Thursday, December 22, 2005

Hard Numbers Wanted for Soft World


Len Baldyga passes along this missive from the State Department:

The State Department is conducting a review of its Arabic language magazine, "Hi", to assess whether the magazine is meeting its objectives effectively. During the period of this review, the print version of Hi magazine will be suspended. The Hi website ( will remain active. Hi Magazine was launched in July 2003 to develop a dialogue with young, Arabic speaking audiences on topics that affect them and their American counterparts. Currently, 55,000 copies are distributed monthly in 18 countries, at a cost of $4.5 million a year.

The purpose of this review will be to develop quantitative data on how broadly Hi Magazine is reaching its intended audience. The review is part of a broader effort to develop a "culture of measurement" and to evaluate regularly the effectiveness of the Department's public diplomacy programs.

The timing of this announcement makes it likely this cut will get lost in the pre-holiday wash. I understand the administration wanting to measure things quantitatively—that's what No Child Left Behind is supposed to be about, and that was a good idea on paper—but like No Child Left Behind, quantifying something as mushy as "how broadly Hi Magazine is reaching its intended audience" is tough, particularly when you destroy the magazine in order to measure its impact. Perhaps State will now rely exclusively on measuring traffic at the Hi Web site, which is simpler than trying to assign a readership to each copy of the print magazine.

Public diplomacy is not only a broad term, it's nearly impossible to measure neatly. I've spoken with people about ways to do it and that will be the topic of some near-future Beacon posts.

Meanwhile I'll be taking some time off for the holidays and only posting sporadically between now and New Year's.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Beacon No. 74: Hooray for Shanghaiwood


Jena McGregor has an interesting story in Fast Company's Hollywood-themed December 2005 issue. "A Foreign Affair" rehashes Hollywood's growing dependence on the gravy of overseas box-office revenues, as well as the increasing popularity of shooting in foreign locales due to lower labor, equipment and other costs—and then steps off into an area I hadn't considered: Hollywood studios are increasingly taking on foreign partners to make movies overseas and then sell them locally, with the U.S. as at best a secondary market for flicks that translate well for U.S. audiences (think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon):

Long one of America's most successful (and infamous) exporters, the U.S. film industry has traditionally made films for American audiences, viewing the international box-office take as mere gravy.


But now Hollywood is adding a pull strategy to its pushiness: By helping produce foreign-language films designed for foreign markets—German films for central Europe, say, or Korean films for Asia—it's turning the old model on its head.

Don't worry: Hollywood will forever peddle Scooby-Doo 2 and The Island to anyone who will sit still for them. In fact, with 8 of the top-10-grossing movies of 2004 making most of their revenues overseas, Hollywood is increasingly dependent on foreign markets. But one look at the success of films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon here at home, or at the long-term prospects of markets such as China or Russia, and the studios' logic is pretty clear. Coproducing foreign-language films "is never going to be at the foreground of production strategy," says Robert Rosen, the dean of UCLA's film school. "But it's a good secondary strategy that has a likelihood of being successful."

So Hollywood doesn't care about making movies overseas per se, but is happy to go where costs are lowest and future profits are highest. It's cheaper to make a movie practically anywhere than here in the Los Angeles Basin, causing boomlets in U.S. movie production everywhere from Vancouver to Shanghai. (See "Only Cruise Could Go to China," December 8.)

Second, while protectionism may be falling by the wayside for commodities like timber and sorghum, it's alive and well when it comes to intellectual property that could undermine native cultures and economies. As Fast Company points out, Russians increasingly want to see Russian-made films. Added to this understandable chauvinism is the fact that many coproduction deals are designed specifically to get around movie quotas in countries like China, which also limits foreign studios' ability to extract their traditional large profits.

This article alone is worth Fast Company's $4.99 cover price for those looking to see where the movie business is headed, both in the U.S. and abroad. Or you can wait until January, when's archives will be free to browse.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Beacon No. 73: Market Share and Mind Share


Over at Corporate Power, N.D. Batra reprints a column he did for The Statesman of India on the "Age of Corporate Diplomacy." In it, Batra applauds two U.S.-based multinationals for their international negotiating skills:

When American Airlines, the second U.S. carrier to start a nonstop service to India, planned its Chicago O’Hare to New Delhi flight, its management realized that open skies do not necessarily mean open hearts and minds, in spite of the excellent business climate and trust between the two countries. In an international business venture of this magnitude, failure is not an option. Competition is knocking at the door.

Cultural sensibilities, such as cuisine, had to be taken into account, especially as competition becomes hot on the lucrative non-stop route to one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

According to company sources, “With assistance from the American Airlines Indian Employee Resource Group, and in conjunction with Indian chefs based in the USA and India, the Americans structured a special menu for the Delhi flights that features Indian, Indian-inspired vegetarian and Western meal selections. No beef or pork will be served on the flights to and from Delhi. Only chicken, lamb and seafood dishes will be featured.”

Another airline, Continental, began its non-stop flight from Newark, New Jersey to Delhi on 1 November; and European and Indian carriers are bound to follow soon. Besides, as US[A] Today reported, the non-stop flight has to fly over Russian airspace, which required agreement between the two governments and further corporate diplomacy. So there is a lesson here. Since the foreign policies of a country could put a damper on its international commerce, multinational corporations must have their own corporate diplomats and protocol officers for business development abroad.

Who are these corporate types Batra describes, who do such a good job negotiating with entire countries on their own?

Very often, public-diplomacy initiatives focus on low-level citizen interaction between the U.S. and other countries, and people like myself are big advocates for putting ex-Peace Corps, ex-military, and foreign-born U.S. citizens to work again on behalf of the U.S., taking advantage of their experience overseas and unique cultural and linguistic knowledge.

But Batra's article suggests the U.S. has a large number of "corporate diplomats"—polished, highly experienced executives comfortable overseas, who are familiar with international niceties and who travel abroad with the backing of big companies that want to expand their hard (economic) and soft power in new markets.

My wife's father is one of them: Now in his 80s, Murray Weinberg was based in Hong Kong for 17 years on behalf of two apparel companies, traveling throughout the Pacific Rim and into the People's Republic when it began opening in the 1970s. He stayed abroad despite other opportunities in the U.S., and even jumped employers specifically to stay in Hong Kong. Mr. Weinberg is just one of those people—probably like whoever helped negotiate the American and Continental deals N.D. Batra mentions—who enjoys living overseas, meeting different people and finding things out.

By the time he returned to the U.S. in 1992, Mr. Weinberg was the veteran of thousands of lengthy business dinners and could be polite in several Asian languages. Friends and colleagues from Asia still visit him whenever they come to the U.S.—over a decade after he retired. It's clear that his personal brand—his soft power—was and remains extremely strong.

The total of corporate diplomats' knowledge could be—and already is—a valuable addition to U.S. public-diplomacy efforts. Far from the name-brand executives who frequently accompany high officials on trade visits, these overseas corporate diplomats—"lifers," as my wife calls them—might be a big help to U.S. public diplomacy as interlocutors for their country as well as their companies.

Friday, December 16, 2005

... And Then There Are Some Bad Ambassadors


TPM Cafe points to a fun tale of Our Man in Uruguay, a political-appointee ambassador named Martin Silverstein who stumbled—and for all I know is still stumbling—through his time in Montevideo. Think of this guy as the anti-Vershbow. (Ambassador Vershbow, by the way, is getting slagged by North Korea's hilariously inept English-language service for saying the North is a "criminal regime," among other truthhoods.)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Internal Is External


China's rural peasants are increasingly dissatisfied with land seizures, taxation and other government actions. A citizen protest last week in southern China apparently turned violent and was met with police gunfire and the death of 20 or more civilians, a big display of force for the post-Tiananmen Square period. But Beijing now appears to be moving in several directions at once on this incident: suppressing and/or sanitizing news of both the protest and the shooting; disciplining the police commander involved; and continuing to invest in non-lethal crowd control technologies rather standard ammunition.

China's ongoing and increasing internal instability can't help but take Beijing's eyes off its long-term public diplomacy campaign abroad, just as the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre heralded a temporary retreat for China from the world stage in 1989. The Chinese leadership has always made securing the home front its major priority and if domestic protests continue to pick up steam, I would look for a withdrawal of Hu Jintao and others from the globetrotting they excel at and a renewed focus on China's interior.

Internal disruptions usually make a nation's public-diplomacy campaign more difficult in any case since they unbalance whatever message that nation wants to project, and the U.S. is no exception: As Karen Hughes began her term as the State Department's top public-diplomacy official, images of government ineffectiveness, racial inequality and engineering incompetence were beamed worldwide in the aftermath of the Gulf hurricanes.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"Cool Brittania" and Living the Brand


This piece from the Times Magazine's annual "year in ideas" issue is worth quoting in full:

If the British consultant Simon Anholt had his way, sitting at the cabinet table with the secretary of defense and the attorney general would be a secretary of branding. Indeed, he foresees a day when the most important part of foreign policy isn't defense or trade but image - and when countries would protect and promote their images through coordinated branding departments. "I've visited a great many countries where they have ministers for things that are far less important," he says.

This year, Anholt, a prolific speaker, adviser to numerous governments and editor of the journal Place Branding, published "Brand America: The Mother of All Brands," in which he predicted that the days when countries will essentially open their own in-house marketing shops are right around the corner. "Governments understand this very well, and most of them are now trying or have tried in the past to achieve some kind of control over their images," Anholt writes. He may be on to something, since governments are quickly realizing that image maintenance isn't just about reeling in tourists - witness Karen Hughes's high-profile public-diplomacy efforts or Tony Blair's Public Diplomacy Strategy Board, an outgrowth of Britain's "Cool Britannia" campaign. Late last year, the Persian Gulf state Oman hired Landor Associates, a brand consulting outfit, to develop and promote "Brand Oman."

Public boosterism campaigns are nothing new. But true nation branding, Anholt says, involves close coordination of the often disparate factors that go into a country's international image: tourism promotion, trade, even foreign policy. Just as companies have learned to "live the brand," countries should consider their reputations carefully - because, he says, in the interconnected world, that's what statecraft is all about. "Today's community of nations is open, transparent and substantially democratic - in many ways, like a marketplace," he writes in "Brand America." "The state's reputation is therefore of critical importance." Given how difficult it is for an unpopular America to make its way in the world, maybe Anholt isn't as crazy as he sounds.

The last copy of Anholt's book is just $10.36 over at Amazon.

Without going into Anholt at length—I haven't read any of his work—other countries can conduct global branding exercises because they are relatively small, ethnically homogeneous and don't export their culture worldwide. They are capable of either relatively swift about-faces, as some of the Gulf emirates have done and Singapore is contemplating, or determine that they will hold in place culturally like England.

Brand America is much harder to categorize—although Anholt's publisher certainly makes a stab on the cover of Brand America, showing a little Asian girl dressed up in a cowboy outfit for Halloween trick-or-treating.

Monday, December 12, 2005

MEB vs. CABSAT in Beirut

Beirut has always been a Middle Eastern media center, but in recent years it has watched a lot of talent and money march south to the United Arab Emirates and specifically, the tax-advantaged Dubai Media City. Dubai is becoming the de facto media and publishing capital of the Middle East and hosts an annual show called CABSAT that celebrates this fact, attracting broadcast and technology heavies from around the globe.

In an attempt to counter CABSAT (although no one will say so), Beirut recently hosted a Middle Eastern satellite broadcasters' conference called, appropriately enough, the Middle East Broadcasters Show. The Lebanon Daily Star covered it and found a lack of big Western companies that are the bellwether of success. That's not surprising since MEB is in its first year, but the Star's coverage of the show indicates some reasons why Beirut's not yet ready to steal Dubai's mind-share:

Ben Davenport, the Marketing Manager of the European branch of OMNEON, a media server provider based in America, acknowledged that even though few major manufacturers attended, the Pan-Arab turnout was better than he expected, for "a first show."

"We are a company based in the U.S., and none of our colleagues would come here because of the negative connotations associated with Lebanon, but I like Lebanon. Ultimately activities around the exhibition are why its not succeeding like it could," said Davenport.

A representative of the Lebanese subsidiary of a western firm who preferred to remain anonymous, used equally euphemistic terminology, referring to a bribing incident, where a Lebanese customs official tried to charge him an exorbitant duty on his equipment, as a "logistical issue."

The "negative connotations" Davenport mentioned also include ongoing tensions with Syria and an apparent renewal of pro-Syrian killings in Lebanon, such as today's car-bomb assassination of Lebanese MP Gebran Tueni.

Shakedowns and explosions are notably lacking in the relatively clean, business-friendly United Arab Emirates, which came in 29th on Transparency International's 2004 list of least-corrupt states to Lebanon's 97th. But if violence and corruption can be tamped down further in Lebanon, Beirut will hopefully see more big multinationals next year than just Panasonic (Japan) and Apple (U.S.).

Thursday, December 08, 2005

From ZenPundit: "Lawfare"


Mark Safranski at ZenPundit had a good post a few days ago introducing a coinage I'd never heard—"lawfare":

Don't like guns but your fellow citizens are attached to their Second Amendment rights ? Petition the U.N. for a convention restricting ownership of small arms. Your industries have trouble competing with other countries? Try an "environmental agreement" that acts as a carbon tax only on certain competitor states. Or " tax harmonization" upward that punishes freer economies than your own.

Rule sets matter. Previously, the United States willingly signed onto all kinds of far-fetched, even harebrained, international treaties, safe in the knowledge that since the Soviet bloc could be reliably expected to cheat blatantly or ignore its commitments, no one would bother pointing fingers at the U.S. because no country took such agreements seriously. Well today those documents are being dusted off and invoked by lawyers from NGO's hostile to America to hold us to stipulations to which our diplomats never would have agreed were it not for the expectation that they were effectively meaningless.the United States has to become engaged here as never before in order to:
In light of "lawfare", the United States has to become engaged here as never before in order to:

a) Establish a common premise for interpreting open-ended language with our allies that allows for a traditional standard of " robust sovereignty" so that states are both responsible for their actions as well as free to act. Mutual understandings make crafting joint policies far easier.

b) Negotiate for only genuine " win-win" and fairly narrowly defined covenants. We should sign only what we intend to keep and we should keep our word for what we actually signed. We are not Swaziland or even China. Our behavior sets the standard.

ZenPundit links to a further explanation of lawfare here. The idea of using international law as a lever in the international arena is nothing new; I just hadn't heard it referred to using such a catchy, compact term that evokes the idea of international agreements as an aggressive tool.

Only Cruise Could Go to China


People's Daily Online reports that Tom Cruise finished two weeks of filming in Shanghai for Mission Impossible III:

Shanghai's Jinmao Tower, the country's tallest building, and the city's futuristic Oriental Pearl TV Tower, will both be featured in the movie, with Cruise's breathtaking performances on them.

The film will become the first mainstream Hollywood blockbuster to shoot in China without any negative implications, according to director J.J. Abrams.

Cruise gushed about the China's spectacular vistas, culture and friendliness, saying he planned to come back in the future to see more of the country.

"It's spectacular. It's unbelievable," he said. "It's going to look extraordinary on film."

Cruise and his crew wrapped up two weeks of shooting for "Mission Impossible III" in China. It is said that the movie's producers are negotiating to simultaneously release "M:I3" in the United States and China next summer.

Tom Cruise won his fame in China mainly through the two previous "Mission Impossible" movies and last year's "War of the Worlds".

Finally, something the U.S. can export that the PRC can't duplicate: Tom Cruise! I wonder what "negative implications" J.J. Abrams mentioned leaving out of the film?

Piracy concerns aside, the movie's producers know that even if Mission Impossible III is pirated by millions even before the film opens in China, citizens will still flock to theaters for a positive depiction of their country in a U.S. film—particularly if it involves Cruise motorcycle-skydiving off the Pearl tower or some other Mission Impossible-worthy stunt.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Secretary Rice, Quickly


The secret-prisons-in-Europe story is such an obvious black eye for U.S. soft power, as well as for hard-power alliances with EU countries, that I haven't felt the need to comment on it until I could find a silver lining to the story: The U.S. is still hugely popular in former Warsaw Pact countries, and if I had to guess, that's where the alleged prison or prisons are rather than in Belgium or Ireland.

Note in the linked story mention of a survey showing that most Americans, British, French and South Koreans think torture of terrorism suspects is acceptable. (Read MSNBC's story on the survey here.) Is there more agreement among trans-Atlantic publics, and thus less damage to U.S. soft power, than meets the eye?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Public Diplomacy You Can Walk Around In


While most people are spending their time defining public diplomacy on paper, USC's Center on Public Diplomacy has challenged game-makers to create a gaming environment that simulates public diplomacy in some way:

The challenge to the game mod community, and current and aspiring game designers is as follows: design a prototype or modify a game incorporating the fundamental characteristics of public diplomacy.

What comes to mind when you think of diplomacy? Some ideas include cross-cultural communication, conflict negotiation, shared goals, and international exchange of knowledge. For more on our definition of public diplomacy, please visit our website.

Now incorporate that into a game or virtual world. How? That's for you to decide.

Center executive director Joshua Fouts was inspired by playing a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG), a Washington Post article says:

... Fouts and Douglas Thomas, the organizers of that school's contest, have discussed the project with State Department officials and hope to get a policymaker on their judging panel. The contest winner will be announced on the eve of a video game industry conference in Los Angeles next year.

The two said their contest was inspired by playing and exploring the virtual world of an online game called Star Wars Galaxies, which lets players around the world log on and participate in the universe of the "Star Wars" movies. They found that many players from other countries had a negative view of Americans, an impression that sometimes became more positive as they played cooperatively with players based in the United States.

"It's a virtual exchange program," said Fouts, who worked at Voice of America for six years before becoming the director of USC's Center on Public Diplomacy.

The biggest challenge for programmers entering the contest might be one that policymakers and activists have never had to think about: The game will have to be fun. After all, the loftiest and most educational game in the world won't have much positive result if nobody plays it.

The contest deadline is set for just prior to next year's E3 in Los Angeles, if I'm not mistaken. Gamers, start your mods. ...

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Dubai's the New Vienna

Intellectual freedom, a rich culture and history, business opportunities and central location combined to make Vienna a center for businessmen, bohemians, spies and others during the 19th century and throughout the Cold War. While Russia appeals in the case of Soviets et al. v. West, where's the new hot spot for Occident and Orient to meet?

In "Young Iranians Follow Dreams to Dubai," Hassan Fattah says ambitious and/or wealthy Persians are heading to the nearest country that combines historical ties with Iran and a healthy dose of political and entrepreneurial freedom:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Dec. 3 - When young Iranians like Arash Tale look across the skyline of this rapidly growing city, they see what their parents once saw in American and European skylines: opportunity, riches and freedom.

Mr. Tale, 24, founder and publisher of a real estate magazine aimed at Iranian investors, is one of a new generation of educated Iranians who have eschewed dreams of heading West for the more easily realizable destination of Dubai, where home is only a 45-minute flight across the Persian Gulf, Iranian passports draw no extra scrutiny and nightclubs are as accessible as mosques.

"Getting a visa to Canada or the U.S. is almost impossible now," said Mr. Tale. "Here, you just buy a property and you get a residence. Dubai is building an environment of freedom that still fits our culture."

Arab culture and hospitality, Gulf oil money, Persian and European expats. Much of the environment Dubai creates could be duplicated by other regional actors, but Dubai's the only one doing it just yet. I get the feeling the emirate is creating a latter-day, almost Casablanca-like oasis that's becoming interesting to watch.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Vershbow Drums on in South Korea


Readers may recall that I wrote a few months ago about outgoing ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow, calling him the very model of a modern major ambassador. Vershbow appears to be starting his tenure as ambassador to South Korea in the same vein, according to an "U.S. Ambassador Makes Drumming Debut" in Donga:

On November 29, he showed off his drumming skills during a Thanksgiving party at the reception hall of Hyundai Heavy Industries, hosted by Assemblyman Jeong Mong-jun and Lee Hong-gu (former ambassador to the U.S.), the executive of the Seoul International Forum. On November 30, he joined a New Orleans jazz band at the American Embassy in an impromptu performance there.
Vershbow appears to have excellent pitch to go with his drumming chops: Exhibit A: a Thanksgiving party hosted by a major Korean commercial player. Exhibit B: a party at the Embassy for Koreans, who, if you read on, were being thanked for helping raise funds for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Vershbow's working on all levels for U.S. interests—and he's only been in Seoul since October 16.

(Thanks as always to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for the initial item.)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Teaching the World a Lesson


In "China Wages Classroom Struggle to Win Friends in Africa," on November 20, the Times' Howard French described the PRC's long-term focus on winning sub-Saharan hearts and minds:

BEIJING—As the teacher, a career Chinese diplomat, spoke, his class of African diplomats scribbled furiously.

At the United Nations, China opposed the United States invasion of Iraq and has defended the right of Iran and other developing countries to use civilian nuclear power, said the teacher, Yuan Shibin. China, he noted pointedly, swept aside American objections to making an African the secretary general.

There was nothing subtle about this message, which will be repeatedly hammered home to the African diplomats during their three month, all-expenses paid stay at the Foreign Affairs University here. "China will always protect its own interests as well as those of other developing countries," Mr. Yuan said. By contrast, "U.S. national interests are not often in conformity with those of other nations, including China."

The classes are one element in a campaign by Beijing to win friends around the world and pry developing nations out of the United States' sphere of influence. Africa, with its immense oil and mineral wealth and numerous United Nations votes, lies at the heart of that effort.


China's appeal to Africa and much of the third world centers on the idea that nations will be drawn to an emerging superpower that does not lecture them about democracy and human rights or interfere in what Beijing considers "internal affairs."

French adds that China's support for liberation movements following World War II, plus its "remarkable quarter century of economic growth," position the PRC to offer an alternative to a Washington-centered world:

For developing countries, many of which have grown disenchanted with the so-called Washington consensus, a mixture of lowered trade barriers, privatization, democracy and free markets, there is intense interest in trying to learn from China. There is talk of a rival "Beijing Consensus," which emphasizes innovation and growth through a social-market economy, while placing less emphasis on free markets and democracy.

Beijing's school for diplomats is the civilian equivalent of the DoD's officer-exchange programs and invitations to foreign military officers to attend various American military schools. It builds relationships that will be invaluable to China not now, but decades from now, when the current crop of African diplomats is working the levers of government across Africa.

The PRC program is an interesting model for a U.S. administration that looks forward to a democratic future in which civilians run the show throughout the developing world.

French closes his article with a quote from Qin Yaqing, vice president of the Foreign Affairs University that's running the diplomat classes:

"China has a certain development experience that is relevant to these countries, and my advice is derived in part from Samuel Huntington, whose view is that democracy is a luxury."

Elected. Saudi. Female. Officials.


Hassan Fattah reports today that two Saudi businesswomen, Lama al-Sulaiman and Nashwa Taher, won election this week to the Jidda Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and that they are the first women to win any election in Saudi Arabia.

Of course this first would take place in Jidda, which Saudis say occupies the same space in Saudi Arabian political geography as San Francisco does in the U.S.; but al-Sulaiman and Taher's victories are seen as harbingers of future gains for women—particularly for their participation in the 2009 municipal elections.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

They'll Even Feature Israelis


Last Wednesday Juan Cole at Informed Comment discussed the allegation that President Bush had considered military action against Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite news network that the administration sees as aiding and comforting the Iraq insurgency. Here's part of Cole's take:

Al-Jazeera is a widely misunderstood Arabic television channel that is mainly characterized by a quaint 1950s-style pan-Arab nationalism. It is not a fundamentalist religious channel, though it does host one old-time Muslim Brother, Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Its main peculiarity in local terms is that it will air all sides of a political issue and allow frank criticism of Middle Eastern politicians as well as of Western ones. It is the only place in the Arab media where one routinely hears Israeli spokesmen (speaking very good Arabic, typically) addressing their concerns and point of view to Arab audiences.

Most of Al-Jazeera's programming is presented by natty men in business suits or good-looking, chic Arab women in fashionable Western clothes. ... A lot of the programming is Discovery Channel-style documentaries.

Nothing surprising here so far; Al-Jazeera is populated largely by ex-BBC types who can be expected to report and dress professionally. But then:

Ironically, after one of the early-morning Al-Jazeera news broadcasts EST on Wednesday that discussed the Bush plot against the channel, the next show was about recently released American movies, including Jarhead (about a Marine during the Gulf War), which showcased the films enthusiastically and may as well have been an infomercial. It was jarring, the effusiveness about American soft power after the admission of the dark side of U.S. military power.

Rather than Al-Jazeera just sort of happening to follow criticism of the U.S. with a favorable piece on a Hollywood war movie, I wonder whether the network wasn't making a precise calculation of how to balance coverage of a story that it couldn't help but take personally.

It's also significant, in soft-power terms, that Al-Jazeera (and presumably Arabs) flacked a movie about the first Gulf War, which marked the last time there was broad agreement between Arabs and the West on their relations.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

No Constituency for Big Brothers/Big Sisters with Guns


Patricia Kushlis of WhirledView wanted to comment on my recent BB/BSWG posts but was stopped, she said, by Blogspot's requirement that she create a blog herself before being allowed to comment on mine. Here is part of her note to me before Thanksgiving:

...The troops need to speak the language and learn the culture before being set loose on the locals. They are not being given either—at least as far as I can discern from anecdotal evidence. Either the Pentagon doesn't value language/cultural proficiency, or it is so strapped for bodies that it can't afford to spend time training them in Arabic or Iraqi culture. Or both. My sense is lots of money is going to technology and weapons firms—and nothing to the human capital of the sort both you and I think should be a priority.

I agree with Kushlis, but not because the DoD doesn't value human capital or training. In conversations with Defense Dept. officials three weeks ago I saw lots of human capital on display, expressed in the training of many former and active-duty officers: products of Annapolis and West Point, teachers at the National Defense University and Naval Postgraduate School, ex-paratroopers and serving intelligence officers.

The Pentagon invests heavily to find and cultivate human capital, but Congress forces it to do so in the way that most benefits Congressmen. Here's why: More than one participant at the Carmel conference said that there is no constituency in Congress for human programs as opposed to weapon systems. They meant that members of Congress tend to fund the Defense Dept. in ways that bring jobs to their district. This means the DoD's budget skews toward building tangible objects like weapon systems and large educational institutions, which in turn create jobs in congressional districts. Weapons factories and war colleges alike employ large numbers of people who manufacture, teach or learn, which in turn creates many more secondary jobs in the local economy. (This is one reason you see naval air stations at great distances from oceans.)

So what's good for General Dynamics and West Point is good for America. Unfortunately, from a budgetary standpoint, what's good for Iraqi villagers is Iraq's concern, except among the most forward-looking congressmen—or those who occupy safe seats.

Programs like BB/BSWG would create better soldiers who would then leave the U.S. and spend their time and money overseas. Ideally, those soldiers wouldn't even require MREs, ammunition or helicopters for air support, so BB/BSWG just wouldn't be as likely to get congressional funding as a weapons factory or other Stateside installation.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Beacon No. 72: Arquilla on Al-Qa'ida Leadership


In "Misjudging the Jihad," military theorist John Arquilla cites a study of Al-Qa'ida's leadership by Marc Sageman, a psychiatrist and former CIA field agent:

Over the years, al Qaeda cadres have generally not come from the pool of poor, semiliterate villagers who never ventured far from home and whose only education has been in religious schools, known as madrassas.

Instead, many of al Qaeda's fighters have been educated in first-rate universities, have been successful in a material sense and are well traveled.


While few terrorists have such starkly dramatic backstories, bin Laden is hardly an exceptional case of a man giving up privilege and embracing peril. Indeed, many al Qaeda fighters have personal histories that echo his.

This is especially true of his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician who gave up all hope of a prestigious, prosperous life for the jihadist cause. But even rank-and-file al Qaeda members have often come from upper-middle-class backgrounds.

Al Qaeda's "Hamburg cell," for example, was full of them. Mohammed Atta, who played a key role in the Sept. 11 attacks, studied architecture and finished his dissertation at the Technical University of Hamburg. Ziad Jarrah, who piloted the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Applied Sciences in the city. Another cell member, Saad Bahaji, came from a family with a father who was a secular Muslim and a successful businessman and a mother who was an educated German Christian.

So the bulk of Al-Qa'ida's higher-ups are not recruited from mud huts, but rather are white-collar sophisticates who are either bored or worse, afflicted with middle-class guilt that they are somehow unworthy—that they don't get their hands dirty enough supporting their forebears' Cause.

Arquilla also notes that "the rapid spread of advanced information technology has only accelerated a trend toward generally more affluent jihadists," somewhat at odds with my thesis earlier this week focused on winning the hearts and minds of people in mud huts. (See Beacon No. 71, "Big Brothers/Big Sisters with Guns.")

I'd like to think that Big Brothers/Big Sisters with Guns might prevent the next generation of Mohammed Attas from arising—that there's little difference between defusing the Iraq insurgency out in the countryside and preventing today's urban five-year-olds from flying aircraft into buildings—but Arquilla explicitly makes this distinction, and is well worth the read besides.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Beacon No. 71: More on Big Brothers/Big Sisters with Guns


In Part One I proposed having individual soldiers become "big brothers" or "big sisters" to individual kids overseas (e.g., Iraq) for the duration of their deployment there. They would spend most of their time in the countryside of conflict zones, in the same way that U.S. Peace Corps volunteers do today in stable countries. I've thought of some advantages and disadvantages to this idea, which I've dubbed Big Brothers/Big Sisters with Guns (BB/BSWG, because every successful program needs a clunky acronym):

Logistical efficiency. Once an American soldier became a big brother or big sister, he or she would find ways to slash bureaucratic red tape to ensure "their" kid had enough food, water, security and schooling. While doing this, the GI would inevitably better the lives of kids who were not "theirs" and eventually, the entire surrounding area. Locals couldn't avoid noticing that the presence of a BB/BSWG soldier brought them tangible benefits, creating incentives to keep them around.

Local knowledge. During their deployment, BB/BSWG soldiers would need to learn a huge amount about the host culture, including dialect and slang, customs, body language, familial and tribal relationships—all the aspects of living in small towns that outsiders (like most of the armed forces deployed in Iraq) can never quite comprehend. Over time they would become both sensors and experts on small areas of the host country, becoming increasingly valuable both during and after their deployment.

Steady funding. The president, Congress and the American public tend to fund the armed forces well, and a well-intentioned, nonviolent program like BB/BSWG would likely find broad support even among those who oppose the Iraq war.

Self-protection. Among other tasks, soldiers are trained to kill people and blow things up. While in the BB/BSWG program GIs would remain armed and to some extent self-protecting. They would also serve as surge capacity if commanders of more traditional U.S. units needed either back-up or scouting reports on the local thugs.

There are also problems with a BB/BSWG approach in Iraq, none of them unsolvable.

Threats to current force structures. DoD brass might not like BB/BSWG as it detracts from the armed forces' stated mission of fighting wars. BB/BSWG is also intensely personnel-oriented rather than technology-oriented, making it harder to quantify and sell to Congress.

Threats to soldiers. BB/BSWG would expose individual warfighters to greater risk since they would spend much more time with "their" kid in the countryside, exposed to potential insurgent actions.

NGO objections. BB/BSWG is the do-gooder NGO's worst nightmare: The large resources of the U.S. military applied to community-building tasks by uniformed, armed soldiers. NGOs would—and already do—see programs like BB/BSWG as unfair competition at best.

Heisenberg problem. Soldiers' very presence among families will change them and the surrounding communities, making any specific information they gather less valuable.

Divided loyalties. Kids may become too attached to individual soldiers and vice-versa; when BB/BSWG soldiers cycle out of the country they'll have to make a strong effort to smoothly hand off responsibilities to their replacements.

Family trouble. Episodes of religious proselytizing within the U.S. military receive wide coverage overseas. Parents and surrounding communities in host countries may accuse soldiers of brainwashing the younger generation and pressure families to not cooperate with U.S. forces.

On balance, I think it's worth examining the BB/BSWG idea and trying to find ways to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. I'd welcome any comments readers might have.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Beacon No. 71: Big Brothers/Big Sisters with Guns


I attended a DoD-sponsored conference in Carmel last week focused on strategic listening: How might the U.S., and specifically the Defense Department, best listen to the messages other cultures transmit or just emit? This wasn't framed in terms of competing with established electronic eavesdropping capabilities or having more agricultural attachés do spook-work on the side in their host countries; far from it. The DoD was looking for non-traditional ways to find things out.

Some participants thought electronic means would be best for this task—shower the Middle East with computers, Ethernet cable and blogging tools and the kids will just type what's on their minds, i.e. the Web 2.0 approach.

This approach bothered me for many reasons. While blog-watching sounds like an excellent approach for First World countries, someone said during a break that about 60 percent of the world's population has never even made a phone call. The world outside the West and the urbanized Far East is still largely rural and removed from First World modes of self-expression.

This world depends heavily on family ties and long-term relationships and is economically centered on manual labor. It is, in a phrase, blue-collar, and depending on the Internet to assemble an accurate picture of populations that lack typing ability, to say nothing of computers, electricity, Internet access or literacy, isn't likely to succeed.

How about cell phones, someone argued? They're becoming increasingly powerful, cheap, easy to use, and Web-enabled. Unfortunately, they have the same requirements as computers, with the addition of cell-phone towers.

Others suggested that watching changes in graffiti and fashion would be useful, and previous suggestions about the cultural power of Iranian cinema were also welcomed.

There was much enthusiasm about a film producer's approach of giving out cameras to kids, who would then record their lives and concerns. The producer pointed out, however, that she took three six-month stretches in India building trust among her subjects, followed by three more six-month stretches of filming. This is a huge time investment by any standard, one that would require passion to duplicate on large scale.

There was also general agreement that the U.S.—and particularly the DoD—needs to drastically increase its on-the-ground cultural knowledge in many countries and that all these proposals were only partial answers. I scribbled some notes about this during an afternoon session and finally proposed an idea to the group:

Have units of soldiers whose job it is to pick one kid out in the area where they're stationed. One male soldier, one boy; one female soldier, one girl. That soldier's primary job, for their entire tour of duty, is to make sure that kid is taken care of, not just in the next week or month, but five years from now.

I call this idea Big Brothers/Big Sisters with Guns (hereafter "BB/BSWG") and I'll outline it at greater length in my next post.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Outbidding Al-Zawahiri


Ehsan Ahrari gives some compelling reasons to help Pakistan in yesterday's Asia Times.

I hadn't heard this, but Ayman al-Zawahiri, widely considered Osama bin Laden's number-two man, recently issued a worldwide call for aid to victims of the recent South Asia quake, and particularly to those in Kashmir. Ahrari, a Virginia-based defense consultant, writes that the deplorable response of the West and certain oil-rich Middle Eastern monarchies plays right into Al-Qa'ida's narrative about how the West cares only about oil:

Al-Qaeda is having a field day watching the community of nations perform so deplorably in regard to the human tragedy in Pakistan. It can, quite effectively, underscore three perspectives. First, that the illegitimacy of current Muslim governments in the wake of their failure to come to the rescue of a Muslim tragedy of epic proportions does not require any further debate, from the perspectives of al-Qaeda.

Second, the seeming lack of Western concern only underscores al-Qaeda's claim that the West does not really care about what happens to Muslims, as long as the compliant and sycophant Muslim regimes continue to preside over the political status that ensures the dominance of the West. Third, given the preceding two reasons, al-Qaeda's own unrelenting insistence on the violent overthrow of all extant Muslim regimes is further established, at least in the minds of everyone who is mildly sympathetic to that organization's criticisms.

What emerges from the preceding is a transnational pan-jihadi entity carefully studying the twists and turns of the US and Western responses to countering terrorism and coming up with its own countermeasures.

The Turks, Ahrari writes, are an exception to the tepid response of most Muslim nations:

Only one day after the earthquake, the government in Ankara responded by sending search and rescue teams and food and other aid to Pakistan. It followed up by sending $150 million in aid. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first foreign dignitary to visit the earthquake-devastated area, where he observed, "My wish is this—the world is using resources for armaments, they should also put aside resources for such disasters."

Remember, this is Erdogan the Islamist leading the avowedly secular Turkish cavalry to the rescue on the other side of Asia. Turkey will reap soft-power benefits from its aggressive action down the road.

The U.S. may suffer from distraction in the Iraq and donor fatigue due to the Asian tsunami and multiple hurricanes on its own shores. That said, the Congress should appropriate more money for earthquake relief in South Asia to help prove Al-Qa'ida wrong about U.S. intentions in the region and the Muslim world generally. If the legislature needs a selfish reason to be altruistic, remember that helping stricken Pakistanis also helps the U.S. position in Afghanistan by defusing Pakistani distrust of U.S. intentions in the region.

(Thanks as always to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for the initial item. Sorry I missed you at USC, John!)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Tomorrow: On ZenPundit

Another quick note:

Tomorrow I'll have a short piece on Mark Safranski's ZenPundit. Mark's been running a series of guest commentaries this week on the topic of Globalization and War (read his intro here), and I highly recommend reading the diverse group he's gathered under his banner.

The Blogs Are with the Terrorists


Just back from a conference in Carmel focused on strategic listening: How may the U.S. government best listen to people in other countries? I'll talk about this at length in the coming days and interview some people I met there, but for now I'm recovering from days of being in rooms filled with frighteningly smart people. I intentionally left my computer at home, but I'm back to reading the paper—for the first time in days—and two things leap out at me:

Egypt's conducting parliamentary elections over several days. The news is that they're much less corrupt than previous elections, particularly the recent presidential election. But Michael Slackman and the Times' headline-writers see a glass that's half empty in "Bad Habits Linger at the Polls in Egypt." Notice that ballot boxes are transparent (to prevent obvious stuffing) and candidates aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood are allowed to use the MB's slogans. Say what you like about the Brotherhood, it's a good thing that Mubarak et al. is allowing them to say anything at all. There are only scanty reports of intimidation and people getting beaten up, which was a major feature of the presidential election.

Second, the International Herald Tribune's "French Police Fear That Blogs Have Helped Incite Rioting," reprinted in the Times, is just silly. Here's how it begins:

PARIS, Nov. 7 - The banners and bullhorns of protest are being replaced in volatile French neighborhoods by cellphone messages and Skyblog, a Web site that is host to messages inflammatory enough to prompt three criminal investigations this week.

Police officials say that youths have coordinated local arson attacks using cellphone messages. Two young people are under investigation for comments on the online diaries known as blogs on Skyblog, the officials said.

A 14-year-old in the southern city of Aix-en-Provence, arrested after posting an item urging rioters to attack police stations, was later released for procedural reasons, Agence France-Presse reported.

In the blog entries, one of the youths called on other young people in the Paris region to rise up at once in a coordinated attack. "Unite, Île-de-France, and burn the cops," one of the postings said, according to Agence France-Presse. "Go to the nearest police station and burn it."


Judicial officials said the three youths did not know one another but had all used Skyblog to send out their messages.

Sadly for IHT writer Thomas Crampton, his article doesn't justify the headline. No one is quoted as saying or implying that they fear the bloggers have incited rioting; cellphones seem to be the real culprits, although this is soft-peddled by the writer and, worse, the headline writer.

Now, in American eyes, a 14-year-old and two other wired French kids are shouldering part of the blame for France's burning cars.

Friday, November 04, 2005

"A Hit of Nostalgia"


Don't underestimate the power of nostalgia.

Brendan I. Koerner has an article in Slate today about the continued success of El Chavo del Ocho, a Mexican sitcom with one-note slapstick and threadbare production values that's been around for decades. Why's it so popular? In a word, nostalgia: Spanish-speakers watch English-language shows just like other Americans—but El Chavo's 1,300-plus episodes are the visual comfort food that warms up an otherwise chilly night in El Norte. That yearning for bygone days is not to be underestimated, Koerner implies, which is why TNT's near-constant Law & Order reruns do so well.

Koerner goes into detail about the El Chavo phenom here.

I'm off to a conference in northern California for several days and will blog as I'm able—but most likely when I return Thursday.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

MacKinnon Heads to Shanghai


Rebecca MacKinnon and RConversation are headed for Shanghai to attend the Shanghai Blogger Conference. The avowed intention:

We'll be brainstorming about ways Chinese bloggers might get their views and voices heard outside of China through the global blogosphere. The session will be conducted in Mandarin.

Luckily MacKinnon, who I met last December, is fluent in Mandarin after years posted to China for CNN.

She has written a lot about government control of the Internet in China and the efforts of Chinese civilians to circumvent it, and I wonder the effects on Chinese soft power will be as a) central authority and thus censorship continues to weaken in the Middle Kingdom and b) Chinese bloggers become increasingly able to post in English rather than Mandarin.

I read the People's Daily in English when I can and would grade its translations from Chinese at about a C+. This makes it hard for me to take them as seriously as native English-language sources; that's just my bias as a native English speaker.

China's government doesn't seem to be following Al-Jazeera's practice of hiring native English-speaking journalists (like David Frost) to help influence the West yet—but as Chinese civilians' English proficiency gets better, with millions of fluent speakers developing as a result of reading and writing English on the Internet, I'd expect Beijing to put some of them to work making People's Daily a serious read for Westerners.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Al-Jazeera's English Service Sets Up Near the White House


Alvin Snyder has a fun piece at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy's site. His "Predictions for 2006 in Public Diplomacy" note that Al-Jazeera's new English-language service will put the Qatar-based network even more in the U.S. administration's face—particularly since its studios will be just a few blocks from the White House, on 16th Street in Washington.

Snyder sees Al-Jazeera as driving the administration's agenda but spots its weakness: the need to fill a 24-hour news cycle with talk:

The Bush administration will scramble to find talking heads—the kind one sees on U.S. cable news channels and Sunday morning interview shows. That’s because the producers of al-Jazeera’s English language satellite channel will have lots of time to fill, 24/7, and will be looking for talking heads to fill that time, especially from Washington. The White House and the State Department’s public diplomacy chief, Karen Hughes, ought to start thinking about this soon, to provide ample time for media training of the most articulate and attractive spokespersons.

Hopefully State can use the English-language service as a springboard to get more U.S. Arabic speakers on Al-Jazeera's Arabic-language services, even if it's just to comment on the Egypt-Qatar soccer match.

Snyder also suggests that Al-Hurra be turned into a Middle Eastern C-SPAN—something Al-Jazeera's already doing—and has some other interesting ideas, so give it a read.

(Thanks as usual to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for the initial item.)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Let Spies Be Spies


I'm baffled by one of today's headlines: "U.S. Spy Agencies Told to Bolster the Growth of Democracy." Apparently director of national intelligence John Negroponte has made this one of the three major missions that U.S. intelligence agencies should focus on, along with countering terrorism and weapons proliferation.

From a soft-power standpoint, I can't think of a worse or more distracting mission for U.S. intelligence agencies and their human agents and sources.

U.S. soft power is a function of its ideas, ideals and achievements, among them freedom, equality, opportunity, openness and technological prowess. The intelligence agencies have enormous tech savvy but aren't emblematic of any of the qualities commonly associated with soft power—nor should they be.

Intelligence agencies, from what I understand, are hierarchical, secretive and exist solely to give the U.S. hard-power advantages over both adversaries and allies. In addition, everyone in the world knows this, because their intelligence agencies are trying to do the same thing. This makes intelligence agencies poor messengers for democratic governments.

I don't think the CIA, NSA and their cousins should be tasked—saddled is a better term—with a mission like democracy promotion. Their mission should remain what it is: to sort out the good guys from the bad, find out what they want and intend, and counter the bad guys in a most undemocratic fashion. Everything else is a distraction.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Beeb Says "Bye-Bye, Bulgaria"


The BBC will soon shift resources away from southern and eastern Europe (and Thailand), where listenership has fallen and strategic needs lessened with the EU expansion. The new target market: the Arabic-speaking world through a dedicated, 12-hours-a-day TV station.

The BBC says it will end broadcasts in "Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Kazakh, Polish, Slovak, Slovene and Thai" in 2006. With peace firmly established in Europe, it's time to reach Arab audiences, according to BBC World Service Director Nigel Chapman:

"BBC World Service is already the most successful, trusted and respected voice in the Middle East with more than 60 years experience of broadcasting in the Arabic language on radio, and more recently and successfully, online.

"The BBC Arabic Television Service will build on this legacy by offering trusted and accurate news with an international agenda.

"It would mean the BBC will be the only major broadcaster who will provide a tri-media service in Arabic to the Middle East – using TV, radio and online for sharing views and perspectives across the region and the wider world.

"Our research suggests there is strong demand for an Arabic Television service from the BBC in the Middle East."

Regardless of what the Beeb's research might show, there's a strong strategic need for Britain to have a bigger Middle East presence—much as the BBC might deny it:

Hosam el-Sokkari, head of the BBC's Arabic Service, said there was no political motivation behind the new Arab channel. It will be "there to inform, educate and entertain, not to take part in the political process," he told reporters.

The BBC's Arabic Service already has reporters in every Arabic-speaking country. Its radio broadcasts draw some 12 million listeners each week; its Arabic online service,, attracts millions of people a month. But in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and North Africa, where the BBC cannot use FM radio broadcasting, it faces tough competition from satellite television companies.

Mr. El-Sokkari is almost certainly being disingenuous; he must know the BBC needs a seat at the satellite-TV table in the Middle East to maintain its brand, and that even informing, educating and entertaining the millions of Middle Easterners who have recently gained access to outside media is a political act.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rice and Straw at the Alabama-Tennessee Game


The death yesterday of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks only highlights the distance African Americans have traveled since the 1950s and 1960s, when it was generous to even call them second-class citizens in the South and much of the rest of America.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been smart to link the relatively rapid changes in the American South these past two generations with the possibility of positive change around the world. Rice grew up in segregated Alabama and was even a playmate of one of four girls killed in an infamous Birmingham church bombing, and she has used a domestic trip with British foreign secretary Jack Straw to draw a surprising amount of attention to this aspect of her childhood; on October 22, Rice even appeared at a memorial service for the bombing victims in Birmingham.

Rice seems to finally be using her personal story on the job as America's first diplomat. It's almost unnecessary for the Secretary to connect African Americans' struggles for civil rights with those of people overseas who doubt the possibility of change in their own lifetimes. They will get the message that the U.S. has come a long way—Rice and Straw were loudly cheered at last Saturday's Alabama-Tennessee football game!—but continually struggles to go further.

Monday, October 24, 2005

"Let's Out-Recruit Osama bin Laden"


Keith Reinhard of Business for Diplomatic Action (and ad giant DDB Worldwide) was interviewed briefly in "Erasing the Image of the Ugly American" yesterday. He expands on his view that while the U.S. government isn't seen as a credible messenger of U.S. values, the U.S. business community not only is credible but has a duty to improve America's image abroad.

Reinhard et al. have a vested interest in seeing U.S. goods welcome abroad; as he notes in the interview,

We know that in Group of 8 countries, 18 percent of the population claim they are avoiding American brands, with the top brand being Marlboro in terms of avoidance. Barbie is another one. McDonald's is another.

When the U.S. looks bad, it also sells less at home, Reinhard says, noting that "inbound travel from other countries is off 1.5 percent, in terms of market share, from 2000 levels. One share point is 7.6 million visits and $12 billion in sales."

He continues to argue strongly for a return to more-liberal visa policies as a cure for both ignorance of the U.S. and international perceptions of arrogance:

Business leaders can say to the government, "This is really hurting us and we need to have a friendlier, more welcoming visa policy." We should encourage people to come. For example, we're working with a group called Young Arab Leaders that has identified 500 Arab and Muslim youth who we think should be brought into the United States and into U.S. companies. Think of it as the Fulbright for the private sector. Let's out-recruit Osama bin Laden.

Reinhard's not entirely consistent—he bemoans Voice of America funding cuts and then quotes a Palestinian who calls Al-Hurra "a joke"—but those interested in a practical, business-minded take on public diplomacy should see BDA's constantly improving site.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Beacon No. 70: Afghanistan's Interesting (Again)


Every so often a newspaper article comes along that perfectly summarizes a complex problem. Carlotta Gall and Eric Schmitt's "Taliban Step Up Afghan Bombings and Suicide Attacks" is one of those pieces. Here's how it starts:

KABUL, Afghanistan, Oct. 20 - Violence in southern Afghanistan has escalated in the last month as militants are increasingly taking a page from the insurgent playbook in Iraq and using more roadside bombs and suicide attacks, senior Afghan and American officials said Thursday.

American officials said they were bracing for protests throughout the Islamic world in response to allegations that American soldiers in Afghanistan had burned and desecrated the bodies of two dead Taliban fighters and used the remains as propaganda. American officials voiced fears of violence after Friday Prayer services.

Standard Gall so far: Lead with hard power to draw readers to this forgotten corner of American interests—then change the subject to something else interesting that's happening in Afghanistan. But suicide-bombing and corpse-burning are more related than they might seem because they illustrate the soft-power problems of both the U.S. and the Afghan insurgents.

Here's a more-detailed report on the corpse-burning story from today's L.A. Times:

According to the [Australian photojournalist's] report, the bodies were set afire on hills above the village of Gonbaz north of Kandahar after the two Taliban fighters were killed by U.S. soldiers the night before. Five soldiers stood around the fire, and two of them read messages trying to provoke militants.

The messages, which apparently were broadcast to the Taliban, highlighted the fact that the bodies were laid out facing Mecca.

"Attention Taliban: You are cowardly dogs," read one soldier, identified as psychological operations specialist Sgt. Jim Baker. "You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned. You are too scared to retrieve the bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be."

Another soldier, who was unidentified, read: "You attack and run away like women. You call yourself Talibs but you are a disgrace to the Muslim religion, and you bring shame upon your family. Come and fight like men instead of the cowardly dogs you are."

A third soldier is heard saying, "Wow, look at the blood coming out of the mouth on that one."

Mockery, Mecca and desecration, all captured on videotape in the middle of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. So the U.S. now has bigger image problems in Afghanistan, and throughout the Muslim world, than it did before the report aired in Australia on Wednesday.

But then Gall and Schmitt's return to the ostensible subject of the article—the shift in insurgent tactics—shows the Taliban, al-Qa'ida et al. have problems of their own.

Suicide bombings have spiked since the September elections, something that's surprising because it was thought most Afghans believed this tactic was un-Islamic. Here's Gall and Schmitt's theory as to why:

American intelligence officials say Afghan insurgents are resorting to more spectacular attacks partly to attract financing for operations from extremist financiers in the Middle East who have been increasingly directing their funds to insurgents in Iraq, including the network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

My first reaction to this is relief that Afghanistan's assorted rebels don't have a sufficient funding stream to operate on their own—in other words, they're not hand-in-glove with the opium growers and traffickers, who are having a banner year in South Asia.

My second reaction is that the Taliban and al-Qa'ida have changed tactics because the Iraqi insurgents' relative soft power has grown. Afghan insurgents may somehow need to compete with their Iraqi counterparts in the arena of ideas to attract funding, just like any Western NGO. (The "idea" may be the tactic of blowing yourself up, but it's still an idea.)

In other words, those "American intelligence officials" think the Afghans aren't changing tactics to try to win the war against the U.S. so much as to attract funding and followers—to make a splash in the Muslim world's headlines and only incidentally hurt U.S. forces and their allies. That can come later—after a funding stream is secured. The Iraqis stole our fire. Now what can we do about it? We Afghans don't approve of suicide bombings but if it's getting the Sunnis a lot of press. ...

And just like their Iraqi counterparts, the Afghan insurgents are getting others to strap on bombs:

In the case of the attack that killed an Afghan commander, Agha Shah, the police did find the head of the bomber, he said, and he appeared to be non-Afghan, possibly an Uzbek.

It remains to be seen how the U.S. and the Afghan insurgents will solve their sizeable soft-power problems in Afghanistan. I can only hope that suicide bombing is as distasteful to Afghans as beheadings were to Iraqis, and that the insurgents' shift in tactics fails to attract either funding or popular support.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Thursday Round-Up


Thomas P.M. Barnett and his new Blueprint for Action keep tilting at the Pentagon. Folks who like big conventional-weapons systems are appalled. The logorrheic Barnett continues unaffected at

Homebrewed Russian movie on the Afghanistan war smashes all box-office records. Company 9 is a sort of Slavic Full Metal Jacket.

(Middle East) people are watching the Saddam trial. BAGnewsNotes worries that the U.S. is infantilizing Saddam to Middle Eastern viewers by holding him in a courtroom "crib," as Jon Stewart apparently called it.

Still 4GW after all these years. ZenPundit links to a review of Thomas X. Hammes' The Sling and the Stone and rolls in military theorists like Martin van Creveld, the late Col. John Boyd and Sun Tzu on the topic of fourth-generation warfare.

(Thanks to Andy Valvur for Barnett-spotting while I took a brief vacation.)

Monday, October 17, 2005



On Friday the Wall St. Journal reported that The Simpsons is being translated into Arabic and sanitized for Middle Eastern audiences:

"Omar Shamshoon," as he is called on the show, looks like the same Homer Simpson, but he has given up beer and bacon, which are both against Islam, and he no longer hangs out at "seedy bars with bums and lowlifes." In Arabia [sic], Homer's beer is soda, and his hot dogs are barbequed Egyptian beef sausages. And the donut-shaped snacks he gobbles are the traditional Arab cookies called kahk.

Bart Simpson is now called "Badr."

The Simpsons is debuting now because Middle Eastern TV viewership spikes during Ramadan, and Saudi-owned MBC would like to get Al-Shamshoon off to a good start. But some observers quoted in the WSJ article are worried that Springfield's first family just won't translate:

One blogger wrote, "'Hi-diddly-ho, neighbors!' How the h— are they going to translate that? Or this great quote: Mr. Burns: Oooh, so Mother Nature needs a favor? Well maybe she should have thought of that when she was besetting us with droughts and floods and poison monkeys! Nature started the fight for survival, and now she wants to quit because she's losing. Well I say, hard cheese."

But it could work. After all, South Park was translated for Kuwaiti TV, according to Tunisian blogger SubZero Blue, who was skeptical of the whole project back in September. (He also sounds a tad resentful that the Egyptian dialect will be used for Al-Shamshoon.)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

An "Indonesia Bounce"


Glen Kessler and Robin Wright say in the Post today that "Earthquake Aid for Pakistan Might Help U.S. Image." Following the recent 7.6 earthquake, which has killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis with the death toll still climbing, the U.S. is making a big push to help out.

The quake mainly affected northern Pakistan, a hotbed of resistance to both Islamabad and U.S. interests in Afghanistan, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an "unscheduled" stop in the Pakistani capital to show support and offer help.

It's a great opening for U.S., both in the short-term business of saving lives and for long-term public diplomacy. The U.S. is widely distrusted in the disaster zone—and Osama bin Laden and a host of al-Qa'ida baddies are thought to be hiding there. It behooves the U.S. to be friendly with as many Pakistanis as possible and hope that someone drops a dime on bin Laden down the road.

Of course, unnamed high administration officials deny any motivation but the humanitarian, while at the same time welcoming any silver linings:

"[Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf is a friend and hero in our eyes," said one senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the issue more freely. "There is a clear and unmistakable signal being sent that we help our friends."


The official, noting that U.S. aid is also flowing to Central America after the devastating floods there, said that the administration is not acting to "curry favor with hostile Muslim populations." But, he added, "if there is a positive impact for the United States, so much the better."

As another U.S. official put it: "If this helps us show that Abu Ghraib is not reflective of the American character, that would be good."

Will quake aid help? Look at the bounce that the U.S. reputation got in Indonesia following aggressive U.S. help after the tsunami:

... The U.S. government has now committed nearly $1 billion [to Indonesia], with private donations topping that.

Polling has indicated that the U.S. tsunami effort -- which included sending a fleet of ships and providing round-the-clock helicopter rescues -- has paid dividends to the United States' image in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country.

A survey of 1,200 Indonesians one month after the tsunami, sponsored by Terror Free Tomorrow and conducted by a leading Indonesian pollster, found that, for the first time, more Indonesians (40 percent) supported the U.S. terrorism fight than opposed it (36 percent). Sixty-five percent of those surveyed had a more favorable impression of the United States, with support strongest among those younger than 30, while support for Osama bin Laden dropped from 58 percent before the tsunami to 23 percent. Terror Free Tomorrow is a nonpartisan group that studies popular support for global terrorism.

Husain Haqqani, director of the Center for International Relations at Boston University and an adviser to Terror Free Tomorrow, said the experience in Indonesia could easily be replicated in Pakistan. Haqqani, a former adviser to several Pakistani political leaders, said that anti-American Islamic groups have begun to realize this and have opposed the U.S. aid because "this may take the wind out of their sails."

I read somewhere yesterday that Pakistani militant groups were in disarray following the quake. Hopefully the U.S. can help fill any vacuum they leave.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Blue-Collar in the Best Sense


I just finished Robert Kaplan's excellent Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground, which looks at how U.S. soldiers and marines are handling various engagements around the world. Kaplan details some combat, but he mostly focuses on hearts-and-minds campaigns waged by a few dozen Green Berets in isolated spots like Colombia, where the rules of engagement allow shooting only when you're shot at.

Kaplan repeatedly says that strategy decisions take place in Washington and are primarily a concern of America's elites—but the execution of those decisions worldwide is in the hands of a blue-collar force, in the best sense of that term: men (and occasionally women) who are primarily concerned with what works for their particular mission rather than ideological purity.

What works, from the author's perspective, is steadfastness, hands-on local knowledge, and friendliness, sort of like the marines' old saying that a marine is both your best friend and your worst enemy.

This is the third book of Kaplan's that I've read after his excellent Eastward to Tartary and Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos, and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about the potential—and the limits—of American engagements abroad.

For a free taste of Kaplan's thinking, see his op-ed piece in today's Times, "Next: A War Against Nature." (Login required.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Beijing to Space in Just Minutes


It's a proud time in the People's Republic of China:

—As you'd expect, China Daily is filled with news of tomorrow's planned launch of Shenzhou-VI, the PRC's second manned space flight. The official Chinese paper also has an analysis of why manned space flight capabilities put it in the big leagues here.

—China's "soft strength" is surging, a fact highlighted by a month-long Chinese Culture Festival in the U.S. The profile of this event here in Los Angeles is roughly zero, but the Chinese are excited about this "face-to-face exchange with the American people" and that's what counts.

—Click on the banner ad that runs at the top of the previous story, which hopefully says "Celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Anti-Fascist War," or this link. It leads to a round-up of September's commemoration of the end of World War II, which in China was actually two wars: a War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and a World Anti-Fascist War.

Although I haven't had a chance to read it, this collection of articles seems like a great introduction to how China views World War II and thus to its current picture of itself: trod-upon in the past but plucky, tough, and heir to a great cultural tradition.

(Thanks as always to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for the initial item on China's "soft strength," which led me to other interesting China Daily news.)

Monday, October 10, 2005

More Boykin Award Nominations, Regrettably


Joshua Landis' Syria Comment slides one past that I hadn't heard about: On October 3, Bill O'Reilly of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor called for the assassination of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Landis runs a transcript of Mr. O'Reilly's remarks, which occurred while he was speaking with former presidential candidate and retired General Wesley A. Clark.

This follows on the heels of the preacher Pat Robertson's call for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the nearest thing the Western Hemisphere might have to Syria's president. Mr. O'Reilly and Mr. Robertson are the second and third nominees for the 2005 Boykin Award, given to the public figure who does the greatest damage to U.S. soft power in a calendar year. Let me explain.

Lately, I've started using a carrot-and-stick metaphor to describe the differences between soft power (ideals, institutions, achievements) and hard power (military and economic coercion). Most people, like most horses a century ago, would rather be lured by the promise of a carrot than beaten with a stick. For the U.S., the carrot—the lure that will get people in other nations to be more likely to agree with U.S. policies—is a combination of things:

Aligning our policies with our ideals (a fair justice system, democratic elections, free speech, economic opportunity, racial equality)

Listening to other nations (to their history, language, concerns)

Humility (doing what's good for U.S. interests without highlighting other nations' shortcomings)

Tools that get our message out (international broadcasting, two-way educational exchanges, cultural centers, touring American orchestras and theater groups, active public diplomacy)

There are other soft-power tools, but this list is a start and will be argued over, added to and refined. Despite the incompleteness of this list, I'm sure that one thing detracting from U.S. soft power—something that takes people's eyes off the carrots the U.S. has to offer—is when famous people who are in no position to threaten another nation do so.

Commentators like Bill O'Reilly and Pat Robertson, lightly traveled though they may be, must realize that the whole world knows the U.S. has a stick—its armed forces—which could destroy anything it was swung at. Every nation includes this fact in its foreign policy calculations, which makes the world a more peaceful place than it might be in the absence of such an overwhelming threat.

As a result, there is never a need to emphasize that the U.S. holds a stick that could end a foreign leader's life or even incinerate an entire city; it is counterproductive to do so. To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, the U.S. can afford to speak softly about carrots, because everyone knows about its big stick.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Senate Torture Restrictions Make Middle East Headlines


Senator McCain's torture-restriction bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate today 90-9, yet it's headed for a probable White House veto. Anyone interested in how the Arab world perceives U.S. responses to the Abu Ghraib scandal might want to check out two stories:

On Al-Jazeera's English-language site, you can read "U.S. Senate votes to ban prison abuse" story accompanied by a small, relatively mild Abu Ghraib-fleshpile photo.

On Al-Jazeera's Arabic-language site, "ال شيوخ الأميركي يتحدى بوش ويحظر تعذيب المحتجزير" (roughly, "American Senate restricts Bush and forbids torture of the detainees") is accompanied by a much larger, much more frightening photo of a German shepherd or similar dog in the face of a kneeling detainee.

The bad news is that the U.S. is still associated with these photos. The good news is that the Arab world is still watching to see how the U.S. follows up and either corrects its mistakes or doesn't. An opportunity exists to demonstrate that the U.S. takes detainee rights seriously and it would be a shame to squander that.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Two Takes on Turkey


Today's Lebanon Daily Star offers two articles that are separate tributes to soft power. The first, "The European Union: A quiet but powerful force for reform," discusses how well European quiet diplomacy has been doing in getting Turkey to institute political, social and economic reforms. It also mentions Europe's long-term efforts to cultivate good government in North Africa and the Middle East:
Apart from the framework of [Turkish] membership negotiations, the EU has also used its partnerships with various regional countries to advance the pace of political reform. The European Neighborhood Policy, which builds on the economic reform initiatives launched in the Barcelona Process, offers privileged relations with the aim of encouraging neighboring states' commitment to the rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights. Incentives such as aid and economic integration have been used to encourage progress on political reforms in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Syria.

Europe's subtle but significant efforts to promote reform in the region demonstrate that the EU is a powerful reformist force in the Middle East. While the European approach to promoting reform has been understated and less aggressive than that of the United States, it has proven to be equally - if not more - effective. America's efforts to promote reform are often greeted with skepticism or even hostility, while the EU, which has long been engaged in the region, has a greater degree of credibility.

I find it hard to believe that most Turks think the EU—widely thought to have racist motivations for keeping Turkey at arm's length, reluctant to intervene when Muslims were being slaughtered in the Balkans—has much credibility at all. Ankara, bruised by Austria's near-rejection of talks on full Turkish membership, is thanking the U.S. for help in getting those talks started, according to "Turkey thanks U.S. for its support for EU membership talks":

Turkish leaders have thanked the United States for intervening on Turkey's behalf during diplomatic wrangling that resulted in the European Union opening membership talks with Turkey. "The support of the U.S. to Turkey during the ... negotiation period with the EU is clear, natural and right. We are pleased about it," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Namik Tan said.

He said Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday.

The Star's editorial writer credits the Europeans, who have spent years putting off Turkish membership talks, for quiet stubbornness in the guise of pushing "reform."

Luckily the Turkish government—Turkey's Islamist government—credits the U.S. for quietly siding with Ankara for just as long.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

No Need to Speak Western European


As a follow-up to yesterday's piece about French engagement with China, I'm again leaning on the Christian Science Monitor. This time it's an op-ed piece lamenting the lack of U.S. Chinese speakers, and what two senators are trying to do about it:

Despite talk of trade wars and military confrontation, polls show that more Americans have a favorable view of the Chinese than five or 10 years ago. Regrettably, this has yet to translate into any large-scale effort to engage anything besides Chinese factories.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D) of Connecticut and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee want this to change. In May, they introduced the United States-China Cultural Engagement Act, a bill to provide a modest but symbolic $1.3 billion over five years to tackle shortages of Chinese language classes in the US, as well as strengthen cultural, educational, and commercial exchanges with China. These senators are wisely suggesting that the United States take a policy of "engagement" with China seriously.

I think Sens. Lieberman and Alexander are right to think long-term: In 20 years their program, if it's passed and funded, will help the U.S. address China by the time it is a serious competitor in arenas other than the economic. I only wish they had added financing for languages like Arabic, Pashtu, Urdu and Hindi, all of which are important in the near-term.

The senators may have decided that the battle over learning these languages is already lost, though, and that U.S. efforts in regions where they are spoken will rise or fall on the current stock of U.S. linguists and translators. After all, the current administration hasn't yet made a serious attempt to increase the number of civilians speaking "strategic" languages like Arabic and Chinese, choosing to tie itself into knots by trying to hire native speakers of these languages who somehow don't have any ties to the land of their birth.

I'd love to see a return to the levels of financing of language programs that existed during the Cold War, when it was not only easy to find good Slavic-language programs all over the United States but even possible to get a paying job after taking a degree—all because successive Congresses and Presidents took seriously, for decades, the need for fluent speakers.

I remember that in 1984 an astronomy classmate of mine at the University of Maryland spoke Russian fluently, despite her all-American background and somewhat sheltered upbringing (she was considering transferring to Bob Jones University). She considered this normal, as Russian was offered (thanks to federal dollars, no doubt) throughout high school in her suburban Maryland school district, which surprised me coming from a Hudson Valley, New York district that barely mustered Spanish and French.

Bravo to Sens. Lieberman and Alexander for realizing that the U.S. won't need even more trustworthy citizens who speak, say, Flemish in 2025:

The road to successful communication with China is a long one. Only 2.2 million of 290 million Americans speak Chinese, and at least 85 percent of them are of Chinese descent. This deficiency should be unsurprising given that 98 percent of US higher education language enrollment is in Western European languages.

(Thanks as usual to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for the initial item.)
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