Yes, Obama Can

Wow. Take a few days to work and suddenly issues break out all over.

There’s a lot to unpack in what’s happened for the last few days in Obama-land. It’s late here in Milwaukee, and I don’t think I can do my thinking on this complete justice yet – but I do think I can do a fast pass over the issues as I see them and then try and dig a bit deeper over the next few days, unless events overtake me again.

Do I still support Obama? Yes. Am I shocked by anything I’m seeing in the news over the last week? No. Do they change my views of who Obama is or the implications for his candidacy? No. I do think there may be a huge impact on his candidacy – and I’m really reassured by the fact that a McCain presidency won’t make my head explode.

Let me make a pair of general comments that seem relevant, make a general comment about what I think Obama’s politics are and mean, and the wrap up for tonight.

First, I’m amused to see the politics of crazy intolerance that have made so many on the right – and some of us on the left – disgusted with the PC left (anyone else feeling schadenfreude over ‘Jungle Girl‘-gate?) play out on the right.

Yes, Wright is a liberation theologist with a bunch of views that range from wacky to disgusting. But you know, damning Obama for having a relationship with him is like damning me for having a relationship with arguably-racist Jeff Cooper or with some of my more outrageously right-wing friends from my shooting community. It’s like my conservative friends damning me because I have other friends who are Chomskyites.The reality is that we all know people who hold views that are better not exposed to the bright light of public scrutiny. That doesn’t mean – necessarily – that they are horrible people. many good people – even great people – hold views that I’d be repelled by. But we judge people on the whole of their lives and acts, not on the worst thing that they say or believe.

Tim Oren suggests that we’re in a new ‘domestic cold war’, and he’s right to an extent – because we live in the world where what we worship is Perpetual Outrage, and we reserve the right – not to be casually dismissive, or to disagree and ‘move on’ – but to dismiss any taint of opinions that we find displeasing and try and drive them out of the world.

Second, I wrote something a long time ago, and want to bring the whole thing here:

Earlier, I noted that I wasn’t happy with either the inclusion of ‘under God’ into the Pledge, or with the court decision that maybe-kinda struck it. I got comments, both from people who felt they had been scorned and abused as children because they wouldn’t say it and from parents who wanted to spare their children from such opprobrium.

I thought about it a bit while driving the Boyyz around this afternoon, and talking to them came to the conclusion that, basically, I was right. Here’s the deal:

Dealing with other people requires a certain flexibility. They don’t know what you know, believe what you believe, or feel what you feel. The entire problem of politics is how to engage people and keep them engaged in some common purpose, even one as minor as obeying traffic signals.

I’m not Jewish; but when I go to a Jewish wedding or funeral, I wear a yarmulke. Why? Out of politeness. Out of a willingness to respect the beliefs of others.

But, you say, that’s exactly what the Pledge doesn’t do! It doesn’t respect my beliefs!

And that’s the key, isn’t it? On one hand, my desire is to respect the beliefs of others, where it doesn’t materially affect me and regardless of my own beliefs in the matter. On the other, your complaint is an overwhelming desire that your beliefs be respected, no matter how trivial the violation, regardless of the impact on yourself or others.

Look, we’re not talking about material affect, about racist exclusion…about fighting to give your kid opportunity or dignity. And, in part, it’s this conflation of hurt feelings with Jim Crow or the Holocaust that is driving me nuts.

And in the other part, I think that including the ‘under God’ clause was an embarrassing artifact of late 50’s cultural rigidity. I’d like to see it removed. But I’d like to see it removed via a process which doesn’t drive a further wedge between the folks in the U.S. who are clinging to the symbols of a nonexistent former consensus, and those who feel alienated from that consensus.

We?re at a point in our history when we need to find the threads that bind us into a nation and a polity. Sadly, ?win at any cost? politicians (c.f. Gray ‘SkyBox’ Davis), and culture warriors of one stripe or another are happy to drive wedges, if they believe the fractures serve their short-term political interests.

And we’re at a point in our political history that’s been made by single-issue warriors…for and against development, for and against abortion, for and against parks for dogs…and damn those on the other side of the issue.

I had the unique opportunity to have dinner once with then-State Senator John Schmitz. He was a genuine John Birch society member, elected from Orange County, who lost his office when it was discovered that his mistress had sexually abused their sons. (His daughter is also Mary Kay Le Tourneau, so I’ll take as a given that the family had ‘issues’). He was still in the Senate, and made a comment that I’ve always remembered:

When Moscone ran the Senate, he and I used to fight hammer and tongs all day, then go out and have drinks over dinner and laugh about it. We differed on where we wanted the boat to go, but we recognized that we were in the same boat. These new guys would gladly sink the boat rather then compromise.

And that’s why I think the decision was stupid, and why the forces behind it ‘the Church of My Wounded Feelings’ and their soldiers, the Warrior Cult of the Single Issue’ are incredibly destructive. And right now, we don’t have the time for it.

My sons don’t go to church, because I’ve never gone to church (at one point, one of my exes went to what I jokingly called ‘The Church of the Sandinista’ in Ocean Park, but I thought Jim Conn was a good guy, so I’ll cut them some slack). I don’t think they are abused by being asked to say ?under God? in the Pledge, and when they ask me about it (each one has, either in kindergarten or first grade) I tell them the truth; that some people who believed in God a lot asked to have it added to the pledge, and got the President to add it. And that they will; have to make up their own minds about whether to say it or whether to believe in God when they are older. But that this is how they do it in their school, and when I’m in a similar situation I say it, while thinking about all the people who do believe in God, and how cool it is that we all get to believe whatever we want in this society. But they get to decide.

If they told me they were being teased about it, I’d ask them how it differs from all the other things kids get teased for – childhood is a vicious time – and talk to them about how to respond in a way that protects themselves emotionally without becoming the bullies they are afraid of.

Somehow this whole thing reeks of the kind of pecksniffery that wants to ban tag and dodgeball. It’s the same kind of thinking that bans Nativity scenes or menorahs from public buildings, and worries more about changing the names of sports teams than about bringing people along to actually change the world.

And the main thing that appeals to me about Obama is that he sets out a politics that puts this behind us. Can he live up to it? No. But can he help steer out national politics in the right direction? Yes, he can.

Here’s a description from a critical fan of Obama’s over at Daily Kos who sums up the core of Obama’s values pretty well:

At the core of Obama’s political philosophy is the belief that real divisions should not stand in the way of conversation. He has always believed that it is right and necessary for us to speak to folks on the other side of the aisle, to speak with our enemies. That to do so is a sign of strength, of problem-solving, and that it can be done without having to compromise any of our own values in the process.

I don’t agree with this strategy. At all. But I respect it. I understand it. And I made my peace with it long ago when I came around to openly supporting Obama’s candidacy at the beginning of the year. For progressives to suddenly complain about this suggests they either haven’t been paying attention to Obama’s core values, or have conveniently decided to only remember them now in order to beat him over the head.

On one hand, this is a refreshingly old-fashioned kind of politics; something you could picture LBJ or – especially – FDR doing.

On the other, it can be viewed as Habermasian – and given his eating and reading habits, I wonder if Obama has read Jurgen Habermas. Here’s the Wikipedia article on ‘communicative rationality,’ which is one of Habermas’ key concepts.

And I’ll toss out to this group that it’s even Smithian – as in Clint Smith, who no one can claim is a leftist delicate flower.

“You better learn to communicate real well, because when you’re out there on the street, you’ll have to talk to a lot more people than you’ll have to shoot, or at least that’s the way I think it’s supposed to work.”

I’m making this point in an effort to point out why it is that – in my mind – Obama isn’t automatically disqualified from consideration as a Presidential candidate because he is close to Wright.

Is this good news? Does it tie me more closely to him. Nope. Am I hitting the door? Nope, not today.

Look, the guy is a liberal. We’d all best get that. He’s a brilliant speaker, but arguably not yet a mature enough candidate to win election. But he’s not running against FDR. He doesn’t have to be faster than the bear; he just needs to be faster than Hillary or John McCain. We’ll see how this plays out.

More to follow.

Licensed to Vote

So the Supes decided today that it’s OK to ask for ID at the polling place.

I’ve got somewhat mixed feelings about this; on one hand, it’s almost certainly true that elderly, poor and minority voters – who are certainly more likely to vote Democratic – are more likely not to have licenses or to be discouraged from voting, which makes this a regulatory decision that will have clear electoral impact.On the other, it’s important to recognize that the test case was filed on behalf of a woman who actually was found after the fact to have illegally registered in both Indiana and Florida. So it’s hard to argue that this issue is a myth.

In the first lunch I ever had with Brad Friedman (who is still pissed at me, I’m afraid…) I suggested that politically, those of us in favor of plugging the holes in the vote tallying and counting systems – who were typically of the left – could broaden our coalition by agreeing to ID’s and steps to generally secure the registration and voting part of the chain.

Brad was bitterly opposed. He pointed out – legitimately – that the best study that had been done on the subject originally showed no significant evidence of registration/impersonation fraud. That’s real data.

So I’m slightly conflicted on this. I’d like to see a fraud-resistant voting process – end to end, from registration to recount. And I’d like that process to be electorally neutral – i.e. to have no impact on nonfraudulent voting. I’m not sure this decision meets the latter of those two criteria, and I’m not sure what to do about it.


So the Intertubes are all atwitter with the news that the Israeli target in Syria was most likely a North Korean-designed nuclear reactor.

The questions are why it is that this news is coming out so long after the event. Here’s Kevin Drum:

Here’s more on the Syrian/North Korean nuclear reactor thing. One of the big questions floating around is: Why now? The intelligence community has kept quiet about it for a full seven months since Al Kibar was bombed, so why did they finally decide to brief Congress (and the press) this week?

The leading theory is that hardline hawks, who have been up in arms over the likelihood that Bush is going to conclude a deal soon with North Korea, somehow finagled the IC into holding the briefing as a way of stirring up trouble and making the deal less likely to proceed. Since hawks hate treaties of all kinds, and especially hate the prospect of a treaty with North Korea, this is plausible.

There’s a lot more in that vein.

But none of it makes sense to me; it implies a level of internal control by midlevel players that just smells wrong to me.

But as long as we’re speculating…

…here’s one that will keep Kevin up nights worrying.

Remember all the hoo-hah about Iraqi convoys secretly headed to Syria by air or by land? The ones with the missing WMD? (Personally, if I was Saddam, I’d have been exporting bullion, but I’d obviously make a crappy dictator.

One reason I immediately deprecated those rumors was that there was no sense in Bush not playing that hand hard and wiping out his political opposition.

At heart, I still believe that to be true.

But reading Kevin’s post a spark of an idea lit up. If I was a Karl Rovian evil political genius, what would I do with that information? When would it be the most powerful, politically?

Hmmm. How about…July or August of 2008?

Imagine if you would a steady drip-drip-drip of information like this leading up to – viola! – hard information that Saddam actually had WMD all along. Imagine being at the Democratic Convention, having just nominated Obama when the news got out. Imagine Karl Rove laughing so hard he pees his pants.

What’s GOP-ing On?

I don’t spend a lot of time reading GOP sites (I don’t have much time, and their party’s success isn’t my priority), but was struck by the rate of GOP legislative retirements, and the assorted comments from the Democratic bloggers that the GOP is having trouble fielding candidates for the newly open seats.

That’s just crazy. I’d assumed that the dysfunctional and suicidal California GOP was relatively alone in its behavior, buit that seems not to be the case.

Why is that? And why is it – if the GOP is so weak – that McCain is doing so well in the polls? And – contra – why is it that he’s doing so badly in raising money?

Anyone have a fast and useful explanation for me?

…and a PG-13 prison movie…

This morning there was a blogger conference call with Bill Carr, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy – the guy in charge of military recruiting.

The topic was the flurry of news stories early this week about the rise in the numbers of ‘waivers’ for enlistees – in which people with past criminal activity are allowed to enlist, in spite of rules to the contrary.The implications of the news stories seemed pretty clear; the Army is scraping the bottom of the barrel, and digging further, in order to keep enlistments up in the fact of Bush’s unpopular war. Actually, let me quote the NY Times:

Strained by the demands of a long war, the Army and the Marine Corps recruited significantly more felons into their ranks in 2007 than in 2006, including people convicted of armed robbery, arson and burglary, according to data released Monday by a House committee.

Coupled with sharp increases in the number of waivers for misdemeanors, the trend raises questions about the military’s ability to attract quality recruits at a time when it is trying to increase enlistment. The Army, which has suffered the most war casualties and the longest deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, faces an especially difficult challenge in attracting qualified men and women.

The Times story was actually a good one, and well-balanced – it allwoed the Army to put some context around things:

Lt. Col. Anne Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman, said the waivers had been carefully vetted and were not as serious as they appeared on paper. The kidnapping charge involved a divorced woman who moved out of state with her child without the permission of her former husband, she said. One terroristic threat charge involved a 14-year-old who called in a bomb threat to his school, and the other also involved a minor.

And I can’t disagree with the wrapup:

“With the Iraq war being as controversial as it is and absent any higher level call to service, it’s a very difficult challenge to all the services, particularly the Army,” said Michele Flournoy, the president and co-founder of the Center for a New American Security, a centrist research organization that focuses on national security and military policies. “The fact that the use of waivers has increased dramatically is something that should be of concern and should be watched over time.”

Now good for the new media folks at the Pentagon for responding (although it’d be better to get the response cycle down to 24 hours or less – but scheduling someone like this probably takes some time). Here are my notes from the call, and some comments…

Went from 816 waivers in ’06 to 1077 waivers (assume this is total for all services?)

each is reviewed by general officer – fairly robust review process

(RAND?) did study tracking cohort – retention % is the same

tracking effort outside this study? – no DoD tracking, but tracking at service level

army loosened by saying tats that show don’t dq you

historically – tats that show propensity to misbehave were a dq

now there are checks for gang tats (there’s a book…) before tats declaring gang affils was not a dq – when did that change? in past year

Lowering aptitude would have bigger impact

180K recruits last year – 1077 waivers total

60% of recruits from top 50% of aptitude – that’s not been lowered

not relaxing key standard – aptitude, which would be easy dial to change to up recruit #’s

So from my POV, a few comments.

First, one issue that isn’t raised is the overall criminalization of society; this is something I’ve bitched about for some time, but we are increasingly funneling our responses to bad behavior through the criminal justice system in ways that seem – well, just bad to me.

I street-raced cars as a kid – a misdemeanor today. I made guncotton in AP chemistry in high school – God knows what I’d have been charged with today. I think that we have created a complex of laws that makes all of us criminals to some extent, and one aspect of this is that there are probably a bunch of decent kids out there with felony records – arrests or convictions.

And to the extent that those records block them from having any decent opportunities in life – well, forget military recruiting, we’ve just created a cohort that has no choice but to live on the margins of society.

This isn’t to suggest that there aren’t young hard-core criminals, who need to be kept away from the rest of us – there are.

But the mere tagging of someone with ‘criminal’ in today’s society is something we ought to look at with a greater sense of care than we typically do, and than is being done by the press here.

Second, as far as the military issues are concerned, I’d think that this is pretty small beer. The numbers are minuscule, there is close high-level review of each one – the local recruiters don’t get to make these calls in order to make quota, and there have apparently been studies done (be nice to get my hands on the actual study, though) that show no difference in outcome. And I’ll suggest that for every standard they loosen (waivers or tats) there is one they tighten (screening tats for gang affiliation).

From my (limited) personal experience watching Biggest Guy go through his enlistment process, they screen the heck out of the kids. He had stacks of background papers to fill out – in order to enlist as an enlisted man.

And as to the title of the post, he described life in an enlisted barracks during Basic training as “…a cross between rush week at a bottom-tier Southern college, and a PG-13 prison movie.

Democrats In A Box

Wow, this election is becoming crazy entertaining. I continue to think that while it’s damn important that we elect a Democrat this cycle (for foreign policy as well as domestic policy reasons), and am kind of bemused that both Democrats candidates are doing their best to make that less likely.

I won’t move to France if McCain is elected – he strikes me as a less smooth, more bellicose version of my Governator Arnold, who I like – but I do think the Democrats have put themselves into a bit of a box, and it makes me worry.

Here’s the deal. My initial enthusiasm for Obama has waned a bit – not nearly enough to make me change my mind, but enough to comment on. That enthusiasm was driven by my taking at face value his rhetoric about what kind of politics he thinks America needs – an inclusive one, rather than one that drives off and demonizes opponents, one that at least tries to break the mold of the traditional, ossified politics we see in Washington and get us past demosclerosis. I’m not at all bothered by his arrogance – you don’t get to run for President unless you’re insanely arrogant. I’m not notably bothered by the fact that he’s buddies with corrupt developers; the essence of modern government is that it sells it’s favors and politicians are the brokers through which that’s done. Someone has to be the buyer. I’m not even bothered by the fact that he has associations with ex-Weathermen, or that he used to go to a church run by a liberation theologist. Look into my past, and I’ve associated with all kinds of people who are happy to disagree with me today.

But…his flatfootedness in not seeing that those things would be issues to the vast majority of Americans, and his political ineptitude in handling these issues do bother me. Look, he didn’t wake up one day last year, roll over in bed, and say “Guess what, honey! I think I’ll run for President!” This is a guy who has been singing “Hail to the Chief” to himself at least since he was in law school. And you’d think he would be bright enough not to make Pauline Kael’s mistake (which is deep down what I think he did in all these things). The fact that he isn’t gives me the willies, and may well mean that he’s going to get beaten.The fact that he’s beatable is an immense problem. Because as well as Hillary has been doing – finding an almost-authentic sounding voice, and hitting him hard on his vulnerabilities. But she can’t be nominated. She can’t because to nominate her at this stage of the process would be perceived as an amazing insult to African-American voters – who vote 90% Democratic. Add the impact of them sitting on their hands in the general with the core group of rabidly anti-any-Clinton conservatives who would come out of the woodwork, and she is a lockin to lose even if she were nominated.

So we have a beatable and a beaten candidate on the Democratic side. How do we get on the other side of that?

Well, one positive is that the liberal intelligentsia behind the curtains of the party are saying things that – with all due respect – I’ve been saying (along with a bunch of other smarter people like Joel Kotkin) online since 2002 and in person for longer. That the party needs to engage with and engage with respect the large chunk of people who are not urban loft-dwellers, not public employees, not people who directly rely on government programs for their well-being (unlike, say defense workers, who tend to vote Republican).

When people like John Judis, who co-who wrote the piece that suggested that a combination of urban BoBo and minority voters meant that the demographics guaranteed a Democratic plurality are saying things like this:

My colleague Noam Scheiber attributes Clinton’s success among these suburbanites to the influence of Governor Ed Rendell, who campaigned with Clinton, but I wonder whether Obama’s gaffes and his suspect associations–whether with Wright or former Weatherman Bill Ayers or real estate developer Tony Rezko–began to tarnish his image among these voters. If so, the electoral premise of Obama’s campaign–that he can attract middle class Republicans and Independents–is being undermined.

Indeed, if you look at Obama’s vote in Pennsylvania, you begin to see the outlines of the old George McGovern coalition that haunted the Democrats during the ’70s and ’80s, led by college students and minorities. In Pennsylvania, Obama did best in college towns (60 to 40 percent in Penn State’s Centre County) and in heavily black areas like Philadelphia.

Now, I’ve argued for a while that for all his rhetorical flourish, Obama is coming up short. What he needs to do is come up with a grounded, nondismissive explanation for the fact that every marker in his early political life places him well to the left of Cynthia McKinney, while he talks like Dwight Eisenhower. Both of those can’t be true, and people tend to, when challenged, believe the evidence in front of their eyes.

So acknowledge that it’s true – that when young you were, like lots of us – a would-be radical, and explain that today the most radical thing you can imagine isn’t blowing up the Federal Reserve Bank, but sitting all Americans down around a table and acknowledging that all of us are the heirs of a great project that we are in debt to – the American project – and that we need to start talking about the ways the each of us can start paying off that debt, rather than pointing at ‘that man under the tree” and expecting him to do it. Yeah, metrico, I’m just shilling – kind of like Judis does here:

But if Obama doesn’t find a way now to speak to these voters, he is going to have trouble winning that large swath of states from Pennsylvania through Missouri in which a Democrat must do well to gain the presidency. That remains Obama challenge in the month to come.

Losers try. Winners get to move to the White House and try and shape history. Keep that in mind when you jump up and down and insist on kicking millions of Americans to the political curb, OK?

A Path Toward Democracy and Information Warfighting

Here’s some good news on the information warfare front…from MountainRunner (a blog you ought to be reading if you’re not):

One of the most famous aphorisms of Edward R. Murrow is his statement on the “last three feet”: The really crucial link in the international communication chain is the last three feet, which is bridged by personal contact, one person talking to another. The importance of face-to-face, personal contact in counterinsurgency cannot be emphasized enough. Engaging in this last three feet requires more than figuring out the right words and establishing a grammar to communicate with locals. It means understanding we have a “say-do” gap (the propaganda of deeds versus the propaganda of words) that requires emphasizing actions over words and public and private pronouncements.

Marine Corps General Doug Stone, commander of Task Force 134, Detainee Operations, in Iraq has just signed off on a smart strategic communications plan that should be used as a model for other units. It clearly communicates intent and provides guidance and has the buy-in of General Petraeus.

It makes perfect sense to focus on detainee operations. As Stone notes, “detainee operations is certainly a battlefield; it is the battlefield of the mind, and it is one of the most important fights in counterinsurgency.” Besides the fact he has a captive audience, by definition, his charges have decided to take significant action against the Coalition. For more on the operations of TF134, read this post.

The primary audience and the primary target of the plan is the Task Force itself, which, as one reviewer noted, is a statement that the military culture still requires tweaking. The challenge will be, according to another reviewer, translating the high-level guidance into action.

Here’s a quote from the Overview:

For our purposes as the counterinsurgent force, we will consider it an absolute imperative that our actions are fully congruent with the ideals that we promote. There can be no “gap” between what we say and what we do.

Leaders must understand the importance of this last statement; it is the keystone of our communication efforts. As the above passage from Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice makes clear, we have the responsibility as the counterinsurgent to “walk the walk” as well as we “talk the talk.” Our priorities and values must be displayed in every deed, and reflected in the actions of every man and woman serving in internment facilities throughout the Iraqi Theater of Operations.

What you will find here is far more than a collection of talking points or a series of taskings for the Public Affairs Office and Information Operations Cell. The doctrinal information functions of PA and IO certainly serve to support select aspects of our strategic communication initiatives, but they are not the main effort. Rather, this plan places the emphasis on the conduct of the individual service member to demonstrate who we are, what we do, and what we stand for. This point is critical to the ultimate success of the plan.

This is wholly coherent with John Boyd’s work, best expressed in “Patterns of Conflict” and which I wrote about before in “Boyd on Moral Warfighting and Guerilla Warfare“.

The issue with information warfare – is simply the ‘propaganda of the deed’ which we have not done a great job of – in the sense that we have done many good deeds, and out enemy many bad ones that we have not seized upon or worked to publicize.

But at root, there has to be a commitment – from the very top – to occupy the high moral ground.

Here’s Boyd:


Undermine guerilla cause and destroy their cohesion by demonstrating integrity and competence of government to represent and serve needs of the people – rather than exploit and impoverish them for the benefit of a greedy elite.*

Take political initiative to root out and visibly punish corruption. Select new leaders with recognized competence as well as popular appeal. Ensure that they deliver justice, eliminate grievances and connect government with grass roots.*

Infiltrate guerilla movement as well as employ population for intelligence about guerilla plans, operations, and organization.

Seal-off guerilla regions from outside world by diplomatic, psychological, and various other activities that strip-away potential allies as well as by disrupting or straddling communications that connect these regions with the outside world.

Deploy administrative talent, police, and counter-guerilla teams into affected localities and regions to inhibit guerilla communication, coordination, and movement; minimize guerilla contact with local inhabitants; isolate their ruling cadres; and destroy their infrastructure.

Exploit presence of above teams to build-up local government as well as recruit militia for local and regional security in order to protect people from the persuasion and coercion efforts of guerilla cadres and their fighting units.

Use special teams in a complementary effort to penetrate guerilla controlled regions. Employ (guerillas’ own) tactics of reconnaissance, infiltration, surprise hit-and-run, and sudden ambush to: keep roving bands off-balance, make base areas untenable, and disrupt communication with the outside world.

Expand these complementary security/penetration efforts into affected region after affected region in order to undermine, collapse, and replace guerilla influence with government influence and control.

Visible link these efforts with local political/economic/social reform in order to connect central government with hopes and needs of people, thereby gain their support and confirm government legitimacy.


Break guerillas’ moral-mental-physical hold over the population, destroy their cohesion, and bring about their collapse via political initiative that demonstrates moral legitimacy and vitality of government and by relentless military operations that emphasize stealth/fast-temp/fluidity-of-action and cohesion of overall effort.

*If you cannot realize such a political program, you might consider changing sides.

(emphasis and footnote his)

And so the beginnings of an answer to the problem of how a democracy conducts information warfare start to emerge: we make a commitment to seize and hold the moral high ground and to fiercely sanction people who do things that challenge that commitment. And we facilitate letting the people who do the things get their stories out.

More thoughts in a bit…but if you want to know why a widely publicized policy of ‘aggressive interrogation’ is a bad idea, here’s a darn good place to start.

Was It The Writing Or The Reading?

I’ve got to admit I’m a little puzzled at the reaction to my piece on information warfare below.

Look, I’m hardly shocked to catch a few elbows from the progblogs (hi, Matthew!). But the misreading of the intent of the post is consistent enough to make me wonder if I flatly wrote it wrong.

When someone uses words like “conundrum,” (as I did) I’d assume that they are talking about a problem with no ready solution. In this case, the collision of values between defending political discourse in a democratic republic from overt manipulation by the government on one side, and wanting to win a conflict using the tools of counterinsurgency – which include the manipulation of opinion – on the other. That seems like a very real conundrum to me (although I see one possible path out of it, suggested by Boyd).

My intent in writing the piece was to make two points: First that it’s amusing that the usual suspects are shocked, shocked! that this is happening – given that it is a part of the counterinsurgency playbook, and I assume the folks in the Pentagon read that and more, plus given the historical record here in America and pretty much everywhere else – much as if they were shocked – shocked! that in combat our troops fire real bullets.

Less amusing to me is the deeper question which is how, exactly, we can do information warfare in the context of keeping it from irremediably damaging our own polity. That’s a damn serious question, and the one I intended to trigger some discussion of in my earlier post, and to discuss in the next few days.

So How Do We Fight An Information War?

Update: see followup above

The usual suspects are going bonkers – bonkers! – over the notion that the Pentagon briefed a cadre of retired military men who served as ‘expert commentators’ in the media.

So here’s my problem. If we’re engaged in counterinsurgency, public diplomacy and information warfare – which the insurgent side are very good at, spends a lot of time doing, and where the mainstream media only recently grudgingly backed away from the most egregious, falsified examples of their work – is a critical component, according to pretty much everyone who has written on the subject.But – our government can’t play. Not only are there legal restrictions, but the simple fact that information was given to commentators, bloggers, or reporters by the government – in the hopes that it can shape the information battlespace – is illegitimate, and is itself a major meta-story.

I don’t think it’s wrong to be concerned about the government shaping the news. I think it’s necessary to shape perception as a part of any successful counterinsurgency.

But those two principles seem to be in a midair collision, and as a consequence it’s going to keep raining aluminum.

Here’s a quote from Betz on the importance of information war:

Third, by contrast, we do not focus enough effort on winning and maintaining the hearts and minds of the most critical and accessible population: our own. Clearly, armed forces do not want to be concerned with the management of domestic perceptions of conflict; nor should that be their responsibility – although soldiers of all ranks must be ever aware of the impact on the virtual battlefield of everything they do on the real one. Indeed, in the United States there is a specific legal impediment to doing so in the form of the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act (establishing the USIA) which required that propaganda intended for foreign audiences ‘shall not be disseminated within the United States, its territories, or possessions.’5 Yet T.X. Hammes argues that the war we now face is one in which our opponent,

… uses all available networks – political, economic, social and military – to convince the enemy’s political decision-makers that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit. It is rooted in the fundamental precept that superior political will, when properly employed, can defeat greater economic and military power.6

And if that is the case then we are ignoring the defence of a critical vulnerability. It is as though we had entered some gladiatorial combat with helmet visor closed, sword dull and bent, and shield lying in the dirt. The United States, in particular, it is argued, possesses a ‘quagmire mentality’ which gifts its enemies with a playbook for its defeat.7

…and one on the problem I cite above:

Thinking of Freedman’s second point, we can see that there are other disadvantages we face when it comes to creating compelling strategic narratives. In the West narratives which are deliberately constructed by Government are almost immediately rejected for that reason whatever their inherent accuracy or falsity. The public is highly sensitized to ‘spin’, the media excels at revealing (and counter-spinning) it, and no narrative can long survive the perception that it is based, even in part, on a lie. Narratives which reinforce already existing ideas, on the other hand, are easily portrayed as ‘populist’ demagoguery. Arguments which appeal to the reason are deemed more trustworthy than those which appeal to emotion and historical analogy, but, at the same time, generally people lack the patience for long argument. Basically, if you need to target your base and find that it is fractured and lacks purpose, lacks the attention span for in-depth appeal to argument but is exquisitely sensitive to manipulation and possesses an innate mastery of semiotics then you have a problem. And if, moreover, your opponent’s base is unified, has a sense of purpose, a rich oral tradition which lends itself well to story-listening (and telling) and is fairly credulous when it comes to conspiracy theories then you have got a very serious problem.

(emphasis added)

I’ll try and extend this and talk more about this conundrum. But for now, let’s set the problem out there and talk about it.

Read This…

Kings of War posts a brilliant paper (pdf) by Professor David Betz on ‘The Virtual Dimension of Contemporary Insurgency and Counterinsurgency’. I’ll have a lot more to say about the paper next week (my initial reactions are that it obviously ties to Western self-abnegation, and that the issue of the relative attitudes toward violence – they video violence and see it as self-affirming, we video violence and see it as an immoral admission of failure), but you should for sure read it.

I brought a copy over here to download because I didn’t want to burn KoW’s bandwidth; if they (or anyone else) thinks that’s inappropriate, please speak up in comments.