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.

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