Archive for March, 2008
Instapunk’s description of Obama reminds me of a tendency we all have – to become what others find attractive. That can be charming. But sometimes it is a device at once to distance ourselves from others and to ingratiate ourselves with them. One of my son-in-law’s friends was an air force brat. In their early years, he said, their moves every few months were harder on his brother , who actually cared about the new friends he made each year. He said, with some bravado we expect, that moving was fine with him – it usually happened about the time people were getting fed up with him, had figured him out. Such children learn to adjust, learn to pick up on what others want, learn charm.
Blogfriend Matt Armstrong was recently featured at the USC Center for Public Diplomacy where he had a very thorough and well-considered op-ed on Information Operations and New Media. Pretty much everything Matt had to say were things the USG should be doing in attempting to craft some kind of coherent narrative of it’s national objectives, policies and values:
Insurgents and terrorists increasingly leverage New Media to shape perceptions around the globe to be attractive to some and intimidating to others. New Media collapses traditional concepts of time and space as information moves around the world in an instant. Unlike traditional media, search engines and the web in general, enable information, factual or not, to be quickly and easily accessed long after it was created.The result is a shift in the purpose of physical engagement to increasingly incorporate the information effect of words and deeds. Thus, the purpose of improvised explosive devices, for example, is not to kill or maim Americans but to replay images of David sticking it to Goliath.
The U.S. military is actively and aggressively revising its role in shaping its own narrative in cyberspace, but this is falling short. While the U.S. is finally coming to grips with the centrality of information and perceptions, it remains confused as to how to use information effectively. American responses seem to stem from the belief that the message and the messenger we are countering are the same without regard for the target audience, intent, or how the message fits into a larger narrative, which perhaps mirrors our own perception of information as propaganda. ….A famous dead Prussian once said that war is a continuation of politics by other means, but the reality today is that war is not part of political intercourse with foes but an orchestrated, if loosely, effort to gain strategic influence over friends, foes, and neutrals. YouTube, blogs, SMS and traditional media, make every GI Joe and Jihadi a communicator, public diplomat, and persuader. Our adversaries understand and exploit this reality. Writing to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2005, Ayman al-Zawahiri stated that “we are in a battle, and that more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media [sic].”The U.S. military as reluctant heir to the information throne in an online world has several inherent challenges. First, operating in the environment of New Media requires awareness and agility inconsistent with the current organizational culture of the military. For example, in Iraq the military broke through the bureaucratic red-tape and started posting videos on YouTube. However, this small “victory” was incomplete: the group that uploaded to YouTube was still not permitted to view YouTube. In effect, they were posting information they were not authorized to see.”
Those quotes were snippets. Matt’s post is rich in detail and really requires being read in full.
I have tilted at the IO windmill a few times in the past. It’s a subject that is both easy as wel as difficult to analyze. Easy, because the USG has yet to initiate and/or master the fundamentals of good IO as Matt’s post makes clear ( there are genuine IO experts in the USG, perhaps even a large number of them, but the bureaucracies are not institutionally optimized to conduct IO with consistency or coordination) but difficult because the level of genuine sophistication and effective nuance in strategic communication remains so far off. Even if that level of “play” was achieved by our civil service and soldiers, any IO campaign could be undone in an instant by some clumsy action or statement from a political appointee or elected official concerned primarily with fellating some domestic special interest group.
Matt’s focus on “synchronicity” is apt. It will be a herculean task needing laser beam focus to get all of the USG players on the same message most of the time; even then some dissension and debate being showcased is itself a vital advertisement of the attractive nature of a liberal, open society and a sharp contrast with the dismally intolerant and brutally ignorant alternative our Islamist enemies have to offer. In pursuing that, I’d like to offer a few suggestions:
Credibility is the COIN of the Realm:
Matt touched on this but I want to give this principle added weight. For all our official, overt, communication by any spokesman representing the United States, the best long term strategy is a reputation of credibility. It may hurt to concede errors or enemy successes in the short run but having the global audience grdugingly concede that “the Americans speak the truth” adds momentum of every word, every idea and every action we undertake. It will not bring us love because oftentimes, our pursuing national interests will come at the expense of others but truth-telling will yield something more valuable, respect. No one cares to be treated as if they were a fool and most of the transparently self-serving gibberish official spokesmen offer up pays dividends only in contempt being added to the anger foreigners already feel at some of our policies. Credibility is to the war of ideas what COIN is to guerilla warfare and it is a valuable and exceedingly rare quality because once your credibility is lost, it is lost.
Without Attention Being Paid All Our efforts Are Useless:
Credibility is not enough. Key messages or memes also have to be interesting. If people are not psychologically engaged in the presentation then they are not hearing it, much less reaching the points of comprehension, sympathy or agreement. American popular culture and commercial advertising is nothing short of an unrelenting global juggernaut that is eroding traditional mores of every society with which it comes into contact, yet our official proclamations remain starkly uninteresting even to most Americans so why should a Yemeni teen-ager or Afghan farmer tune in to what we are selling ? As long as our attempts at capturing attention remain at the level of dull mediocrity we can expect to fail.
Influence is a Long Term Investment:
The 1980′s saw a march toward capitalism and democracy in part because we were reaping the harvest of decades of student visas, cultural and scientific exchanges and consistent public diplomacy outreach. From Mongolia to Czechoslovakia Chile there were reformers taking power who were ” Chicago Boys” who had imbibed free markets at the feet of Nobel laureates. The National Endowment for Democracy, the USIA, VOA, Radio Free Europe and NGO’s like the AFL-CIO whose efforts and programs abroad were robust and self-confident. American society was permitted by the USG to sell itself. These things cost pennies on the dollar compared to having to use hard power options and they lower our transaction costs when sanctions or military intervention is the order of the day.
Deception is Best Left to the Clandestine Operators :
HUMINT based strategic influence efforts, black propaganda and disinformation and various arts of deception will be better left to covert programs, plausibly deniable third parties and used sparingly and with subtlety. The increasingly “radically transparent” world ensures that too many sophisticated eyes with all sorts of agendas will be analyzing our official spokesmen 24/7. The best will can hope to accomplish is effectively framing our public message to be truthful and compelling. Any meme that is verifiably false, if we believe we must put it out into the global media environment, cannot have a return address.
IO is a secondary area of operations for the United States. Good IO programs cannot remediate incompetent statecraft or poor military leadership or put a “happy face” on obvious disasters but poor or absent IO capabilities can fritter away the capital that successful diplomacy or military action can accrue when our enemies accusations go unanswered.
Crossposted at Zenpundit
I was recently reading through Barron’s when I came upon this career advertisement for a high ranking position. Let’s read it.
“We’re looking for a proactive leader who can motivate others, one who can embrace and represent the mission, values and goals of the IRS”.
Read the rest of this entry »
At Life in the Great Midwest one of the most popular posts is an analysis I prepared on iBonds. iBonds are offered by the Federal government and information can be found at their official site www.treasurydirect.gov.
iBonds are a fixed income security where the principal is guaranteed by the US Government, which basically means no risk. If you invest $5000 (their current annual maximum) you will get your $5000 back at maturity, unless the US Government collapses in which case we likely will have other problems. In addition to receiving your principal back, the securities pay a “base rate” that is between 1% – 3% depending on when you purchased them (currently at 1.2%) and you receive a semi-annual inflation component which tracks the CPI… this component is now 1.53% for six months or approximately 3.1% for the year. Thus 3.1% plus 1.2% equals a rate of approximately 4.3%, which is pretty good right now since Treasuries are yielding 2-3%.
You used to be able to buy iBonds at a rate of up to $30,000 / year per SSN (or $60,000 for a married couple) but now the Federal government has limited it to $5000 / year per person since they were a great deal compared to other alternatives (I am speculating on this, but they did reduce the amount you could purchase). With the rate down to $5000 / year they are good for gifts or kids but not a serious investment vehicle anymore.
Read the rest of this entry »
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Jonathan and I have been working hard to try to keep up with Zenpundit and his weightlifting skills. I am pround to announce that I finally cracked the half ton mark on my squat, and here is footage of the proud moment – a 1,220 pound squat:
In all seriousness, can somebody tell me how you train for something like this? Do reps of 600 pounds? 700? Sheesh.
2nd Update: (If anyone’s reading this far down). Tom Stoppard on ’68.
The idea of the autonomy of the individual is echoed, I realise, all over the place in my writing. In The Coast of Utopia I was using 19th-century Russian philosopher Alexander Herzen’s own words about the English in the 19th century: “They don’t give asylum out of respect for the asylum seekers, but out of respect for themselves. They invented personal liberty without having any theories about it. They value liberty because it’s liberty.”
Update: Henniger on Mamet’s essay (WSJ video).
Original post: David Mamet
began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, and Shelby Steele, and a host of conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism.
He describes his conversion in the Village Voice. His picture of Bush still has elements of BDS, but he has begun to examine his experience and finds the best keys to understanding it seem to lie on the right. As some (some critical) commentors note, his work indicated he might be moving that way. (Certainly a television series about the professional & home life of a special forces unit might indicate that.) And certainly a playwright worth his salt might be interested in how character actually acts – an inadequacy that some of the more ideological playwrights of our time demonstrate rather nicely. But it was life that had forced him to look again at his beliefs.
Family member A is ill — cold? flu? Gets worse. Calls doctor.
Doctor is away. A speaks with doctor’s colleague. Colleague listens to A’s account of symptoms, tells A to go to emergency room.
Family member B accompanies A to hospital. Emergency-room doctor examines A — infection? what’s that thing in lungs? Doctor asks if recent chest x-ray is available. B and C (me) consult by phone. B tells emergency-room guy to call A’s doctor’s office to access whatever records are there. Meanwhile I track down most-recent CT-scan records at another hospital. B is now driving there to pick up a disk with the scans on it.
In the middle of our discussions B says something like: This is crazy. All of these records should be centrally accessible and under the control of the patient. Why isn’t all of the information we need available online?
B is right. In the current system service providers control most of the information but have little incentive to coordinate access with other service providers. Indeed there is a disincentive to do so: they can get into trouble if information is misused but don’t benefit directly when improved information-sharing helps patients.
Technically, this is not a difficult problem. Institutionally and legally, however, it seems to have much in common with drug-resistant bacteria.
At least there is progress in other areas. The practice of medicine itself seems to improve over time. And thank God for cellphones, and for the technology that makes it possible to put a copy of a CT scan onto a computer disk in a few minutes.
If you submit electronic files (e.g., digital photographs) on a CD to the US Copyright Office as part of a copyright application, the Copyright Office stores your CD but does not transfer the files on it to its computers or other durable media. There is also no way to resubmit or otherwise replace electronic files stored in the Copyright Office archives if the magnetic or optical media you submitted them on deteriorate.
This appears to mean that the registrations for many copyrighted photographs will become legally indefensible if/when the CDs on which the images were submitted deteriorate. The person with whom I spoke at the Copyright Office suggested submitting photographic prints or contact sheets rather than CDs. This suggestion would have been good advice until recently, but it’s impractical for people who copyright large numbers of digital photos.
I have no idea if the deteriorating-media issue will become a significant problem. Maybe not: the odds that any particular image file submitted in a copyright application will be needed to defend a copyright are low. Happily, the Copyright Office is testing a system that allows copyright registrants to upload image files over the Internet, and this new system should eliminate the CD issue for people who use it. But the many files that have been and will be submitted on CDs and DVDs are still vulnerable.
Posted by Lexington Green on 12th March 2008 (All posts by Lexington Green)
Baron Bodissey at Gates of Vienna has a post regarding a counter-protest by Gathering of Eagles, an “organization that has dedicated itself to guarding America’s war memorials against desecration by anti-war activists and countering the smears against our military by traitors on the Left.”
At the Gathering of Eagles site I found this post, entitled Pittsburgh: Antiwar Leftists Plan to Confine Recruiters in a “Movable Cage”. A Leftist Pittsburgh-area group, which I won’t link, to stated that it plans for a protest at local military recruiting station on March 19, 2008:
If the station remains open, we intend to evict it and everything inside of it, occupy the location, and transform it into something useful for the community. We’ll also be bringing a movable cage in which to confine military recruiters until they no longer pose a danger to our friends and neighbors.
These people intend to place our military personnel in a “moveable cage”. Our military personnel are not in a position to respond to this illegal, degrading and abusive treatment with gunfire. This is occurring here and now in the United States. It is 1968 again in the minds of the Left and our military personnel are being treated like dirt by the Left due to an unpopular war.
Here is my suggestion. It is the practice of leftist community activists to loudly and stridently demand yes or no answer to simple questions from the victims of their protests, and to shout down any answer but a yes or no. This method is effective.
The American public needs to know.
Senator Clinton? Senator Obama? Do you condemn this protest in Pittsburgh? Do you condemn all protests which attack and degrade and insult our military personnel who are recruiting for our all-volunteer armed forces? Yes or No?
No speeches. No flatulence. No blather. You want to be Commander in Chief.
Yes or No.
At WSJ we see what a free market of ideas is – and what it isn’t. There, too, Strassel describes an elitist (sentimental, self-righteous) press which quickly bought the argument of yet another politician that he (and he alone) is “for the people” (“for the children” and “for the poor” are of course versions of this); that this populist argument leads inexorably to power-grabbing hubris should be clear by now. Self-righteousness is a dangerous drug because it so easily quiets not just others’ doubts but our own. Spitzer is an argument, of course, for checks and balances applied by a free press. But we might also remember that any call to our baser instinct to covet another’s success should be suspect.
Update: Gay Patriot suggests three offices often obviously motivated by something other than justice: Spitzer, Nifong and Ronnie Earle, who began earliest and remains in office. That may say something about Austin and I’m not sure it is good. Read the rest of this entry »
This is a nice story. An American airman is shot down in 1943 over a remote Pacific island. The natives rescue him, hide him from the Japanese and nurse him back to health. He eventually returns home, marries and starts a family and career. Years later he returns to the island and renews his relationship with the natives. Back in the USA, he sets up a charity to help them. Over the course of many years he helps the natives to build a school, library, clinic, etc. The natives’ lives improve, and he gains a sense of purpose and accomplishment, to such an extent that he is grateful for the misfortune that initially brought him to the island.
As I have aged I began to notice that the books I have been reading about World War 2 had begun to bore me. Most that I was reading were about the massive operations that everyone knows about such as Barbarossa or Market Garden or the campaigns in the Pacific. A few notable exceptions were the Morison Set (that I think I may re-read this year) and works by Eric Bergerud such as Fire in the Sky and Touched with Fire. There were a few other highlights, but for the most part I was getting bored with the topic. Then I decided to take a deeper dive into smaller events, personalities, and items associated with WW2.
Tom Watson Jr, longtime head of IBM, writes (in his autobioraphy) about his personal encounter with McCarthyism in the 1950s:
There was a moment when I truly thought IBM was going to lose its shot at defense work because of the kind of window blinds I had in my office.
Read the rest of this entry »
An excellent column from The Australian:
On Monday night, the ABC’s Lateline program ran a report on the suffering of civilians in Gaza, an absolutely legitimate subject. Among the heart-rending footage there was an interview with a Gazan civilian who understandably complained bitterly about Israel’s actions. But the ABC reporter didn’t ask the absolutely obvious question: Do you wish your leaders would stop firing missiles into Israel, which make inevitable both the economic blockade and the Israeli military response? The ABC, as usual, was following more or less exactly the terrorists’ preferred script for the Western media. Islamist terrorists have always been centrally concerned with the Western media and their understanding of its story presentation dynamics is acute, as this episode demonstrates. Hamas gets to sheet all blame to Israel.
Israel is always told to retreat to the 1967 borders. The two places where it has done this – southern Lebanon and Gaza – have been disasters for Israel and have not produced peace. The 1967 borders only work for Israel if its neighbours don’t make war on Israel any more. There is no indication at all that either Hamas or Hezbollah, or indeed Iran, which soon enough will possess nuclear weapons, is on a trajectory towards accepting Israel’s right to exist.
And finally, Hamas may well be operating in very close concert with its sponsors, Iran and Syria. There is tremendous Sunni Arab concern about the growing power of Iran, evident not least in the bloody political vacuum in Lebanon.
A crisis in Gaza forces the forthcoming Arab summit to focus on the Palestinians, rather than Syria’s murderous campaign to prevent the emergence of a democratic Lebanon.
After the situation in Lebanon becomes clearer, a huge Israeli operation in Gaza, to take control of the Gaza-Egypt border and to set up new intelligence mechanisms within Gaza, all to prevent the increase in rocket firings, is perhaps all but inevitable.
(via Real Clear Politics)
Posted by Lexington Green on 9th March 2008 (All posts by Lexington Green)
My posts on intellectual property here and here generated many interesting comments. I have more to add to this discussion, and have come to some realizations and conclusions – but am left with even more questions.
In the “Hypocrite” post, what I did was clearly wrong. To review, what I did was watch a recently aired pay per view event on a website that I found that was hosting a video of the event. I didn’t email the site owner to see if he had a permission from the owners of the content to air the video, but it is virtually certain that he did not. What I did there was wrong, illegal, and unethical. I won’t do it again. Which means that I won’t be watching UFC events until they come out for free on cable. The price is just too steep for me.
I watched Karl Rove on the O’Reilly show last night. Rove said that McCain’s challenge is to keep himself visible between now and the Republican convention, while the contending Democratic candidates continue to get a lot of press. This point makes sense to me. But I’m not so sure about Rove’s suggestion that McCain use the coming months to tell the public more about himself, for example, the story of how he and his wife adopted a dying infant — now their thriving teenaged daughter — from an Asian orphanage.
I agree that this is a compelling story about McCain and his wife as people, and it should be told, but I do not think it is the main story that he needs to emphasize to voters. McCain’s problem is not that the public perceives him as not being nice. His problem is that many Republican-leaning voters see his history of apparently mean and self-serving political behavior as evidence of disregard for Party and national interest. This perception is not so terrible for a Senator who is otherwise thought to do well by his constituents, but it is potentially fatal for a presidential candidate.
What I think McCain should do instead is explain why his positions on important issues — the war, trade, taxes — are superior to those of the Democratic candidates. If he started doing this early and continued relentlessly, he would not only keep himself visible, and competitive against whichever Democratic candidate eventually is nominated, he would also encourage the Democratic candidates to be more responsive to moderate voters than is currently the case.
On a related point, I agree with Rove’s argument that a long, ugly Democratic nomination battle may not benefit Republicans. By the time Democrats select a nominee they may be so energized that they will unite behind their candidate and have great political momentum going into the Fall — while Republicans, who picked their candidate way back in March, cruise in torpor and lack the will to fight. Group dynamics are tricky, and I think Republicans would be foolish to count on the benefits of an unpredictable chain of events. I think eventual Democratic unity against the Republican candidate is a given, no matter which Democrat is nominated.
On March 19, 1908, the Ford Model T was announced. Although the car would not begin shipping until September of that year, the response to the announcement was enthusiastic. One agent wrote, “we have rubbed our eyes several times to make sure we were not dreaming,” and another exclaimed, “It is without doubt the greatest creation in automobiles ever placed before a people, and it means that this circular alone will flood your factory with orders.”
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Lexington Green on 5th March 2008 (All posts by Lexington Green)
The long struggle of the British government against the IRA can help us to understand the nature and requirements of anti-terrorist struggle more generally. Once a conflict has been pushed down to what could be called a sub-military level, victory of an unglamorous and even invisible sort can only come at the end of a very lengthy process.
This review essay is a good overview. RTWT.
Overwhelming military superiority was useless unless you could see inside what Republican euphemism specialists called the “physical force wing”. In the late 1970s, the messy improvisations which regulated rivalries between police, military and civilian intelligence agencies were decisively overhauled.
… what really mattered was penetrating and disrupting the Provisionals; in that specific and secret area, the ambition was anything but limited. A past Director of MI5, Sir Stephen Lander, told an academic audience some years ago that it had taken governments a very long time, a decade or so after violence began, to grasp that defeating the Provisional IRA would require the slow cultivation of deep-penetration agents whose handling was MI5’s unique skill.
It is apparent that language skills and cultural skills are critical for the US Government personnel who will be involved in those sorts of activities, in Iraq and in other places. Everything I have read suggests our military and intelligence personnel are deficient in these areas, though perhaps the situation is improving. Cultivating deep-penetration agents, it seems to my layman’s understanding, would be impossible across cultural and linguistic barriers, unless we subcontract it out, which presents its own problems.
This overhauling of “inter-agency” rivalries and turf-defense takes time, and leadership. Then the process of cultivating “deep-penetration agents ” is slow, quiet, tedious and secret. It is like undercover police work, though occasionally punctuated by the swift and brutal employment of military-scale force.
In 1987, at Loughgall in East Tyrone, the SAS ambushed and killed an eight-man IRA unit attempting to demolish a police station, killing more “volunteers” in a single incident than at any time since 1921. Up to the year 2000, the IRA in Tyrone had lost fifty-three people; but twenty-eight of those died between 1987 and 1992.
The goal in Iraq, it would seem, is to get the situation stablized to the point that the Iraqi government, with our help, and the help of others in the coalition, can get itself coordinated, then infiltrate the hardcore terrorist groups, and kill them off. That will be the stick. Situation-specific carrots must also be on offer. This will leave open the prospect of bringing the rest of the opposition into the political process. (For the former terrorists who survive and become politicians, violence will have paid off. That does happen in history, even if the seeming injustice of it is grating.) This process will take a long time.
The author concludes:
If there are lessons from counter-terrorism in Ulster, they seem to be this. Recruit very good spies; then hire some more. Then give it time to work. The murders, the long wait and the compromises of the exit strategy may well grind the moderates to dust. Then wait some more. After that, the politicians can make their entrance.
Not a prospect which has much appeal, but like an unpleasant medical diagnosis, at least it is plain and unsentimental reality, and possibly a roadmap to recovery. It has the virtue of having worked once, as well.
I installed the Schmap Campaign ’08 widget that its promoters sent to me. It seems moderately useful. I’d appreciate feedback on whether it’s worth keeping up.
(It’s set up for Obama by default, but it has buttons that you can click to switch to other campaigns.)
UPDATE: I removed the widget because I think it may be causing browser problems.
I was very happy with the thoughtful comments (that are still ongoing) to my post of a few days ago called Hypocrite?. I have another one now for the readers.