Saturday, November 17, 2007

On The Frontier

The frontier remains a place of archetypal significance for the American imagination. Although the combination of historical ignorance and the deliberate campaign to delegitimize the American enterprise have done serious damage to our cultural memory of what it took to build this country. Here are a few frontier memoirs that are worth reading:

The classic frontier hero of course was Daniel Boone. It wasn't until last year while browsing around the internet that I discovered that Boone had written an account of his experiences:
The Adventures of Colonel Daniel Boon: Formerly a Hunter: Containing a Narrative of the Wars of Kentucky originally published in 1784. This should be mandatory reading in elementary school.

Davy Crockett also wrote a memoir: A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett. (Haven't found an online version.) Crockett was apparently no fan of Andrew Jackson and the book is peppered with snarky comments about Jackson.

Project Gutenberg is one of the great online resources. They have online versions of two books by William Drannan recounting his experiences in the West:

Thirty-one Years on the Plains and Mountains Or, The Last Voice From the Plains. An Authentic Record of a Life time of Hunting, Trapping, Scouting and Indian Fighting in the Far West

Chief of Scouts: As Pilot to Emigrant and Government Trains, Across the Plains of the
Wild West of Fifty Years Ago

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Rebranding Russia

We have a lot of catching up to do. More than 6 years after 9/11 and we still don't have an IO-political warfare-strategic communication effort going, and that's just for the radical Muslims. So how are we going to deal with the Russians? My argument is that Strategic Citizens should step up and take action, since our government isn't willing or capable of waging the kind of IO campaign that is required. But citizens seem to be even less interested than the bureaucrats. It seems that we are running on fumes, but the Russians appear to be grasping the social netwar/4GW/IO/Strategic Communication/Meme War stuff:

So how is Russia being rebranded? In a February 2006 speech, Vladislav Surkov, Putin's deputy chief of staff and main ideologist, laid out much of the vision.

Addressing activists from the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, Surkov said the collapse of communism had led to a "deformed democracy" dominated by a corrupt oligarchy and susceptible to Western efforts to weaken and exploit Russia. Putin's election in 2000, Surkov argued, was the first step toward recovery.

But the West and its sympathizers inside Russia, he continued, are unhappy with this revival -- and intent on overthrowing the Kremlin leadership using methods similar to those of Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution. Surkov ominously warned about "the soft conquering of Russia" by the West, with the help of "orange technologies" in a time of "decreased national immunity to foreign influence."

In such an environment, Western-style democracy and an open free-market economy would leave Russia unacceptably vulnerable to the machinations of Western governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and multinational corporations. To protect Russia's independence, Surkov argued for a statist and nationalist political system that he called "sovereign democracy" -- with the emphasis clearly on sovereign. "Sovereignty," Surkov said, "is the political synonym of competitiveness."
...
Underlying all of this is the message that Russia is a force to be reckoned with after being victimized by the West throughout the 1990s, and -- flush with energy wealth and the influence it buys -- it can and will vigorously defend its interests.

To that end, the Kremlin was quick to hire the Western public relations agency Ketchum in 2006, during Russia's critical tenure at the helm of the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialized nations.

A Ketchum executive at the time described the firm's mandate as "not changing Russian policy, but helping on the presentational side" -- lifting the veil on Western media techniques, logistics, and web materials. In a year when Russia was dogged by complaints about its aggressive energy policy, its G8 chairmanship emerged as a solid, well-managed highlight.

"The Kremlin's principal intention at this time is to show a resurgent Russia in a multipolar world, a world in which Russia is confident," says Steven Lock, who heads the Russia office for the Mmd public relations firm. The upcoming publicity storm likely to surround the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi is just one example, he notes, adding, "'Brand Russia' will be as sophisticated about promoting itself as Russian companies have become about promoting themselves."
...
In shaping this virtual reality, Putin's strategists rely on many traditional tools, like near-total control of the broadcast media, careful management of the news cycle, and strict message discipline among officials.

They also have become adept at using carefully choreographed set pieces -- manufactured conflicts, subterfuge, provocations, and diversions to influence the general climate of opinion at home and abroad and to make it more fertile for the Kremlin's preferred message.

But this is not your father's Soviet propaganda machine. Gone are the presenters in boxy gray suits, the monotone cadences, and poor production value that characterized communist-era news broadcasts. Such an approach would fall flat in today's Russia, where an increasing number of people are plugged into a global media culture. "In the society of the spectacle, your spectacle has to be spectacular," says Andrew Wilson, author of "Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in the Post-Soviet World."
Today's news anchors on Russia's state-controlled television channels are young, their outfits hip, the sets modern, and the production top-rate. Putin's message may be a bit retro, but his medium is big, shiny, and high-tech. Analysts say the Kremlin has become frighteningly good at conjuring up its own version of reality and selling it to the Russian public -- and, to an extent, the outside world -- to serve its own political ends.
...
A good example is a prime-time documentary aired on state-controlled Rossiya television on September 30. The report, titled "barkhat.ru" -- or "velvet.ru." -- alleged that the CIA was planning to overthrow the Kremlin elite with an Orange Revolution-style uprising in Russia.

"To the West's great pleasure, velvet revolutions have broken out over the course of the past five years throughout Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet space," journalist Arkady Mamontov said ominously as he introduced the report. "Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan. The next goal -- Moscow."

Mamontov's slickly produced report alleges that the CIA is at the epicenter of a massive conspiracy involving opposition groups like Garry Kasparov's Other Russia, pro-democracy youth organizations like Smena, NGOs like Freedom House, and the Western mass media to overthrow the Kremlin leadership.
...
The Kremlin's image-shaping efforts, however, go well beyond the traditional media.

A new generation of pro-Kremlin bloggers, for example, is being cultivated to spread Putin's word online -- and to rapidly disrupt the activities of Russia's opponents, both real and imagined.

When Kasparov's Other Russia held a rally in Moscow on April 14, for example, a group of pro-Kremlin bloggers from the Young Guard youth movement flooded the Internet with reports of a smaller pro-regime demonstration on the same day. In doing so, they crowded out postings about the opposition march on Russia's top web portals -- creating a virtual news blackout in one of the last refuges of free media in the county. Pavel Danilin, the pro-Putin blogger who spearheaded the effort bragged to "The Washington Post" that his team "played it beautifully."

"The authorities are developing pro-presidential websites and they aren't even all that boring," says Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Moscow-based Panorama think tank. "The basic line is a pro-Putin personality cult and counterpropaganda."
...
The Kremlin is also becoming adept at using the blogosphere to manufacture convenient "facts" that they can use to shape their message. The first reference to Albright's comment about Siberia, for example, was posted by a blogger called "Nataly1001" back in 2005. The comments were then picked up by the Kremlin-controlled media -- including the government's own newspaper, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" -- and disseminated as fact.
...
In the late 1970s, he and his colleagues at the CIA were deeply concerned about an increasingly confident and assertive Soviet Union which -- for a time -- appeared to be winning the global information war with the West.

"In the late 70s we had a problem," Ermarth said. "The Soviet Union was feeling its oats, believing that the trends...were running in its favor," he said. "The U.S. was in retreat around the world because of Vietnam and related things. The Soviets had reached a new peak in strategic power. They were making money hand over fist with oil and gas."

Ermarth said Moscow sought to "parlay this into political coin" by provoking divisions within the Western alliance, by making inroads into Africa, Latin America, and Asia, and by "sanctimonious beating up on Washington in the name of peace."
...
Now, he adds, the United States and its allies have to "do battle" with Russia's current rebranding trend, by "poking holes in the narratives where it deserves that. Where the narrative is false. Where the narrative is dangerously pretentious."

But, Ermarth says, in contrast to the Cold War -- when the Soviet Union was at the center of the West's foreign-policy universe -- Washington is currently devoting precious few resources to combating Moscow's information offensive.

"In order to have a coherent policy for dealing with this meta-narrative, you've got to have a comprehensive, coherent understanding [of it]," Ermarth said. "And I would say we haven't invested enough in building that understanding to know how to do this. Just standing up and saying the Russians are bullies on oil and gas, and they're just trying to pull our chain on ballistic missile defense, is not adequate."

Russia's "Quiet Cultural Revolution"

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has several good articles on the political maneuvering in Russia, Russia's Power Elite, Why the Chekist Mindset Matters and others, that tell an ongoing story that is far more interesting anything we've seen on the big screen in a long, long time. But what intrigues me is how the Putin apparatus is framing the narrative in its domestic and foreign IO campaigns:

The Soft-Power Foundations of Putin's Russia

But the real secret of the siloviki [Russian slang for members or veterans of the security services] is their massive and skillful use of "soft power." Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci noted that ruling classes secure their power over the governed not only through coercion, but also by manufacturing their consent by establishing "cultural hegemony" over the national consciousness. Over the last decade, the siloviki in Putin's Russia have provided a textbook example of the practical implementation of this seemingly abstract idea.

Over the last decade, the siloviki waged a "quiet cultural counterrevolution" with tremendous effect. They worked to systematically devalue and compromise liberal values, standards, and institutions -- values that had massive public support in the early 1990s. The main tools of this counterrevolution were the state-controlled national television networks, pro-Kremlin intellectuals, the Russian Orthodox Church, and pseudo-independent public groups and youth organizations.

At the same time, the Russian airwaves have been filled with hundreds of films, serials, documentaries, and news reports about how the chekisty (a word formed from the acronym for the original Soviet secret police that is used to describe people tied to the former KGB or other security organs) past and present are fighting against "enemies of Russia" and exposing the plots of Western intelligence services. Much of this material is of Soviet vintage, but a large and growing percentage was produced under Putin.

Mimicking the KGB, the Federal Security Service (FSB) in 2006 established its own national awards for works in the visual arts, cinema, literature, and journalism "creating with great artistry a positive image of the state-security officer." As for books, works extolling the KGB and its successor organizations clearly dominate over those that deal with the crimes of the communist era or the KGB. In recent years, some of Russia's energy revenues have been used to finance a growing number of new films in this genre as well.

The results of these efforts are clear in changing public attitudes and contribute to the popularity of Putin himself and his silovik administration. Today's youth, born after the fall of communism, realize that becoming a chekist is a prestigious and profitable career path. There were reportedly 10 applicants for every slot this fall at the FSB's main training academy.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Covert Political Operations

On covert political operations from A Short Course in the Secret War by Christopher Felix:

It is a misfortune that most of what has been written about secret operations is concerned almost exclusively with intelligence operations and their related functions. The result is a very misleading picture of the secret war--sometimes effecting even those actively engaged in it. For the central and decisive battles of the secret war are fought in the vast realm of covert political operations...

Secret intelligence is essential, indispensable; it is also, a previously pointed out, inseparable from political operations. But it is not, and should not be allowed to become an end in itself. The ultimate national aim in the secret war is not simply to know. It is to maintain or to expand national power and to contain or to reduce the enemy's power; it is the exercise of power, itself a dynamic and not a static thing.
...
The exercise of power, the transformation of intelligence and policy into power by means of action, takes place daily and visibly in strategic policy, economic policy, diplomacy, defense, propaganda--all the overt aspects of international relations. It also takes place daily, but invisibly, in the secret war in the form of covert political operations.

The range, both functional and geographical, of secret political operations is almost unlimited.
...
The first great post-Second World War engagement between East and West in the sphere of covert political operations was the Italian national elections of April 1948. With all of Eastern Europe already in the Soviet grasp, with civil war raging in Greece, the West awoke to the fact that Italy could be lost to the Soviets by political action. Hastily improvised operations, a number of which could barely be dignified by the adjective covert--certainly the vigorous speaking tours of the American Ambassador to Italy were anything but covert--narrowly saved Italy for the West that year...
...
...the secret war is not waged by intelligence agents, but by agents whose function is, in the broadest sense, political.

The functional range of covert political operations is so vast as to defy listing. It runs from the simple, obvious "spontaneous demonstration"--in Tokyo or Caracas, in New York or New Dehli--through the quarrels of an international labor organization, the speeches at an international conference of intellectuals, the resolutions of a congress of lawyers, the organizational maneuvers of churchmen, the patient and persistent pressures of exiles, and a staggering variety of publications, to the Viet Cong guerrilla hidden in the jungles of South Vietnam and a Cuban prisoner captured at the Bay of Pigs.
...
These varied activities have a common political objective: the organization, exploitation, and direction of existing human passions and purposes so that they contribute, no matter how indirectly, to the fortunes of one or the other side in conflict. It is the substance of power, wherever and in whatever form it may exist, which the political agent pursues, recognizing that all organized or social human activity has a political content and significance.

If this seems obscure it is because of general acceptance of a too narrow definition of what is "political." As used in covert political operations, "political" is not limited to the complex of activities surrounding the gaining and holding of public office, of the constitutionally designated seats of power. It refers instead to a much wider concept--to politics as the general and infinitely varied struggle for and the exercise of power in human society. Under this concept all organized or social human activity represents potential or actual power ultimately transformable into control of the state and society.

To claim that the scholar, the artist, the philosopher are apolitical is to deny the interrelation between human thought and action...By the same token, the allegation that the businessman with foreign investments is apolitical because he "doesn't mix in politics" is naive and implies two things which are patently untrue: that national wealth is not part of national power, and that the businessman will under no circumstances seek his government's protection for his business.
...
It is this political--in the broad sense of power--characteristic of all organized and social human activity which imposes the extraordinary variety of secret political operations. My own diverse but not unusual experience in this field has run the gamut from organizing a literary evening in New York to directing the operation of a clandestine radio transmitter; from providing speakers for five different groups in the same national election to arranging for a gift to an important tribal leader; from organizing a political committee of exiles for the infiltration and invasion of their native land to reorganizing the same group some years later to eliminate their military activities; from supervising a dozen publications in half a dozen languages to rewriting a manifesto; from persuading twelve men representing as many different nationalities to agree on a single point to working a resolution through a congress of three hundred men representing thirty-five different nations; from subsidizing summer camps for children to running an escape chain out of Soviet-occupied territory.
...
The heart of the secret war in our time, however, lies in the political conflict. Intelligence is essential and cannot for a moment be neglected. But we advance or we retreat, we make gains or suffer losses in proportion to our mastery of the details of the political struggle--meaning the living characteristics of men, the ever-changing human relationships within and among societies, from which flow the tides of power.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Blast from the Past: Clinton on Iraq

It's interesting how the Democrats do a 180 once they are no longer in the White House. As I said to some of my liberal friends a few years ago, I could justify the Iraq war solely with the words of Democrats.

Leaving the Left

One of the interesting phenomena I've discovered while hoboing through the blogosphere is the large number of people who have been moving away from the Left. Everybody has their own story and they are all tales of an emerging awareness and the discovery of a new way of thinking about and experiencing the world. Two and a half years ago Keith Thompson wrote a powerful essay in the San Francisco Chronicle called Leaving the Left that described his philosophical transformation. Later he wrote a book, Leaving the Left: Moments in the News that Made Me Ashamed to be a Liberal from which the following quote is taken:

There's another option. We are free at any time to leap off the left-right line altogether and begin making political choices liberated from the gravity of the ideological continuum, whose pull turns out to be surprisingly escapable.

But as with any freedom, there is a corresponding responsibility. Before leaping it is crucial to know what you value, important to honor what you understand to be true, wise to stay open to surprises and unexpected opportunities for learning. For myself, I departed the left-right line with new clarity about the brilliance of liberal democracy and the value system it entails, the quest for liberty as intrinsically human, and the dangers of demands for adherence to any point of view through silence, fear, or coercion.

And it was only in the wake of leaving that I realized that I had broken away from the conformist imperatives of my hometown for precisely the same reason.

Liberal is one of the most problematic terms around these days. The word comes from the Latin word liberalis, meaning "free, befitting a free person." It also means "independent," which is why I refuse to abandon it just because it has become synonymous in the popular mind with its antithesis: schemes for social engineering that issue from elite organizations with self-important initials...

Classical liberalism emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as a political philosophy that embraces individual rights and responsibilities, including the right to own and maintain private property against continuous government encroachment. At the heart of the original liberalism endures a commitment to tolerance, reason, and self-determination, and a belief that within each person there exists an unassailable right to be free from compulsion. George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine risked their lives to create a system of government that places freedom at the core of its concerns and that employs the force of law to secure that freedom from subjugation and tyranny. They believed in the pursuit of happiness as something very much akin to an adventure, and they understood that government decrees to guarantee happiness invariably serve to penalize achievers while keeping the poorest among us reliant on minimal subsistence...

So I'm standing by my original choice: liberalism of the original, non-left kind. Among other things, this means that the Madison [Wis.] correspondent I mentioned in my Preface, who accused me of selling out, was quite right. Indeed, I've sold all my shares in a worldview that fosters tribal identity and group privilege and bitter communal division in the name of diversity. I've liquidated my stock in a philosophy that empowers a guardian state to encourage learned helplessness and endless class warfare, in the name of equality. I have divested all holdings in the pathological school of pluralism that scorns individual initiative, free enterprise, logic, the Enlightenment, science, Judeo-Christian values, the possibility of objective knowledge, and the necessity of personal responsibility.

The classic liberalism that makes me hopeful for my country's future is one that celebrates the creative power of intrinsic inner intent as the prime factor in individual excellence and cultural innovation. In the final analysis, genuine freedom is not caprice but room to enlarge, to change course midway, to set out on unexpected roads that emerge just past the next bend. This is possible only in a nation where the continuous inability to reach a final destination is the most compelling reason to keep setting out.

"It is not enough to affirm my liberty by choosing 'something,' " wrote Thomas Merton. "I must choose something good." I choose a new kind of human society that generates a new kind of human being, committed to a universalist standard of one right, one law, one nation for all. I choose the greatest, freest, most generous nation in existence. I choose something good. America.

Today's Quote: Counterinsurgency and the War of Ideas

Insurgency is ultimately a war of ideas. An insurgency grows based on its ability to convince fighters to risk their lives against a conventionally superior opponent and survives in the face of a stronger enemy only because it is able to convince or coerce the people to provide it with what it needs to fight: weapons, ammunition, food, money and most important concealment and cover among the civilian population. Recognizing this fact, successful counterinsurgents have devoted as much effort to defeating the enemy's propaganda as they have to defeating his fighters. Winning the war of ideas has often been the decisive line of operations in successful counterinsurgency campaigns.

The United States has not done an adequate job of explaining to the American people, to its allies overseas and, most important, to the people of Iraq and of the broader Islamic world what we are fighting for in Iraq and what we hope to achieve there. Nature abhors a vacuum, and insurgents love one; they have filled the airwaves and the Internet with their versions of the truth and have found willing listeners worldwide. In the words of the defense secretary, "Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but for the most part we, our country, our government, has not."
***
A country that can turn multimedia political advertisements within 24 hours in a presidential campaign should certainly be able to produce black-and-white posters within that same span of time showing the names and faces of Iraqi children slaughtered by terrorist bombers and begging for information to bring their murderers to justice.

During the Cold War, which was primarily an economic battle and only secondarily a military one, the United States Information Agency did yeoman's work winning hearts and minds behind the Iron Curtain. The global war that we are now fighting against radical Islamic extremists is primarily a war of ideas.

A dedicated corps of public affairs professionals funded and equipped to speak to Muslims in their own languages could over time help win the war of ideas by providing vital support to moderate Muslims. A more focused effort in Iraq can help convince the uncommitted but hopeful people of Iraq to provide the information we need to kill and capture those who are now murdering Iraq's future. Ideas are far cheaper than bullets and can be more effective.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

More Books

Last Saturday I was out doing more used-book shopping and came home with an armload of books. If you are in the DC area head over to Gaithersburg, MD to the Book Alcove. They are having a 50% off sale and there's a lot of good stuff to buy. They are trying to reduce inventory so I suspect the sale will last for a while. I bought:

Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America by John Earl Haynes & Harvey Klehr

An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa by Rick Atkinson

We Were One: Shoulder to Shoulder with the Marines Who took Fallujah by Patrick O'Donnell

Operatives, Spies and Saboteurs: The Unknown Story of the Men and Women of WW2's OSS by Patrick O'Donnell

The Jedburghs: The Secret History of the Allied Special Forces, France 1944 by Will Irwin

Operation Jedburgh: D-Day and America's First Shadow War by Colin Beavan

Salerno: A Military Fiasco by Eric Morris

The Battle for New York: The City at the Heart of the American Revolution by Barnet Schecter

Decisive Day: The Battle for Bunker Hill by Richard Ketchum

The Business of America: Tales from the Marketplace--American Enterprise from the Settling of New England to the Breakup of AT&T by John Steele Gordon