Saturday, November 15, 2008

An Ancient Approach to Political Warfare - Part II

Continued from Part I.

Aristotle, in his Rhetoric, contends that “since the objective of rhetoric is judgment… we must have regard not only to the speech’s being demonstrative and persuasive, but also to… bringing the giver of judgment [i.e. the audience] into a certain condition” (2.1). This requires an understanding of the audience and the sorts of things to which they are attentive; thus, Aristotle spends all of Section 7 discussing the possible characters of men who may hear a speech. The rhetors of the Old Testament understood that their audience valued history and historical continuity; thus, they made a point of framing their message in these terms, often invoking the prophecies of old.

This approach to appropriating tradition for propagandistic purposes was not unique to the Greeks or Hebrews, but can be found all over the ancient world. Philip M. Taylor contends that “Rome lacked the rich mythological sources available to Greek propagandists, so it created a mythology of its own” (35) This is, in fact, a sloppy simplification of a far more interesting process: Virgil’s Aeneid did not so much create a mythology as weave together several pre-existing stories of Rome’s founding – one by Aeneas and the Trojan survivors, another by the twins Romulus and Remus – in a way that supported the imperial government. Put another way, he appropriated a tradition, drawing upon its elements and then going beyond it to cover new ground.

Kautilya, an ancient Indian thinker, was a contemporary of Aristotle’s, though 3,000 miles away. He too understood the importance of appropriating tradition and discussed it in his Arthashastra, a handbook of statecraft. He explains that a king who has recently conquered new territory should “adopt the way of life, dress, language and customs of the people, show the same devotion to the gods of the territory [as to his own gods] and participate in the people’s festivals” (13.5.8; Rangarajan’s 741). Note that Kautilya is not interested in any particular quality of local customs, except that they are local and most likely beloved by the people. Though it is highly unlikely that Kautilya ever heard of Aristotle or his work, both demonstrated the same finesse for understanding an audience and the things that will favorably dispose it.

Modern-day practitioners of propaganda and political warfare would do well to learn from the ancients this lesson of appropriation. Americans, in particular, living in a relatively young nation that is more oriented toward the future than the past, tend to undertake their efforts without first asking themselves if there is already a pre-existing tradition whose terms and concepts they might adopt in order to lend their arguments new credibility. This, of course, requires the effort of first learning about foreign traditions and schools of thought, but the price is well worth it.

One of the uncomfortable qualities of Mason’s work is that it raises a difficult problem: what are we to make of an Old Testament that often bears a striking resemblance to propaganda, but which is claimed to in fact be the Word of God? An understanding of the appropriation of tradition helps us resolve some of this dilemma. A God Who acts in human history, Who stoops to make Himself known to mankind, can be expected to reveal Himself in a way that is conducive to the human mind. This is not so much God acting like a man, as it is God speaking to men; the Divine Rhetor understands His audience quite well and tailors His message accordingly. The point may be illustrated in regards to the earlier example of the lands promised to Abraham. God, in drawing a spiritual parallel between Abraham and Solomon, also draws a geographic one, not because the geography is or is not historically correct, but because the human mind appreciates and naturally grasps this sort of physical parallelism. Aristotle and Kautilya would understand the technique; there is no reason we should not.

This post first appeared on The Guild Review earlier this month.

Friday, November 14, 2008

An Ancient Approach to Political Warfare - Part I

In his work Propaganda and Subversion in the Old Testament, Rex Mason makes regular reference to ‘prophecies after the event,’ (vaticinia ex eventu). Mason’s reading of these accounts is rather straightforward: such prophecies were written after the events they predicted and function as legitimizing propaganda, either for a status quo power or for forces of change.* While this may be the case with some prophecies, particularly those whose level of detail cannot otherwise be explained (at least by human factors), there are a variety of other prophetic occasions which allow for a far more nuanced understanding of political warfare as waged in the Old Testament. The appropriation of a pre-existing tradition, rather than the creation of one out of whole cloth, not only provides valuable insights for modern-day political warfare practitioners, but also begins to resolve some of the tension between the human and divine elements of the Old Testament narrative.

In Genesis 15, Abraham is promised the “land from the river of Egypt as far as the great river Euphrates,” including the land of the “Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaim, Amorites and Canaanites.” Mason points out that “these are the very borders ascribed to Solomon’s rule at the height of his fortunes: ‘Solomon exercised rule over all the kingdoms from the River [i.e. the Euphrates], to the land of the Philistines, that is, as far as the border of Egypt’” (33-4; internal quotation from 1 Kings 4:21). Mason comments that “the parallel between the ideal boundary claimed in royal propaganda for Solomon and the extent of land promised to Abraham in the ‘prophecy’ cannot be coincidental,” and concludes that “the stories of Abraham have an element of royal ideology in them” (34). However, an alternative reading of this parallelism is plausible.

It is quite possible that the story of the land promised to Abraham predated the Davidic monarchy; even if some editing has occurred between the Davidic-era version and the one that has come down to us, the essential details – including the borders of the lands promised to Abraham – may have already been set down. In such a case, Solomon would not have created the account of earlier events to match his kingdom, but shaped the perception of his kingdom to imply continuity with the past. Without realizing, Mason himself seems to have considered this possibility when he notes that the boundaries claimed by Solomon were “very largely fancy, for Solomon’s ‘empire’ (if such it may be called) certainly did not extend as far nor did he receive tribute from as many nations,” as named in the Abrahamic prophecy (34).**

A host of similar cases can be found in Mason’s work. He contends, for example, that the accounts of the Israelite tabernacle are “clearly influenced by the later Jerusalem temple,” in an attempt by priestly editors to write the central role of the temple into earlier history (57). While this interpretation is possible, Mason’s chronological gymnastics are hardly necessary to understand the parallelism between the tabernacle and the temple. Just as likely, priestly or royal personnel involved in the construction of the temple reached into Israelite history and consciously drew upon the example of the tabernacle, in order to imply continuity with the past, even if the temple in fact marked a shift in Israelite spirituality, as Mason argues.

Coming soon: Part II.

* I employ the term ‘propaganda’ throughout in the same way Mason does, to indicate ‘the presentation of material so as to express a particular belief or set of beliefs in such a way as to command assent to it from those to whom it is addressed’ (170). Thus, ‘propaganda’ is a neutral term referring to a method, not to the truth or falsehood, justice or injustice of the cause being promoted.

** To be fair, Mason does not explicitly advocate the position that these prophecies were completely fabricated after the fact; rather, he leaves the issue of their original material largely untouched, and appears not to have thought about this question in a systematic way. Thus, we find him at one point claiming that “the priests were creating a social order” (63) and then turning around and writing that the priests “skillfully preserved continuity with what had gone before” (64, emphasis added).

This post first appeared on The Guild Review earlier this month.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Clear Political Messages - For Once

America frequently has a problem getting its message out. We do a better job with domestic audiences than foreign ones, but even domestic messaging can be confused and ineffective. As a conservative, it has been painful for me to watch the McCain campaign's halting attempts to clearly articulate themes that resonate with the American people and with the Republican party's values. But one group,, has managed to put together a series of ads that are clear, simple, and to the point, with a young and professional look. Whether you support John McCain or not, I encourage you to take a look; anyone interested in political rhetoric could take a page from their book.

"Part of the Problem"

"Middle Class"

Friday, August 8, 2008

Russia Launches Cyber War To Match Conventional Offensive

While Russian regular forces are engaging Georgian troops inside of Georgian territory, Russian cyberwarriors are busy doing their part to fight the tiny republic. As of this posting the Georgian president's website and the Georgian government homepage were down. Coincidence? Perhaps. But the proof comes when you visit the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, where visitors are met by this montage comparing Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to Adolph Hitler.

I'll give the Russians this: they're good at what they do...

(I've included above the links to all three websites so you can monitor developments in real time. I'd not be surprised to see Russian hackers add new content in the coming hours and days.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Air Surperiority: Yesterday's Problem, or Tomorrow's?

John Gapper of the Financial Times has written an excellent piece on the F-22, the question of air superiority and the economics of the procurement process:

America’s air force misses the target

By John Gapper

Say what you like about the F-22, the world’s most advanced and expensive fighter jet, it is obviously fun to fly. One of these $350m aircraft dipped and fluttered around the sky above the Farnborough air show this week in a bravura show of agility.

The F-22 is a supersonic stealth aircraft dreamt up at the end of the cold war to impose American air superiority over Soviet fighters. In recent exercises, its invisibility and advanced radar and avionics allowed it to shoot down 80 aircraft for every time that it was hit itself.

The F-22’s party trick is to be able to pivot horizontally in mid-air as it sniffs around for a target. “The sensation is not: ‘Oh, my gosh, the nose is slipping out of control. It is ‘Oh, my gosh, I can get the nose to do what I want,’ ” said Al Norman, the F-22’s senior test pilot.

What impresses the US air force, however, is not what pleases the US government. The F-22 has become a symbol of what Robert Gates, the defence secretary, has dubbed “ ‘next-war-itis’ – the propensity of much of the defence establishment to be in favour of what might be needed in a future conflict”.

Mr Gates wants the US military instead to focus on the “war on terror” and asymmetric conflicts in which it has to work with allies to combat suicide bombers and insurgents in hot, dusty countries. The kind of air support that such campaigns require is helicopters and cargo aircraft, not a 21st-century stealth fighter jet.

As a result, he has stood firm against the USAF’s wish to have 381 F-22s to replace its ageing fleet of F-15s, a Vietnam-era fighter that has been repeatedly patched and upgraded. The US will buy only 183 and intends to make do instead with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a forthcoming stealth aircraft that is cheaper and more versatile.

Mr Gates may be right that the F-22 will prove an unnecessary precaution in the world as we know it and that five squadrons is “a reasonable buy”. But there are two difficulties with his obstinate position, one military and the second financial.

The military problem is that air superiority is something the US takes for granted but is not inevitable. Mr Gates clearly believes the USAF is stuck in the past but he could equally be accused of being stuck in the present. While terrorism is the immediate threat, China’s military rise and Russia’s military resurgence are worries for the future.

Click here for the rest of the article.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Mountain Runner's Reading List

If you have any interest at all in public diplomacy, you need to be reading Matt Armstrong, known to the blogosphere as Mountain Runner. He's recently come out with a public diplomacy reading list, which I've ganked wholesale because I'm so excited about it. (Mountain Runner cautions that it's a very preliminary list, though it looks like an excellent one to me; however, check back with his site in the coming days and weeks for even better versions.)

Readings on Public Diplomacy

A very preliminary reading list on public diplomacy. At this time, this list is not in any particular order and it will be expanded to include more. Click here to jump to the government reports section.

Practicing Public Diplomacy: A Cold War Odyssey by Yale Richmond
image Total Cold War: Eisenhower's Secret Propaganda Battle at Home And Abroad by Kenneth Osgood
image Selling War: The British Propaganda Campaign Against American "Neutrality" in World War II by Nicholas Cull
image American Encounters with Arabs: The "Soft Power" of U.S. Public Diplomacy in the Middle East by William Rugh
image The First Resort of Kings: American Cultural Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century by Richard Arndt
image Losing Hearts and Minds?: Public Diplomacy and Strategic Influence in the Age of Terror by Carnes Lord
image Parting the Curtain: Propaganda, Culture, and the Cold War, 1945-1961 by Walter L. Hixson
image Information War: American Propaganda, Free Speech, and Opinion Control Since 9/11 by Nancy Sno

Click here to visit Mountain Runner's original post.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dune: A Model of Political Warfare

If you're looking for some good fiction to read - and you should be, since varied reading greatly increases intellectual dexterity - might I recommend Frank Herbert's 1965 novel Dune? Though written more than 40 years ago, Dune is not only well written, winning the inaugural Nebula Award for best sci-fi novel, but also touches upon a number of perennial issues.

The story involves a far-flung galactic empire and the feuding dynastic houses within it. (Some have compared the work to Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.) A variety of the tools of statecraft are employed in this struggle: parliamentary politics, economics, intelligence, assassination, insurgency and open warfare. The interrelationship between geography, ecology, culture and political struggle is strongly emphasized. Likewise, the importance of religion and the limits of technology are seen. In the midst of all this political intrigue we see the statesman - the leader possessing wisdom, heroism and moral rectitude.

In a post-Cold War world of irregular warfare, nationalistic movements, transnational terrorists, environmental concerns and rising economic powers, Dune remains a prescient work for any student of political warfare.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Al-Qaeda on the Defensive

Today the Financial Times has an excellent article titled "Down but dangerous: How al-Qaeda has been pushed on to the defensive." The FT provides some encouraging evidence that the terrorist organization does not enjoy the level of international popularity it once held.

In the second half of the last year, Pakistani support for al-Qaeda has dropped by half. In Saudi Arabia, those who view al-Qaeda unfavorably now outnumber those who view it favorably by a margin of more than six to one. Moreover, over 60% of Saudis believe the Saudi military should pursue al-Qaeda fighters.

Such victories in the popularity polls do not necessarily translate into victories on the battlefield or in wilderness of mirrors that is the intelligence world. However, these numbers do indicate that al-Qaeda and its mufsidun allies are losing the battle for hearts and minds. And that is a good thing indeed.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Human Terrain System Loses Its First

Last November we had the pleasure of telling you about the Army's Human Terrain System (HTS), teams of anthropologists who work with our soldiers to provide cultural support in the battle for hearts and minds. Sadly, we now report that HTS has now lost its first member in the line of duty. From the HTS website:

It is with deep sorrow that we must inform you of the tragic death of Michael Bhatia, our social scientist team member assigned to the Afghanistan Human Terrain Team #1, in support of Task Force Currahee based at FOB SALERNO, Khowst Province.

Michael was killed on May 7 when the Humvee he was riding in was struck by an IED. Michael was traveling in a convoy of four vehicles, which were en route to a remote sector of Khowst province. For many years, this part of Khowst had been plagued by a violent inter-tribal conflict concerning land rights. Michael had identified this tribal dispute as a research priority, and was excited to finally be able to visit this area. This trip was the brigade’s initial mission into the area, and it was their intention to initiate a negotiation process between the tribes.

Michael was in the lead vehicle with four other soldiers. Initial forensics indicate that the IED was triggered by a command detonated wire. Michael died immediately in the explosion. Two Army soldiers from Task Force Currahee were also killed in the attack, and two were critically injured.

During the course of his seven-month tour, Michael’s work saved the lives of both US soldiers and Afghan civilians. His former brigade commander, COL Marty Schweitzer testified before Congress on 24 April that the Human Terrain Team of which Michael was a member helped the brigade reduce its lethal operations by 60 to 70%, increase the number of districts supporting the Afghan government from 15 to 83, and reduce Afghan civilian deaths from over 70 during the previous brigade's tour to 11 during the 4-82’s tour. A copy of Colonel Schweitzer’s comments can be found here.

We will remember Michael for his personal courage, his willingness to endure danger and hardship, his incisive intelligence, his playful sense of humor, his confidence, his devoted character, and his powerful inner light. While his life has ended, he has not disappeared without a trace. He left a powerful effect behind, which will be felt by his friends and colleagues and by the people of Afghanistan for many years to come.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Russia Increases Troop Numbers in Georgia

Russia has announced that it will be reinforcing its military presence in two break-away regions of the Republic of Georgia, Reuters reports. Russia claims these soldiers (pictured left) are 'peacekeepers,' but given that many of the separatists desire absorption of their territories by Russia, their true nature as occupiers is fairly clear.

All this comes just days after Moscow threatened to use "military means" against Georgia to defend its "compatriots" in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. A few days earlier, a Russian fighter jet, operating in Georgian airspace, shot down a Georgian drone, as this clip from Reuters clearly shows:

(Apologies for the ad that Reuters has embedded on the front end of the video. Just twiddle your thumbs for a bit.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

International Piracy: The Real Deal

The other evening we were watching Wes Anderson's Life Aquatic, a film which - somewhat mockingly - includes some international pirates. I was reminded, however, that this is a serious problem that still plagues much of the world's seas, and doubtless would threaten even more of them if it were not for the US Navy.

As Standish has recently pointed out, private security contractors are helping to fight this menace. Below is most of his article:

A report released by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich... cites statistics from the International Maritime Bureau showing that piracy is on the rise. Recent news accounts regarding French and Spanish vessels reinforce this story.

Within the private sector, shipping, oil and insurance firms have been impacted by a significant and long-term increase in pirate attacks mounted against off-shore oil platforms, tankers and cargo vessels traveling throughout the world's shipping lanes. In strategic choke points like the Malacca Straits, large, slow-moving container ships and tug-pulled drilling rigs are easily approached and boarded by the much smaller, agile and quicker boats used by today's pirates. These attacks, measured in terms of ship and cargo losses as well as increased insurance premiums, have amounted to losses of up to US$16 billion annually.

That's where PSCs come in.

At the federal level, both the Department of Homeland Security and the US Coast Guard have solicited advice from PSCs on matters of maritime security. For example, after the 9/11 attacks, a number of British firms - including Marine Underwater Security Consultants and Hart Security - were invited to participate in a committee drafting of the US Coast Guard's ISPS Code submission to the International Maritime Organisation. After the bombing of the USS Cole, the PSC Blackwater was awarded a contract to train over 50,000 US sailors in the use of small arms to defend their ships from terrorist attacks.

This US public-private interface has not been limited to merely an advisory or training role. At the local government level, the US has launched a number of pilot programs using the firm Seawolf Marine Patrol to provide manned guarding services for a US ports. Overseas, the US navy has relied upon the PSC Glenn Defense Marine Asia to provide security - complete with armed ghurkhas - for its naval vessels while in port.

The United States is not the only employer of maritime PSCs:

Middle Eastern and Asian states have hired PSCs like Britam to provide training for their own maritime security forces to protect state-owned high-risk maritime assets. In the wake of the 2002 assault on the Limburg tanker in Yemeni coastal waters, for example, Hart Security was hired to train the Yemeni Navy in waterborne anti-terrorist tactics. African states have turned to PSCs in an even more proactive capacity....

Traditionally, various members of the maritime industry more broadly have hired PSCs in risk mitigation roles. For example, the marine insurance industry utilizes PSCs in various political risk advisory, due diligence, asset recovery and maritime kidnap and ransom (k&r) services associated with piracy and terrorism.... Large shipping and oil companies sensitive to increasingly violent pirate attacks against their oil tankers and drilling rigs have turned to PSCs like Background Asia Risk Solutions to provide armed personnel and armored escort vessels to "ride shotgun" while escorting these expensive assets through some of the world's most dangerous waterways.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Charges Dropped in Haditha Case

Do you remember Haditha? No one can find it on a map, but in November 2005 eight US marines were accused of indiscriminately killing 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children. After a time the story faded from the news cycle, but left the public with a general feeling that our boys were committing atrocities in Iraq.

Well, today the BBC reports that Lance Corporal Stephen Tatum (pictured), 26, has had all charges against him dropped. Moreover, he is the fifth of the eight to go free. The case continues to unfold and there may yet be convictions for the other three. But at the very most we are looking at an incident of much less gravity than originally reported. Don't expect Time magazine to run any front-page retractions, however...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Foreign Policy Has a Sex Appeal

Why sex and foreign policy aren’t as different as you might think

By Colin Parks

Would you believe that having sex can provide you with a better guide to effective foreign policy than any political theory out there? In fact, if our policy makers spent more time nurturing their sex lives, they could find themselves more attuned to the most effective tools of statecraft. This should come as no surprise and I’ll tell you why.

In order to have sex, you have three options. You can buy it, i.e. prostitution; you can take it by force, i.e. rape; or you can seduce it, i.e. the art of romance. Buying sex is usually only a temporary fix and an expensive one at that; most prostitutes don’t offer blue-light specials. Furthermore, it might not be the most desirable experience unless a dingy motel room, cheap champagne, and the incessant glow of neon lights is your idea of a romantic getaway. Forcing sex might be desirable for some but for most it simply isn’t worth the likely consequences, i.e. spending the rest of your life behind bars in an orange jump suit contemplating escape with a spoon and a bed spring.

How then, do you use seduction to get sex? You first need to possess certain elements of attraction such as good looks, an appealing personality, and some sort of alluring feature that compels your intended companion to get a little frisky with you; generally a few sprays of cologne will turn the trick. Second, you need to have a strategy; sex on first contact isn’t usually the rule but rather the exception. You need to take the time to get to know your companion, i.e. enduring a few awkward dates, engaging in conversation more enlightening than the weather, and actually noticing little things like eye color and the type of shoes your companion is wearing; observing bust size doesn’t qualify! Finally, you have to set the mood; a few candles and some sultry music will do. A little tender, loving, care can go a long way so don’t be afraid to sharpen your massage skills. What’s more, when the deed is done, you can’t just fall asleep or abruptly leave. It pays to cuddle and stay around for breakfast. While it might take a bit longer and require more finesse, if executed skillfully seduction can result in quality, long lasting, and meaningful sex, without the messy consequences of prostitution or rape.

So why is sex similar to foreign policy? If it isn’t already apparent, nations have three options when deciding how to achieve a particular foreign policy objective. Like sex, they can buy it, i.e. with bribery or economic sanctions; they can take it, i.e. with military force; or they can seduce it, i.e. creating an allure via soft power. The first two options are hard power methods frequently used to coerce or compel an adversary to succumb to your will, tangible instruments that clearly indicate a nation’s desire to alter behavior or gain the advantage in a given scenario. However, these options can have dire consequences. Economic sanctions, bribery, and war can be costly, extremely risky, and lacking in quality assurance. Moreover, military force and the careless use of economic sanctions can produce damaging ripple effects that can be difficult to suppress. One only needs to look at the situation in Iraq to ascertain that the friction and uncertainty of war can create more problems than solutions, and the case of Cuba to realize that buying your objectives doesn’t necessarily work.

The seduction of soft power attempts to alleviate some of the pains associated with the misuse of hard power by using public diplomacy and cultural diplomacy to persuade an adversary rather than coerce it. This implies confidence in one’s ideals and principles, and a willingness and ability to export them. For the United States, this means accentuating our most appealing qualities such as democracy, the rule of law, plurality, and freedom. It also means tapping into the alluring features of culture such as music and art. These elements can potentially convince an adversary to view the U.S. in a more positive light; a nation that finds us attractive is more likely to emulate our behavior and subsequently comply with our demands. Like a seductress, however, the purveyor of soft power must be patient and willing to invest in a little TLC.

So maybe the hippie mantra “Make Love, Not War!” has a point. If we take the time to seduce our target and tap into the softer side of foreign policy, we have a greater chance of securing our foreign policy objectives in a manner that ensures lasting relationships. Like a good lover, the U.S. must be willing to sustain its soft power initiatives over time by not abandoning these initiatives when the deed is done and sticking around for a little cuddle time.

Colin Parks is a graduate student at The Institute of World Politics in Washington where he studies the elements of statecraft in national security and foreign affairs. He can be contacted at,

Friday, March 7, 2008

Britain Kow Tows to China

The Daily Mail released a scathing article about the British Olympic committee's decision to gag its athletes at the Beijing Olympics. They write:

British Olympic chiefs are to force athletes to sign a contract promising not to speak out about China's appalling human rights record – or face being banned from traveling to Beijing.

The move – which raises the specter of the order given to the England football team to give a Nazi salute in Berlin in 1938 – immediately provoked a storm of protest....

From the moment they sign up, the competitors – likely to include the Queen's granddaughter Zara Phillips and world record holder Paula Radcliffe – will be effectively gagged from commenting on China's politics, human rights abuses or illegal occupation of Tibet.

Prince Charles has already let it be known that he will not be going to China, even if he is invited by Games organizers.

His views on the Communist dictatorship are well known, after this newspaper revealed how he described China's leaders as “appalling old waxworks” in a journal written after he attended the handover of Hong Kong. The Prince is also a long-time supporter of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan leader....

The [British Olympic Association] took the decision even though other countries – including the United States, Canada, Finland, and Australia – have pledged that their athletes would be free to speak about any issue concerning China.

To date, only New Zealand and Belgium have banned their athletes from giving political opinions while competing at the Games....

However, human rights campaigner Lord David Alton condemned the move as “making a mockery” of the right to free speech.

The controversial decision to award the Olympics to Beijing means this year's Games have the potential to be the most politically charged since 1936.

Adolf Hitler used the Munich Games that year to glorify his Nazi regime, although his claims of Aryan superiority were undermined by black American athlete Jesse Owens winning four gold medals.

More recently, there was a mass boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan....

Former Olympic rowing champion Matthew Pinsent has already criticized the Chinese authorities over the training methods used on children, which he regarded as tantamount to abuse. Young gymnasts told him they were repeatedly beaten during training sessions....

Lord Alton said: “It is extraordinary to bar athletes from expressing an opinion about China's human-rights record. About the only justification for participating in the Beijing Games is that it offers an opportunity to encourage more awareness about human rights.

“Imposing compulsory vows of silence is an affront to our athletes, and in China it will be viewed as acquiescence.

“Each year 8,000 executions take place in China, political and religious opinion is repressed, journalists are jailed and the internet and overseas broadcasts are heavily censored.

“For our athletes to be told that they may not make any comment makes a mockery of our own country's belief in free speech.”

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Merchant of Death: Arrested

This just in from the BBC: Viktor Bout, the international arms trafficking kingpin we told you about in October, has been arrested in Thailand. Though Thai police picked him up, it appears they acted on an American warrant which was related to Mr. Bout's arming of left-wing Columbian guerrillas.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union Mr. Bout, who appears to have some sort of military background, began snatching up both weapons and the transport planes needed to ship them around the world. The arms he supplied have fueled many conflicts in the Third World, often going to both sides in many wars.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Al-Qaeda is Losing the War of Minds

Contrary to popular belief, the US may not be losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world, so says Peter Wehner in a Financial Times guest piece from which comes today's post title. He writes,

In November 2007 Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (“Dr Fadl”) published his book, Rationalizations on Jihad in Egypt and the World, in serialised form. Mr Sharif, who is Egyptian, argues that the use of violence to overthrow Islamic governments is religiously unlawful and practically harmful. He also recommends the formation of a special Islamic court to try Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two and its ideological leader, and calls the attacks on September 11 2001 a “catastrophe for all Muslims”.

Mr Sharif’s words are significant because he was once a mentor to Mr Zawahiri. Mr Sharif, who wrote the book in a Cairo prison, is “a living legend within the global jihadist movement”, according to Jarret Brachman, a terrorism expert.

Another important event occurred in October 2007, when Sheikh Abd Al-‘Aziz bin Abdallah Aal Al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa prohibiting Saudi youth from engaging in jihad abroad. It states: “I urge my brothers the ulama [the top class of Muslim clergy] to clarify the truth to the public . . . to warn [youth] of the consequences of being drawn to arbitrary opinions and [religious] zeal that is not based on religious knowledge.” The target of the fatwa is obvious: Mr bin Laden.

A month earlier Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, an influential Saudi cleric whom Mr bin Laden once lionized, wrote an “open letter” condemning Mr bin Laden. “Brother Osama, how much blood has been spilt? How many innocents among children, elderly, the weak, and women have been killed and made homeless in the name of al-Qaeda?” Sheikh Awdah wrote. “The ruin of an entire people, as is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq ... cannot make Muslims happy.”

Mr. Wehner goes on to describe what he calls the "Anbar Awakening":

Just 18 months ago Anbar province was the stronghold of al-Qaeda in Iraq; today it is known as the birthplace of an Iraqi and Islamic grass-roots uprising against al-Qaeda as an organisation and bin Ladenism as an ideology. It is an extraordinary transformation: Iraqis en masse siding with America, the “infidel” and a western “occupying power”, to defeat Islamic militants.

Finally, Mr. Wehner turns to the numbers:

Not surprisingly, al-Qaeda’s stock is falling in much of the Arab and Islamic world. A recent survey found that in January less than a quarter of Pakistanis approved of Mr bin Laden, compared with 46 per cent last August, while backing for al-Qaeda fell from 33 per cent to 18 per cent.

According to a July 2007 report from the Pew Global Attitudes Project, “large and growing numbers of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere [are] rejecting Islamic extremism”. The percentage of Muslims saying suicide bombing is justified in the defense of Islam has declined in seven of the eight Arab countries where trend data are available. In Lebanon, for example, 34 per cent of Muslims say such suicide bombings are often or sometimes justified; in 2002, 74 per cent expressed this view. We are also seeing large drops in support for Mr bin Laden. These have occurred
since the Iraq war began.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Disturbing News out of China

There are two stories from East Asia today that are disturbing enough by themselves, but are particularly troublesome when read side by side. In the first instance, China has announced that it will be raising military spending 18% this year. But remember, the Chinese routinely lie about the size of their military spending. Expert estimates (such as the Pentagon's latest report on Chinese military strength) suggest that the real figure is two or three times the reported figure.

Simultaneously, a second story has come out, which was surely meant to be read in light of the first. Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-bian, has been warned that Taiwan would pay a dear price for any independence-like moves. This threat is well-timed, of course, to coincide with a referendum in Taiwan on whether or not to press for UN membership, something China routinely blocks for the island.

"If the Chen Shui-bian authorities should stubbornly continue down the path, they will surely pay a dear price," a parliamentary spokesman in China said. "We are fully prepared to repulse any adventurous activities aimed at Taiwan independence, and prevent anyone from separating Taiwan from China."

That's a nice way of saying, "Remember that giant leap in military spending we just announced? We're not afraid to use it."

Sticking it to Western Europe

The BBC reports this morning that "Ukraine has said it may restrict Russian gas supplies to Europe if gas monopoly Gazprom goes ahead with further cuts in Ukrainian supply."

This makes perfectly good sense to me. For too long Western Europe has been cozying up to Putin's Russia and ignoring the desire to rebuild the Soviet empire in the "near abroad." Should Ukraine cut gas supplies to the rest of Europe, it would send a clear message: This is what the Russians want to do to the free world. Are you willing to stand with us or not?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Millions of Chinese Face Water Shortages

The Financial Times reports this morning that China is having major water problems:

The diversion of water to Beijing for the Olympics and for big hydropower projects threatens the lives of millions of peasant farmers in China’s north-western provinces, according to a senior Chinese government official.

In an interview with the Financial Times, An Qiyuan, a member and former chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee for Shaanxi province and former Communist party chief of Shaanxi, warned of an impending social and environmental disaster because of overuse of scarce water resources.

In a critical tone seldom heard from Chinese officials, Mr An called on Beijing to provide compensation to the provinces that have been told to pump their cleanest water to the capital in order to ensure potable supplies during the Olympics.

There are probably a great many lessons that can be learned from this story, but I'll limit myself to two:

* Totalitarian economies don't work. But China's been instituting all kinds of market reforms, you say. True. But this is classic proof that, at the end of the day, Beijing will still interfere with the market and risk the lives of its own citizens.

* China has a serious propaganda and influence system that reaches around the globe. This sounds like a conspiracy theory, but stop and think about it: How did Beijing convince the International Olympic Committee they should host the Games? By giving the impression that their capacity to do was was far greater than it in fact was. If they've hoodwinked us about that, where else might they be trying to deceive us?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Democrats Model Political Warfare - Or Lack Thereof

No doubt many publications have written about the comparative use of technology by Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton, though this article from the Financial Times caught my eye. While the story is about domestic politics, it provides lessons that are applicable to foreign policy as well.

One passage notes that,

Mr Obama... has run the model new technology campaign, in which staff and volunteers have the autonomy to make their own decisions.

This is in contrast to the Clinton campaign, which has a more top-down approach. Peter Leyden, director of the New Politics Institute explains:

Even businesses find it hard to change their organizational structure to fit the demands of new technology. But for political campaigns, which are classic command-and-control operations, it is particularly difficult. Mrs Clinton maintains a competent and solid website but Mr Obama has made it the central organizing tool of his campaign.

The article goes on to explain that,

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Mrs Clinton has maintained a much less flexible campaign than her surging opponent.

In the world of national security, the question of centralized command-and-control versus decentralized networks is a hot topic. The reasons are fairly obvious: terrorists and other non-governmental actors are increasingly organizing themselves as networks, creating great flexibility and making it very difficult to thoroughly stomp them out. Should the military, CIA and State adopt network organizations themselves, to compensate? Plenty of ink has already been spilled on this question, but I would simply add that these are not uncharted waters for us; the Obama campaign understands how to run a flexible and delegated operation. If they know how, there's no good reason the government couldn't learn.

A second lesson to be learned by foreign policy types from this election relates to technology and the various media of communication. The FT explains that,

The Obama website offers almost instant video replays of his speeches, which are also packaged by Obama officials for YouTube. A few mouse clicks from each webcast provides a simple procedure to make online donations. Users can set up blogs, join the Obama Facebook group and even download ring tones featuring recordings of his speeches.

He's fighting his battle on every front, using every tool avaliable to him. While the various media in Iraq might be slightly different, the lesson is the same: don't be content with just one method of getting out your message; don't just accept what worked last year. If people can innovate and come up with creative ways to win elections at home, you'd think they could do likewise with the American message abroad.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

"It's Not Prudent to Fly over an Aircraft Carrier"

We are indebted to the good folks over at Samizdat Cafe for bringing today's story to our attention.*

It would seem that the Russian military has decided that overflying our aircraft carriers is the new cool. From the Washington Post:

A long-range Russian bomber buzzed the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the Pacific Ocean last weekend, while a second bomber circled about 50 miles away, U.S. officials said. The Nimitz scrambled fighter jets to intercept the Russian warplanes.

In a statement carried Tuesday by Russian news wires, Russian air force spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky said the Tu-95 bombers conducted their Saturday flight "in strict compliance with the international rules of using airspace over neutral waters and without any violation of other countries' borders."

In case you had a little trouble reading between the lines, that's Soviet-speak for, "Ya, we flew over your carrier; what you gonna do 'bout it?" We can probably expect more of this sort of thing in the months and years to come:

Last August, Russian President Vladimir Putin [affectionately known to this blog as Pooty-Poot] revived the Soviet-era practice of long-range patrols by strategic bombers over the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans....

Asked what message he thought the Russians were sending, [Adm. Gary] Roughead, [Chief of Naval Operations,] said, "I think what we are seeing is a Russian military... particularly in the case of the navy, desiring to emerge as a global navy."

Although "it's not prudent to fly over an aircraft carrier," he said, "we knew they were coming. We saw them coming. We detected them at the appropriate time. We launched our alert aircraft, who escorted the Russian aircraft." He said the United States has not asked for an explanation, nor have the Russians offered one.

*(We'd also like to thank them for the headline, which we ganked.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Chinese Spies Arrested in US

Front page news on today's Financial Times:

The US on Monday announced a series of arrests in cases involving alleged spying by the Chinese government, including one where a Pentagon official was alleged to have helped Beijing obtain secret information.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Gregg Bergersen, a Pentagon employee with top secret security clearances, for allegedly providing a Chinese government agent with information about US weapons sales to Taiwan. In another case, Chung Dongfan, a former Boeing employee, was arrested for economic espionage involving US military programmes.

The arrests highlight the growing concern in the US about Chinese military and industrial espionage. Kenneth Wainstein, assistant attorney-general for national security, on Monday said the Bergersen case was a “classic espionage operation.”

Mr Wainstein said it involved “a foreign government focused on accessing our military secrets, foreign operatives who effectively use stealth and guile to gain that access, and an American government official who is willing to betray both his oath of public office and the duty of loyalty we rightly demand from every American citizen”.

Mr Bergersen, a 51-year-old Defence Security Co-operation Agency employee, was accused of providing sensitive information to Kuo Taishen, a 58-year-old Taiwanese-born US national who operates a furniture business in New Orleans, who allegedly sent the information to a Chinese government official, sometimes over encrypted e-mail.

The Justice department on Monday released an affidavit from an FBI investigator supporting the criminal complaint against Mr Bergersen, Mr Kuo, and Kang Yuxin, a 33-year-old Chinese woman who allegedly acted as a “cut out”, or intermediary, with the Chinese official, who is referred to as “PRC Official A”.

The affidavit describes a series of phone conversations and e-mails during which Mr Bergersen and Mr Kuo would arrange meetings where the Pentagon official would provide information about US weapons sales to Taiwan. But the affidavit also makes clear that Mr Bergersen appeared not to know that Mr Kuo was a Chinese agent.

The document says the PRC official’s contact details also appeared in the address books of a former US defence contractor, who was separately convicted for acting as a Chinese spy and violating US export control laws.

The Justice department said Mr Kuo cultivated Mr Bergersen and other US government employees, who provided him with classified information. One official said the investigation is ongoing.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Putin Continues Soviet Slide

The proof that Russian President Vladimir "Pooty-Poot" Putin wants to bring back Soviet-style international thuggery continues to roll in. Two stories highlight the problem.

In Europe, the Ukrainians have managed to gain admittance to the WTO before their former masters, a major slight to Putin's Russia. His response? He's threatening to cut off their gas supplies again, just like he did - to no avail - during the Orange Revolution.

On the other side of the world, the Japanese report an incursion by a Russian Tupolev 95 bomber into their airspace. Japan scrambled 22 planes in response and has lodged an official protest with the Russian embassy, but given that the two nations haven't gotten around to formally ending World War II yet, I wouldn't place must hope in the diplomatic option.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

State Department Supports Marxist Opposition

J. Michael Waller over at PoliticalWarfare.Org carried a story last month I wish I'd seen a lot sooner.

Apparently the State Department gave a high-level reception to the opposition from El Salvador. No big deal, right? We believe in democracy and meet with opposition politicians all the time.

Except that the opposition in El Salvador is not democratic; it's the Marxist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). We've seen these guys before; we fought them during the Cold War. They murdered US Marines in the Zona Rosa massacre. (A colleague of mine lost scores of friends to the FMLN's guns, which hardly endears me.) During the Cold War they were backed by the Soviets and today they continue to work with the FARC narcoterrorists of Colombia, Fidel Castro, and Palestinian terrorists. Their current attempts to unseat the Salvadorian government are being bank-rolled by Hugo Chavez.

But who exactly is this government that the FMLN is trying to overthrow? Well, for starters, it's the only country in the Western Hemisphere that still has troops in Iraq. And this is how we reward them? Meanwhile, Mauricio Funes, the FMLN's presidential candidate, has been busying himself endorsing folks for the up coming US elections.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Soviet Thug Suppresses Azeris

A few months ago I had the opportunity to hear Mikhail Gorbachev give a lecture at the University of Dallas. I think he was expecting a warmer welcome than he received. Not that the UD community was rude, but no one seemed to buy this line that Gorbachev is a great democratic reformer who brought down Communism. In fact, he was a thug who tried to save the Party and failed.

Today is an important anniversary that underlines that point. On this day in 1990, President Gorbachev ordered the Red Army into Soviet Azerbaijan to put down civil unrest. Azerbaijan's President Elmira Kafarova and Communist Party politician Boris Yeltsin both condemned the move.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Blackwater Rescues Volunteers

The Grand Rapids Press has reported that three American orphanage workers in Kenya - Aubrie Vander Mey, 19, Jamie Cook, 20, and Brittanie Vander Mey, 21 (pictured above) - were rescued from post-election violence by Blackwater Worldwide.

[Dean] Vander Mey [Brittanie and Aubrie's father] said he started calling government officials, congressmen -- whomever he could think of to get his daughters and their friend home.

"I was not getting whole lot of answers," he said. "They said, 'Stay safe; don't move.' I wasn't satisfied with the 'stay put.' That's what they were telling us: 'You're in harm's way, but don't move.'"

Hiring a helicopter wasn't an option. Vander Mey said he was told it would $20,000 to rent one for 30 minutes, and news stations and the Red Cross had already rented most of those available.

Vander Mey said he recalled relatives were friends with the family of Blackwater founder and Holland native Erik Prince and decided to give the company a call.

"They had internal contacts and everything," Vander Mey said. "They had people who could help."

He said Blackwater lined up a 10-person plane, rescued the women and other international workers and flew them to Nairobi. The three women then began the trip to Grand Rapids on Sunday afternoon.