Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Some Thoughts on Political Warfare

So much of the war we are fighting is about influencing people's attitudes, beliefs, ideologies and interpretations of events. In the West we have long experience with waging campaigns of influence within our culture, but as Michael Waller and Alex Alexiev argue, we are not taking advantage of our own experience in political competition in the war of ideas against radical Islam.

Thus far in the War for the Free World, the United States has been unilaterally disarmed in one of the most effective forms of warfare against ideologically driven foes: Political warfare.  While we wage it against each other incessantly - Republicans against Democrats, liberals against conservatives, etc. - we have largely failed to use political warfare against our enemies, or even to organize ourselves to do so.
The good news is that Americans are among the world's experts at political warfare. The bad news is that we mainly use it against each other: after all, the strategies and tactics of any hard-fought election campaign are precisely the stuff of applied political warfare. The talent, creativity, ingenuity and, yes, ruthlessness of top-flight political campaign strategists of both parties should be mustered for the purpose of fighting our enemies and helping our friends - rather than fighting each other.

This is right on. We have more than two centuries of experience with waging political warfare, from the Stamp Act Crisis to Live Earth. Applying or not applying this experience at political warfare in the current war of ideas could be the deciding factor in whether we win or lose. Unfortunately, Waller and Alexiev make the mistake of proposing government-centered solutions to this problem. The lesson to be learned here is that in political warfare it is citizens who take the initiative to organize and compete, in both candidate and issue campaigns, and it is there we must look for insight into how to wage the war of ideas: The war of ideas will be successfully fought with organizations and tactics that have more in common with political activism than with the government public diplomacy and psychological warfare operations.

This association with political activism will rub some people the wrong way. A government-directed information campaign is expected to be waged in a non-partisan manner by professional government employees who put aside their own personal beliefs to execute the policies of elected officials. We have all heard the appeals for bi-partisanship and that politics should end at the waters edge. But a war of ideas is inherently partisan. Indeed it requires people who are passionately motivated by their ideas, whose passion drives them to commit time, energy, and money; to organize and wage campaigns over the course of years. This is one of the reasons that private, non-government organizations are better vehicles than government in waging the war of ideas. There is absolutely no way to wage a war of ideas without taking a strong stand about ideas, attitudes and beliefs, and right now, for a variety of reasons, government can't take those kind strong stands. We get either the cliches inherited from the past or politically correct rhetoric whose primary purpose is not to offend anyone.

I have never been someone who was inclined to do political activism. And I'm not really interested in activism in favor of one party or the other or for a specific candidate, rather my main focus is more general: countering anti-Americanism, articulating a defense of modernity and the underlying ideas and attitudes that are necessary for the establishment and preservation of free societies, shrinking the gap, etc. While I take great pleasure in thinking about these ideas, I very much want to do something; to act on these ideas and do the kinds of things I've been arguing should be done. Ultimately there comes a time to put up or shut up. If my ideas are valid, then the burden is on me to demonstrate their validity. Two years ago I quit my job to try to start a business, that effort has not yet been successful, so I am planning now to go back to school to study web and multimedia design [NOTE 3/08: Actually I went on to study audio/video production, but the goal remains the same] to learn some skills I hope will help with the business, get me a job, and that can be used to experiment with some kind of "strategic citizen" activity. So we will see...

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