthy of the name. To call our efforts in the war of ideas incompetent would be to cast a slur on incompetent people everywhere. The merely incompetent simply shoot themselves in the foot – of late, we lobb grenades at the enemy and manage to blow off our own genitals on live global television. Repeatedly.

A short list of concerns that come to mind just off of the top of my head:

No setting of strategic information objectives by the POTUS through the NSC.

No coordination of military and civilian agencies in terms of message discipline. Or within either the military OR the civilian agencies. In short, no information policy ” jointness”. Four plus years into a war, no less.

No process by which to methodically identify the multiple audiences that each message is going to reach or analytically gaming how they will perceive it.

Little effort to differentiate intellectually between public diplomacy, covert influence and pure disinformation operations. For that matter, no consideration of how our own disinformation is blowing back at us via the MSM !

An inability to craft messages with an a priori comprehension of the target audience worldview so that our message is culturally relevant and persuasive.

Insufficient linguistic capacity to interpret the OODA loop for information warfare.

Investment in media that is not perceived by the target audience as credible or independent (i.e. al-Hurra comes across as a transparent shill unlike the VOA and Radio Free Europe during the Cold War).

I could go on.

Our opponents are guys who glory in ghoulishly beheading people. The fact that we are having trouble pulling even with them is an indictment of our efforts. Yes, the liberal MSM is unhelpful in terms of furthering national security or foreign policy objectives but we do not have our act together.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006


Dave Schuler has an excellent post up commemorating the birthday of George Washington, our first President and the only founding father that the other founding fathers, generally a squabbling bunch, regarded with a degree of awe. Dave writes:

“Such was Washington’s popularity that, had he desired to remain in office, he would have been overwhelmingly re-elected. They’d have made him king if he’d wanted it. This is why he was called “the American Cincinnatus”: the voluntary leaving of power.”

When I was in grad school, a student asked the professor in a colonial era history seminar what was Washington’s importance in the larger scheme of American history? The professor, whose research interests went more toward documenting the small doings of the unwashed and dispossessed, replied ” He retired.”

This received a quiet general laugh for cutting to the heart of the matter of Washington helping ensure that our Revolution, unlike almost all others that followed, was civilized and humane. Washington was not without ambition; aside from the Kings of Spain and Portugal, he became one of the largest private landowners in the Americas but the yardstick Washington measured himself by was that of Anglo-Virginian gentry respectability, not the glory of Roman Caesars. The desire to order the lives of other men was far less strong in Washington than his desire to be left alone.

Washington’s preeminence and political charisma came from a reputation of spotless integrity, reticence, perseverence and personal dignity that was reinforced by a record of bravery and physical stature that left him the most impressive figure in any hall or drawing room. Made the president of the Constitutional Convention, one brief reproach from Washington was enough to keep the delegates sworn to secrecy; one simple gesture conceding human weakness, quelled an incipient rebellion of Continental Army officers. Washington’s presence was usually a more eloquent argument than his words.

This aloofness that Washington cultivated out of insecurity and natural inclinaton has left him remote from modern Americans in a way that the irascible John Adams or the intellectual Thomas Jefferson are not. Our view of the Father of Our Country is still that seen in The Apotheosis of Washington that graces the Capitol Building or in The American Zeus – both of which, incidentally, would have horrified Washington. This is unfortunate because while George Washington was not as lettered or learned as Adams or Madison nor as brilliant as Jefferson or Hamilton the man was no idealized marble statue. He was a very shrewd judge of men and possessed keen insight into the limitations of power and the suprising reach of the power of example.

Washington was not merely the best of men by the standards of his day but the best man for the times.

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006


No comments from me as…I have no time !

Bruce Kesler at The Democracy Project – “Capitalism, Capos, or Cop-Outs?

Rob at BusinessPundit – ” Working in Serial

Brad Plumer on “Dreams are Cool

Judy Dempsey at America-Russia.net – ” NATO and Russia to Trade Intelligence

Dan of tdaxp – “OODA-PISRR, Part IV: System Perturbations

Blogs recently added to my blogroll:

Sic Semper Tyrannis

F-X Based

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006


The Jamestown Foundation has released two new updates on Islamist insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq:

Islamist Ideologues Struggle to Raise Morale” by Stephen Ulph

History Overtakes Optimism in Afghanistan” by Michael Scheuer

Ulph sees mounting weakness in the recent apocalyptic propaganda coming from al Qaida ogans:

“The tale, told in a dramatic, semi-lyrical vein, is an effective morale booster for the mujahideen since it explains away many of their concerns: the infrequent surfacing of bin Laden, the lack of decisive results in Iraq, the seeming self-confidence of the Americans and the appearance of disunity among the jihadi leadership. For al-Kinani, the jihad in Iraq is not failing because it was never anything more than a rehearsal and a training ground for the fight in the U.S., where the FBI “are trembling” at what these mysterious developments portend. Al-Kinani’s analysis importantly maintains the image of a coherent leadership of the heroes of the jihadi elite who are carrying out a consistent plan. These musings are interesting not only for the fact that the statement is put out by GIMF, lending its analysis some internal authority for the web mujahideen, but also as a window into the apocalyptic strain of jihadi commentary and propaganda, which remains doggedly resilient in the face of victory postponed.”

At some point, in order to retain credibility, al Qaida must be seen by its admirers in carrying out a successful attack against American power or failing that, having attempted an act of terrorism of suitable scale . If not 9/11 at least 3/11 or Bali. Simply shooting up a shopping mall or setting off a generic car bombing is not going to do the trick.

In the second article, Scheuer offers a pessimistic assessment of current U.S. and allied counterinsurgency and democratization efforts in Afghanistan:

“Near-Spring Reality: After two nationwide elections, few of those who disagree with President Karzai have put their weapons away and decided to wait peaceably for the next election. Indeed, there has been an up-tick in violence after each election. While the Afghans are avaricious consumers and innovative users of the tools of modernity—be it ordnance or communications gear—they are steadfast opponents of “Westernization,” particularly of the variety that downplays religion, asserts women’s rights, ignores ethnic rivalries and hatreds, and seeks to undermine tribal politics and loyalties. “

This is however, the norm in Afghanistan regardless of whether the government in Kabul was monarchist, republican, communist, mujahedin or Taliban. The center has never exercised effective control over the provinces except in rare instances. Even the Taliban, whose rule was tighter than most Afghan regimes, was forced to bribe and co-opt many local warlords in their march across the country and by the time of their overthrow, the Taliban’s harsh rule had begun alienating even some of the Pushtun subtribes in Paktia.

Dr. Scheuer is more on target here:

While it is too early to say that Afghanistan is again lost to the West, the trend lines are heading in the direction of another Western defeat and withdrawal. If such is the case, the result will be rightfully attributed to the failure of Western leaders—military, political, and media—to have read and assimilated the lessons of Afghan history before invading. One Westerner, the eminent British military historian Sir John Keegan, did read that history and offered a clear and early warning. “The Russians [1979-89]…foolishly did not try to punish rogue Afghans, as [Britain’s Lord] Robert’s did, but to rule the country,” Keegan wrote on September 14, 2001 in the Daily Telegraph. “Since Afghanistan is ungovernable, the failure of their effort was predictable….America should not seek to change the regime, but simply to find and kill the terrorists.” U.S. and Western leaders should heed Sir John’s prescient words.”

The only answer to the Pushtun tribal support network for al Qaida may be, unfortunately a decimating punitive expedition on the coupled with an offer of a generous amnesty for those tribes who wish to yield honorably. The Pakistanis will not do such a thing for us unless the regime in Islamabad feels itself in great danger or that al Qaida and the Taliban may ” detach” the historically Afghanistani Northwest provinces from Pakistan – a longstanding fear of the Pakistani elite.

Monday, February 20th, 2006


The intrepid Dan of tdaxp secured a very revealing “must read” interview with strategist and bestselling author Thomas P.M. Barnett ( posted in full at Tom’s website). A snippet:

“7. Who else influenced you?

Mentors I describe in PNM: Gaffney at CNA taught me the biz of studies and analysis, as well as an understanding of global politics; Cebrowksi taught me the military angle; Flanagan taught me the global economics. Other mentors and connectors throughout career made a point of introducing me to the right people and audiences for my material.

8. Who were your teachers and what influence did they have?

Key teachers in high school encouraged my capacity for meta-analysis and my love of presentation. A key one: Mrs. Haley, who taught freshman history at Boscobel High School. Had a Russian teacher in college who taught me a lot about life and culture. Someone at U Wisconsin pushed to have me elected Phi Beta Kappa my junior year, which was big, because it gave me the pick of grad schools. At Harvard, Huntington was key in being first prof to recognize my big-think talent. Nye also gave me a lot of credibility by sitting on my PhD committee. Biggest influence on philosophy was Judith Sklar and her devotion to concepts of justice, tempered by a sense of realism regarding the role of security (she was a Baltic Jew who had fled the Nazis). Richard Pipes influenced me similarly (another Jew who fled). Finally, Adam Ulam was biggest influence (another Jew who fled). So I guess while I never heard or read of this Leo Strauss that all the neocons refer to, I did get my share of strong moral compasses from European Jewish academics who fled the Nazis. But that makes sense to me, because WWII was the great moral turning point for a century I was born near the middle of (1962), so I grew up in its shadow in a really profound way. Being trapped in the Cold War, I worried that I would never get the chance to do anything similar to these great thinkers (I write this in PNM), but then the Wall comes down, we drift for a while, and then 9/11 makes things clear. Right now, Steve DeAngelis and Mark Warren are my big influences, both of whom take my storytelling skills and writing skills to new heights by connecting me to the right opportunities and stages.”

One of the qualities that very creative people in modern times frequently lack is introspection, or at least a structured time or habit for doing so. Generally absorbed by their own ideas and projects as ends they too seldom stop to make a record of the creative process itself in a way that was common a century ago when diaries and daily correspondence left an abundant paper trail for historians. This is unfortunate both for the insights into creativity that are then lost and more generally for capturing the tenor of the times that diarists once did so well. It would be hard to imagine, for example, writing a history the Civil War without reference to Mary Chestnut and George Templeton Strong or mid-late nineteenth century America without considering Henry Adams.

Take for example, J.R.R. Tolkien who left behind not only a very prodigious collection of extant essays, drafts and notes about his writings on Middle-Earth but a considerable body of letters describing his feelings on the evolution of his mythology, regrets and stumbling blocks in the writing process along the way ( most of which has been edited and published by his son Christopher Tolkien). Few writers or thinkers in the post-WWII era attempted such a serious or studied reflection, keeping diaries and journals fell out of popular fashion or were targeted by special prosecutors in the case of officials, but now the ubiquitousness of email and blogging is reviving that tradition. In the interview with Dan, Dr. Barnett specifically refers to blogging as the sounding board for his second book, Blueprint For Action as well as the mysterious ” Volume III” that is gestating.

“I’ve actually done more thinking on this in the last year than probably the previous 42 years combined. This is because I’ve had a huge number of transitions in the last three to four years (starting with 9/11), and the blog has allowed me a lot of explanation space for readers regarding my way of thinking. All of this introspection was pushed by my Dad’s death in the spring of 2004 as well, along with the adoption of our fourth child, and my wife and I heading into (and finally recognizing that status) middle age.

All this recent thinking also dovetails with the evolution of what I hope will be the trilogy of my “Pentagon” books, with PNM being the system-level diagnosis, BFA being the nation-state-level prescriptives, and vol. III being the individual-level self-help guide where I hope to teach readers how to replicate my thinking in their daily and professional lives. So I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year compiling my own sense of how I accomplish this level and sort of thinking and speaking and writing. “

The salon (and perhaps soon, the think tank) has been replaced by the blogosphere, democratizing and invigorating intellectual life.

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