Being Knowledgeable

There are two good stories in the Primary Sources section of this month’s Atlantic (subscription required). The first is a summary of a recent Pew survey that indicates

most knowledgeable Americans were those who got their news from the Web sites of major papers and those who watched programs like The Colbert Report or The Daily Show; they correctly answered 54 percent of the questions about current affairs, while regular viewers of local TV news and network morning shows got only about 35 percent right….

And while it’s hard to know which sources provide the best information, the report notes that well-informed people gather their news from an average of 7.0 sources—more than the average of 4.6.

The second is about being knowledgeable about the “enemy”. To understand any adversary you need to get inside their head. This is true for sports, business, and war (which are all related concepts sharing a common vocabulary of course). In a story about detecting lying, a behavior frequently accompanying by tells, those who worked with the subject culture, in this case kids, scored higher than those who did not.

The researchers selected a group of preschoolers and left each of them seated alone in a room, asking them not to peek at a toy that was behind them, out of their view. The researchers videotaped their actions, then asked each child, “Did you peek?” The responses were shown to 64 adults selected from summer courses at Rutgers University, who were asked to determine whether each child was telling the truth. The adults’ scores varied widely—they were right 12 percent to 84 percent of the time—but their average score was just 41 percent; chance alone would have given them 50 percent. (Most adults, including parents, erred on the side of suspicion, believing some children were lying when they were being honest.) But one group of adults—those who work with children professionally, including teachers and child psychologists—routinely outperformed the rest of the sample. More than a third of the professionals detected the liars at least 60 percent of the time; only one nonprofessional was able to match that rate.

Chinese Tuesday

It’s Tuesday and time for news on China

Preeti Aroon writes at Foreign Policy about Chinese becoming the language of choice for Sudanese students. It’s one thing to provide English-language training, it’s another to provide a viable and immediate use for the acquired language. (See previous post on Chinese policy in Africa)

Sudan sells around 60 percent of its oil to China, and Chinese companies, products, and restaurants have made inroads into the African country. Sudanese university students who learn Chinese can get jobs as translators and work for Chinese oil and telecommunications companies. Recently, Khartoum University had a Chinese speech competition, and a Chinese professor there said, “… nearly 100% of students who graduate from the department get jobs with Chinese companies.” In a troubled country like Sudan, that prospect is a great motivator to learn the language.

More than a billion people speak Mandarin Chinese, and the Chinese government actively promotes the language as a way of extending its influence. The country has sent hundreds of teachers to Africa, and it has established “Confucius Institutes” around the globe to encourage speaking the language.

And the trend to learn Mandarin Chinese isn’t limited to Sudan. In Britain, the number of university students studying Chinese more than doubled from 2002 to 2005. Other Western countries have had similar increases.

From Howard French in the International Herald Tribune, China is displacing France in Chad.

Less than a decade ago, the French claim on this region was still so strong, and Africa’s importance to France’s view of its own place in the world correspondingly so, that the French were paranoid about expanding American influence on the continent…

Imagine my surprise then, arriving in Ndjamena late at night on a visit from China, when I turned on my television at the French-run Sofitel Hotel to find that the program blaring from Channel 1 was a starchy variety show in Chinese, courtesy of that country’s state broadcaster CCTV…

Fast forward to the present, and here in Chad what one finds is a U.S.-based oil multinational, Exxon, running the country’s biggest and most lucrative business, with Chinese companies investing heavily to match or surpass it…

From oil to telecommunications, all the big new investments seem to be Chinese. And to the extent there is any construction going on, as in so much of the continent today, it is Chinese companies landing the contracts…

FranceAfrique has lessons for China, too, however: no durable interests can be secured on African soil where institutions are neglected and profit and flattery are the only considerations.

Sam duPont at Foreign Policy writes about China’s silver-plated bullet. How deep is the economic shot in the arm provided by China? Not as deep as China promotes it to be.

But it seems naive to suggest, as the [Fitch] report’s authors do, that China’s involvement in sub-Saharan Africa will do much to “reduce poverty and promote development and the region’s global integration.” The success of Chinese oil firms at securing investment contracts in the region is largely attributable to the “no-strings-attached” loans they provide to the governments. Considering the weak, authoritarian nature of many of these states, it should come as no surprise that this money is rarely spent to benefit the African poor…

Some unsolicited advice to the purchasers of this Fitch report: Be wary of loaning money where mobs of angry young men are likely to arrive soon.

Monday Mash-Up for June 18

General Jay Garner is interviewed by the Guardian about the early days of the occupation. 

Mr Garner also admitted he did not see several of the plans prepared by the Bush administration and does not know why. He also revealed that he rang Mr Rumsfeld to tell him to stop reducing the US troop deployment and warned him that the consequent power vacuums were filling up with ” fundamentalists”.

ZenPundit posts on a response to Steve DeAngelis’s Tension post The Tension Between Creativity and Efficiency. I agree with Zen and Steve, having worked in the environment where analysis by committee is done until the technology is no longer new. The lost productivity, not to mention management time, cost more in time and resources than having made a bad decision and learning from it. Once, to get 1gb of RAM in my corporate laptop (versus the 512mb “standard” and the 756mb “developer” standards) top management spent over 10hrs of meeting time to discuss authoring me to have an upgrade that cost less than $150. It wasn’t about support because my laptops had long been outside the realm of desktop support. Ultimately, they denied the request, but within 9mos they were standardized on 1gb.

General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker made the talk show circuit on Sunday, speaking of “good news, bad news, and challenges.” Quite the change from the “insurgency is in its last throes” the Administration pitched to the public a few years back. Compare the honest discussion Petraeus and his team are having with the public, as well as attempts at synchronicity between dysfunctional Executive-branch departments still ill-prepared for modernity, with the comments from Jay Garner above (which are adroitly examined in Chandraskaran’s Imperial Life).

Hostility towards science within the Administration has seeped into foreign policy and its use of the intelligence community is the point of in three posts by Arms and Influence. From the third post:

Enough people in the Bush Administration have themselves been hostile to science, or have been politically aligned with the anti-science crowd, that it’s fair to say that the anti-science faction has had a profound influence on American politics in the last few years–including foreign policy. The hostility extends to both the results of science as well as the scientific method.

While you might easily find lots of examples–appointing a politically orthodox but scientifically clueless PR person to censor NASA public announcements, removing birth control information from the Health and Human Services web site, the determination to never admit the possibility of global warming, etc.–nowhere can you find a better example than the besieged intelligence community, especially the CIA. The whole work of intelligence resembles science so closely that it would have been amazing if the CIA had not run afoul of Bush, Cheney, Feith, Wolfowitz, et al.

Abu Muqawama is in Morocco, where 1/3 of the population is under 18. Where are the massive jobs programs, expansion of trade, and cultural awareness of both sides on the part of the US? Is it wrapped up in very inexpensive English language programs (which are commendable)? Abu Muqawama asks the right questions:

Where, you have to ask, are all those young people going to find jobs when they get older? And when they can’t get a job — and thus can’t get married and have no sense of identity — what are they going to do with their lives? Where will they turn for some kind of esteem? In the USA, we have the U.S. Marine Corps for our lost children. But as far as this blogger can tell, about the only option a young Moroccan would have is the mosque. And maybe just one out of a hundred young Moroccan men who wander into a mosque get sucked up by some extremist — that’s still a lot of new manpower for jihadi groups.

Hidden Unities wrote a post titled War Criminals in the Pentagon and the White House. The jist? Read this quote from General Antonio Taguba that closes the must read post:

“From the moment a soldier enlists, we inculcate loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service,” Taguba said. “And yet when we get to the senior-officer level we forget those values. I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable.”

See also Phil Carter’s post on Sy Hersch’s New Yorker article on Taguba.

On a lighter note, my local IMAX isn’t showing Fighter Pilot: Operations Red Flag, but maybe yours is.

Amazon 1 : Google 0

Amazon’s move into hosted environments is leaping ahead of Google’s dominance of web ownership. Overall Amazon Web Services is pretty cool stuff (the Turk, Simple Storage Service, and more), but the Amazon Elastic Computing Cloud (Amazon EC2) is really cool. I don’t know if they’re using VMWare or what SAN they’re using (StorageWorks? Content Addressed Storage?), but they’ve got game. Check it out.

I’m not happy with MediaWiki platform for the ConflictWiki, and will be exploring solutions that might be better hosted on a dedicated Amazon EC2 system, or on my very capable ISP.

Finally, a National Strategy on Public Diplomacy

I finally had a chance to go through the so-called “US National Strategy for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication.” I’m not impressed. It might be better than nothing, but not much. Whatever Under Secretary of State Karen Hughes has been doing over the last several months; it certainly can’t be described as intelligent leadership over American public diplomacy and public affairs. This “new” plan reinforces this sad fact.

Continue reading “Finally, a National Strategy on Public Diplomacy

Evolution of American Civil-Military Relations in Four Quotes

On appropriations, General Walker, Chief of Army Finance, to a Congressional committee in 1924:

I think it would. I think when the budget has once been approved by the President and transmitted to Congress, it is his budget estimate and no officer or official of the War Department would have any right to come up here and attempt to get a single dollar more than…contained in the estimate.

On allegiance, General George Marshall on loyalty to the President and not Congress in 1940:

I submit to you…the impossibility of developing an efficient army if decisions which are purely military in nature are continually subjected to investigation, cross examination, debate, ridicule, and public discussion by pressure groups, and by individuals with only a superficial knowledge of military matters, or the actual facts in the particular case. I submit that there is a clear line of demarcation between the democratic freedom of discussion which we are determined to preserve and a destructive procedure which promotes discontent and destroys confidence in the army.

On oversight, Admiral Nimitz testifying during the National Security Act hearings in 1946:

Senator, it is my impression that the Constitution of the United States charges the Congress with the furnishing of armed forces. It charges the President with their use.

The Congress, in the furnishing of the armed forces, is entitled to every bit of information that it needs, and I perceive no objection whatever in the writing into this bill of the kind of safeguards you have in mind; because it is the Congress that makes provision for the armed forces and they should certainly have the right to every bit of information that they think they need in making appropriations.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at the Naval Academy commencement in 2007:

As officers, you will have a responsibility to communicate to those below you that the American military must be non-political and recognize the obligation we owe the Congress to be honest and true in our reporting to them. Especially when it involves admitting mistakes or problems.

Source for the first three: The Pentagon and the Presidency

After reading these quotes, consider Congressional pressure on the Navy, the Air Force, and more.

On the “money/fantasy machine”

Last night it occurred to me that I actually did know what John Robb was talking about when he lumped me in with the “counter-terrorism money/fantasy” in Washington, and it isn’t the creature Dan and Curtis think it is.

Talking with the “conference crowd”, or reading their work, on terrorism, there are certain themes that remain constant despite evidence to the contrary, that conform to popular thinking in Washington. This ideologically insular world is the “money/fantasy” machine, repeating nearly the same mantra over and over, that contributes to the stalled, to put it mildly, strategy in the [insert your favorite name for conflict/war/condition here].

Robb and I are alike in that we’re both creating new awareness (attacking is too strong but might be a better word) of the realities of today’s environment. I’m not in the conference crowd he’s referring to, but an outsider that only occasionally gets inside the ring, and less often than I would imagine Robb does.

To change the thinking, sometimes you need to subvert from within. Robb’s book is an attack on the popular wisdom and ultimately seeks to change the conference crowd by adjusting the preconceptions of the crowd’s clients, the thought leaders of the crowd, or both. Debunking existing “myths” most effectively requires understanding the existing conceptions. And that’s different from modifying insurgent/terrorist behavior how?

CAC “Information Operations” writing competition

Interested in getting your ideas on information operations (or from DoD here) out there?

The Combined Arms Center (CAC), Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, is pleased to announce the Second Annual Commanding General’s “Information OperationsWriting Competition.

Anyone conducting research on issues related to Information Operations (IO) is invited to submit papers for consideration. CAC will announce the competition results during the first week of December.

Due date: October 31, 2007.

Looking at old guides for GI’s in World War II: Iraq and Britain

Both Noah Schachtman and the PCR Project post on the old guides the War Department issued for cultural awareness of our GI’s. Two years ago I wrote about the GI’s Guide to Britain, but only briefly commented on the Guide to Iraq:

Issued by the US War and Navy Departments servicemen…going to Iraq to defend the oil fields. It is amazing how timeless this book is. You can read the whole thing here.

In 2005 the book seemed appropriate, and even more so today. Just like the USMC’s Small Wars Manual of 1940, the Guide to Iraq reminds us of the knowledge we forgot (or ignored). Forgetting history will almost always bite you in the arse.

Unwarranted Attack on Petraeus Aide (SWJ Blog)

Read Unwarranted Attack on Petraeus Aide on the Small Wars Journal Blog. Be sure to read the SWJ Editor comment as well. Diana West’s confused attack on Kilcullen is not entirely surprising, although it’s completely out of line and wrong, considering the failure of the Administration to create a viable, real, and consistent message regarding the enemy. West writes as if she understands the threat, which she clearly does not. But can you blame her based on the info she’s been fed? Sweeping generalizations abound in domestic and foreign information operations, public affairs, press relations, public diplomacy, whatever you want to call it. Clearly, she’s drunk the punch without asking questions. It seems to me, she would have become a Nazi if she “had been a German during a certain world war”.

Not on Bush’s Watch

Albanians certainly do like President Bush, so much so they wanted to share their well known skill. Pay attention to President Bush’s left arm, his watch actually, :50 in or with 3:10 left, depending on your counter… (h/t Iskra) 

Bringing in the locals

Modern warfare is an environment were civilians may turn against us for a variety of reasons, becoming motivated to directly or indirectly attack our national security. These attacks may be against our homeland, our overseas assets, or our forces. Indirect attacks may include passive or active financial, physical, moral, and social support of those were move up the spear to the tip, or attacks against the same support of American policies. It also includes failure to notify our troops of IEDs or insurgents because they’ve become disinclined to do so. Seems like basic stuff, but for some, you just need to remind them of certain realities.

Local populations may feel disenfranchised by the recent history by a previous regime or by the toppling of their benefactor. They may also feel a lack of empowerment in basic needs, such as providing for their family or participating in socio-political-economic processes. By bringing in the locals, empowering them to take ownership in their rebuilding process, notably in the security realm but also in the political-economic areas as well, success increases. James Dobbins highlights this, as does virtually all the state-building, and nation, literature, as well as common sense. A people that does not participate in their state does not value it or see it as their own.

To this end, when operating in conflict/post-conflict environments were the host state needs to be rebuilt, certain tools are missing from our tooklit that demonstrates our commitment to the mission to the host, facilitates capacity building, and deepens host nation commitment, and capability, to the mission, and perhaps most importantly, enlists the locals into their own success. John Nagl posts paper he authored on the Small Wars Journal Blog about one these tools. In a paper titled Institutionalizing Adaptation: It’s Time for an Army Advisor Corps, published by the Center for a New American Security, John Nagl (of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife) writes:

The most important military component of the Long War will not be the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we enable and empower our allies to fight with us. After describing the many complicated, interrelated, and simultaneous tasks that must be conducted to defeat an insurgency, the new Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual notes “Key to all these tasks is developing an effective host-nation (HN) security force.” Indeed, it has been argued that foreign forces cannot defeat an insurgency; the best they can hope for is to create the conditions that will enable local forces to win for them.

Nagl recommends processes that demonstrate American commitment and rebuild security infrastructure from the inside out. Working with host nation forces who

offer significant cultural awareness and linguistic advantages over US forces, and also are likely to be far more acceptable to the local public whose support is essential to victory in any counterinsurgency campaign.

The short paper is a framework of operations and a stepping stone for expanding our capabilities in future conflicts. Unlike Post-World War II reconstruction that included years of prep work and yet encountered missteps and failure, yet had time to recover over years of effort, future conflicts will have ever shrinking time windows for success with the brighter light of formal and informal media shining on failures.

As this expands to fill the necessary posts beyond the military, say in State and Commerce, we should encourage more academies, such as DHS’s new academy, to educate those who commit to serve in a Civilian Response Corps-like entity.

Tactics and Strategy: adding to the Brave New War commentary

There is a difference between tactics and strategy, a point that seems lost on some. John Robb discusses the former in Brave New War: the tactics of the enemy as well as recommendations, implied and explicit, on how to  deal with current and future attacks. These are all very good, and I especially like his bazaar model, which all contribute to the discussion. However, this book has been highlighted as a resource on strategy on how to combat the “enemy”. This book simply does not do that. It does not provide a strategic solution to current or future threats. Matching a threat and attempting to stay ahead of the threat does nothing to actually eliminate or neutralize the threat.

Continue reading “Tactics and Strategy: adding to the Brave New War commentary

Monday Mash-Up

Monday Mash-Up comes back after a brief break.

 Increasing connectivity to Africa, literally: “Four projects are in the works to link 22 eastern, central and southern African countries to the world’s network of submarine cables and 21st century communications.” 

 According to Powell, perceptions matter: what we say isn’t as important as what we do.

 George Washington, yes that George, speaks out on the war (h/t OJ)

 David Phinney catches us up on the Baghdad embassy investigation

 See also the embassy blueprints 

 Fareed Zakaria puts power in perspective

And now for something completely different

 The ArmchairGeneralist reports BSG has only one more season

 Microsoft 1 : Hitler 0 (H/T: Danger Room, ZenPundit)

U.S. Africa Command has a website


The new US Africa Command, USAFRICOM, put up a website. Actually it’s the transition team who put it up. Not only are they physically located in EUCOM, but virtually (note the URL for AFRICOM).

MountainRunner’s been watching developments AFRICOM for a while, even if not posting on it recently. The shape of AFRICOM is important to not only its success but also in our global security needs.

Some links to share for now:

  • CounterTerrorism: “African countries including Algeria and Libya are negotiating tooth and nail with the US to prevent the installation of American military bases in Africa.”
  • Enterprise Resilience: “…understand that African nations view this latest initiative with some skepticism. Attention for Africa has come in fits and starts, but with little lasting commitment. The Americans also are working hard to gain Africans’ confidence that the new effort represents a long-term commitment.”
  • Thomas Barnett: “…franchise Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, replicating it north, south, west and central. I would not locate any HQ in Africa, but set it down in northern VA to attract both the necessary talent and to encourage super interagency development…”
  • Washington Post article Barnett commented on, as well as CRS report (pdf) WaPo commented on.
  • See also Vanity Fair’s July 07 issue dedicated to Africa (h/t SWC

Speaking of pirates

First Slate mentioned pirates, and Jules Crittenden commented on it. Almost immediately after that, Arms & Influences said he was reading a pirate book.

My turn. I’ll reiterate my strong recommendation to read The Sea Rover’s Practice: Pirate Tactics and Techniques, 1630-1730. My previous review is here (not that my reviews are masterpieces, and this was my first in a very, very long time).

Recently, I had the very fortunate opportunity to exchange email with the author, a former Navy SEAL. What I learned surprised me: I was one of the few scholars who found parallels between then and now in terms of privatization of force and insurgent warfare. (Maybe mom was right.)

If you’re interested in historical examples of privatized force and insurgent warfare remarkably similar to today, pick up this book. If you’re interested in a book that draws from period diaries of actual pirates (how cool), along with detailed discussion of their daily operations and tools, pick up this book. If you think 1648 was a magical milestone in the evolution of “state” ownership of warfare, don’t both because this will burst your bubble.

Separating IO and PA

To no one’s surprise, the nearly religious separation between information operations and public affairs continues in Iraq today. I just read MountainRunner buddy David Axe’s interview of BGen Robert Holmes, Deputy Director of Operations for CENTCOM at BlackFive:

DAVID AXE: [I]s there like an IO surge, then, to sort of accompany the new tact we’re taking in Iraq?

GEN. HOLMES: Well, I think all along your information operators, if you will — and we have to draw a line there, and I think you can particularly understand — the military, what we would look at as operational capabilities for information operations include certain things like, you know, psychological operations and then some other things with regard to I think Internet ops and things like that, which some of those I can’t get into, one, because they part of ongoing operations, and just for the operational security involved, I can’t go into it.

But I can tell you the focus is to use the information battlespace against our adversary. They use it; they use it quite well. They’re very agile and adept at using it. In some cases they can use it to — they’re not bound to the things — the policies and the values that we hold with regard to truthful information. So we go into that battlespace, if you will, if you don’t mind me calling it that, fully knowing that this is an enemy that is extreme, it is violent, and it’s going to use information to serve its purpose. On our hand, we look at how we counter that violent information or that propaganda with truthful information.

Now, having said that, I definitely understand the lines drawn between military psychological operations and, you know, we are — have policy and doctrine that allows us to do that, to tell “good news” stories, if you will, in the country where we have combat operations going on. And I also understand the line then drawn between our public affairs folks which, you know, are there for a certain reason.

Now, have we stepped up IO? We have quite a robust process in place to look at the information in media space; we look at cyberspace and see what we can do to engage our adversary there. MNF-I — and I’m sure you’re familiar with, you know, their strategic effects cell under the past leadership of General Bill Caldwell, and now Admiral Fox has stepped up into that role, and they’re very, very prolific, very active, very agile right there in Iraq.

We’re looking now at what we do to counter the Taliban as we see them in Afghanistan, particularly right now with their propaganda campaign about the collateral damage. And then we’re looking all across the region so that we communicate effectively, at least from our role as the combatant commander, those priorities that the commander has laid out for us.

Now, we cannot do that in isolation from what our national policies are, what our national priorities are with regard to security and stability and setting conditions for peace. So we’re interlocking, if you will, with the State Department’s Office for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication under Ambassador Hughes. And we’re setting the conduits up from our components and then here at Central Command, as the combatant command, with the Department of Defense in joint staff activities and then interlocking right into Ms. Hughes’ office.

That may have been a long answer, but it’s sort of a — I felt like I needed to share all of that with you, so that you’d see that it’s not just a huge hoopla in public — in PR, but it’s a well- focused effort to counter the enemy’s use of information and that part of — in our present asymmetric war. And information is a huge part of that.

Damn straight it was a long answer. The short of it, no. He’s stuttering and dancing around, with all due respect. We already know effective preemption is too much to ask for, so what are they doing? Well, they’re trying to “interlock” with Karen Hughes’ office….

I STRONGLY URGE YOU TO READ THE ENTIRE BLACKFIVE POST as well as the very informed comments if you are interested in the effectiveness of IO as well as the breadth of the potential impact of IO beyond Iraq.

I leave it to you to draw lessons from the post.

Critiquing Brave New War

Mamma always said I was special. According to John Robb, on his personal blog not Global Guerrillas, I am the only one to criticize Brave New War:

Knew it was going to happen. Oh well. To tell you the truth, I kinda expected more push-back to an outsider like me from the “conference crowd” guarding the walls around the counter-terrorism money/fantasy machine in [Washington]. This guy is the only one to do so publicly.

Am I trying to protect the “money/fantasy machine”? I don’t really know what he means by that (a little help?). Whatever it is, it sure sounds bad and I would probably agree the “money/fantasy machine” needs to be whacked. Regardless, my issue with the book pivots on a failure to include and factor in purposes and support systems into the analysis of his guerrillas. Insight into these two not insignificant data sets can’t be dismissed or ignored, but that is just what BNW does.

For more discussion on BNW, see the Small Wars Council board discussion that’s just starting up here (free subscription may be required, if you’re not already frequenting SWC and you’re interesting in COIN/Small Wars, you’re ignoring valuable insights).

Other reviews of Robb’s BNW may be found here:

  • New York Times
  • Scripps Howard News Service
  • DN-I Net
  • Washington Times / UPI