Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Danes Take Some Heat


Cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in various unflattering situations have appeared in Scandinavia, first in a Danish newspaper with reprints in a like-minded Norwegian counterpart:

The cartoons included one of the prophet as a crazed, knife-wielding Bedouin and another of him at the gates of heaven telling suicide bombers: "Stop. Stop. We have run out of virgins!" -- a reference to the belief of some Muslim extremists that male suicide bombers are rewarded in heaven with 72 virgins.

Saudi Arabia and Libya have pulled their ambassadors from Copenhagen in response—but surprise!—the normally fainthearted EU is backing Danish free speech, no matter how blasphemous, for now by warning Muslim countries that any boycott of Danish goods violates World Trade Organization rules. Nonetheless, a Denmark-based dairy group with $421 million in annual Middle Eastern revenues says sales have essentially stopped.

Read the Post's action-packed account of this brouhaha to see the EU version of the First Amendment make its stand.

Monday, January 30, 2006

KPRC, 91.9 FM in Nairobi


Len Baldyga passes along a Voice of America article on the People’s Republic’s new radio broadcasts in East Africa:

State-run China Radio International Friday launched its FM station in the Kenyan capital. The move is seen as a way for the Asian country to have a greater influence in Africa.

The station is transmitting 19 hours of programming in English, Kiswahili (the language widely spoken in East Africa) and standard Chinese.

China Radio International director Wang Gengnian said in a statement the station will broadcast the latest news from China and around the world and "the latest on friendly exchanges between China and Kenya."

One observer sees the PRC broadcasts as a move to augment its record-high trade with Africa—especially in oil from Sudan—with reputation-enhancing broadcasting:

Kodi Barth is a journalism lecturer at the United States International University in Nairobi and writes a column about the media in one of Kenya's daily newspapers. He tells VOA that he believes the new radio station is connected with China's increasing economic activities and interests in Kenya and the rest of East Africa.

Barth says Kenyans may initially tune into the station out of curiosity, but will have trouble competing with Voice of America, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and other foreign heavyweights.

"Historically Kenyans seem to identify with the BBC," he said. "I think they occupy a market that's hard to beat, maybe because of Kenya's history with Britain. The Voice of America also, Kenyans tend to turn to VOA when they're looking for what they regard as independent analysis of their country. Now I don't see that happening with the Chinese radio, maybe because Kenyans haven't perceived the Chinese as interested in democratic space or independent views."

It’s unlikely the PRC is expanding its Africa broadcasts out of the goodness of its heart; as many observers have noted, Beijing seeks Africa’s extensive mineral wealth and has moved aggressively to secure it. China Radio International already broadcasts extensively in English and other languages, and already has offices in Lagos, Nigeria—a no-brainer for its oil interests—and Harare, Zimbabwe, perhaps as a sop to the Robert Mugabe government that controls access to large amounts of chromite and platinum.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Hinduism is 111.5 Trillion Years Old


Just a light entry today, with a minimum of commentary.

On January 25 the Eccentric Star site posted a lengthy Christian Science Monitor story on Hindu nationalists’ attempts to influence school textbooks—in California. It's enough to try rewriting history on the Indian subcontinent, where the nationalists are permanent political movers and shakers—but in Sacramento?

It's worth reading the CSM story for comic value alone, since the Hindus' attempts to influence California school textbook language make the loopier ideas of U.S. creationists look Nobel Prize-worthy.

Instigating the California debate were two US-based Hindu groups with long ties to Hindu nationalist parties in India. One, the Vedic Foundation, is a small Hindu sect that aims at simplifying Hinduism to the worship of one god, Vishnu. The other, the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF), was founded in 2004 by a branch of the right-wing Indian group the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

This year, as California's Board of Education commissioned and put up for review textbooks to be used in its 6th-grade classrooms, these two groups came forward with demands for substantial changes.

Some of the changes were no-brainers. One section said, incorrectly, that the Hindi language is written in Arabic script. One photo caption misidentified a Muslim as a Brahman priest.

But instead of focusing on such errors, the groups took steps to add their own nationalist imprint to Indian history.

In one edit, the HEF asked the textbook publisher to change a sentence describing discrimination against women in ancient society to the following: "Men had different duties (dharma) as well as rights than women."

In another edit, the HEF objected to a sentence that said that Aryan rulers had "created a caste system" in India that kept groups separated according to their jobs. The HEF asked this to be changed to the following: "During Vedic times, people were divided into different social groups (varnas) based on their capacity to undertake a particular profession."

The hottest debate centered on when Indian civilization began, and by whom. For the past 150 years, most historical, linguistic, and archaeological research has dated India's earliest settlements to around 2600 BC. And most established historical research contends that the cornerstone of Indian civilization - the practice of Hindu religion - was codified by people who came from outside India, specifically Aryan language speakers from the steppes of Central Asia.

Many Hindu nationalists are upset by the notion that Hinduism could be yet another religion, like Islam and Christianity, with foreign roots. The HEF and Vedic Foundation both lobbied hard to change the wording of California's textbooks so that Hinduism would be described as purely home grown....

Eliminate mentions of discrimination against women as discrimination against women; put a noble spin on the despised caste system; portray Hinduism as somehow mystically wedded to the land despite evidence to the contrary. I should also mention that the Vedic Foundation until recently had a note on its site claiming Hinduism was 111.5 trillion years old; current theories hold that the Solar System itself is only 4.6 billion years old.

Why the Hindu nationalist groups feel they should export their worldview to the Left Coast is unclear. I could make all sorts of arguments about how these groups stand to reap soft-power benefits downstream from Californian schoolchildren trained to see the Hindu nationalist worldview as right and just. But maybe it's just embarrassing that some nations and states take their science and history more seriously.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fourth-Generation Warfare, in Its Own Words


Conventional wisdom holds that the quality of U.S. human intelligence has fallen sharply since the end of the Cold War; we just don’t have the spies, the thinking goes, to discern enemy intentions and plans.

If an adversary feels forced to broadcast its mindset and intentions, though, the job of fighting it should become easier. This seems to be the case in Iraq, according to USA Today, which reported January 25 on the U.S. military’s use of insurgent propaganda videos as a training tool. Army Training and Doctrine Command has created a PowerPoint report for Army officers that helps explain the mindset and tactics insurgents use to attack U.S. forces:

"Insurgent videos have grown complex and sophisticated, with detailed graphics, English subtitles, English narrators, Jihadist 'humor,' and insults directed at the coalition to weaken (coalition forces') resolve and popular support," the report says. The document warns U.S. soldiers that "any non-media or not-CF (coalition forces) personnel with a camera should be considered suspicious."

The briefing is presented in the form of PowerPoint slides that have also been shown to soldiers already deployed in Iraq. It offers insights into insurgent tactics with the help of videos and photos taken by the insurgents themselves.

One shows an incident Aug. 10 when an Army supply truck passed a homemade road sign that concealed a bomb. In one image, the tractor-trailer is completely obscured by the fiery blast. The briefing warns that some roadside bombs are "victim activated," meaning that the motion of a passing vehicle sets off the explosive.

That bit about English subtitles and narrators is chilling—who are the insurgents recruiting that must be spoken to in a Western language?—but it’s more important that U.S. forces have a window into what the insurgents themselves consider their strongest propaganda points. Commentators speak despairingly of the Iraq insurgents as a “learning enemy,” but two can play at that game.

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Beacon No. 77: Al-Qa’ida Leaders’ Ratings Drop


John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for January 19-20 highlights two complementary stories.

The first is a BBC News article headlined “Arab media shun al-Qaeda message.” While there have been recent messages from Osama bin Laden, his purported number two Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qa’ida’s operations in Iraq, Arab coverage of their audio and video escapades has lately shrunk, the BBC says:

Both [al-Zawahiri and al-Zarqawi] have released communications this month and both have received short shrift in much of the Arab media, giving a sense that they may be losing ground in their propaganda struggle.

Their communications were also both broadcast on al-Jazeera, which remains the most watched Arab news station. Al-Jazeera broadcast Zawahiri's latest video as an exclusive on 6 January.


It ran several excerpts, though not the full video, and hosted a discussion programme on its importance.

The station also picked up the audiotape purportedly by Zarqawi from the radical Islamist website where it had been posted and broadcast excerpts on 9 January.

In the following days, a number of newspapers and commentators across the Arab world attacked and even ridiculed the two statements.

The BBC takes this as evidence that violent, radicalized messages may be losing ground to voices preaching more political, participatory forms of Islam. The organic evidence for this is that increasingly competitive, ratings-sensitive Arab media now pick and choose what to show, rather than letting 7th-century infomercials run full length—rather like the U.S. networks’ skeletal coverage of 19th-century American political conventions.

The Arab media are also bracketing these messages with extensive discussions, call-in shows and editorials.

It seems like it’s newly empowered Arab politicians who are pushing back hardest against bin Laden et al.:

TV stations in Iraq ignored them almost completely. The criticism directed by Zarqawi at Iraqi Sunnis who participated in the recent elections drew strong criticism from Sunni politicians.

Leaders of the main Sunni party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, issued denunciations of Zarqawi's call for Iraqi Sunnis to side with the insurgency and not the political process in the international Arab media, such as the Dubai-based TV station, al-Arabiya, and the influential pan-Arab newspaper, al-Hayat.

There was similar reaction from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which was attacked by Zawahiri in his latest video for taking part in Egypt's recent parliamentary elections.

The organisation's deputy leader, Muhammad Habib, warned on the Muslim Brotherhood website that Zawahiri's violent tactics would "open the doors to evil and create total chaos".

Note Habib’s expressed fear of Iraq-style chaos, which in Egypt would work against the Brotherhood’s recent electoral gains. Sunni Iraqi politicians, too, now have a vested interest in their own system; while they have no love for American occupiers, they have much to lose from any al-Qa’ida gains in Iraq.

The second piece that caught my eye is Alvin Snyder’s “Al-Jazeera’s Middle East Popularity Wanes as Its North American Sibling Wants to Leave Home.” Snyder’s got access to ratings figures that show Al-Jazeera’s share of the Saudi audience dropping in favor of the Saudi-government (and more moderate) al-Arabiya:

[Middle East TV survey organization] IPSOS-STAT says that the weakening viewership of Al Jazeera is not confined to Saudi Arabia, which is inhabited by some 18 million persons, "most of whom are wealthy with high purchasing power." The trend shows a weakening of Al Jazeera's former lead throughout the region, with Al Arabiya getting stronger, although Al Jazeera is still leading in Kuwait, for example.

Could it be that some Middle East viewers are tiring of Al Jazeera, which is often perceived as a more "radical and Islamic" network? This image of Al Jazeera as a conduit for terrorist videos is currently being reinforced with the video obtained from kidnappers showing Jill Carroll, the Christian Science Monitor reporter who is being held hostage, and the Osama bin Laden audio tape threatening another attack on the United States.

Al Arabiya's content is seen by IPSOS-STAT as more moderate and seemingly more in tune with what viewers want to watch, and Al Arabiya's management is given credit for being "more enlightened and visionary."

Crucially, al-Arabiya also broadcasts its signal so that rooftop antennas and regular TVs can pick up its signals, as opposed to al-Jazeera’s satellite-only broadcasts, making al-Arabiya’s potential influence on the millions who can’t afford satellite TV more profound.

Continuing to broadcast videos of terrorists and hostages—like the Christian Science Monitor’s Jill Carroll—is also handicapping al-Jazeera’s efforts to establish its upcoming English-language in the U.S., Snyder writes:

Because Al Jazeera International is scheduled to officially launch its service to the United States and Australia in March, it is hurrying to persuade cable television systems to carry its program service and get commercial sponsors to pay the bills at a time when its parent channel is hawking a kidnapper video. The controversial cable channel reportedly is not succeeding in lining up cable channels or advertisers in the United States, the world's largest commercial market.

Failing in the U.S. would further damage al-Jazeera’s prestige and might vault al-Arabiya and even younger competitors past it for good. If the Arab media really are veering toward more moderate programming, al-Jazeera will have to decide quickly what it’s worth to continually be first with news from kidnappers and caves.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Hi-Ho, It’s Al-Aksa TV


Craig S. Smith’s “Warm and Fuzzy TV, Brought to You by Hamas” describes a new bid by the Palestinian political party/terror group/social-service organization to increase its influence within Palestinian society: a local and, soon, a satellite-broadcast operation called Al-Aksa TV:

The current 12 hours of daily television programming, which has the unfinished look of public-access cable television in the United States, consists primarily of readings from the Koran, religious discourse and discussions of women's issues, such as Islamic fashion, child-rearing tips and the right of women to work, which Hamas supports. It will eventually feature a sort of Islamic MTV, with Hamas-produced music videos using footage from the group's fights with Israeli troops. There will even be a talent search show, a distant echo of "American Idol."

But its biggest star will be Mr. Sharawi, whose radio show for children was the Voice of Al Aksa [radio’s] biggest hit.

That would be Hazim Sharawi, a 27-year-old veteran of Hamas radio who has a way with children:

... Sharawi, whose stage name is Uncle Hazim, is a quiet, doe-eyed young man who has an easy way with children and will soon preside over a children's television show here on which he'll cavort with men in larger-than-life, fake-fur animal suits on the Gaza Strip's newest television station, Al Aksa TV.

But Captain Kangaroo this is not. The station, named for Islam's third holiest site, is owned by Hamas, the people who helped make suicide bombing a household term.

"Our television show will have a message, but without getting into the tanks, the guns, the killing and the blood," said Mr. Sharawi, sitting in the broadcast studio where he will produce his show.

"I will show them our rights through the history," he said, "show them, 'This is Nablus, this is Gaza, this is Al Aksa mosque, which is with the Israelis and should be in our hands.' "

As with yesterday’s post, Hamas takes educating the youth as its starting point.

Interestingly, Hamas needed a broadcast license from the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, which granted it—either in acknowledgment of Hamas’ increasing influence in the Palestinian Territories or as a belated sign of pluralism from the formerly Arafat-led Fatah.

With increasing TV competition in the region, look for Nielsen ratings—or their eastern Mediterranean equivalents—to become an important proxy for more complex and expensive public-opinion polls.

I’ll be taking some time away in the next few days but will be back in the saddle on Tuesday.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Get Colonized!


Rachel Ehrenfeld’s “Saudi interest in America” tries to sound the alarm about Saudi Arabian ownership of commercial and media properties in the U.S. Ms. Ehrenfeld writes that Saudi investors have approximately $400-$800 billion invested in the States, and worries that these investments could be leverage in an “economic jihad.”

Most interesting to me is that, while the U.S. takes years agonizing over where to use its few public-diplomacy dollars, Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal can simply write a check—and has:

... Substantial Saudi and Gulf financial contributions "to bring the proper message to America's brightest minds," are pouring into U.S. educational institutions through Arab and Islamic centers and professorial chairs. Last month [Prince Al-Waleed] gave $20 million each to Georgetown and Harvard universities. According to the Center for Religious Freedom, the Saudis also supply textbooks for public libraries, schools and colleges, and provide the content concerning Islam to some U.S. textbook publishers.

The prince’s donations to Harvard and Georgetown grant him direct access to the minds of two of the most respected U.S. universities, from which much of the policy establishment consistently originates. (Just at the very top of the food chain are Theodore Roosevelt, Harvard ‘80, John F. Kennedy, Harvard ’40; William Jefferson Clinton, Georgetown ’68).

I’d love to hear about how much Saudis spend to buy textbooks for U.S. libraries, schools and colleges, and especially—shades of video news releases!—which American textbook publishers are accepting the Saudis’ prepackaged words on Islam.

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

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Suicide Bomber as Rock Star


Following my previous post on Tony Corn's "World War IV as Fourth-Generation Warfare," here's a short piece from Scientific American titled "Murdercide: Science unravels the myth of suicide bombers." The article includes a demographic breakdown of the typical suicide bomber—well-educated, from a stable family, with personal and professional commitments outstanding, which is a delicate way of saying "X is survived by his wife of Y years and Z children." More interestingly, there's some brief theorizing on how suicide bombers begin their careers—the glamour!—and end them—don't let down the team!

[Florida State University psychologist Thomas] Joiner postulates that a necessary condition for suicide is habituation to the fear about the pain involved in the act. How do terrorist organizations infuse this condition in their recruits? One way is through psychological reinforcement. University of Haifa political scientist Ami Pedahzur writes in Suicide Terrorism (Polity Press, 2005) that the celebration and commemoration of suicide bombings that began in the 1980s changed a culture into one that idolizes martyrdom and its hero. Today murderciders appear in posters like star athletes.

Another method of control is "group dynamics." Says Sageman: "The prospective terrorists joined the jihad through preexisting social bonds with people who were already terrorists or had decided to join as a group. In 65 percent of the cases, preexisting friendship bonds played an important role in this process." Those personal connections help to override the natural inclination to avoid self-immolation. "The suicide bombers in Spain are another perfect example. Seven terrorists sharing an apartment and one saying, 'Tonight we're all going to go, guys.' You can't betray your friends, and so you go along. Individually, they probably would not have done it."

I would laugh at this except that I used to play a future-combat game called Unreal Tournament, with computer-generated teammates who were in no way real except for their focus on accomplishing the team's violent. Weeks into this binge I found myself pushing harder to accomplish those goals in a scenario called "Bombing Run" that involved repeated self-immolation because I didn't want to let down the side. What will Widowmaker and Shard think of me then?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Beacon No. 76: Let’s Start with the Guys at the Top


Fellow policy wonk Andy Valvur points me to the right-ish RealClearPolitics site, where Tony Corn’s “World War IV as Fourth-Generation Warfare” has attracted attention mainly for its back-of-the-envelope estimate of how many suicide bombers the West may face:

Even if only 1 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims were to end up being seduced by the global jihad, the West and moderate Muslim regimes would still have to deal with some 12 million jihadists spread across more than 60 countries. And if only 1 percent of these 12 million were to opt for “martyrdom operations,” the West would still have to deal, for a generation at least, with some 120,000 suicide bombers.

But Corn's larger agenda is to frame global jihad and potential responses to it so that State and Defense can avoid inefficiencies secondary to today's “heterogeneous concepts, doctrines, lenses, frames of reference, metrics, etc.”

From a public-diplomacy standpoint, salient point in Corn’s roughly 10,000 words is that he eschews the bottom-up, hearts-and-minds, I’m-a-mom-too approach that’s in vogue at State right now. Since the countries where the U.S. most needs to change hearts and minds are dictatorships or at least authoritarian regimes, Corn argues, let’s focus on the minds (and religion) of the elites for a generation and watch the results trickle down:

... The destiny of 1.2 billion Muslims is today inordinately shaped by a few thousand Saudi princes, Egyptian clerics, and Gulf news editors, and that therefore the guiding principle of the war of ideas should be the principle of economy of force. Don’t say, for instance, “Islam needs its Martin Luther,” if only because his 95 theses ushered in a 150-year-long bloody insurgency within Christendom. Say instead, “The Saudi Caliphate needs to undertake its own Vatican II.”


First, in the Middle East, not only is political power in the hands of the military, but the armed forces are also economic actors in their own right, and incentives will have to be found if we ever want to see the military disengage from economic life. Second, the promotion by the West of a Russian-style “shock therapy” approach would not only alienate the Muslim Street (and thus undermine the battle for hearts and minds), but it would also be the surest way to contribute to the emergence of new mafia states. One thing is sure: Between phase one (religion-shaping and knowledge-building) and phase two (state-shrinking and market-building) of a forward strategy of freedom, the two crucial target audiences of public diplomacy and information operations will have to be not women and youth (the current fashion), but the Muslim clergy (first line of offense) and the Muslim military (first line of defense). [Emphasis mine.--PK] When it comes to the battle for hearts and minds in the Middle East, the old Clausewitzian trinity (government, people, military) will have to give way to a more focused mullah-media-military trinity.

It’s also interesting that Corn’s piece discusses exploiting the dialogue within Islam and within the Sunni-drive Iraq insurgency just as the opportunity to do so is ripening.

Corn’s paper is laced with the kinds of jargon he claims to dislike—note that “mullah-media-military” line even though he finds Barnett’s “disconnectedness defines danger” to be “crude and misleading”—but it’s worth sitting down with the paper and a cup of coffee for an unsentimental view at what the U.S. might do in both hard and soft power.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Mandarin's All the Rage


In "Another Chinese Export Is All the Rage," Howard French writes at length about China's Confucius Institutes,

a global network of Chinese cultural centers, called Confucius Institutes, to teach foreigners throughout the world a language with a forbidding reputation for difficulty. But far from having to round people up, Ms. Xu is finding they are beating down her door.

"There is a China frenzy around the world at the moment," she said. "The launch of this program is in response to the Chinese language craze, especially in neighboring countries."

For decades, people in those countries have viewed China with deep suspicion. But now mastering Chinese as a door to lucrative business opportunities, or simply as a matter of popular fashion, is suddenly all the vogue - not only there but in the United States and Europe as well.

Just as new, though, is the decision of the Chinese government to ride the wave, not just capitalizing on the newfound chic that surrounds the language but also determined to perpetuate it as a way of extending Chinese international influence and good will toward the country.

See previous Beacon coverage of the Confucius Institutes here and of the PRC's aggressive courting of African elites here. I also discussed Joe Lieberman and Lamar Alexander's effort to increase U.S. education in Mandarin here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Assad the Syrian


Joshua Landis' Syria Comment is one of the most influential blogs written by a gringo living in the Middle East. Landis has apparently left Damascus at least for now, but thankfully has kept Syria Comment alive thus far.

On January 7 he wrote "Will Asad Fall?", a round-up of doom and gloom about Syria's secular shaykh, Bashar al-Assad. Besieged on all sides by the U.N., Turkey and Israel, Washington's threats and its army in Iraq, and traitorous former vice presidents, Assad is acting to shore up his brand at home:

The blog Hunna Syria remarks on how the Baath Party flag has been taken down in front of some ministries, leaving only the Syria flag flying. Flying the Syrian flag without other embellishments has become the norm during the past several months. Even posters and images of the President are surprisingly absent. In Hafiz's day, it would have been the "struggling leader" whose image would have been brandished and displayed throughout Syria in times of crisis. No longer. The Syrian flag is accompanied by the words: "God protect Syria." Bashar has decided to go with "God and Country," rather than the cult of personal or party leadership. Asadism is out. Patriotism is in.

In this time when the international community and Bashar's opponents, such as Khaddam and the Muslim Brotherhood, are trying to distinguish between the house of Asad and the nation, this is a smart move. By championing God and country Bashar trying to undercut this attempt to drive a wedge between him and the people. We will see if it works. All the same it is a welcome development, for Syria has too long suffered from a lack of "Syrianism" and too much "Arabism." Perhaps an unintended benefit of Syria's crisis will be to create a real debate about what is good for Syria and not the quasi-mythic Arab world or its leaders, who have for so long sought to confuse their own interests with those of the nation.

Assad appears to be trying to identify his own interests with those of the Syrian people. His next logical step would be to choose a domestic scapegoat that patriotic "real Syrians" can rally against. Historically that would be the Jews, but they've practically all decamped to Israel except for the protected few in Damascus. The Islamists in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood are becoming too powerful.

Hmm. ... Wonder if the Kurds are free this weekend?

"Will Asad Fall?" is lengthy, but a rewarding read for background on Syria's and Assad's options.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Not Much for Civilians


From John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Review comes this story and this one on President Bush’s announcement of $114 million in new funds for strategic-language training:

Confronting a dire shortage of U.S. foreign language speakers, the Bush administration on Thursday announced a plan to boost teaching of "critical" languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi and Farsi.

State Department officials said the National Security Language Initiative was aimed at getting children involved in learning foreign languages from kindergarten and at funding more programs through university-level and beyond.

"Our goal is in essence to ramp up the mastery of these critical languages, not solely for national security reasons but also in terms of America's standing in the world," said Assistant Secretary of State Barry Lowenkron.

At first I was dismayed to read that only half the funds would go to public schools through the Education Department, with the other half heading toward the Pentagon and national intelligence establishment—in other words, toward teaching adults for whom learning foreign languages is already time-consuming and distracting, rather than a natural part of the day.

In addition, the ABC News story says the Pentagon has already earmarked $750 million over the five fiscal years starting in 2007 for language training. Assuming the Pentagon spends that money steadily, that means there's about $178.5 million in language-training funds for the 1,427,000 U.S. citizens under arms in 2007, or $125.08 per soldier. The president’s $114 million, on the other hand, has to be spread among tens of millions of U.S. schoolchildren.

But as I kept reading, the Times story’s details became more encouraging: It appears that the president’s funding, while small, is headed to the right places:

The money would:

--go to primary and secondary schools through grants that support foreign language programs.

--help pay for ''feeder'' programs to train students at all levels.

--pay for 300 foreigners to come to the U.S. to teach understudied languages in the 2006-2007 school year.

--pay to send 100 U.S. teachers overseas to study those languages.

--provide scholarships for up to 3,000 high school students to study abroad by summer 2009.

A solid start for the massive expansion of U.S. language training that will be needed in the upcoming multipolar world. Now all that’s needed is more dollars—and since U.S. budget deficits are partly funded by China’s and Saudi Arabia’s ongoing purchases of U.S. debt, those countries are actually paying us to get better at talking to them and listening to them.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Arvind Virmani and “National Power Potential”


I’m starting to think about elements of an aggregate measure of soft power—which may as well be called “squishy power” because of the difficulty people have in measuring it.

How can you measure reputation, brand, influence? This is a fairly simple task with something like consumer goods: total sales are an excellent indicator of both a product’s quality and how consumers perceive its manufacturer.

Creative properties are an exception to this rule; sales of movie tickets indicate everything about an individual movie’s influence but nothing about the reputation of its manufacturer, a movie studio. No one says to themselves, “Let’s see this movie by Fox, the last Fox movie we saw was excellent!” That privilege is reserved to the Steven Spielbergs and Robert DeNiros of the world, whose brands are substantially more powerful than their “employers.”

Measuring the soft power of nations is a fearsomely complex task, though, and opinions vary on how best to approach the task.

Opinion polls are one starting point, and Zogby as well as other organizations poll internationally to find out what everyone thinks of everyone else. But polling is overly sensitive to how people feel that day, and can be overly affected by day-to-day news events: a reckless U.S. fighter pilot accidentally cuts a gondola cable in Italy, killing Italian citizens and causing an otherwise reliable ally to think badly of the U.S. as a whole.

I would start measuring soft power by first finding good measures of hard power. Most observers would agree that soft power is at least partly a function of hard power; a country’s level of economic development, technological achievement and military prowess are at least part of why others might want to emulate it.

As part of my campaign to lend structure to Beacon in 2006, I’ll be groping around ways to measure soft power on Thursdays, which I’m resisting calling “theoretical Thursdays.” Today I’ll point to a paper that Jeff Ubois pointed me toward: The Economic Basis of Global Power: VIP, a Simple Measure of National Power Potential, by Arvind Virmani, formerly of the India Council for Research on International Economic Relations in New Delhi.

Virmani proposes a scheme for measuring national power potential—whether a country is or may become a global or regional power—by simply multiplying its GDP by its per-capita GDP, and measuring the results as a percentage against the benchmark (100%) U.S. numbers. That produces this list:

1. United States (100%)
2. Japan (27%)
3. China (25%)
4. Germany (17%)
5. France (12%)
6. United Kingdom (12%)
7. Italy (11%)
8. India (8.5%)
9. Canada (7.8%)
10. Russia (6.5%)
11. Spain (6.4%)
12. Brazil (5.8%)
13. Korea (5.5%)
14. Australia (4.7%)

Virmani projects that these numbers will change dramatically as big population increases and relatively small increases in per-capita GDP combine to vault first China and then India into the ranks of global powers, while European rankings will sink as their populations sag and because they have essentially hit a ceiling in per-capita GDP.

It’s an interesting scheme and I haven’t had time to read Virmani’s entire paper, which you can download from here, but there’s also an excellent summary on a Web discussion board here. I think any measurement of soft power would have to start as an overlay on this sort of simple calculation of hard power—but what do you think? Feel free to chime in.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Beacon No. 75: Reston the Younger


Historian James Reston Jr.—yes, that's Scotty Reston’s son—has a questionable opinion piece on NPR’s Morning Edition program today. In “Bush Administration Misuses the Word ‘Caliphate,’” an NPR announcer mentions the alleged Ayman al-Zawahiri letter saying that one of Al-Qa’ida’s main goals after the U.S. leaves Iraq is the establishment of a “caliphate” in the Middle East, noting that Rumsfeld and others have invoked the term as a “warning to the West about terrorist designs.”

From here, Mr. Reston argues that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has misappropriated “caliphate”:

The secretary is putting this word out as a warning, saying that Americans must beware of a terrorist scheme to establish a totalitarian caliphate stretching all the way from Indonesia across the Middle East to Spain. This is nonsense. To be sure, the concept sounds menacing as it evokes scary images of bloodthirsty Oriental despots in black turbans and silk caftans. To the Islamic world, however, this will be seen as yet another slur on Arab history. The caliphates of Medina, Baghdad, Cairo, Istanbul and Cairo, Spain represent the height of Arab and Islamic achievement.

Reston continues by saying that the first four caliphs ruled with the political support of the vast majority of their populace and were also religious leaders:

It should not be forgotten that the defense of the faith is at the heart of the resistance to the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. To slur the word “caliphate” is to insult the chief function of the caliph: To defend the lands of Islam against foreign invaders.

Reston then notes that we are involved in a “clash of civilizations” with the Arab world and says that insulting the glories of Arab history and linking them to “terrorist pipe dreams of worldwide Islamic domination” is not helpful.

It is a palpable absurdity to imagine the killers of Al-Qa’ida ruling a true caliphate from Indonesia to Spain. To say so only dignifies and gives weight to terrorist claptrap, and makes it harder for the leaders of mainstream Islam to take control of popular sentiment in the Middle East. ... Slurring the caliphates of Arab history is a gift to the terrorists.

Reston, author of Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade, should know better. Al-Qa’ida’s goals do not include world domination, but precisely the restoration of caliphates to their medieval high-water marks that he sees as a pipe dream. Since Al-Qa’ida can then claim its goals are limited—We only want what was ours, nothing more—other ideas, like using force to turn society's clock back to the time of the Prophet, sound quite reasonable to millions in the Islamic world. These citizens are then encouraged to see all of history after about 1450 AD as an encroachment on divinely Muslim lands. In this long-term perspective, the last half-millennium or so is categorized as a temporary setback.

The problem is not that Donald Rumsfeld is somehow dignifying Al-Qa’ida with a response; the problem is that Al-Qa’ida is successfully tapping into the long-held dream of a Muslim world again united and purified under a new caliphate. It is entirely legitimate that Rumsfeld discuss the “caliphate” idea to remind Americans, European allies and, yes, Muslims, of what is at stake in the fight against Al-Qa’ida.

Incidentally, the CIA has an interesting New Caliphate scenario, highlighting the idea that a caliphate need not be a physical Seville-to-Sulawesi empire to disturb the international order and cause major Sunni-Shi’a infighting. It is Al-Qa’ida’s ideas that are a menace, not its ability to directly control politics in dozens of Muslim countries.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

If It's Tuesday, It Must Be History


Going forward I’d like to devote Beacon’s Tuesday posts to history, which serves the dual purposes of putting today’s struggles over soft versus hard power in context and allows me to
justify the incredible amount of time I spent reading history over the holiday break.

Your author has gone Roman in a big way, first by finishing Tom Holland’s Rubicon and second by finally starting Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The first largely ends with Julius Caesar stomping all competitors in 44 BC and becoming an authentic dictator (though not generally considered an emperor), while Decline doesn’t really give more than background until the reign of Commodus begins in 177 AD.

The parallels between the period of the late Republic and today—a single superpower with an irresistible military, a potentially lasting switch from defensive to preemptive war, corruption in a legislature increasingly devoted to personality, a populace enthralled by the “vice” of luxury—are eerie, but I take comfort in knowing that it took around two centuries for the Republic to go completely off the rails. In the meantime, Rome spent a lot of energy establishing the Pax Romana and convincing the world of its good intentions; there were many effective emperors and multiple points at which the Empire’s slide toward frank dictatorship and dissolution could have been reversed.

I’ll hope to discuss the soft power of Rome and other historic entities, and how their experiences may be useful as context for today’s world, on Tuesdays.

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