Mash-Up for Friday, August 10, 2007

I’m short on time for the blog so I am just going to dump a bunch of recommended reads here. I am at a conference next week, so posting next week is likely to be very light.

From the Pew Research Center: Internet News Audience Highly Critical of News Organizations

The American public continues to fault news organizations for a number of perceived failures, with solid majorities criticizing them for political bias, inaccuracy and failing to acknowledge mistakes. But some of the harshest indictments of the press now come from the growing segment that relies on the internet as its main source for national and international news.

The internet news audience – roughly a quarter of all Americans – tends to be younger and better educated than the public as a whole. People who rely on the internet as their main news source express relatively unfavorable opinions of mainstream news sources and are among the most critical of press performance. As many as 38% of those who rely mostly on the internet for news say they have an unfavorable opinion of cable news networks such as CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, compared with 25% of the public overall, and just 17% of television news viewers.

DARPA sees the future, and it’s not the world where we can rest on our technological asses. We must take into account a smart and adaptive enemy. The wizz-bang devices don’t play and weren’t designed for the information game. This informational asymmetry reduces the fungibility of our kinetic assets:

There’s a tendency to view Islamists as backwards barbarians, Winter said.  This image is “misleading and very dangerous.”  The terrorist enemy is more likely to be a “engineer in a lab” than an “evildoer in a cave.”

Growth in commercial computing power has “eroded” America’s Cold War “technical edge,” Winter said.  The same – or even better – gear gets out to kids worldwide, before soldiers ever see it.  “The playing field has thus been leveled.”  Just look at how Iraqi insurgents have been able to the Internet to recruit, train, and spread propaganda. And check out the network-like “command and control” structures that these guys are using, compared to our old military hierarchies. 

On PRTs, Richard Fernandez of The Belmont Club, adds some important points on PRTs not raised in my post, namely State’s out of touch regs and a mil-based Civil Response Corps already in operation (h/t SWJ Blog):

I was just on the blogger round table with Philip Reeker, US Embassy Baghdad, on the subject of PRTs. And it was clear that they were trying to building things from the bottom up in a society where the tradition of local government (as opposed to tribal government) was nonexistent. But it was also clear that the assets necessary to accomplish this are pretty thin. They’re still building the doctrine. And there’s no enabling bureaucratic structure. One of the things, for example, that Ambassador Crocker had to do was waive the State Department security regs to get people out. To provide any security at all, the PRTs either have to be embedded or escorted, except in places like Kurdistan where they can mostly operate unescorted.

Interestingly, the PRTs found the military’s reserve system very useful because it provided a pool of specialists for which State had no analogue. There was some reference to the need for the equivalent of a Goldwater-Nichols for the civilian arms of government to provide an institutional cure. But that’s still prospective. The sense you got was that State is trying to field people and is succeeding somewhat, but that many hurdles remain.

To summarize, from what I understand there’s a clear recognition now — and there may have been a former reluctance — to create the capacity to conduct political work at the grassroots. But there remain questions about whether a) it is still possible, given the time elapsed; b) US Government agencies can [mobilize] effectively to accomplish this task.

My own sense, without any pejorative reflection on State, is that they are struggling to match the political work with the security gains. And this is due, I think, almost wholly to the circumstance that we are now asking diplomats to do something they never in their wildest dreams thought they would be doing. As Mr. Reeker ran down the list of this or that person voluntarily leaving a post in such and such European capital for duty in some provincial Iraqi dustbowl you got the sense that the State guys were individually making one heck of an effort but that the institutional capacity still isn’t there.

Abu Muqawama gave this timely link on Jeep’s and Humvee’s that included this important realization:

Yet the Humvee’s biggest drawback may actually be the false sense of security it imparts. American troops, many military theorists now argue, are too removed in their vehicles, fighting for Iraqi hearts and minds with a drive-through mentality. The open-air jeep meant that soldiers could, and had to, interact with the people of occupied nations; the closed, air-conditioned Humvee has only isolated American forces from Iraqis. This is even more of a problem with the MRAP, which offers only small, armored windows to peek out of. Though the tactics of the current surge seek to get troops out of their vehicles more often, many politicians involved in the debate over Humvees assume—perhaps erroneously—that more armor means more safety and success.

Over one thousand contractors have now died in Iraq, but, no surprise, we don’t know the true number. David Ivanovich writes in the Houston Chronicle:

And as of June 30, 1,001 civilian contractors working for U.S. firms had died there since the war’s start more than four years ago, including 231 in the first six months of 2007, according to Labor Department statistics the Chronicle received Tuesday.

How many of those killed were Americans is unclear, since the Labor Department records do not provide the nationalities of the casualties.

Lastly, and for something completely different, cycling’s sponsors have finally had enough of being associated with doping. The latest news on this front is Team Discovery, formerly USPS, will end their sponsorship in February and director Johan Bruyneel will retire. While they team was in negotiations to replace the main sponsor, they decided to cut negotiations because “the situation in the sport is so bad that nobody wants to be involved with us.”