A Good magazine

As everybody runs around re-discovering private security companies again, I thought I’d highlight an article in Foreign Policy about GOOD Magazine, Doing Well By Doing Good. It’s a good article and particular interesting is the section titled “Provocations“. Contributors to Provocations include friends Noah Shachtman and Doug Brooks (of IPOA)… and now MountainRunner in the coming issue (unless I get bumped). Subject? You’ll have to see but the category of this post is a good indicator.

Blackwater in Iraq

Noah posted a good response by P.W. Singer at Danger Room this morning. No time for more than a few quick comments:

  • There is no license to be revoked.
  • Blackwater is an agent of the US Government operating extremely closely with our diplomatic personnel, reducing the rhetorical distance of the PSC mission.
  • The MOI can’t attack the US directly when US Military does something like this, at least not effectively with such a large media response.
  • The MOI, by attacking Blackwater, a direct agent of the US, can make a statement with relative security.
  • Blackwater, as an agent of the US, should be shielded by the US and defended or punished by the US. Any other action allows rumor to build and perceptions to turn more negative against an agent of the US, regardless of whatever you think of Blackwater.
  • The problem isn’t with Blackwater itself, this whole thing, as Singer says, is inevitable and we’re still not dealing with the root causes.

See my post earlier today that was not originally on this incident but is still applicable.

Karen P. Hughes: I don’t need no dots

Quite simply, Ms. Hughes op-ed in today’s Washington Post is very revealing. After throwing out stats of falling support of AQ, she has this one money paragraph: 

Al-Qaeda’s growing Internet propaganda activities glorify violence and seek to exploit local grievances, from political oppression to a lack of economic opportunities. In contrast, America’s public diplomacy programs are engaging young people constructively, through English-language teaching, educational exchanges, music and sports diplomacy.

Ordinarily the “money” paragraph would be where the writer nails the opposition. Here, she’s showing her cards. She doesn’t feel a need to attack AQ’s “glorification of violence” or counter the local grievances that OBL is effectively exploiting. No, she believes young people are the only answer.

As one woman in Algeria put it, “They are criminals who want to sabotage the country.” That’s a message bin Laden’s words don’t convey, but his actions do. Six years after Sept. 11, good and decent people of many faiths and cultures are increasingly rejecting his brutal methods.

Yes, six years later, people, good and descent is subjective, are rejecting AQ for a variety of reasons (including rejecting the prohibition against smoking), but what has Ms. Karen Hughes, as America’s Chief Information Officer done to assist this?

Ms. Hughes makes it crystal clear she doesn’t connect the dots between enemy propaganda and her mission. Ignoring action-reaction, the struggle for minds and wills and even hearts, she proves in this op-ed once again that she views her mission as having little potential impact in the near future and relegated to helping children. But into what kind of world will the kids grow up?

While OBL is playing the role of info magi over there, she’s playing with kids over here. No doubt kids are important, but so are the adults who are being deceived or exploited, often times with assistance from our own alienating policies. No wonder the defense side of USG is sponsoring conferences on public diplomacy and strategic communication.

(H/T to John Brown’s PDPBR for the heads up)

Bad News and Good News

First the good news, as expected USC beat Nebraska. Sorry Dan and Mike.

And now the bad news, Jimmy dropped out of the AC100 just after the 50 mile check point last night almost 12 hours into the race. I haven’t been able to talk to his crew…

Update: Jimmy skipped some of the fundamentals, like laying out a strategy for each leg, this year that he nailed last year. He’s feeling good and is stronger for the effort and, more importantly, he’s not selling his running shoes and will be back at it very, very soon.

When is it like the Cold War and when is it not

We know that Rice is stuck in a Cold War mind set not based on Kennan’s original concept of containment. We also know that Karen Hughes lacks the skill, leadership, and general acumen in her public diplomacy post.

The combination of lack of insight and political strength to direct the BBG smartly or even strategically lead interagency processes is behind what Amr Hamzawi, writing in an Egyptian weekly, latches onto in his article below. The failure of Rice and Hughes to know when the current struggle is and is not like the all hands struggle of the pre-detente Cold War created a failed media outreach strategy, a lame national strategy on public diplomacy, and not surprisingly fostered conferences sponsored by groups in the Defense community filling the void left by State’s lack of leadership. This isn’t to say State doesn’t have qualified individuals. It’s filled with them, they just can’t do their job. Big thanks to Meatball One for sending this article.

In large part this failure of public diplomacy is the product of an inappropriately designed approach, based almost exclusively as it was on the concept that governed Washington’s media and propaganda campaign targeting the socialist bloc during the Cold War. Whether out of naivetĂ© or pure ignorance, the architects of this project ignored the fundamental difference between the people of Eastern Europe, the majority of whom were fascinated by the Western way of life and who would tune into Radio Free Europe and seize whatever opportunities they could to read American and Western European publications, in spite of the considerable risks they faced in their police states, and the people of the Arab world who, when thinking about America, are concerned above all about American policies towards the Middle East and who regard these policies as hostile to Arab rights and causes and relentlessly biased in favour of Israel. Any media directed towards Arab audiences that could not address this concern, simply because it could not alter the facts, was doomed to lack credibility.

But the architects of policies that gave rise to Al-Hurra TV and Sawa Radio overlooked a more glaring difference between socialist Eastern Europe and the Arab world. In Poland and East Germany in the 1970s and 1980s, people had only the choice between their own state-run media and the more enticing state-run media from the West. Arab audiences at the beginning of the 21st century are inundated with choices, not only from land-based broadcasting stations in Cairo, Riyadh and Amman, but also from satellite networks. Al-Hurra and Sawa could not even begin to compete on the open airwaves with such much more attractive and sophisticated stations as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya.

But there is also a technical reason for this failure. As though it was not a difficult enough task to improve the image of the US in the Arab world at a time when this superpower has forces occupying an Arab country that is undergoing horrifying tensions and upheavals, and at a time when it encouraged its Israeli ally to go on the offensive against another Arab country in the hope of altering the map of regional alliances, the American media targeting the Arab world was consistently poorly managed. Programming and the substance of programmes never went beyond the blatantly propagandistic campaign to vindicate American policies. How could it possibly succeed?

The Bush administration lost the battle to win Arab hearts and minds. It is difficult to foresee any reversal of US fortunes any time in the near future.

Using Anthropology and Sociology

Working in foreign environments, whether it’s the moon, underwater, or another culture, you always need to know what works and what doesn’t. For example, on the moon, you need to wear a space suit to protect against the negative pressure. On the deep sea floor, you need armor to protect against overpressure. Scientists test and evaluate and propose solutions.

In Iraq or Afghanistan, a different kind of scientist must be at work. Here, the major variable isn’t the physical environment but the sociological environment. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the scientists informing us how to work in these foreign (to us) worlds are anthropologists.

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting page one article on a self-taught anthropologist working in Iraq with the Marines.

Earlier this summer, William “Mac” McCallister’s Marine Corps bosses asked him for help selecting gifts for tribal sheiks who had teamed up with U.S. forces to fight radical Islamists.

Mr. McCallister, the Marines’ resident expert on tribal culture, settled on the perfect gift: a Mameluke sword. The swords, which all Marine officers carry, date back to 1804 when a Marine lieutenant led a group of Arabs in a successful attack on pirates and was awarded a sword by an Ottoman pasha.

There was only one problem: The swords were banned as gifts because their value exceeds the government limit of $305.

Note the source of the sword…

Tribal-affairs expert is a job that until recently didn’t exist in the military — even though Iraq has 150 tribes, and some three-quarters of Iraqis belong to a tribe. Mr. McCallister says he first saw the need in 2003 when, as an active-duty Army major, he was ushered into a meeting with an influential Fallujah sheik. The tribal leader began to warble a song about the different kinds of pain a warrior feels when he is wounded by different weapons, like a sword, a knife or a gun.

“Anyone who sings about that stuff has a different take on the rules of warfare,” he says he quickly concluded. “If you don’t approach them correctly you can kill 30, 40 or 100 of them and they won’t submit.” Mr. McCallister began to search the military command in Iraq for someone who was an expert on tribal affairs. There were none. “When I suggested we find one, people looked at me like I had something growing out of my head,” he says.

“The Iraqis expect the grand gesture. It’s one of their rituals,” says Mr. McCallister. “You show them no respect when you don’t offend.” He compares discussions among tribal sheiks to symphonies. They often begin quietly, he says. Then they grow hotter often elevating into screaming matches before the debate calms down again.

The Marines say they have emulated this in meetings with tribal and government officials. In June, Gen. Allen, who says he prides himself on not losing his cool, was meeting with the governor of Iraq’s Anbar Province in a hotel restaurant in Amman, Jordan. With security improving, Gen. Allen told the governor he wanted his help to reopen Anbar’s criminal courts, which had been shut down after threats of violence caused many of the judges to quit. The governor was noncommittal.

Gen. Allen says he slammed his fist on the table, causing silverware to clang and heads to turn. “You have got to want these courts to open more than I do!” he says he yelled. “We are going to have the first trials in Anbar by Aug. 1!” Today, thanks to the governor pushing, the trials have started. The Anbar governor regularly refers to the conversation with Gen. Allen as a turning point.

However, anthropologists continue to be upset at the prospect of their field being, in many of their eyes, misappropriated. Social scientists can provide a real benefit by understanding decision loops that result in terrorist or insurgent attacks. This understanding is an important component of the psychological struggle for minds and wills….

CRS Report on IEDs

Via FAS comes this Congressional Research Service report on IEDs in Iraq, their effects and countermeasures (available here).

The report is far from interesting. In fact, it’s downright useless. With the exception of one paragraph (below), effects and countermeasures are measured purely in technology avoiding the real effects of IEDs.

In Iraq, small, highly skilled IED cells often hire themselves out to other insurgent groups, such as al-Qaeda in Iraq or the Sunni group Ansaar al Sunna. They advertise their skills on the Internet, and are temporarily contracted on a per-job basis but otherwise remain autonomous. A typical IED terrorist cell consists of six to eight people, including a financier, bomb maker, emplacer, triggerman, spotter, and often a cameraman. Videos of exploding U.S. vehicles and dead Americans are distributed via the Internet to win new supporters.

The first sentence, IEDs cells as mercenaries, is sourced to a Los Angeles Times article from 9/22/06 about the Italians leaving Iraq.

What the report emphasizes is, at least from CRS’s point of view, IED’s are still simply technological threats and little else. 

Quoting history #4

Following up on Republican statements on the need for Smith-Mundt, comes some Democrat voices from 1947, quoted in Shawn Parry-Giles’ Rhetorical Presidency, Propaganda and the Cold War:

Predictably, much of the congressional opposition to the legalization of peacetime propaganda was grounded in the assumption that such an organization threatened the US free press system. Representative William Lemke (D-CT) questioned any governmental attempt to “compete” with private news stations, calling for financial support of short-wave stations and “those who blazed the trail with their own funds.” According to Lemke, “Any other procedure would be the rankest kind of injustice.” Congressman Hale Boggs (D-LA) also questioned the practice of placing the government in “competition with a free press,” reflecting the Russian practice of controlling the “radio and the press”.

It wasn’t just Democrats with this concern. A contemporary fight with the AP and UP against State fueled the debate.

…Congressman J. Edgar Chenoweth (R-CO) used the conflict between the State Department and the AP as evidence that a constitutional exigency existed over the government’s intrusion into the news business. Referring to the goals of the Smith-Mundt bill as “novel and extraordinary,” Chenoweth cited Kent Cooper, executive director of the AP, emphasizing the “abhorrence of the Government going into the news business,” an act that Cooper equated with “amending the Constitution.”

MountainRunner is Global

These maps are from the end of August 2007 and indicate who’s visiting MountainRunner. (Daily updates are viewable from the right margin of the blog.)

It’s good to see hits from places not normally thought of as being connected.

A single shout out: hey Dude in Baku!

I’m always fascinated to see how global the audience of this blog. I think my discussions on robots brought more hits from India and China than usual (a topic I’ll be posting on again very soon). It seems I’m big in Asia (I was big there as an exchange student as well, but that is not only a bad joke but long ago).

Thanks for visiting.

China Blogging for September 14, 2007

Some catch-up on China blogging included here to clear my China queue

China is upset, claiming foreign nations are causing “massive and shocking” damage by hacking into computers to “ferret out political, military and scientific secrets.” Some might say that turnaround is fair play. Another thought is someone might be showing off for DHS that it’s worthwhile to revisit a denied application?

Continue reading “China Blogging for September 14, 2007

(Somewhat) Recent links to MountainRunner

Steve Field at D-Ring shows his brilliance with this post (and no, that is not a picture of me, I assume it’s Seth, a far more handsome gentleman than myself). (Original post here)

The increasingly wise PurpleSlog agrees with me that Karl Rove, or someone like him, should replace Karen Hughes. (Original post here)

Joshua Foust linked to my post on Israeli mercenaries (would Dougie @ IPOA call these guys mercs or contractors?) helping violent drug lords / insurgents in the Western Hemisphere.

Adam resurfaces to comment on a Canadian article titled “Human Security and the Militarization of Aid Delivery” (via Chris) asking at the end what I think about NGO’s using PMCs. To start, NGOs and UN peacekeeping operations have been using PMCs for, well, decades in ways only subtle to Americans and those not involved in NGOs. In the middle, I disagree with Adam’s blanket statement that “organizational cultures, motivations, and priorities of PMCs and NGOs, are also strikingly different.” If you want to make a buck, don’t start a PMC, start an NGO, fewer people are shooting at you and the profit margins are greater and you’ll be the subject of many cocktail conversations and enjoy side benefits. I also disagree with the assertion that transgressions by PMCs in one theater will bleed over to a host population in another (the global community is another thing, but the people being helped aren’t watching the talking heads). Let’s look at Nepal and their “promise” not to send any of their human rights violators outside the country to don the Blue Helmet (also, think about the criminal behavior of the Dutch at Srebenica years ago). Abuses by PMCs are not inevitable by their nature, organization, or what have you. As I wrote (and published) before, if your concern (the royal You not Adam specifically) is accountability of an armed force, look first at the Blue Helmets. The core issue is this: should NGOs be armed, or should they be accompanied by armed escorts? Generally, no, whether they are soldiers of a state or private. Guns are scary to many of the people in most need and the NGO becomes tainted by a very close proximity with guns. Relational distance is important and can be conducted by anyone.

Bonnie Boyd at the Central Asia Blog linked to my popular post on PRTs. She also observed MountainRunner is a “really good Civil-Military Relations blog”. It’s good to come across another smart and observant blogger… 🙂

Petraeus on hold

Live blogging on Congressional testimony…. Blaming photographers for disconnecting Petraeus’ microphone accidentally, the General is on hold as the A/V guy gets around… at the same time, some body is complaining to the Chairman about only getting charts and not a written statement from the Petraeus… humorous, but not for Petraeus and Crocker.

Update: w/ the delay, the Chairman gets upset at a Congressman asking to preemptively remove rabblerousers (“their strategy is to sacrifice one every five minutes…”), the Chairman’s candid cursing and complaining adds to the fun…

Lost Irony

Is “virtually impotent” really the best description of a person who inspires many, many people on the Web? NSA Frances Townsend gets the propaganda element of Osama bin Laden’s message, but she doesn’t get that OBL out-maneuvers the US, home of Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue, on the web (directly and indirectly) and in the war of perceptions.

Quoting History #3

“…it is the primary right of men to die and kill for the land they live in, and to punish with exceptional severity all members of their own race who have warmed their hands at the invader’s heart.” — Winston Churchill quoted in Dave Grossman’s On Killing : The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, 1995.

Also from this worthwhile book, a story told about told by Matt Brennan abpit Con, a Vietnamese scout assigned to an American platoon in Vietnam, who had

been a loyal Viet Cong until a North Vietnamese squad made a mistake and killed his wife and children. Now he loved to run ahead of the Americans, hunting for [North Vietnamese soldiers]…. He called the Communists gooks, just as we did, and one night I asked him why.

“Con, do you think it’s right to call the VC gooks and dinks?”

He shrugged. “It makes no difference to me. Everything has a name. Do you think the Americans are the only ones who do that? … My company in the jungle … called you Big Hairy Monkeys. We kill monkeys, and” — he hesitated for an instant — “we eat them.”

Quoting History #2

Today…peace is endangered by the weapons of false propaganda and misinformation and the inability on the part of the United States to deal adequately with those weapons.

Truth can be a powerful weapon on behalf of peace. It is the firm belief of the Committee that HR 3342, with all the safeguards included in the bill, will constitute an important step in the right direction toward the adequate dissemination of the truth about America, our ideals, and our people.


…This work has been going on for 29 months in the State Department. The time has come when Congress should give the program its official sanction. Further delay in taking action will seriously embarrass the President and the Secretary of State in the conduct of foreign relations, since information in the modern world is an exceedingly important instrument of policy.

What’s the topic? Some readers may recognize HR 3342 as the resolution put forward by a Representative Karl Mundt, conservative republican from South Dakota who, before Pearl Harbor, was an ardent isolationist. While serving on the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Mundt worked vigorously with Senator H. Alexander Smith (R-NJ) to gain passage of what was officially known as Public Law 402: The United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948.

The above quotes are from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations recommending the Senate pass the bill, which it did without dissent (earlier, the House voted 272 to 97 in favor). It was signed into law by President Truman January 27, 1948, and later became known as the Smith-Mundt Act.

Cited in Robert William Pirsein’s The Voice of America : An History of the International Broadcasting Activities of the United States Government, 1940-1962, Dissertations in Broadcasting. New York: Arno Press, 1979.