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.

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