Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Beacon No. 62: Waiting for the Christians


I'm currently reading Thomas X. Hammes' The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century, which examines the progress of warfare from first-generation today's so-called fourth-generation warfare. The three earlier generations depended on limitations in technology and communications, Hammes writes, while fourth-generation warfare (4GW) turns on influencing an enemy's political will.

Mao Tse-Tung and Ho Chi Minh are early exemplars of 4GW; faced with more-powerful adversaries, both men built their resources quietly, made nice with the peasants besides a few selective assassinations, gained international sympathy for their anti-colonial crusades, and melted away from fixed battles while harassing their enemies' resources when they could. Eventually these factors culminated in insurgent victories.

When Hammes starts discussing Nicaragua's Sandinistas, though, his account turns interesting for students of soft power. In a chapter on "The Sandinista Refinement," he details how these Communist rebels, after years of big losses and bloody experimentation, settled on a winning formula.

First, they dropped their Red rhetoric and formed a broad anti-Somoza coalition, which simultaneously co-opted the other anti-Somoza groups and demonstrated that the Sandinistas were flexible rather than doctrinaire, an important move in the late years of the Cold War.

Second, they tried to create the impression that Washington was turning away from the Somoza regime, a critical factor in a country where U.S. influence and money were widespread. They did this in two ways: By inviting Western media to visit and witness first-hand the increasing brutality of the Somoza regime as it suppressed dissent—contrasted, of course, with the Sandinistas' thoughtful moderation; and by enlisting the help of U.S. churches:

Another piece of the Sandinista strategy was the effort to use mainline Protestant churches to carry the coalition (Sandinista) message to the U.S. Congress. During this period, they invited numerous members of U.S. congregations to visit Nicaragua and witness for themselves the brutality of the government and the moderate approach of the coalition. They knew that upon their return, these concerned Americans would serve as catalysts in their communities to push for a cutoff of aid to the Somoza regime. Reinforcing the Sandinistas' effort was the fact that the Somoza regime was becoming more and more brutal—and therefore provided plenty of material for the Sandinistas to show their American guests.

(Nicaragua's rank-and-file Catholic clergy had already been co-opted by the Sandinistas' promotion of "liberation theology" priest, as opposed to the bishops' embrace of Somoza; this gave the Sandinistas great credibility in a deeply Catholic nation.)

The Sandinistas even opened offices in Washington and New York to make sure their message stayed in U.S. policymakers' ears.

The whole chapter epitomizes short-term public diplomacy; over a period of just a few years, the Sandinistas leaped from bank-robbing banditry to welcome rulers of Nicaragua, partly via images created by otherwise well-intentioned Nicaraguan Catholic priests and U.S. Protestants.

Which brings us to today: If you hear that Sunni insurgents in Iraq are broadening their coalition and squiring European or U.S. Christian leaders around battle zones, I'd worry that the insurgents—having wised up after the failure of last year's beheading campaign—are finally conducting a full-spectrum 4GW campaign aimed not at Iraqi sentiment, but at ours.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Strange Bedfellows on Drugs


If rule number one of public diplomacy is "Take your common ground where you find it," Robert Charles may be onto something.

Charles, a former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement in the Bush administration, wrote yesterday that one thing Americans and even the sternest Afghan mullahs can agree on is that they don't want their kids addicted to drugs. Roberts suggests that the U.S. use this sentiment to cultivate an alliance based on anti-drug education:

As Afghanistan staggers under a heroin trade that could end democracy, why not go to the heart of the problem and find common ground? Why not build on the absolute moral overlap between Sharia Law's opposition to heroin and our own moral opposition to drugs and drug-funded terrorism?

Last month, more than 500 Afghan religious leaders—that society's real force—met in Kabul to discuss drug addiction. They affirmed at least that they do not want the heroin trade in their communities. It is changing their society and taking their kids' future with it.

So, why not build on a common love for kids? Why not help these Afghan mullahs with an all-out, tailor-made, anti-drug education program? Why not beat this source of hopelessness? Since addiction also threatens Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim country) Pakistan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey, and even Iraq, why not support mullahs there too? The message: Americans share your moral outrage and care about your kids.

While Roberts doesn't specify how the U.S. might win over Afghans suspicious that anti-drug programs were a wedge for greater U.S. involvement in their affairs, his framing of this idea is fresh and completely lacking in gung-ho drug-war rhetoric. We don't have to agree with others about everything, he seems to say, but the U.S. should seize on the agreement that does exist.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Animation Addendum: The DPRK Strikes Back

I've had animation on my mind a lot and earlier this week discussed Tom and Jerry's presence in North Korea, the Palestinian Territories and elsewhere. Little did I realize that Pyongyang is also a small-scale exporter of animation.

Yahoo! News says that not only has the state-owned SEK Studio "done animation work for Italian, French and Spanish productions," it has "made its own TV shows featuring cuddly animals who live in a cutesy world devoid of propaganda extolling the North's Great Leader Kim Il-Sung and his 'juche' doctrine of self-reliance."

I wonder whether the animals are silent or otherwise hew to the guidelines I discussed for trans-cultural animation in Beacon No. 60?

Now SEK has done the animation for a full-length film called Empress Chung, which re-tells a medieval Korean legend: A heroic young girl embarks on a mission to restore her blind father's sight, battling a monstrous sea god along the way. (I wonder whether there's not a dollop of Joseph Campbell's universal "hero's journey" in Empress Chung as well.)

Chung is premiering simultaneously in both Korean capitals thanks to its South Korean producer, Nelson Shin, a Simpsons and Transformers veteran. Read more about Shin's heroic, 16-year quest to promote inter-Korean cooperation here in the Korea Times.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Beacon No. 61 (cont'd.): Interview with Dan Kuehl


This is the second part of Beacon's interview with National Defense University's Dan Kuehl, an expert on the information aspects of U.S. power:

Beacon: What combination of circumstances might cause an adversary like al-Qa'ida to become deterrable, or do Martians have to invade to get their attention?

Kuehl: I think the way you deter al-Qa'ida is not by putting them in fear of death. ... I think you convince them that what they're doing isn't working. How many beheading videos have you seen in the past few months? ... They realized those videos were hurting them rather than helping them, because the vast portion of the Muslim population was reacting with disgust—"This is not who we are, this is not what we do." [The key is] if you can find ways to convince them that what they do harms their cause rather than helps them.

Beacon: Is there any point in targeting messages to al-Qa'ida members or operatives or do you simply try to dry up the ideological water in which they swim?

Kuehl: I don't think we're going to have much success at all in trying to target or send messages to the 5 percent hard core. They're gone. [You target the other 95 percent.] They don't have to like what we're doing and agree with pluralism and send their daughter to Berkeley next year; we just have to get them to not agree with the cause of the hard core thousands .

I think the key to that is to find their own leaders to espouse that, and by that I mean Islamic religious leaders. We've already seen the number-one Islamic leader in Spain come out with a fatwa against the suicide bombers. Those guys are the thought leaders for one billion-plus.

Beacon: Did you read Michael Schrage's August 21 Washington Post piece on "soft preemption?" It seems to be a package of tools that fall short of killing and property destruction: disruption of banking networks, communication grids, deportations of undesirables and so on. How do you think these activities might play in soft-power terms?
Kuehl: I think it can be helpful if it's done carefully, but again there's that fine line between actions that the other observing audience can see and take as reasonable, and what isn't. The vast majority of the rest of the world looked at Afghanistan and said, "They [the Taliban] asked for it. ... That's not the way they looked at Iraq [but in Afghanistan there was] a clear example of an action that the Islamic world looked at and said "okay."

Beacon: So there needs to be a "bright line" that someone steps over?

Kuehl: And the Afghani Taliban stepped over that.

Beacon: In the courses you teach, do you talk about passive or nearly passive, or incidental components of soft power like product brands, Hollywood movies, scientific achievement and so on?

Kuehl: Back in February I was part of a small group from NDU that spent some time in Hollywood on the set of JAG. We went out there, about eight of us, and spent the better part of the week watching JAG.

First of all, the technical proficiency and expertise of the people involved in making that and other programs was ... seeing it was something else, and seeing the amount of resources that had to go into it was something else. For 46 minutes and 47 seconds of programming, $3 million per episode, and the same thing for NCIS. That goes well beyond what State can do in terms of producing programming .

Secondly, there was a review in the Washington Post Book World in the past 2-3 weeks of a film that has just come out or been released called Original Child Bomb, a documentary about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The guys that made this tapped into some post-World War II archives, Army and Army Air Force footage from Hiroshima and Nagasaki right after World War II. The quality of the filming was good because the people doing it were filmmakers, they were movie people. It almost goes back to the issue of why was Ronald Reagan so effective? He was an information guy. He understood how to use the information medium and was brilliant at it.

The guys doing JAG are TV filmmakers. No one in the government has that kind of expertise, nor should they try to. In the course of talking [with the producers] about JAG, I found it goes to about 90 countries. I fell off my chair. [People in those countries] are looking at a version for the U.S. military that I want them to see. But that's not the perspective [the producers] are coming from.

[We agree that the producers are primarily looking for market appeal, not carrying a message for the U.S. government per se.]

Kuehl: We need to form something like a national information council that would be similar to the National Economic Council. If you look at the elements of power—military, economic, diplomatic, and informational—almost to a person the students go, What's that [when you get to discussing "informational"]?

How do you integrate these? You can identify the official office door that controls military power. You can't identify the door to economic power, it comes out of Detroit and Birmingham and other places. [We need] the latter model [for information strategy]. We sit down with [people in Hollywood and elsewhere] and say this is the situation and tell them what we're trying to do. I would hope over the course of time we'd get enough shared interest and shared benefit that we can help them and they can help us.

[We touch on how valuable Radio Sawa might be.]

Kuehl: If you listen to Radio Sawa, its music helps emphasize togetherness. [Sawa's] Norm Pattiz understands that if the Arab youth is listening to Sawa, they're not listening to someone else. ... On Super Bowl Sunday, Americans are the world's most voracious consumers of propaganda. And what beer is advertised more on Super Bowl Sunday, more than other beers by a factor of four or five to one? Budweiser! Because Bud is keeping everybody else from advertising. If you're not watching Miller Genuine Draft or Corona, if all you're seeing is Bud, that's a good thing to do.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Beacon No. 61: Interview with Dan Kuehl


For the past 12 years, Dan Kuehl has been a professor of systems management at the National Defense University, a collection of colleges and institutions that help train mid-career military officers to think strategically about various aspects of U.S. power. Kuehl teaches elective courses on the use of information as a component of U.S. power, and particularly how to use information content and technology to influence how people think and act.

We spoke for most of an hour Tuesday and what follows are my notes on our conversation, which touched on the nature of ideological threats to the West, the limits of public diplomacy, and the power of Hollywood.

While my notes were extensive, this piece as a whole should be considered as giving the sense of the speakers' conversation rather than quoting them.

I've split my account into two parts: Today's excerpt is generally about framing the problems in U.S. public diplomacy, while tomorrow's will focus on some ways of solving them.

Beacon: Why should the West or even the U.S., specifically, find itself in long-term, widespread ideological trouble at this moment when democracy and capitalism are ascendant? What's gone wrong?

Dan Kuehl: Democracy and capitalism are at heart political and economic concepts. The struggle we're engaged in is not economic at all, and is political at all only in the sense that politics relates to deeper social issues. The war of ideas we're engaged in is not democracy vs. socialism or totalitarianism, except in the sense that Islamo-fascism is a form of totalitarianism—but it's grounded in cultural-religious issues. A ruling group is intent on imposing its view of the world and society, etc., on a group of others. In this case the others share the religious viewpoint of the group that are making decisions about who to hate, who to kill, and so on.

The great struggle is how do we reach this mass of a billion-plus Muslims that are out there all over the world from Africa to East Asia to the Middle East, and now Europe and the U.S. and elsewhere? How do we keep them from the one or two steps that separate them from the people who fly planes into buildings? My issue is that we keep talking about themes and messages, and it comes across as, "If we just tell it better, louder, with more passion, they'll get it." No, they won't. That's the great failure so far. There are similarities to the Cold War, a generations-long clash of social viewpoints where you can't get to a point and say, "Oh, we've won." The differences are that much of the population of the adversary during the Cold War was on our side. That's Radio Free Europe, broadcasting to tens of millions of people that wanted to hear that message. That's not the case here. This isn't a case where we're trying to reach into denied areas where people are thirsting to hear us; that's not the case. Fundamentally Radio Sawa and al-Hurra [TV] are great ideas .

Over the course of the past 20-30 years—this is personal opinion—people have come to view the U.S. primarily through the lens of Palestine, Israel and the U.S., and it's a disaster. Somehow it has evolved so that the Islamic population of the world is fundamentally unhappy with the U.S.

Beacon: Then how do you de-link perceptions of the U.S. from Israel and Palestine?

Kuehl: You can't do it rhetorically. I'm sure you've come across the term "propaganda of the deed." [The perception is that] the United States have given, are giving, and will give the Israeli government carte blanche. I don't think that's accurate, but it's the perception that's out there. Chip away at that perception, then separate that from our involvement or engagement with the Indonesians, for example, with the tsunami.

[The tsunami response] gave us a great opportunity to show our true colors. If you want to know what we're like, here it is—you just saw it in action. Every single one of our embassies, every one of our regional combatant commands ought to have on the books a skeleton plan for if "X" happens, here's how we start responding to it, and here's how we start doing the information piece of the response. Having that thought out ahead of time really saves you lots of time and effort when you have to do it.

Another point is finding the voices of Islamic moderation, and then finding ways to—and this is going to be art—finding ways to assist them without being too overt about it.

[We briefly discuss Egypt's restrictions on funding of Egyptian NGOs by foreign organizations, which is crippling many groups that involved in transparency, governance, etc.]

Kuehl: The Egypt example is one of those we have cited over and over again. They made a big deal of the assistance the Japanese gave for rebuilding an opera house or something. I mean, it was a pittance. And we spend more [money helping Egypt] and no one knows about it.

How we're going to take advantage informationally of what we're doing, this should be part of the plan. ... We're talking about [creating] a template you can export out and use for some other operations.

Beacon: Has anyone tried to catalog what all the different terms for influencing thoughts and actions are, from psychological operations to soft power?

Kuehl: This struggle of how you define things and what you call things is still going on. It started with something called "information warfare," then we redefined that and turned it into "information operations," and now we're redefining that. There's a joint doctrine published in 1988 and the process of revising that is still going on. ... They don't write doctrine at [the State Department], but they do have a clear-cut perspective that speaks to one, understanding, two, engaging, and three, informing and influencing. We have to understand them before we can start to get at the way they think.

[Kuehl briefly discusses a presentation he did along with a German colleague. The colleague was asked what the U.S. government should do about understanding other cultures.]

Kuehl: She answered, number one, resurrect government-sponsored effort to train linguists. I wouldn't be surprised if Condi Rice got her funding initially from government programs to fund Soviet studies, linguistic studies, which should make her particularly attuned to doing the same thing with Arabic and other languages. The number of people who can go on Al-Jazeera live and debate other guests is low. [We jointly guess it is between six and 20.] Training linguists is the slow part—but the second thing is finding linguists. The companies that do business over there, big-time business, have [translators] on their staffs and payroll .

[I raise the problem of vetting people who are foreign nationals or related to same.]

Kuehl: If you put your mind to it you can do a security vetting on someone a lot faster than you can train them in Arabic.

TOMORROW: Deterring al-Qa'ida

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

"Soft Preemption"


In Sunday's Post, MIT's Michael Schrage introduces and discusses "soft preemption," a half-step between the passivity of soft power and the violence of military action. Noting the need for "meaningful choices between impotence and violence," Schrage's "Pulling Punches" wraps "nonlethal, minimally destructive" tactics like increased scrutiny of visas and banking systems, economic sanctions, and disruption of satellite broadcasts that incite violence, together to form the beginnings of an intermediate doctrine:

There are undeniably provocative aspects to the soft preemption doctrine, as there are to any self-defense approach. If Venezuela disrupted BBC, Telemundo or CNN satellite broadcasts throughout Latin America to prevent "incitement" of a coup against President Hugo Chavez, for example, that would surely escalate regional tensions. If China launched denial-of-service Internet attacks against American institutions that fund supporters of "Free Tibet" or encourage Taiwanese nationalists, the international community would confront a real challenge.

But the ability to preempt softly doesn't inherently invite malicious global mischief any more than the ability to launch a cruise missile guarantees its firing. Responsible nations would have every reason to think twice about soft preemptions in self-defense; irresponsible ones could have bigger problems than soft preemption to deal with if they're not careful. Anybody who engages in soft preemption must be prepared to escalate to the harder stuff if necessary.

The United States would do the world a service if it declared that, as technology permits a broader array of less violent, less destructive interventions to undermine the abilities of non-state actors and their state sponsors to strike, it will exercise those soft options to deter and disrupt any attacks. Collateral damage to such interventions is preferable to the collateral damage of bombs and bullets gone astray. Soft preemption is soft power with a vengeance, and a public policy option that deserves a good hard look.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Beacon No. 60: More Soft Power with Tom and Jerry


In May I quoted the Wall Street Journal as saying that Tom and Jerry cartoons could be seen on TV in otherwise insulated North Korea. That was remarkable enough, but it turns out that the animated cat and mouse had other fans as well.

In the September Atlantic, David Samuels submits an extremely long takeout on the late Yasir Arafat. He paints a Palestinian leader completely devoted to the cause of a Palestinian state, but willing to tolerate corruption that kept the Palestinian people from enjoying the fruits of foreign aid and their own industry.

In the middle of Samuels' piece there's this nugget on some of Chairman Arafat's idiosyncrasies:

The Palestinian leader was fond of time-saving measures, and could cite the exact number of hours that shaving once every five days, as he did, could add to a man's life. He spent his spare hours watching cartoons on television. His favorites were Road Runner, Bugs Bunny, and Tom and Jerry.

The cat and mouse again! How could American cartoons like these—some of which are old enough to collect Social Security—maintain their popularity around the world and transcend cultures as they do?

Animal characters are easily understood and, being inhuman, are politically neutral. Cats and mice, dogs and roosters, rabbits and ducks can be seen the world over, competing over scarce resources.

A lack of dialogue also helps since it cuts translation costs and avoids potential censorship.

Slapstick is the universal language of comedy. There's some primate instinct people retain that makes it impossible not to giggle when someone trips on their dress, slips on a banana peel or gets a pie in the face.

No one dies. This gets discussed explicitly by the characters—and actually becomes a plot element—in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the 1988 movie that is a brilliant exception to the no-dialogue rule. There's almost never permanent trauma in cartoons, only joy or just desserts.

Characters don't evolve. They can be counted on as either bright, plucky underdogs or overbearing, short-sighted buffoons. Put another way: You just can't believe the coyote is going to run over the edge of the cliff again—but you wind up laughing anyway.

And finally, the good guys always win.

I'm sure someone in academia has developed a longer list of factors than this. Anyone who wants to create universally understood characters and memorable situations could do worse than to look at cartoon art through these lenses, and keep in mind that Tom and Jerry is something that Jerusalem, Pyongyang and Washington all agree on.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Beacon No. 59: Immunize Our Tourists, Señor


Juan Forero's "Bush's Aid Cuts on Court Issue Roil Neighbors" in this morning's Times describes the side deals the U.S. is making with other nations to keep its citizens out of the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The Bush administration has long objected to the ICC, which was set up "to be the first permanent tribunal for prosecuting crimes like genocide," having jurisdiction over U.S. soldiers since they are so frequently stationed overseas and called to combat or peacekeeping duties in places where black and white can turn out, in hindsight, to have been gray.

I can understand how the administration sees the U.S., with its unparalleled reach, breadth of interests and worldwide dispersal of citizens, as "uniquely vulnerable" to what would amount to nuisance suits by the world's other 200-odd countries every time an American soldier made a bad, ill-informed or simply unlucky decision that caused death or injury. And in fact, Forero writes, protections for U.S. forces are built into the ICC:

There are also safeguards that would give the United States' own military and civilian courts jurisdiction over Americans.

What this means is that under the ICC, U.S. citizens already enjoy "extraterritoriality," a privilege that raised hackles centuries ago when Britain demanded it in both India and in its North American colonies—and that helped spark rebellions in both those areas.

But the U.S. has gone a step further, demanding that other nations codify their inferior status in separate agreements, pledging that they won't ship U.S. citizens to the Hague for prosecution.

Regardless of whether these agreements are reciprocal—so that the U.S. would also pledge to not turn over citizens of, say, Mali to the ICC if requested to do so—the U.S. is punishing countries that don't sign agreements by cutting off economic aid:

American budgetary records show that Uruguay, whose new left-leaning government has vocally declined to sign an immunity agreement, has lost $1.5 million since 2003. Costa Rica has lost about $500,000, and unstable Bolivia has lost $1.5 million.

In addition, the United States International Military Education and Training program, which pays for Latin American military officers to study in the United States, has cut its rolls by 770 officers a year, from an average class of 3,000, military officials said.

Most nations that have lost money are cash-strapped, like Dominica, a Caribbean island which lost $400,000 and was unable to operate its only Coast Guard boat for two years. That meant no drug patrols or searches for fishermen lost at sea, said Crispin Gregoire, Dominica's ambassador to the United Nations.

"We were reeling from the impact of lost aid, and our economy was not in the greatest shape," he said. "The government decided to yield and we ended up signing."

Peru, a close Bush administration ally, has lost about $4 million "You feel the cuts, yes," said Congressman Luis Ibérico, president of the committee that oversees military spending and the antidrug campaign. "These are small amounts, but nevertheless, they're necessary to support our military personnel."

Painful as the cuts are, many countries say they will not budge before American pressure.

"We will not change our principles for any amount of money," said Michael I. King, the Barbados ambassador to the Organization of American States. "We're not going to belly up for $300,000 in training funds."

Worse, from a soft-power standpoint, the U.S. law exempts NATO allies and other wealthy countries from penalties if they don't sign—a welcome recognition that the world's Japans and Australias and Germanys would just laugh at such short-sighted bullying.

And finally, the new agreements don't just protect soldiers and policy-makers. No, according to Forero's article U.S. tourists are also exempt from being turned over to the Hague for committing genocide. Thank goodness; who knows what mischief U.S. tourists currently engage between the time their cruise ships dock and when they finally scamper out of the last dockside trinket shop and up the gangway.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Parsing the Policy Pendulum


Foreign Affairs editor Gideon Rose has a nice op-ed in this morning's Times on the constant swing from idealism to pragmatism and back again in U.S. foreign policy. Episodes of presidential idealism abroad—seen in Truman, Kennedy/Johnson and Carter/Reagan policies—alternate with pragmatic house-cleaning administrations like those of Eisenhower, Nixon and the first President Bush.

Rose rates the current President Bush as an idealist brought up short by events, whose administration is steering toward pragmatism even as he is reluctant to drop the words associated with a historic mission:

Seen in proper perspective ... the Bush administration's signature efforts represent not some durable, world-historical shift in America's approach to foreign policy but merely one more failed idealistic attempt to escape the difficult trade-offs and unpleasant compromises that international politics inevitably demand - even from the strongest power since Rome. Just as they have so many times before, the realists have come in after an election to offer some adult supervision and tidy up the joint. This time it's simply happened under the nose of a victorious incumbent rather than his opponent (which may account for the failure to change the rhetoric along with the policy).

Rose sees a solid performance by Secretary Rice at State as key to this shift. His piece is a fun dose of perspective for those interested in long-term shifts in U.S. attitudes and policies.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Tuesday Round-Up


Just a quick wrap-up of events and publications of interest to myself and other policy heads. Today's theme is career development.

—I highly recommend Daniel Bergner's "The Other Army," a look at the "private security companies" in Iraq, whose 25,000 or so for-profit gunmen do the hard work of guarding and transporting coalition stuff around the country. Although they're attacked at least as frequently as U.S. forces, these private soldiers (usually army, marine and special forces vets lured by the pay and excitement) have an ability to return fire that is unchecked by military rules of engagement. They add immensely to the cost of the occupation—but that's a necessary cost for a nation that can't or won't commit more uniformed troops to the task.

—Al-Jazeera keeps building its rep as The Logical Next Step for BBC grads, and the latest catch may be Beeb legend David Frost. Read all about the Qatar-based network's courtship of Sir David for its new English-language service here. (My usual tip of the hat to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for the initial item.)

—Trial balloons float up from the Pentagon in rapid succession, mainly on a potential drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq and replacing "global war on terrorism" with the weaker "sustained struggle against whomever." Both memes were swatted down by a seemingly startled President Bush. What happened to message discipline between the Pentagon and Penn. Ave.? Is Secretary Rumsfeld angling for an early exit?

Monday, August 15, 2005

Koizumi Passes on Yasukuni


Will he or won't he? was the question on East Asia's lips as the 60th anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender approached. Would Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi make an August 15 trip to the Yasukuni Shrine or not?

As I've written in the past, the question of whether Koizumi would visit a revisionist memorial to Japan's war dead and war criminals, on the symbolic date of Japan's surrender, has occupied East Asia for months.

Now, the L.A. Times' Bruce Wallace writes, Koizumi not only blew off visiting Yasukuni in favor of a visit and joint peace pledge with Emperor Akihito, he issued Japan's umpteenth apology for its aggression during World War II:

... On a day marked in other parts of Asia by demonstrations recalling victory over Japanese occupation and brutality, Koizumi issued a statement reaffirming his country's peaceful intentions.

"Japan is resolved to contribute to world peace and prosperity without starting a war again," the statement said. He went on to apologize for his country's role in the conflict: "Japan caused huge damage and suffering to many countries, especially the people of Asia, with its colonization and aggression.

"Humbly accepting this fact of history, we again express our deep remorse and heartfelt apology and offer our condolences to the victims of the war at home and abroad," the statement said.

This is a pretty big move for Koizumi, who is in major political trouble at home and ignores rising Japanese nationalism at his peril. His job is on the line in Japan's September 11 elections—but Wallace speculates that shunning the Yasukuni shrine is just part of Koizumi's strategy to paint his electoral opponents as political dinosaurs who can't cope with a new, China-dominated East Asia.

Koizumi's tactics should also help ease Japan's strained relations with the PRC and both Koreas.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Beacon No. 58: You've Told Me About It, But What IS It?


As today's Wall Street Journal and others remark, Coca-Cola Co. is blowing the intro of its new Coke Zero brand.

Trying to give its new soft drink some cachet with the kidz, Coke created a series of Coke Zero ads and a Web site giving readers messages like "He who is most chill wins" and "Your mind is your crib. Chill."

What's been missing from Coke's media blitz is any idea of what kind of drink Coke Zero is or why we should drink it. This gap is causing problems for sales, which the WSJ says are just 0.8 percent of supermarket soft-drink receipts.

It's past time for a big stumble by Coke. In 1985 the company ran aground with New Coke, a tasty beverage that it could have just released as a stand-alone drink with a different name. Instead, Coca-Cola marketed it as New Coke, a replacement for its marquee beverage. The whole world balked, sales plummeted, and the company reintroduced "old" Coke as "Coke Classic" with nothing more than a spiffed-up bottle. Things went back to normal for a long time.

Too long, apparently. The Coke execs who learned hard lessons from the New Coke debacle and its expensive aftermath are retired, just as surely as the people who led the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam War were gone by the turn of the century.

So now Coke has produced an ad for Coke Zero "inspired" by the Vietnam-era "Hilltop" commercial, whose fresh look and catchy "I'd like to teach the world to sing" jingle made it one of the most famous ads of all time.

I can't think of anything that would signal creative bankruptcy more than re-shooting "Hilltop" as a Coke Zero hip-hop video atop some building in Philadelphia, with a sideburned Orlando Bloom look-alike lip-synching, "I'd like to teach the world to chill." But that's why I'm not in advertising.

Coke has finally gotten the message that they need to explain what the new drink is, and will begin hinting in new ads that Coke Zero is a zero-calorie diet drink that tastes a lot like Coke Classic. People who try it actually like it—but from a branding standpoint, the damage may already be done.

Didn't anyone at Coke consider that a) Coke Zero will probably just cannibalize either Diet Coke's or Coke's market share, not grow overall cola sales, or that b) last year's bomb of Coke's low-calorie C2 drink was a big hint that it was time to re-think things at Coke's Atlanta HQ?

In case anyone thinks I'm carping at Coke for no good reason, read this excerpt from the Coke Zero Web site's "Chillosophy" section, then try to tell me anything about Coke Zero, the drink, from it:

Protect Your Chill
Coca-Cola Zero is a new kind of beverage that features real Coca-Cola taste, and nothing else. Nothing that could potentially get in the way of your chill. And why should that matter? Because chilling is Important. It's not downtime that happens between things. It IS a thing. A thing worth celebrating and preserving!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Advice for Karen Hughes, Part CXXXIV


Soft Power author Joseph Nye's latest is "Diplomatic Mission" in the Boston Globe. While giving advice to Karen Hughes, he laments the relative paucity of State's public-diplomacy budget compared with Defense's:

While a recent Pew poll shows a slight improvement in America's image in Indonesia and Lebanon, large majorities in the Muslim world remain skeptical about the United States. The United States spends only a billion dollars a year on public diplomacy to get our message out, about the same as Britain or France, though it is five times larger. The nation spends 450 times more than that on our hard military power.
Nye hits all the usual PD buttons: increased visas for students from Muslim countries; more money for U.S. international broadcasting; technology to modernize Arab educational systems. But he also tasks Hughes with coordinating the soft and hard aspects of U.S. foreign policy, a job this Bush inner-circler is uniquely suited for even though Nye doesn't say it in so many words:

Even the best advertising cannot sell if the product is poor. Hughes will have to be able to coordinate the hard and soft power aspects of government policies. She will also have to work with the private and nonprofit sectors. To accomplish our objective of promoting democracy in the region, the United States must develop a long-term strategy of cultural and educational exchanges aimed at creating a richer and more open civil society in Middle Eastern countries.

The most effective spokesmen for the United States are often not Americans but local people who understand US virtues as well as its faults. ...

Much of the work of developing an open civil society can be promoted by corporations, foundations, universities, and other nonprofit organizations, as well as by governments. Companies and foundations can offer technology to help modernize Arab educational systems. US universities can establish more exchange programs for students and faculty. Foundations can support the development of institutions of US studies in Muslim countries or programs that enhance the professionalism of journalists. Private groups can promote the teaching of English and encourage student exchanges. The government can provide encouragement and financing but faces mistrust when it is directly involved.

Hughes will find that America's soft power is difficult to wield because government does not control all the levers. But only when the United States manages to combine this type of soft power with our hard power will it be successful in meeting the challenge of Jihadist terrorism.

And while we're on the subject: Has the new undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs arrived in D.C. yet? Please write and tell me of any sightings.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A Note About Noise

Last Friday I wrote about the noise that a C-5 makes as it flies overhead.

I'd just like to add, for the benefit of those who don't live in Southern California, that the space shuttle's braking maneuver as it approached Edwards Air Force Base this morning, with at least one sonic boom, can be described best as sounding like a loud cannon shot.

It inspired the sudden urge, at about 5:07 a.m., to duck and cover because like many other sleepy Angelenos, I initially mistook the noise for the onset of a big quake.

Beacon No. 57: A GM Innovator Goes Home


In "GM Thrives in China with Small, Thrifty Vans," the Times' Keith Bradsher covers General Motors' success in selling cheap, fuel-efficient vehicles in the People's Republic.

China's small entrepreneurs love the Wuling Sunshine, a sub-$5,000 minivan that GM produces with a Chinese partner. It's short on horsepower by U.S. standards but gets 43 miles per gallon in the city, a critical factor in a still-poor country where the central government is slowly letting the price of gas rise to market levels.

GM and its partners have attained this commanding position through the efforts of an Ohioan, Phillip Murtaugh, who apparently saw early on that fuel efficiency and utilitarian design of the vehicle—rather than interior bells and whistles like eight cup holders and a CD changer—were the way to go in mainland China. It took Murtaugh nine years and a lot of deals to get GM China to number one:

Mr. Murtaugh played a central role in 1996 in setting up the company's main operation in China, a 50-50 joint venture with the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, or S.A.I.C. Instead of following the usual G.M. career track of bouncing through assignments around the world every couple of years, he stayed on to run the operation for nearly a decade.


"Essentially, it is his baby," said Stephen Small, the joint venture's G.M.-appointed chief financial officer.

Mr. Murtaugh never learned to speak Chinese, but he was instrumental in setting up the Liuzhou joint venture, which is 34 percent owned by G.M., 50.1 percent by S.A.I.C. and the rest by the Liuzhou Wuling Automotive Company. His personal skills and ability to explain the latest ways to run a factory, often borrowed from Japanese automakers, made a deep impression with executives here, as did his regular visits.

After nine years of Murtaugh's efforts, GM now produces hundreds of thousands of vehicles annually in the PRC. It's impossible to overstate the importance of this market to General Motors, which is flailing in North America by trying to sell the gas guzzlers it has, rather than the energy-efficient vehicles it might want or wish to have at a later time. A leadership position—particularly against powerhouses like Volkswagen and regional competitors like Hyundai—can only increase GM's soft power along with its purely economic clout.

You'd think a guy with Murtaugh's record could write his own ticket in turnaround-hungry Detroit, where even DaimlerChrysler is now using Lee Iacocca in its ads—but instead Murtaugh walked from GM in March, is currently unemployed, and lives in tiny Cadiz, Kentucky.

Apparently, with China being one of GM's few profit centers, Detroit HQ decided to rein in Murtaugh (whom Bradsher calls a "maverick") by sending a few suits to ride herd on him from offices next door. Murtaugh either saw the writing on the wall and left of his own accord—or fought it quietly and lost.

Either way, his case will sound familiar to anyone who's read The Reckoning, one of David Halberstam's best but least-known books. While detailing the U.S. auto industry's rise and fall up through about 1985, Halberstam lionizes Yutaka Katayama, a young Nissan executive who almost single-handedly created the company's U.S. market and was beloved by Americans who had many reasons to dislike Japanese companies and their cars.

But with success came jealousy back in Japan. Nissan execs called Katayama home to Tokyo one day in 1977 and informed him that he had resigned several days earlier.

Friday, August 05, 2005

"Super Scorpios" to the Rescue


A small Russian sub's propellers got tangled in fishing nets a day ago, and its seven crew are currently sitting in 625 feet of icy water off Kamchatka. Remembering the Kursk disaster and all the flack its navy got for not requesting help sooner, Russia has asked for rescue assistance and the U.S., Britain and Japan are responding.

The U.S. Navy has loaded up at least one C-5 Galaxy in San Diego and is flying it, with an unmanned "Super Scorpio" rescue sub in its belly and 30 sailors, to help out.

The Navy is playing a large public-diplomacy role this year thanks to its own and the Air Force's unmatched ability to throw hundreds of tons of men, food and equipment around the world on a few hours' notice. I hope that, whatever the outcome of the Russia's and the aiding powers' efforts, Moscow will take note that the U.S. is quick to help when the chips are down.

(If you've never seen a C-5 fly in person, you just wouldn't believe it. They're so big that they resemble a distant grey city block floating in the sky until they're right on top of you—and then the noise is unbelievable. For the Russian sailors' sake, I am thrilled that the Air Force's loadmasters can just truck an entire rescue submarine into one, fire up the engines and head for Asia.)

Thursday, August 04, 2005

A Washing Machine and an Argument


In WhirledView, Patricia Kushlis writes "Seeing Is Believing: Nixon, Khrushchev and the Magic of American Exhibits," a look at the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow and the limits of cultural and educational exchanges in public diplomacy. It was at this exhibition that then-Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had their famous debate next to an American-built panel washing machine, but Kushlis and others cite the ANE as an example of what the U.S. was doing right in public diplomacy at that time: having Russian-speaking Americans make the U.S. case one on one:

This was the time when our small Embassy staff was largely confined inside Moscow’s outer ring road. But our exhibits traveled off the beaten path – to places like Ufa, Novosibirsk, Rostov, Tashkent, Baku and Kishinev (now Chisenau, Moldova). These exhibits about American life and American people made millions of American friends. They made friends because Soviets, for the first time, had the opportunity to meet Americans and see for themselves how we lived. On a personal level, Soviets and Americans often got along very well - even in the worst of times.

Kushlis also recalls her time at U.S. Embassy Athens, where Ambassador Monteagle Sterns was determined to bring U.S. culture to town and host groups like the Alvin Ailey Dance Company despite anti-American sentiment and even the murder of a U.S. naval attaché.

She also warns that public diplomacy has its limits when real diplomacy—in the form of policies that other countries can't help but hate—is pulling in the other direction.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Beacon No. 56: The "Matrix Revolutions" of Moscow


In "Russia Steals the Scene," the L.A. Times' Kim Murphy announces that the moribund Russian movie biz is back from the dead. The legendary Soviet-era Mosfilm studios, so abandoned that packs of dogs roamed the halls, are increasingly in demand to make movies like Night Watch, a surprisingly popular vampire-hunting flick:

... Last summer, "Night Watch" opened simultaneously on an unprecedented 325 screens and earned more money in Russia than "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," "Troy" and "The Day After Tomorrow." It outdrew the American film with which it is most often compared, "Matrix Revolutions," by more than a third.

It apparently wasn't a fluke. In February, an improbable historical adventure set during the 1877 Russo-Turkish War, "Turkish Gambit," broke box office records, bringing in $19.2 million and edging out the latest "Star Wars" installment as well as "Alexander." Not bad for a war most Americans have never heard of.

The figures aren't big compared with domestic receipts of American blockbusters, which just get started at $100 million. What is unexpected is that these films are out-earning American blockbusters in Russia. Receipts were negligible for domestic productions just a few years ago.

Audiences in places as disparate as Russia, Poland, Hungary and Turkey are beginning to signal an occasional preference for domestic fare, cast with familiar faces in recognizable locales, over films from Hollywood.

Murphy also reports a rising preference for Russian fare in the culturally similar Ukraine, while the Czech and Turkish film industries are also showing their products to record domestic audiences.

The odd thing, Murphy notes, is that the current Russian cinema-building spree may be traced to Rochester, N.Y.-based Kodak's decision to open a glitzy, stupefyingly pricey theater in downtown Moscow in 1995. Even charging $15 a ticket, it drew huge crowds and Russia's movie business has been on the upswing ever since.

Note that Night Watch will be released in the U.S. later this year after an enthusiastic reception at New York's Tribeca Film Festival, and Fox Searchlight has already optioned a potential Night Watch 2.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

How Do You Say "Toontown" in Arabic?


It takes a lot of work to understand another culture's perspective, but Shujaat, the cartoonist for Al-Jazeera's Web site, makes it a lot easier. The artist's stand-alone cartoons have been made into short animations and posted on Al-Jazeera's English-language Web site, where gringo viewers like myself can get a window on Arab concerns without mediators.

Shujaat's cartoons demonstrate that language matters. In "Drop It," an Israeli vice premier is shown carelessly saying that the Palestinian refusal to disarm resistance groups has dropped a "cluster bomb" on chances of renewing peace talks. You can guess what comes next: Israeli jets dropping actual cluster bombs on a hillside town in Gaza. (The jets are clearly American-made F-16s, by the way.)

None of this is particularly highbrow, but as a sort of Arab Herblock, Shujaat is equally frank about do-nothing Arab leaders, Arab lip service to pan-Arab brotherhood, and anemic Western aid to Afghanistan and Africa, and is worth following regularly.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Beacon No. 55: Extremely Good Riddance to U.S. Forces


On Friday the Uzbek government announced it was evicting U.S. forces from Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan, where they've been stationed since shortly after September 11.

Perfect. And here's why:

K-2, as it's called, is a major staging area for U.S. air and ground operations in Afghanistan and in 180 days—when the eviction order takes effect—U.S. forces will have to scramble to fill the gap via bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The military's loss could turn into a big win for U.S. public diplomacy, though, because K-2 is being closed in direct retaliation for U.S. criticism of the regime in Tashkent—and specifically because the U.S. stuck its neck out to help the United Nations evacuate Uzbeks who still fear for their lives following the Andijon massacre.
In other words, the U.S. decided weeks ago that it would keep calling for an investigation of the Andijon massacre, openly siding with the Uzbek people against Islam Karimov's trigger-happy dictatorship in Tashkent. It did so calmly and against specific threats by Tashkent against the K-2 base; also, the U.S. knew that if it got kicked out that regional competitors would fill the vacuum, as today's Wall Street Journal speculates ("Russia, China May Gain from U.S.-Uzbek Rift," no URL).

In the short term, the U.S. has to spend more on jet fuel and C-17 parts to bring troops, supplies and equipment directly to Afghanistan from Europe and elsewhere. Its military position in the region is somewhat weaker while its competitors are gaining. But these consequences are worth it since they emphasize that to the U.S., democracy and the Andijon inquiry are more important.

This whole episode is something that Karen Hughes & Co. would do well to shout to the skies in regions where U.S. rhetoric and reality aren't yet so tightly linked.
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